Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk–a former flower child and baby boomer who figures that in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs and horror probably saved his life. His short story The Box won a 1994 Bram Stoker Award from the HWA, his story Gone won again in 2000 — and in 2003 Jack Ketchum won Stokers for both best collection for Peaceable Kingdom and best long fiction for Closing Time. A prolific author, Jack Ketchum has written over twenty novels and novellas. Five of his books have been filmed to date the last of which won him and McKee the Best Screenplay Award at the prestigious Sitges Film Festival in Spain. Jack Ketchum’s novella The Crossings was cited by Stephen King in his speech at the 2003 National Book Awards. In 2011 he was elected Grand Master by the World Horror Convention. Described as ‘probably the scariest man alive’ by Stephen King, Jack Ketchum is someone I knew I had to talk books with. Please enjoy my interview with the one and only, Jack Ketchum…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I say I’m a writer. Mostly fiction.
The Association by Bentley Little. The horrors of a homeowner’s association.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
Bomba The Jungle Boy by Roy Rockwood. Which I’m now told was racist as hell.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I can remember the first poem, not the story. It was about a deer, a stag running free, shot by a hunter. Made my mother cry.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Not what, who. I wanted to be Elvis. But my Elvis wrote stuff too.
What do you think your school-aged self would think of the present day you?
He’d be happy as hell. I get to play for a living.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be and why?
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. For sheer audaciousness and the writerly life.
I read in bed for an hour or so over a cup of coffee before I start the day.
Can you talk us through your writing process, from the first spark of an idea, to having your first completed draft?
Hard to say. Some stories or books have come to me full-blown. My novel Red was like that, and The Girl Next Door. They practically wrote themselves. Others I’ve had to piece together over time. I’ve often found two or three notes on my bulletin board and suddenly they seemed to match and mesh into a story. So I write that. Some pieces take a lot of research. Some almost none. They’re all different.
Which book has had the biggest impact on your career so far? How did it impact it?
No single book. Books are still impacting me after forty years of professional writing. I’ll still see a writer working with a lick that’s new to me and say to myself, hmmm, let me try that.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Apply ass to chair. And as Robert Bloch told me, if you don’t have to write, don’t.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
Psycho by Robert Bloch. I read it in high school and began corresponding with him, a relationship that lasted until his death. He became my mentor and a good friend.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Probably Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction, by a hair. Sometimes non-fiction grips me in the same way fiction does — the people involved. For me it’s all about the people.
Do you think reading is important?
Vitally. How can you have an internal life if you don’t read?
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Name a book that you feel everyone would benefit from reading and explain why.
The Bible. So you’d have a clear notion of all the nonsense and violence embedded therein.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life? What impact did it have?
Again I’d have to say Psycho by Robert Bloch. Because it got me to Bob Bloch, first and foremost, and secondly, because more than any other book it got me thinking about real-life, man-made horrors and the power inherent in that kind of story.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Dozens and dozens of them! You don’t live to be seventy and read an average of a book or two per week and not have far too many to name.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I currently have a “books to buy” list of forty-eight titles with more being added all the time. I may have to stop reading the Sunday New York Times book review section if this continues. Plus I have another dozen books in my closet. I do want to dip into some more books by Steward O’Nan, Karin Slaughter and T.C. Boyle too though.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Would All You Need Is Love work for you? Or how about Don’t Call Me Texas?
If you’d like to learn more about Jack Ketchum, you can find him on his website, Facebook and Twitter.
Image credit: Steve Thornton