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RLK! EXCLUSIVE Author interview with Jack Ketchum (aka Dallas Mayr):

Ron Clinton, USA Contributing Editor for RLK!, recently had an opportunity to speak with one of the most well-respected authors in the horror field, Jack Ketchum. An author whose work has for twenty years tested and redefined the conventions and constraints of the genre, Mr. Ketchum's material is often as subject to controversy as it is to acclaim…and he makes no apologies for it. Here then is perhaps the most definitive examination to date of the man and his work.

Richard Laymon Kills!: First off, Jack, thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to give RLK! visitors a peek into the career and psyche of an author whose admirers - both professional and fan - are legion. Fame and success rarely happen overnight, though - I imagine you must've had a number of professions before becoming a full-time writer.

Jack Ketchum: Sure did. In no particular order, short-order cook, soda-jerk, lumber salesman, high school teacher, actor/singer, copywriter, garbageman, agent, I even edited a paleontological magazine. I'm probably leaving out stuff...

RLK!: Well, let's pick up when writing became an integral part of your career path. Your first published piece of fiction (as Jerzy Livingston) was, I believe, in 1976. Until then, you had been a literary agent at the Scott Meredith agency, handling such literary luminaries as Henry Miller (ultimately handling the sale of his last hardcover novel, BOOK OF FRIENDS). How and why did you make the transition from agent to author?

JK: For the long story on this I refer you to my memoir HENRY MILLER AND THE PUSH, which appears in THE EXIT AT TOLEDO BLADE BOULEVARD. The shorter version is, Scott was a pirate, I was a mate on his shit (ooops, ship) and while I learned a whole lot I got to feeling I was walking my own particular plank. Wound up pushing an old lady away from a cab one rainy New York day and said to myself, "you're exactly who, now? do I know you?" and resolved to get the hell out. But to give the devil his due, by then I had a lot of contacts, especially in the men's mag and rock 'n roll mag areas, enough to get me started writing my own stuff.

RLK!: This must've been back when Jerzy Livingston was the name you were writing under. I've seen your bibliography - it appeared as though you had a great deal of success at that time in the magazine market.

JK: I could call an editor, say, and ask him what article he was looking for now -- instead of having to do all those damn query letters -- and then just write it. If I delivered what I promised, he bought it. Same held true when I got around to trying to sell OFF SEASON. I just lied and told Judy-Lyn Del Rey at Ballantine, you remember me, from Scott's office? Well I just found this terrific novel by this guy Jack Ketchum. Got me off the slush pile and sold within a few weeks.

RLK!: A debut novel selling within a few weeks would almost seem akin to a fairy tale for today's aspiring authors, many of whom lament that it is virtually impossible to break into the current publishing climate as a first-time novelist. However, the late-seventies period does appear, on the surface, to be an era when publishing houses seemed not yet fixated on mega-bestsellers and instead supported and encouraged a strong midlist. Some published authors of that period have in fact suggested that, even putting industry contacts aside, the struggle was perhaps not as arduous back then. Are they right? Give us a taste of what the publishing world was like as that decade was winding down.

JK: Well, back then things were just beginning to shake up bigtime. Everybody was merging with everybody else, slowly consolidating, so there was constant displacement. This editor you'd been dealing with at Dell was suddenly over at Signet or Bantam, and you had to keep track. But all that movement left editors hungry for the next discovery, jobs were constantly at stake, so there was room to slip through the cracks, editors were more willing to give you a shot if they thought they had something. And yes, there was a midlist then, and it was respectable to be a reliable midlist author, who might or might not just break out one day. They gave you more benefit of the doubt, might even stick with you for half a dozen books. Then there were also indie houses like Ace and Pinnacle to sell the smaller, pulpier stuff to.

RLK!: Sounds like a much more author-friendly environment than the horror stories one hears about today's major publishing houses.

JK: Yeah, but by the time I published OFF SEASON in '81 that was already changing. The consolidation had moved on to basic strangulation. You'd submit to Ballantine and get a rejection because -- surprise! -- Random House, the parent house, had already rejected it. And everybody was looking for the next big flavor of the month.

RLK!: Sounds all too familiar. Back to your background as an agent - how else has it served you over the long haul?

JK: As I said, the contacts were invaluable. More than that, I know how to read a goddamn contract. I know how to cross out clauses and I'm not afraid to do so. I'm constantly amazed at how many writers give away the whole candy store just because somebody's willing to publish them. Are you listening out there? RETAIN YOUR SUBSIDIARY RIGHTS! If you don't know what they are, find out, and sign NOTHING until you do! There, I've had my say.

RLK!: Most would agree that it's important for authors, both beginning and established, to read outside their established genre. Your early influences - Miller, Bukowski and even the Marquis deSade - were as divergent as the themes of your various novels. How do you feel this patchwork of incongruent influences ultimately influenced and shaped your body of work?

JK: First, I wouldn't say de Sade was any kind of literary influence. Jeez. Have you ever read the guy?

