It’s been a damn good week for me.
Yeah, I know … I just posted. I’ll likely lose a subscriber or two for posting twice in one day, but the good news is … you’ll live. You oughtta be stoked that the reason I’m posting again today is because I’m bringing you a conversation with one of my all-time favorite horror authors, Jack Ketchum.
1. As authors, seeing our novels transformed into movies, where flesh and blood people are acting out scenes we’ve already seen played a hundred times over in our heads, is something few of us will ever experience. What has that been like for you? If I recall correctly, you’ve been able to get a little more hands-on in a couple of the films, what was that like ?
When it’s good it’s a total kick in the head, when it’s not it’s…disappointing. I’ve had more of the former than the latter, happy to say. It’s pretty amazing. You write a book in the privacy of your own room, it comes out of one mind and one mind only — or in the case of THE WOMAN, two — and then you get this whole group of talented people all bring their own skills and minds to it, their own energy. I’ve been on the set for at least a day or two with all my films and it’s always amazing. With THE GIRL NEXT DOOR I probably spent over a week on set in several locations. And on THE WOMAN was there for nearly the entire shoot. That was an experience. Working with Lucky McKee and watching actors the caliber of Pollyanna McIntosh, Angela Bettis and Sean Bridgers bring these people to life. You want to see a couple of writers smile!
2. What is your greatest fear as an author? As a human being?
As an author? That crazy sonovabitch will shoot me in the head for writing THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. As a human being? Alzheimer’s. I think in general we mostly fear an old age in progressive lingering pain. That and the aforementioned crazy sonovabitch.
3. The first novel I read of yours was the uncensored version of Off Season. From the outside, it appears as though you’ve moved into a place in your career where you aren’t at the same kinds of mercies that you once were in terms of censorship and word count, etc. Did you know, or have faith, back then that you would arrive at the place you are now, or was there a fear that you’d always be fighting to keep things as you’d originally penned them?
The only books I really had a censorship problem with were OFF SEASON, because of the sheer degree of violence and SHE WAKES, where I had a secondary but important character who was a male transvestite. Berkeley Books said “you can’t do that!” And I was new with them and had already been dumped by Ballantine and Warner so I buckled and changed it. I think I’ll always have a problem with word count among the major publishers because I tend to write short and tight. But maybe not. E-books seem to be changing that, making shorter offerings acceptable. We’ll see. And you’re right, I don’t have to fight much these days, and pretty much knew that the day would come when I wouldn’t.
4. I promised not to ask you anything too cliché, but selfishly I have to ask: Do you have a favorite story that you’ve written?
I’m not choosing a favorite daughter. Sorry.
5. One of my personal fears as an author is that I’ll die before I get all of the stories out of my head that need to come out. This is ridiculous of course, because we never truly run out of stories. In some cases, there are stories that refuse to be written, despite how hard we try to pen them to the page (pun intended). Do you have any stories like this? If so, how long have they been lingering and do you think they’ll ever come to fruition?
A quote I like a lot comes to mind. “Take your time,” he would say to himself, “if the cat’s in a hurry she has peculiar kittens.” That’s Louis de Bernieres, from BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS. Some stories just leap out at you, beg to be written right away. Others gestate — or in my case, sometimes fester — for quite a while. You can’t rush them.
6. Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction have, for too long, been the redheaded stepchildren of the literary world. How have you dealt with criticism from that elitist society, and what kind of advice could you give those of us who are in the midst of, or about to be bombarded with, the same sort of cold reception?
Feggeddaboudit. Write what you need to write and what you enjoy writing. It’s important to keep in mind that writing’s just high-level play. You’re doing the same thing, basically, that you did when you were just a little kid, inventing games for yourself. They’re your games, and sometimes the other kids will want to play along and sometimes they won’t. So long as you’re having a good time, so what?
7. I’ve never read a horror novel of yours that didn’t have depth behind it. In fact, I’ve seen more depth in some of your novels than I have in most of the purely literary novels I’ve had to read for professional review sites. I can’t help but to wonder, psychologically, how it is that with seemingly little effort, you get straight to the heart of so many unmentionable issues. You’ve tackled subjects such as rape, incest, drugs and violence, fluidly and without the need for overly ornamental prose. What do you think the differences are between works such as yours, and works that deal with similar subject matter, other than the obvious? Could it have anything to do with the fear of ourselves—the fear of what we’re truly, utterly capable of?
Thank you. I think the key here might be that I don’t want to waste your time, or mine. That is, I don’t want to write pure escapism — fancy-dress vampires and such. I’d like to engage us both in a bit of dialogue about something important while at the same time telling you a good story. I think all good writing, literary or genre — and both of these should be in quotes, to my mind — should remind you that the world is so much bigger and more diverse than your own, richer than just your experience of it for better or worse, that people are like you and not like you at all.
8. What is your definition of evil?
Lack of empathy and conscience.
9. If you could go back in time, to the days when you were writing merely for your own pleasure—before you were published or even submitting—is there any advice you’d give yourself?
Yeah, don’t try to be so fucking literary. Don’t try to reinvent writing. Just write.
10. The darkness of human nature, in my opinion, seems to be a common theme throughout your works. This begs the question: Do you think we are born inherently good or evil? Is it all in how we’re raised? Or a little bit of both?
I’m an optimist about human nature. There are those among us masquerading as humans — those are the sociopaths, the ones without empathy and conscience — but they’re by far the minority. We should watch out for them, but not despair because they happen to be there. Most of us do as the Greeks say, go with the good. Whenever you get too down on human nature, ask yourself what other species on earth tries over and over to protect the existence of other species? We’re still new, still evolving, and we reinvent ourselves every ten or twenty years or so. We’re communicating right now via computer! Good grief! We’re practically magic!
** A HUGE thanks goes to Jack for taking time out of his seriously hectic schedule to drop by The Asylum! We sincerely appreciate it and of course, as always, thank you for sharing your awesome work. The world of horror simply wouldn’t be the same without you!!