Random-Ass Interview: Jack Ketchum
This one is from the archives. It just doesn't feel like Halloween without Jack Ketchum and his work in my life. So, I hope you enjoy this reposting from my old site, and have a happy spooky season.
Is there anything you wouldn’t sign for a fan?
I think a penis is out of the question.
What do you think of this new era in which tattoos are losing their stigma, and it seems that everyone and their grandma is getting ink done? Did you do any research into tattoos for your story The Rose.
The first tattoo I ever saw on a pretty woman was that little one I describe in THE ROSE. The woman who wore it was a formidable but fragile-looking New York waitress, and I wrote the story for her. I like tatts if they’re well done, though I don’t have any myself. In my generation guys wore their hair long, women went braless and everybody had bell-bottom hip-hugger jeans and love beads. I have no problem with decorating the tree.
Have you ever come up with any pseudonyms you decided not to use?
Has anyone ever sent you an angry email saying their name is Jack Ketchum, and that they wish you would stop writing books?
No but I did have one guy on my message board say he’d like to “hang my sorry ass” just as they did my namesake.
Do you have a working title for your book of poetry, or your collection of essays on other writers, or your next short story collection yet? Is one closer to the finish line than the others?
Closest to the finish line is the book of poems, NOTES FROM THE CAT HOUSE. It’s edited and we’re at the discussing-cover-art stage. And I’ll be reading them myself for the audio-book version, which we’re planning to tape some time late this month up at Lucky McKee’s place in Oklahoma. Next up will be WHAT THEY WROTE: In Praise of Dark Fiction. I haven’t finished the story collection yet so the title’s subject to change, but I’m thinking WINTER CHILD at the moment.
What’s the craziest shit you’ve ever seen in NYC?
Walking up Broadway one day I saw this guy in a natty three-piece suit pull his jacket up completely over his head so he couldn’t see a damn thing and walk two blocks blind, crossing 69th Street against the light.
Favorite horror comic, and or just comic, you read as a child?
What’s your favorite comic currently, if you have one?
I’m out of the loop on comics these days. But growing up I loved the Classic Comics, which I’d often read alongside the actual book so I could figure out what the author was saying during the rough spots. And then for some reason I was crazy about Plastic Man, reaching around buildings after the bad guys.
Would you ever like to adapt your work into a comic? If there is already an adaptation out, I apologize for not knowing about it. (I think an Off Season comic would make my life, if adapted correctly.)
Nobody’s approached me to adapt a novel, but I’d be up for it. OFF SEASON would be a great place to start. There’s one in the works for my story THE BOX. I read the storyboard and it’s pretty damn good.
Has a nun ever thrown anything at you? They can’t all be winners…
I had a brief affair with an ex-nun my first year out of college. I can’t remember if she threw anything at me. But probably.
How many pets have you had over the years? Did you ever try to get them to dance around a fire, ala your story from Peaceable Kingdom, Firedance?
When I was a kid my family had three dogs and a cat. Since then I’ve had ten cats, five of them with me now. I think they dance around a whole fuck of a lot while I’m asleep.
Has there ever been a cover a publisher wanted to use that you weren’t a fan of?
How much creative control have you had over covers in the past, and have you acquired more creative control over your covers in current years?
What’s up with this cover?
Good grief, that again! The worst of a bad lot. The original covers for HIDE AND SEEK and COVER were lousy too, and I thought the single drop of blood against the black background for OFF SEASON was a ripoff of a Tom Tyron book — a drop of blood against a white background — though a lot of people seemed to like it. I’d suggested a severed female arm reaching up a la the Sistine Chapel’s Adam reaching up to god, and a red box with the words WARNING: THIS BOOK CONTAINS SCENES THAT MAY BE TOO GRAPHICALLY REALISTIC FOR SOME READERS prominent at the bottom. Which I thought was absolutely true. They actually printed something like that for the distributors’ edition but then dumped it when the distributors started calling me a violent pornographer. Early on the major publishers almost never gave me good covers. But this one for GIRL was the pits. It shot itself in the foot. If you were looking for fun horror, GIRL wasn’t it, and if you were looking for serious horror, you’d never pick up a book with that idiot image on the front. Now, unless it’s a foreign edition — and sometimes even then — I have serious input on all my covers.
How do you deal with douchebags? I mean, you, specifically.
I tolerate them until they become intolerable, then I leap down their throat. Happily I haven’t had to do that in a long time. It’s not a pretty sight. If you could be a dinosaur, what kind would you want to be?
