Celebrating Jack Ketchum
by Soraya Murillo Hernandez
Soraya—Your novel, The Girl Next Door, is fantastically well written, but I don’t know if I could read it again because the story is so hard. What it compelled you to pass this true story to the paper?
Jack Ketchum—I had read about the crime it’s based on in J. Robert Nash’s BLOODLETTERS AND BADMEN, a compendium of true-crime stories, and the story haunted me for several years before I started writing.
The themes interested me: violence against a young woman perpetrated by a woman, adults giving children permission for horrible cruelty, and the heroism of one sister giving her life, if necessary, to protect her defenseless sister.
Soraya—You have received many accolades from Stephen King, what are these compliments for you? Do you think that these accolades helped or harmed you?
Jack Ketchum—When Stephen King talks, people listen! He’s been very generous to me over the years and his comments have definitely helped the sales and distribution of my books — particularly THE GIRL NEXT DOOR because of his long, extensive introduction to the hardcover edition, which reclaimed it from obscurity.
Beyond that, it’s very fine to know that a writer I admire and respect likes my stuff so much. And to top it off, he’s a very nice guy.
Soraya—Always it’s said that the reality surpasses fiction, however people see violent pornography in your work. Why do you think this happens?
Jack Ketchum—My first book, OFF SEASON, was accused by the Village Voice of being violent pornography.
Pornography is supposed to turn you on. Sexually excite you. If anyone is turned on by the violence in OFF SEASON, or any of my other books for that matter, they need to see a psychiatrist— fast.
Either that, or the inside of a jail.
Soraya—I guess that you have been asked on numerous occasions about why you chose the nickname of an outlaw?
Jack Ketchum—I liked Jack Ketchum. He rode with Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall gang but he was a pretty stupid outlaw.
He robbed the same stage at the same time of day from the same place something like five days running and somebody finally said, gee, maybe he’ll be there again tomorrow! And he was, so they caught and hung him.
I loved his last words. “I’ll be in hell before you finish breakfast, boys. Let her rip!” Colorful!
Soraya—The monster is always human in your novels. What attracted you to depart from the traditional monsters of terror?
Jack Ketchum—Simple answer. People scare me far more than monsters do. Always have, always will.
Soraya—In the novel Off Season, a novel with much stress, not knowing what will happen on the next page gives the feeling that there is not a lot of affection for the characters. There is never a second chance. Is it as well as you see life?
Jack Ketchum—Sometimes life deals us very bad cards, and there’s nothing we can do but lose the hand.
A fatal accident, an inoperable disease, or crossing paths with the wrong person at the wrong time. So I write about that.
But I’m essentially a hopeful person and I think that comes through in much of my writing too. Take the end of RED, SHE WAKES, or JOYRIDE. Granted, though, OFF SEASON, STANGLEHOLD and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR are very dark, very bleak.
The paraphrase Barbara Kingsolver, a pessimist says, it’s going to be a bad winter. We’re all going to die! An optimist says, nah, it won’t be so bad, we’ll be fine. A hopeful person says, maybe there will still be somebody left alive by February, so I’m going to put some potatoes down in the root cellar, just in case.
I’m that hopeful person.
Soraya—You write clear, uncensored, with all the precise details to read a torture or a dismemberment. Do you think this is why you have become popular? Do you think that society likes lurid things?
Jack Ketchum—Peter Straub once paid me the high compliment of saying that he thought people came to my work for the wrong reasons, and stayed for the right ones.
You may be drawn to my books and stories because you’re looking for extreme storytelling, but if you keep reading, you’ll hopefully just find some very good, well-told stories.
Soraya—Your novels have been taken to the cinema and in some you worked as an actor. You have involved much or you have given freedom to writers and directors. In acting, have you tried the character to appear as you have imagined it?
Jack Ketchum—I’ve been involved to some degree in all the films, either in working with the script in the early stages or later on, sitting in on the filming. I was most involved with THE WOMAN, because Lucky McKee, the director, and I wrote it together, and then I was on-set for almost the entire shoot.
We had to rewrite some scenes as we went along. I don’t butt in on other talented people who are trying to film my work, but I’m there if they want me to be. And to a great degree the films have all captured the intent and themes of the source material, the books themselves, so I feel quite good about them.
Soraya—And finally when will we have another of your books in Spain?
Jack Ketchum—Alas, my agent tells me that the publishing industry in Spain isn’t doing so well, that they aren’t buying a lot of books. But we’re still in there trying! And hopefully that will change soon.
Soraya—Thank you very much for your patience and attention.
Copyright © 2019 by Soraya Murillo Hernandez