RLK!: Can't say as I've had the pleasure. Well, if "pleasure" is the right word to use…

JK: He's dense, flowery, and precious as hell. I read him for the same reason I read psychological stuff like Freud and Stekel, accounts of the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials and novels by Mickey Spillane -- though Spillane, of course, was also just plain fun. But I was interested, early on, in cruelty. I'd discovered a good long streak of cruelty and downright fury in myself, for which I felt extremely guilty -- appalled even -- and I'd sure as hell discovered it in my peers. The model for that kid in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR who walks down the street with a blacksnake in his mouth? He used to beat the shit out of me on a regular basis. And he wasn't the only one. Pick on the fat kid, right? I was trying to figure out where all this came from, both in myself and in other people. And the nice thing about books is that if you keep your eyes open, they give you pretty good clues.

RLK!: They sure do.

JK: But almost everything I read influenced me. I was strictly tabula rasa as a kid and to a large degree, still am. Jack London, Somerset Maugham, Shakespeare, EC Comics, Mary Shelley, Ace and Midwood pulps, Spillane, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lovecraft, Bloch, Matheson, Bram Stoker -- all these spring immediately to mind as either pre- or very early adolescent influences. Shit, BOMBA, THE JUNGLE BOY! THE EGG AND I!

RLK!: (Laughs)

JK: I read everything. I was precocious as hell in that respect. My mom used to belong to the Book-of-the-Month Club and she had these boxes and boxes of books up in our attic. So I'd just go up there and begin at one side of the cardboard box and work my way through to the end and then start in on another. If I got bored, to hell with it, I'd put it back and start a new one. Utterly random. One day it was THE MAN IN THE GREY FLANNEL SUIT and the next it was OF HUMAN BONDAGE. I still read that way for the most part. Somebody I respect says, here's this book, you oughta read it, and nine times out of ten I do. I think writers should read all over the place, certainly not just in-genre. That's stifling. Incestuous. Give you an example. Here are the last four books I read: Eric Knight's YOU PLAY THE BLACK AND THE RED COMES UP, great 1930s noir…

RLK!: Oh, absolutely. I read it when it was reprinted in the late '80's as part of the seminal Black Lizard series. Loved it.

JK: …Lewis Lapham's THE END OF THE WORLD, an anecdotal history of "last days" scenarios from the flood in the Epic of Gilgamesh to the fall of Saigon, Lydia Lunch's PARADOXIA: A PREDATOR'S DIARY -- which I'd think would be self-explanatory -- and John Williams' INTO THE BADLANDS, a British literary critic in urban America in search of the source material for, and the authors of, his favorite crime novels -- Leonard, Ellroy, Hiaasen, Crumley, Higgins, etc. And I guarantee I will at some point steal something from each and every one of them.

RLK!: Okay, let's jump ahead to 1981 when the Jack Ketchum alter-ego first raged to literary life with his debut paperback-original novel, OFF SEASON. First off, where did the pseudonym "Jack Ketchum" come from - and why did you utilize it so early in your career?

JK: I've talked about this before at length so I'll be brief. Ketchum was a real guy -- he rode with the Hole-in-the-Wall gang with Butch Cassidy. One of the stupidest outlaws I've ever come across, which appealed to me. I also liked his name. Thought it was a good one for a horror writer -- that three-syllable da-da-da punch. Check out his entry in J. Robert Nash's indispensable BLOODLETTERS AND BADMEN, you won't be disappointed. I hid under the nom-de-gore, first, because as I said, I wanted to get off the slush pile with the editors and second, because I wasn't sure how my parents and relatives were going to take all that in-your-face nastiness. Turned out they loved it.

RLK!: OFF SEASON, based loosely on Sawney Beane, a Scots cannibal, was a shocking work and certainly daring for its time with its tale of sexual savagery and cannibalism in the Maine woods. What was the reaction from the public and your publisher at the time, and what was the eventual impact on your career as a beginning novelist?

JK: OFF SEASON made my reputation and tanked me at the same time. Readers mostly seemed to love it or hate it, one or the other, which was exactly the reaction I'd hoped for. But the distribution staff of Ballantine despised it to a man, said it was pure violent pornography, didn't want a thing to do with it, and basically boycotted the book. The Village Voice and others heartily concurred. It sold out its initial 400,000 copy print-run strictly by word of mouth only. But after that Ballantine wanted nothing much to do with me. They rejected the second novel they'd contracted-for, LADIES' NIGHT, and wanted their advance money back. My agent, Jack Scovil, said hey look folks, he followed his outline to the letter and you approved the thing and he delivered on time -- early even. They said we're not going to publish it, period. It's just as violent as that goddamn OFF SEASON thing. Jack said okay, tell you what. Sweeten the pot by $10,000 and he'll do you another, somewhat kinder and gentler book, which eventually became HIDE AND SEEK. They were into me for twenty grand already so they bit.

