Interview with horror author Jack Ketchum
by LM Campbell
So, Eddie Lee (you can read excerpts of Edward Lee’s SLITHER and THE BACKWOODS in the book excerpt section) and I are busting up some fat rails of cocaine on a tradeback edition of your novel LADIES NIGHT. Ed’s just like me – one line up his nose and he can’t shut the fuck up. A heated debate ensued between us regarding your aforesaid book. The argument? Did the toxin in LADIES NIGHT unearth dormant, primordial urges in the women affected, or antithetically inundate them with foreign, masculine attributes (although, I believe that it came out a less eloquent – and much more profane harangue on whether the ‘bitches got meaner’ or ‘did the bitches grow cocks?’…
I am morally certain Ed Lee never uses coke – it would interfere with his beer-high. That said, I answered this question in the original, brontosaurus-sized version of the novel, now happily consigned forever to the flames. Developed by the army during the Vietnam War, our cherry-lollipop li’l friend interacted with female hormones, spiked their latent sexuality and um, aggressiveness, to the end that, well, I guess the bitches got meaner.
This begs the question: is it a feminist novel – because if it is maybe you and I can get together, break out some lines and hit the next ‘take back the night march’; I hear it is a great place to pick up chicks…
It’s a family-values novel, of course. I think only right-wing republicans should read it. Don’t you? Problem is liberal democrats seem to be the ones who most often review it. And you know they co-opt everything…
So what you are saying is that the women’s suffrage movement is a catalyst for the decline of modern civilization?
I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as modern civilization.
Jack, Dallas – do you ever wonder why people like me ask questions to you, so that people like them can read what I asked you and then read how you responded? Do you ever question motives of people like me?
Why would you ask me that question? Goddammit, why? You trying to trap me or what?
No, no. relax bro. Here, let me rub your shoulders… Wow… You are sooooo tense. You sure you don’t want any coke? Okay then – that leaves more for me. Um… where was I – oh ya: motives. I have read every interview you have done in the last ten years (and even a couple I made up in my head – your interview in Glory Hole Quarterly was both entertaining and educational). I read all of these Q&A’s and have concluded that there are two types of interviewers:
1/ the pseudo-intellectual and elucidating ‘please delineate the deep rooted allegorical references in blah blah blah…’ You know, the ‘I read all of your books and understand them better than you do’, type fuckface.
And then there is another type of fuckface…
2/ the ‘I’ve never really read any of your books, so I’ll ask you some mundane timewasters like, ‘what do you do in your spare time’, and/or ‘how many times do you masturbate in a day’. You know, stuff that anyone that peeps into your window – especially your bedroom window – the one that faces your backyard, the one on the second floor of your house. Do you really think that those blue curtains give you any real privacy? And come on Jack – you really don’t know your feng shui because your bed and dresser are positioned all wrong. It reeks of negative energy.
Where was I?
Oh ya – motives. The first set of interviewers are more interested in showing everyone how smart they are, while the other half are hoping to make a name for themselves by interviewing Jack Ketchum.
I guess that I am trying to find validation in what I (and too many others) do.
All interviews should begin:
“Hello Jack/Dallas, I write for ______ magazine. I personally have no talent, so instead I will ask you, a person with talent, some questions; if I ask someone who is talented some questions, perhaps I will find some meaning in my shallow, 40-and-still-living-in-my-parents-basement, barely-an-existence life. When I’m not masturbating to pictures of myself as a teenager, I like to carry around a Jack Ketchum book so that everyone around me thinks that I am literate. Will you be so kind as to answer a few questions for me?”
Just as altruism always has a hidden agenda, people interviewing you are using you for their own selfish purposes.
Remember – those that can: do. And those that cannot: interview
I guess this is where I should apologize…
I think that as an interviewer, you’re a really good Hollywood Producer.
I am tired of this ‘pretending to be a writer’ bullshit – hey what a great segue! THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, you must be tired of talking about that book?
I wouldn’t say I’m tired of talking about that book. I’m tired of thinking about that book. No, in all seriousness, when people stop asking me about that one I’ll know I’m utterly forgotten.
If you ask most Ketchum fans to name their favorite book, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR is mentioned all too often. Do you think that book is a template upon which all of your successive work is compared to?
If there’s a template, I suppose it’s either that one or OFF SEASON, because that was the first one that got noticed by the horror-reading and horror-writing community. But since GIRL is far more character-driven, it’s closer to most of what I’ve written subsequently. I don’t tend to think much about comparisons, either for my own or somebody else’s work. I don’t get somebody comparing, say, MOBY DICK to BILLY BUDD. Or HEART OF DARKNESS to LORD JIM. Either I like the book, have a good experience with it, or I don’t.
The last book I read of yours was PEACEABLE KINGDOM. I felt warm and fuzzy after reading the story about the animals. I don’t usually feel that way after I finish one of your stories.
I’m glad FIREDANCE got you all warm and fuzzy. It was meant to, and that’s why it’s the last story, the one I wanted to leave you with. Some of the other stories are bleak as hell. CLOSING TIME for instance — I don’t get much bleaker than that. But I don’t want to just do dark and gloomy. As I said in the intro to PEACEABLE, I’m all over the place as a writer anyway. I guess I don’t want to bore myself. But where I can dependably get all warm and fuzzy myself is when it comes to animals. Hence, the novel RED and stories like RETURNS. Harm an animal in one of my stories and you’re going straight to hell, brother.
Speaking of warm and fuzzy:
Imagine a stranger walks into a room with you.
This stranger sits across from you.
He is close enough that if he leaned forward you could smell what he ate for lunch.
He reaches into his coat pocket.
And pulls out a gun.
He opens his mouth.
And places the gun in his mouth.
He then cocks the hammer.
The second before he is about to pull the trigger…
Do you watch or do you look away?
Depends entirely on what he had for lunch.
Probably, ‘the girl next door!’ Ahem… Several of your books have been optioned to become movies. But you and I know that filmmakers are a fucked up bunch too complacent and usually too retarded to ever get a project off the ground. I say fuck films – what novel of yours would you like seen made into a pop-up book?
OFF SEASON. There are so many pop-ups in that book it’s a natural. And wouldn’t you just love to see Carla dangling from a tree over a bucket?
As to movies, Chris Sivertson and Lucky McKee did get THE LOST off the ground and quite respectably so. And they were nowhere near complacent about it. They worked themselves and the cast pretty damn hard to get it right. In fact, they were sure enough about getting it right that at its U.S. premier at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Chris was handing out freebies of the book after the screening.
I had no idea that the film was completed. Will you send me an autographed copy so I can watch it, burn a copy of it for me and all my friends – and then sell it on EBay?
Sure. Right after I finish slicing off my thumbs and index fingers here.
Speaking of people without opposable thumbs, let’s get away from horror directors and talk about real artists. In my mind, all artists are masochists. I pretend to be an artist by cutting myself. But you really are an artist. When someone is critical of your work, does it help in the process, or do you simply laugh it off?
I don’t exactly laugh it off but I don’t take it too seriously either. Same is true for praise. You start believing your reviews too much, you’re fucked. My job is to go on to the next piece and make it worth reading. Period.
Good, because I tried reading your novel COVER, but I couldn’t finish it because it was kinda boring – all I really want to know from you is if it has a happy ending or not…
You sonovabitch! Boring? You asshole! SCREW you! Oh, wait…I forgot…never mind…