Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is Jack Ketchum, one of the most fearless horror writers in the business. He is perhaps best known for his controversial novels, many of them informed by true crime cases: THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, OFF SEASON, RIGHT TO LIFE, and THE LOST, three of which have seen recent movie adaptations.
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Q. What inspired the project?
A. Pollyanna McIntosh. Her performance in OFFSPRING. In my screenplay I’d killed her character off, but once director Andrew Van den Houten saw what she was doing he decided she needed to live. She’s fiendishly good. When Lucky and I saw her in the movie we determined that she deserved a film all her own, one in which she should expand her emotional range. So we gave it to her. Glad we did.
Q. What is the primary theme you’ve chosen to explore with this project?
A. There are several which dovetail together. Empowerment and the lack of it, particularly for women. The misuse of power, particularly by men. And notions of family, good and bad.
Q. Of everything you’ve written to date, which project has been the most difficult for you?
A. Writing is never really difficult for me, or else I wouldn’t do it. I’m lazy. COVER took the most research, about a year of it, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t rip off the Vietnam Vets. And with THE GIRL NEXT DOOR I really had to watch my step and make sure that this really rough material about child abuse didn’t slip into the area of exploitation. But what really comes to mind is a “review” I did many years ago when I was writing soft-sell ads for the Psychology Today Book Club. I had their lead title for that month, Dr. David Reuben’s ANY WOMAN CAN, and while many of their books were very good and useful this was a total piece of shit, filled with bad information. But because Reuben wrote EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK, this was a big deal. I called and said I can’t recommend this garbage, there’s nothing nice I can say about it, and my editor said you’ve got to! You’re a professional! We’ve got a deadline! So I did. And that was quite an exercise, because every single line in this 1,000-word piece was a double-entendre. I made fun of the damn thing every which way to Sunday. My friends laughed out loud when they read it. But the editor, happily, missed the joke entirely. So I got paid. And then I quit the job.
A. I like to read a writer’s first book first in order to see how he matures along the way, so in my case that would be OFF SEASON. But it entirely depends on your capacity to handle violence. Because OFF SEASON‘s pretty damn violent. If you want a kinder, gentler Ketchum try RED. Or for an overview of what I do, try the collections PEACEABLE KINGDOM or CLOSING TIME AND OTHER STORIES.
Q. What are your thoughts on the burgeoning digital market?
A. Jury’s still out for me. It’s apparently kicking the mass-market paperback in the balls. On the other hand, it’s bringing new life to shorter pieces that ordinarily would only be printed by the small press, like my BOOK OF SOULS. So I’m sad and grateful all at once.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. A new project with Lucky McKee. We’re in the thick of it as we speak. Thoroughly different from THE WOMAN but just as wacky. We’re having a good old time!