RLK!: Since LADIES NIGHT (eventually published by Silver Salamander, '97; Gauntlet, 2000) mined that same vein of extremism that seemed to hit such a marketable nerve with the public at that time, one can only imagine what path your career might have taken had they placed the striking potential of yet another 400,000 sales above delicate sensibilities. Well, in 1984 HIDE AND SEEK did indeed appear and, later in 1987, COVER was published. Both were released as paperback originals. What can you tell us of their publishing history?

JK: Ballantine printed 40,000 copies of HIDE AND SEEK and dumped it on the market with a very ambiguous cover. It looked like a mystery novel. Beyond the first week of its release I never saw it in a single store. It was a hell of a blow to me because I really did like the book.

RLK!: You're not the only one. It's frequently cited by your fans as one of their favorite Ketchum novels -- though, interestingly enough, it's oftentimes for different reasons: one might enjoy the strong characterizations and kinship among them; another the violent cannibalism threat and the primal struggle to survive; another the smart and streamlined suspense, the assured "voice" of the book.

JK: It was my first novel-length effort written in the first person and I was really happy with the voice, among other things. It took me about a year to get my balls to fill my jeans again.

RLK!: That must've been the first stirrings of COVER.

JK: Yeah. I was watching this HBO series, AMERICA UNDERCOVER, and this particular episode was about Vietnam vets and the trauma they were experiencing back in The World, and one fifteen-minute segment was about this guy living out in the woods, and his wife, who obviously loved him dearly, was leaving him alone out there because he'd get out of control sometimes and she was scared for herself and scared for her kids. And she broke my heart. In fact the soul of the book is all in that first chapter, the only chapter in which she appears. I knew I wanted to do it right away, that there was something important here, something violent but deeply human too, and I knew I needed to get it right. The problem was that I'd managed to avoid that goddamn war and knew next to nothing about the vets' real experiences there. So I took an entire year to research it before I even sat down to the computer -- it was my first book on computer, by the way, and it was a bitch to get used to -- and thanks to some wonderful generous help, particular from Jim Carey and his wife, I think I got it right.

RLK!: Did Ballantine publish this one as well? Surely you must have been somewhat soured on Ballantine after their earlier disappointing performance with HIDE AND SEEK.

JK: We didn't even bother taking it to Ballantine. We inquired if they were interested and they weren't so that took care of our contractual obligation to them. We went to a few houses, mostly hardcover, and finally Warner bought it. Jim Frost, the editor, saw it as hardcover material, saw it as a breakout book for me. It was certainly my most ambitious to date. But it never happened. He confided to me later that what they did was access the print-run figure for HIDE AND SEEK -- 40,000 copies -- and that was what they printed for COVER, despite his protests. So that got dumped on the market too. Welcome to the Computer Age.

RLK!: A shame, because it's such a striking tale. While the exemplary HIDE AND SEEK seemed to be more of a mainstream suspense work, COVER approached its controversial subject matter with unbridled ferocity; the horrific emotions that seeped off the page in this tale of an embittered Vietnam veteran were almost palpable. How was this story received in a pro-Reagan America that may have been ambivalent about revisiting the fallout from the Vietnam debacle?

JK: Interesting that you call HIDE AND SEEK mainstream. It couldn't have been received or indeed planned less so. What I was after there was this relatively quiet short book that was meant to recall small-canvas, character-intense writers like James M. Cain and Jim Thompson, both of whom I'd been re-reading then -- and their books were never anything like mainstream.

RLK!: Well, I guess I was contrasting it to the extremist novel that preceded it: OFF SEASON. Judged on its own right, it would absolutely seem more at home in the dark, cancerous alleys of Thompson's Central City (THE KILLER INSIDE ME) than the streets of Main Stream, U.S.A. where folks like Grisham have set up permanent shop. So back to COVER: was its reception any better than its ultimate fate?

JK: I don't really know how COVER was received, if it was received at all. I never saw a single review. I saw copies most frequently at the downstairs bookstore in Grand Central Station, where it was filed under War Fiction. I think it was seen as a book for guys, the kiss of death then since guys were not the target market in anybody's book. Women bought, guys didn't. That's the way they saw it.

RLK!: And the cover art with its action-adventure motif probably didn't help belie any misconception by the buying public either. Speaking of cover art, 1989 saw the release of one of your more well-known novels, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. This chilling book continued the practice of odd editorial cover-art with a stupefying painting of a skeleton in a cheerleading outfit. You've been asked before about this before, I'm sure…but I'll ask again: what in god's name happened?

JK: The art department at Warner asked me what I'd like to see on the cover of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, and I knew exactly what I wanted. Something subtle yet provocative, something that would make you open the book but which would not clue you into the horrors within. It was the first time since OFF SEASON that a paperback company had even consulted me on art so I had high hopes. I outlined something very much like what Neal McPheeters eventually realized completely, wonderfully! in the Overlook hardcover edition many years later -- a dark view through a lighted surburban window, with something ...something... going on inside. Again, later, editor Jim Frost gave me the skinny. The CEO, having not read a word of the book, decided on the basis of the synopsis handed to him like the daily news clips to Nixon -- that a cheerleader with a skull would convey the substance of the book. A teenager dies, right?