Archaeopteryx, transitioning into bird.
Do you ever go to events out of genre functions to promote your work?
I’ve done a few library readings and a half dozen or so at Barnes & Noble. And they tend to ask me once a year to read at the KGB Bar here in Manhattan. The year before last at Halloween I read two stories while artists illustrated them at the same time, which was projected live onto screens, and we had bands playing music they’d composed for each of the stories to accompany them. That was great fun!
Sister guest questions:
Gillian: Okay… do you like the beach?
The nude ones, yes. The others, eh.
What’s your favorite smell?
A woman’s hair, a cat’s fur.
What’s your favorite meat?
Have you ever thought about writing a noir mystery novel?
Though of it, but not seriously enough to actually do anything about it. Yet.
What do you think of some of the names used to describe the subgenres your work supposedly fits into, such as splatterpunk, or torture porn for the film adaptations, such as The Woman?
I prefer to think of your work as social horror, and the more extreme stuff I think of as simply extreme horror. Do you find the concept of genre labels to be something your not concerned with, and to be something publishers are primarily concerned with?
We do love our little pigeonholes, don’t we. Okay, take these two. Edward Lee called me the Godfather of Splatterpunk and I didn’t mind that at all. If you’ve read the two original anthologies you know they’re pretty damn good, so to be associated with them was fine with me. Lately a lot of what I’ve read in the area of extreme horror is dull, derivative and dumbed-down, extreme for the sake of extreme, with no attention to character or new ideas, though happily there are also plenty of exceptions to that. So I still don’t mind. The term torture-porn is simply nonsense. What people are calling torture-porn is just FRIDAY THE 13th given a face-lift. You want real torture porn, you go on the net, right? You go to Abused Tube or Kinky Tube or whatever. Whoever called THE WOMAN torture porn should go do a comparison test between any of the FRIDAY movies and, say, HOSTEL and realize how alike they are, then watch THE WOMAN and see how different it is. All that said, I honestly don’t care what people call my stuff. I just call it “my stuff.” How many index cards do you usually go through per story? I wanna say I heard you say in an interview you take notes for your books on index cards, and put them on a cork board.
Index cards, post-it notes, bar napkins. Yeah, they’re all over my three-quarter-round bulletin board. For a novel I can go through a hundred of them. But there’s always something. Story ideas out of left field, dreams, crazy notions. Right now there are thirty-six. I counted them for you.
Is your worst fear a snake that’s abusive to its family?
Ha! Actually my worst fear is Alzheimer’s. I get that, I might think that I’m a snake that’s abusive to his family. Would you be overjoyed if Tom Waits read one of your stories for an audiobook?
Fuck, yes! And could I have James Earl Jones do one too? I might get rich on that one…
What’s he worst job you’ve ever had? How did the lumberyard job stack up?
In college I played garbage man to a slightly batty old Boston Brahmin lady who ate entirely out of S. S. Pierce cans. She’s wash them out clean and I’d come by once a week to collect them from her kitchen and take them down and dump them. She’d want to talk my ear off every time. And man, those cans were heavy! The lumberyard was a piece of cake by comparison. Hell, I got to drive a fork-lift.
I know how you feel about the current self-publishing crazy landscape, but for my readers who haven’t heard you speak on it, what are your thoughts on this self publishing trend?
What are your thoughts on the ever-evolving landscape of publishing? Has anything really changed, or just it does seem that way?
Self-publishing used to be called Vanity Publishing and there was a reason for that. About ten of your closest friends were going to buy and read your book and you’d have boxes up the wazoo in your living room. Any fool could call himself an author and still can. Though now, because the net has made it cheaper, any godforsaken, lazy-ass fool can. And he can do it over and over again! Editors and agents, fallible though they may be, are the only ones that stand between us readers and the total dumbing-down of what we read. E-publishing is fine if you’re an established writer, if you’ve already earned your spurs. But that means you’ve probably already been rejected time and time again first. You’ve maybe even gotten some good advice along the way. Not everybody can drive a fork-lift first time out. And not everybody can be a writer.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview. If you have anything to plug, plug it up right now!
Almost all my Leisure titles have been picked up for either trade paperback or e-book or both by Amazon, so if you’re looking for my stuff that’s a good place to start. You can find books with other publishers by going to the list on my website at http://jackketchum.net and there’s even some freebies up there, with more to come, and a message board for you to complain on or whatever. The five movies made from my books are all available on Netflix. And finally…you’re welcome.