Jack Ketchum is an author who has changed the face of horror. His first novel, Off Season (1980), certainly set the cat among the slow and lazy pigeons, and Stephen King heralded it as a ground breaking work, saying of Jack Ketchum, that together with Clive Barker, he has “remade the face of American popular fiction”, he also said, “Who’s the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.” The Girl Next Door (1989) is a modern classic, while Right To Life (1999) should be compulsory reading for those deluded critics who expect moral resolutions in a territory which precludes them. Jack met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about what he has been up to, and predation and identity.
Tell us about what you have been writing since last we spoke.
Since we last talked I guess the main thing is that Lucky McKee and I did deliver on that promised new novel. It’s called THE SECRET LIFE OF SOULS, about a little girl, a dog, show business, and a wildly disfunctional family. It’s scary, sure, ’cause it’s us! But it’s also about connections that last a lifetime and beyond. That’s from Pegasus Books. Borderline Press have also brought out A LITTLE EMERALD BOOK OF EPHEMERA — me, musing on my books and life in general.
The Secret Lives Of Souls is described as ‘a terrifying, can’t-put-it-down narrative of a family on the verge of disintegration.’ Disintegration features as a major theme in much horror literature, from Edgar Allen Poe to Stephen King, and it is tied to the idea of identity. To what extent do you see the vulnerabilities if identity to attack from either an alien parasite or social manipulation as a source of horror fiction and also a reality?
In horror, whether it’s big in-your-face horror, or the little horrors of everyday life, there’s always disintegration. “Things fall apart. The center cannot hold…” We all know this deep inside — and it’s the source of our greatest, nagging fears.
Addiction features in your writing also. William Burroughs saw addiction as a metaphor and in his novels he explored and dramatised other forms of addiction that that to drugs, such as the addiction to sex or violence. How much do you think we are an addictive society that enjoys the hypocrisy of judging the obvious addicts while indulging other vices, and do those addictions serve the purposes of government?
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I don’t know about the government, nor do I care to speculate. But we’ve all got our addictions, don’t we? From heroin to CNN. Don’t know a soul who can’t admit to something. Some are just more destructive than others.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
Well, the 35th Anniversary Edition of my first novel, OFF SEASON, complete with a new story, fine illustrations, and other bells and whistles. Amazing that I’ve been doing this for so long — 35 years! — but glad to have it. Then there’s my new story collection, GORILLA IN MY ROOM. Both due out later this year.
Dallas, thank you for a memorable interview.
Off Season, 35th Anniversary edition preorder at Dark Regions Press
Gorilla in My Room signed limited edition hardcover at Cemetery Dance Publications