RLK!: Ah, such brilliance.

JK: So some poor underpaid and overworked artist had to paint an embossed expensive cover which was a total ripoff of that wonderful film, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH. Which about six people have seen and maybe two remember. Years later a guy came up to me at a signing and apologized. He worked in a bookstore, he said, and on the basis of the cover he filed it with R. L. Stine.

RLK!: I'd hate to have been the parent that had to explain that book to little Sally or Bobby…

JK: (Laughs) I'm surprised some gunhappy dad didn't walk in and blow him away.

RLK!: This book, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, seems to often be the most mentioned novel - by your fans and peers alike (leading Stephen King himself to pen the foreword to the limited-hardcover reissue of GIRL in '97) - when citing their favorite Ketchum work. What was the genesis of this book? And how do you view this particular work within the body of your entire output?

JK: There are books I've done which have stretched me, moved me into a whole new unpredictable realm. In fact most do to some degree, simply because if you're going to be living with a book for a year or so, you'd better reach out to her, you'd better grow to like her, make your peace with her. (Ladies, please pardon the personal pronoun, okay? -- guys adrift on sailing ships have done the same damn thing for years, so I have precedent, so I hope you'll indulge me.) GIRL NEXT DOOR was like that. For me, a reach into the blunt unknown, into what I had no idea I could pull off or do. I already had some internal reinforcement, room for optimism. Because quieter moves like HIDE AND SEEK -- my first first-person novelist's voice -- and COVER, by weight of sheer drive and scope, had come before. But starting GIRL? I was fucking scared. Like OFF SEASON, I'd never read anything quite like what I had in mind. My notion was, you turn the page, you're guilty. Complicit. And on the last page -- you won't be acquitted. You read the damn thing.

RLK!: I think that sums up very well what many people express about the book: that by its very nature, GIRL is a book that challenges the reader to complete it, that its wrenching subject matter will challenge all assumptions the reader had about simple human decency and compassion. And as one is swept along by its enthralling narrative to the shocking finish, the reader comes away from the book mindfucked and emotionally drenched by, as you mention, the complicity of having been mesmerized by its explicit depiction of depravity…and the realization that he/she never turned away. Tough to read - and must've been an even tougher book to write.

JK: I wrote GIRL fast and carefully and in pain -- fast because it became a memory-play for me, its setting and characters let loose in my own well-remembered New Jersey boyhood, easy to access. Carefully because I was aware all along that I was treading very thin earth -- the line between depicting evil and indulging it a serious balancing act, me on the wire. In pain because I had just lost my mother and my boyhood home and was quite possibly on the verge of losing two relationships very dear to me. I wrote a hero who was not a hero at all. And I wondered out loud for his future. And my own.

RLK!: While certainly one of the most disturbing and brutal pieces of fiction ever penned, GIRL'S unflinching, multi-layered approach to the issue of victimization is also laden with thoughtful themes and issues, most notably in the conflict between Ruth and Meg: woman vs. woman, young vs. old. This realistic conflict between females is not one readers often saw within the horror genre before this novel. Did you know that you had something unique, something special, when you were writing it?

JK: Yeah, I think so. I think I said to myself, this hasn't quite been done before to my knowledge. And it's responsible and there's room for it. So go. I just read a thing Andrew Vachss wrote and it struck me as a useful way to think about THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. He said, "I think that any time you write about evil and you write about it accurately you risk replicating it. If you write about child pornography you risk depicting it in such a way that it could be titillating to those interested in such a subject. But I think if you are not willing to come close to the line, you don't come very close to reality." I want you to feel the reality, to make it real as best I can. How am I doin'?

RLK!: I think all who have read GIRL -- as well as your other works -- would agree you always seem to somehow achieve the perfect balance. Okay, let's move onto SHE WAKES, your only novel to date containing supernatural elements. This novel followed GIRL later that same year. Tell us a little bit about this '89 novel and why you chose to diverge from the succession of suspense novels you'd produced into the supernatural arena. Was it something about its setting (a place that I understand holds a special place in your own heart), Greece?

JK: For about a hundred years give or take I think the Greeks had it all -- art, science, joy, humanism all together, the sense that gods and men were one -- for me, that was the real Camelot. For a moment on earth I suspect people seemed to know what we don't know anymore or have forgotten, that one man's lot is the other's, that logic is hard-won and worth the winning, as is beauty, as is human dignity, that we can elevate, perfect, build for ourselves human-sized temples to those ideas of potentiality and beauty and perfection without the slightest hint of egoism -- of humanism AS potential, maybe even dream of perfection, with the celebration of humanism as its essence. That grandeur was to be had, right then, right there, right at hand, made by craft and science and spirit, and all of it man-sized, accessible to all, built simply because we simple humans in joy and celebration could, and wanted to and then did. And the reminder Greece pours out to me is that that grandeur is born of the spirit, it pours from no other font, and it's ongoing. SHE WAKES is an entertainment that only hints, now and then, at how I feel about this place. It's bigger than I'll ever be. As is proper.

RLK!: That's a very powerful sentiment; little wonder such a powerful, mystical novel sprung from it. Now we move into the nineties, a decade that began with a snarling roar when OFFSPRING, the follow-up to OFF SEASON, was published as a paperback-original in 1991. Why a sequel ten years later?

JK: I never intended to do a sequel to OFF SEASON -- in fact, if you read carefully, you'll realize that every last one of my cannibal tribe is dead by the end of the book. By resurrecting one, I cheated. There were two reasons for the book. First, I was trying desperately to climb out of 40,000-copy limbo, and hoped that a return to the book which had sold ten times that might spur Berkley to print more copies. It didn't. But second, I wanted to write the story of that boy, his mom, and his asshole dad. The dad was based on a real guy, dead now and, by me at least, extremely unlamented. I wanted to ask the question, who's worse, really? These cannibals, who are basically just doing their thing, or this piece of shit "civilized" character?

RLK!: Will there be another installment anytime soon to make it an official trilogy?

JK: I'm reminded by Sean Connery to "never say never", but I can't see a third book. I think I've pretty much had my say on humans as cuisine.

RLK!: As the nineties progressed, you secured an hardcover/paperback overseas deal with UK publisher Headline (the same firm that published Laymon's overseas work for the UK market). Ultimately, ROADKILL, RED and ONLY CHILD were published in hardcover, OFF SEASON and OFFSPRING in paperback…five all told, I believe. Then your affiliation - along with those of Ed Gorman's, Bentley Little's and several other horror-oriented authors -- with Headline seemed to come to and end. What happened? Do you foresee penetrating that UK market with a mainstream publisher again anytime soon?

JK: After RED's publication Mike Bailey, my editor there and a very nice man, told me that they were dropping a number of US writers who, unlike Dick Laymon, King, Saul, etc., were relatively new to British readers, in favor of home-grown writers -- that Headline didn't have the will to push us there. He said that if I ever had a big breakthrough book here, or a movie or something, he'd be happy to go to bat for me again. But so far that hasn't happened.

RLK!: If recent novels like THE LOST are any barometer, it's just a matter of time. Contrasting two of these UK novels, ROADKILL and ONLY CHILD were both novels of startling power and talent that focused on your familiar theme of victimization - and yet both appeared to take diametrically opposed points of view on the subject: ROADKILL from the indirect perspective of the perpetrator, ONLY CHILD from the sympathetic perspective of the victim. How have you managed to so well portray both ends of the proverbial spectrum?

JK: Well, ya gotta love ALL your characters, not just the nice guys. Dig around inside 'em. You got to figure, without Ahab and the whale, all you've got is a bunch of guys standing around on a stinky old ship.

RLK!: Shortly after their UK publication, both of these novels were reissued in retitled paperback form in America -- ROADKILL became JOYRIDE, and ONLY CHILD became STRANGLEHOLD. Out of curiosity, why the retitling?

JK: My original and preferred titles are the British ones, ROAD KILL and ONLY CHILD. Berkley thought ROAD KILL too graphic for the US market and asked for suggestions. JOYRIDE was the name of a screenplay of mine -- which has since become THE PASSENGER, in both script and novella (ed. note: NIGHT VISIONS 10) versions. That was among my suggestions. Then they thought that ONLY CHILD was too soft for a horror/suspense title. I don't know who came up with STRANGLEHOLD, because it doesn't really reflect the subject matter much. It certainly wasn't me. It always struck me as sort of generic.

RLK!: 1995's RED, the third and final of the three Headline hardcover releases, is your quietest novel to date, and yet contains all the power and rage of your other novels. A simple and lean tale of the shooting of a beloved pet dog and the owner's -- a moral everyman -- frustrating voyage to justice, it's a poignant examination of loss and retribution that is both heartbreaking and chillingly suspenseful. I know that it's one of your personal favorite of your own works…but how has it been received by your core audience, some of whom, up to that point, may have come to expect more overtly brutal stories?

JK: I've been delighted but not entirely surprised by RED's reception. My experience has been that most down-and-dirty horror readers are a cut above "general" readers, in that so many of them just won't settle for Oprah's flavor of the month or the next silly Grisham book. You have to be a kind of quester to seek out the best material in our field, which means your tastes have to be pretty broad -- from stuff by Ramsey Campbell, say, all the way to Edward Lee. My readers have always given me a lot of room to move around, which is lucky for me because I'm really all over the place content-wise. Look what won the Stoker Awards for godsakes! Two really very "quiet" stories, THE BOX and GONE. While I'm best known for the in-your-face stuff, my readers don't seem to demand it of me, they don't seem to need to cage up my imagination. For which, if you don't mind, I'll take this opportunity to thank them very much.

RLK!: And on behalf of your fans everywhere, Jack, let me say it's been our pleasure. Okay, moving on…the remainder of the decade saw a solid string of Ketchum new releases and reprints, mostly signed and limited hardcovers: THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, EXIT TO TOLEDO BLADE BOULEVARD, OFF SEASON: THE UNEXPURGATED VERSION, BROKEN ON THE WHEEL OF SEX, THE DUST OF HEAVENS, and RIGHT TO LIFE. Before we touch on a few of them, it would be difficult to ignore the fact that your popularity within the genre appears to have skyrocketed within this late-nineties period. Though your career had been productive and steady prior to that point, high-priced limited editions and signed/numbered hardcover reprints of your earlier works were springing up all over from various small-press publishers. You appeared to have overcome your "cult writer" status and achieved the type of popularity and success that is afforded to very few. How do you account for this? Can you pinpoint any single event or book release?

JK: That's hard. It's been cumulative. But I do think that Overlook's edition of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, with the Stephen King introduction, was the kick-off. Hey, who gets a full-length essay from King? A blurb, maybe. Years before I'd have prayed for that alone. But Steve took the time to really re-think and reevaluate the book and I think it spurred a lot of interest in not just that but the rest of my work as well. It wasn't just that his name was now connected to the book. It was that he was truly thoughtful and incisive about it, that he really cared enough to make the effort and wrote the hell out of the piece -- for no money, I might add -- and it showed.

RLK!: It sure did. It was a tremendous analysis and well-deserved homage to the piece; he didja proud.

JK: It sure didn't hurt to have all those lovely people do the afterwords on the limited of that book either. They all have fans god knows, and there they were, coming out for this novel like it was some kind of horror telethon. Major cool! I didn't even have to limp.

RLK!: (Laughs) Okay, back to the chronology. BROKEN ON THE WHEEL OF SEX, a 1999 collection of stories starring a character named Stroup, was an unusual release. These Bukowski-influenced black-comedy dramas culled from your early writings in the seventies were, like RED, not the type of stories one might expect from the author of the blooddrenched OFF SEASON. Yet they showed the same dark, potent versatility of theme and conflict that mark all your work. What can you tell us about these stories, and how do you feel about them some twenty-plus years later?

JK: The stuff in BROKEN was only something I could do because I felt it was possible to make a leap of faith with and for my readers, similar in a strange way to what I did with RED and other, not-exactly-horror stuff -- the notion being that here's who I am -- or in this case, once was -- I'm not just horror. I've got other moves. So? Interested? And damn! they were! That's such a pleasure. Here are all these stories, written essentially to allow me to survive back then in the 70s as a new writer and learn my craft as I was doing so, but which apparently were well-observed enough so that they still have a good deal to say to folks right now. Back then, I never thought they'd ever be collected. But I'm very glad that they are, and excited about being able to go back to my anti-hero of that period, Stroup, with the new novella release in TRIAGE, which features his poor sad silly ass twenty years later.

RLK!: Speaking of TRIAGE (RLK! "Book of the Month" for Dec. 2001), your contribution (SHEEP MEADOW STORY) to this upcoming 3-way collection with Richard Laymon and Edward Lee has Stroup as a reader for the Cosmodemonic Literary Agency. You peppered the story with thinly-disguised memories of your time working for Scott Meredith - but, c'mon, was it really, as described in the story, "hell on earth"? And does this signal a periodic return of this intriguing character?

JK: Oh yes, it was hell on earth all right. We worked like dogs with no lunch and four or five take-home scripts per night and we had to deal with these poor folks who sent in money for "an agent's response", which was really some reader, some kid just out of college, his or her opinion. And we agents had to field all of that, plus deal with the real clients. I felt like a shark but without the shark's justification. I didn't have to keep swimming, I just did. But I learned an enormous amount -- about contracts and negotiations and how to deal with the OTHER sharks out there. You can't fuck with me contract-wise. Beware. All writers should be so empowered.

RLK!: And Stroup?

JK: As to Stroup, I thought I'd buried him twenty-odd years ago. Guess I didn't. And I wouldn't be surprised at all if he resurfaces somewhere again, someday, sometime. He was great fun to revisit after all these years. A bad guy -- strangely, doing pretty good.

RLK!: We'll talk a bit more about TRIAGE, its history and development, in a moment. But before we get to that, it's interesting to note that the name Richard Laymon crops up once again in the introduction to your '98 debut short-story collection, EXIT FROM TOLEDO BLADE BOULEVARD.

JK: Dick did the intro at my request. He readily agreed -- and really nice kinda guy that he was, even did a rewrite I had the gall to ask for.

RLK!: You're doubtlessly aware that your style of writing often invites comparison by many to the intense fiction of Richard Laymon. Let's talk about that for a moment. The RLK! website is by design and its very nature centered around the work of a single author, but it would also seem around that type of intense fiction that Laymon typified: a lean, unflinching and often brutal look at the human capacity for evil and violence. A style wherein both the characters and storylines are often deceptively spare -- yet ring fully-dimensional and vividly true - with both narrative elements being propelled by a riveting, crisp sense of pacing and momentum. With Dick Laymon's untimely death in early 2001, many now look to you as heir apparent to this style of writing. How do you feel about that - and how would you contrast your writing to Laymon's?

JK: Again, I've talked about this before at length so I won't go into too much detail -- but when I first encountered Dick's writing I felt I'd found a kindred spirit, one who was willing to push the boundaries, dare you to keep reading. He felt the same when he encountered mine. We sort of supported one another from afar, though we'd never communicated. It was good just to know he was around. We always came at the stuff from different angles, though. Dick had this wonderfully fertile imagination, and he proceeded mostly from the idea, which rocketed him, and the reader, into his story. I'm more of a plodder -- compare his output with mine if you don't believe me. That's because I start with a character or characters who intrigue me, who give me the idea, then devise the story. I have to really know my people first or I'm not comfortable.

RLK!: That type of immersion must entail a great deal of preparatory study.

JK: Yeah. With COVER, for instance, it took me a year of research, note-taking and general contemplation before I even dared to sit down to start to write the thing. There are other differences. I don't have Dick's mordant sense of humor, for instance, his sense of play. And he never got as "quiet" as I have with, say, RED and some of the shorter pieces.

RLK!: On a personal level, your relationship appeared to be a close one; your personalities - indeed, just as your style of writing - seemed to truly mesh and compliment each other. How did your friendship come about?

JK: We never got that close, personally -- we had a continent between us, after all, and I only met him and oh yes, drank with him on a few occasions, but when we did meet we hit it off in fine style. Had we lived nearer to one another I know we'd have become fast friends. I discovered Dick's THE WOODS ARE DARK and THE CELLAR just after having finished OFF SEASON back in 1980 or so and knew that, for sheer intensity of image at least, I'd found a soulmate. He told me years later he'd felt the same about discovering my book. Our work was always very different each from each but what we had in common was a desire to gleefully push the envelope and see what happened.

RLK!: And few of your books seemed to so fervently "push the envelope" as the controversial RIGHT TO LIFE, published by CD Publications in 1999 as part of their acclaimed novella line. It was perhaps second only to THE GIRL NEXT DOOR in its visceral, shocking quality. A short, nasty tale of a pregnant woman's kidnap and sadistic treatment by an ardent anti-abortionist set on protecting her unborn child from the woman's plans, it was extreme, thoughtful horror at its best. At resale prices approaching five and six times (or more!) its cover price, RIGHT TO LIFE is obviously a fervently desired book that continues to affect readers on a primal level. Did you have a sense when you'd completed the book that you had written something profoundly powerful? What kind of reactions have you had from readers? Any particularly negative responses?

JK: Profoundly powerful? No. Disturbing as hell, yes. In fact some friends who read it in manuscript form were disgusted with me for having written it in the first place. Hey, it's a response -- valid as any other given the content. I wish I could say it's a favorite of mine but it's not. Probably because it began its life as yet another proposed "breakout" book, so overlong and dense with characters and subplots that three-quarters of the way through I said fuck it, I'm wasting my time here, I've been at this for months! and shelved it. It was only when Rich Chizmar at CD asked me for a novella, maybe half a year later, that I thought, if I cut all that extra stuff away -- and then actually finish it -- I'll have a mean little book here with something on its mind.

RLK!: To say the least. Okay, at the turn of the century, the year 2000 saw the signed/limited small-press hardcover reprintings of HIDE AND SEEK and COVER, totaling four hardcover repints in as many years, an impressive number by any standard. How has it felt to have these early classic works being rediscovered and rightly put back into print?

JK: It feels absolutely wonderful. Back when I was strictly a paperback novelist, the best I could hope for was one book available on the stands for, say, three months out of every year. Then they'd pull and strip it and return it. Now there's not only HIDE AND SEEK and COVER out there but OFF SEASON: THE UNEXPURGATED EDITION, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, THE LOST (in hardcover and mass-market paper) LADIES' NIGHT, the novella THE PASSENGER in NIGHT VISIONS 10, and soon, RED and the TRIAGE novella. That kind of accessibility and availability is amazing to me. Every writer should be so lucky.

RLK!: You mention THE LOST; let's talk a little about it. Last year THE LOST was published in signed/limited hardcover by CD Publications, and then later this year in paperback by Leisure (RLK! "Book of the Month", September 2001). A novel written in the best Ketchum tradition, it was a suspense stunner and became your first mainstream paperback release in half a decade. Do you feel there was anything uniquely special about this novel wherein it not only appealed to your established small-press fan base but also allowed you to broaden and reestablish your presence in more mainstream publishing circles?

JK: Nah. It's all about one guy -- Don D'Auria at Leisure. Turned out he'd wanted to publish me for a long time but needed a brand-new novel to launch me there. I'm still not sure that "mainstream publishing circles" know me from Noah Beery, Jr.

RLK!: Was THE LOST ultimately a paperback success for Leisure, and do you have any future publishing plans with Leisure books and Editor Don D'Auria, either for new works or reprints?

JK: Since Leisure has the unusual policy of only accounting initial royalties after the first year of publication -- most publishers do it after the first six months -- and then every six months thereafter, it's too soon to tell yet if THE LOST is a hit by their standards, though Don tells me they've been getting a lot of re-orders from Barnes & Noble, which is a good sign. We will be doing RED, however, in August of 2002 and the book will be filled out some by the novella THE PASSENGER. Strange bedfellows, those, because they're very different in tone, but what the heck.

RLK!: They certainly are divergent works; THE PASSENGER has a full-throttle narrative thrust that is every bit as forceful as RED is understated. But it will unquestionably give the uninitiated Ketchum reader an idea of your extraordinary range and versatility. Speaking of future works, I understand that the aforementioned TRIAGE is upcoming from CD Publications, and a much-anticipated new short-story omnibus from Subterranean Press, PEACEABLE KINGDOM, sometime next year.

JK: That's right. PEACEABLE KINGDOM will collect every horror/suspense short story I've ever published, plus a new novella I'm in the process of completing right now. The only short fiction that WON'T be in there is the stuff from BROKEN ON THE WHEEL OF SEX.

RLK!: PEACEABLE KINGDOM sounds like a tremendous and essential collection. I'd like to stray for just a moment from this discussion about your full-length novels and follow-up on this talk about your short stories. We haven't really touched on them much except in passing, simply because an analysis of this impressive portion of your body of work would be an interview in and of itself. But it certainly deserves mention as your short fiction is every bit as compelling and exemplary as your longer works; in fact, as you mentioned earlier, it has garnered you two Stoker Awards. So let's boil it down to the root question: why short stories? I assume it can't -- except in the rarest of occasions when reprint royalties begin multiplying exponentially -- be for the money. So then what other type of reward do you feel you, as a writer, gain from them?

JK: Most often, like the occasional short nonfiction I do, stories are a holiday. They tend to give you the opportunity to stretch your legs and learn something, test some ideas -- and you're not committed to them for a bloody year. When I was a hippie -- yeah, I was and I have the beads to prove it -- back in Boston in '69 some girl would maybe come up to you on the street and say, hi! want to smoke some dope? and the next thing you knew you'd be in bed with her and you'd be smoking that dope and it would be really good and it would last for a day or two or three, and you'd part company smiling, happy that you'd met. Well, stories are a little like that for me. You don't have to marry them. Nobody has to move into your apartment. You just have to go at them openly and whole-heartedly while you're lucky enough to have them around.

RLK!: Helluva metaphor, Jack. Okay, let's get back to TRIAGE. In this three-way collection, Richard Laymon, Edward Lee and you (as Livingston) write three different stories starting with the same premise. How did this idea first evolve?

JK: TRIAGE was Dick Laymon's idea. He sent me an opening scene -- a woman in an office getting a phone call and this guy on the other end, on a cell phone as it turns out, saying "I'm coming to get you!" "Huh?" she says. "I'm coming to get you RIGHT NOW!" he says and bursts in with an assault rifle and starts firing away. Dick said, how about I take this somewhere, without telling you where, then you take it somewhere without telling me, and we'll get Edward Lee to do the same thing? I thought about it and said, cool! but see, I don't know shit about office buildings -- thank god -- so can I set mine in a bar? Sure, said Dick. And then when he contacted Lee, his response was, cool! but I don't know anything about office buildings -- can I set mine in outer space?

RLK!: (Laughs)

JK: I still haven't read their contributions, but I can't wait!

RLK!: Did you find writing a story with an established opening premise constrictive?

JK: Not at all. I just went kind of wacky on it, being as it was a Stroup story and all. The damn thing practically wrote itself. You get them like that every now and then. It was like I was listening to dictation. Stroup dictation.

RLK!: It must've been a great deal of fun to "collaborate" with two such good friends and like-minded colleagues.

JK: I know all three of us were tickled as hell to be doing something together, finally. I know own my glee showed through in the story. I'm betting theirs did too.

RLK!: In the introduction to TRIAGE by editor Matt Johnson, he writes that the original idea was for you and Dick to collaborate on a novel, but schedules had never permitted it to happen. Tell us about the genesis of the novel idea and how far you and Dick progressed before the project evolved into TRIAGE.

JK: Oh hell, that was a lot of fun. Matt wasn't really an active party to it, so he doesn't know the permutations. But it was like, Dick came up with this idea that was totally plot-driven, so then I came up with an idea that was totally character-driven, but not too far from where he was at, and he said neat and I said neat and then we e-mailed one another for ages, Dick doing plot and I'm doing character and the two plots are going all the hell over the place completely at odds with one another in the long run but having a lot of fun throwing all these ideas around. We maybe had three different books in there in the long run. Then it languished for a while -- both of us, I think, sort of chuckling, saying this ain't gonna work but what the fuck -- and finally Dick came up with the idea for TRIAGE and that was that. It was a lot of great, late-night e-mail.

RLK!: Sounds like a blast. Well, I think we've come to the end of your published works thus far - so then, what other works can we look forward in the short-term, say the next year or two?

JK: Well of course there's TRIAGE, then RED in various pay-per-order versions from Overlook and half a year or so down the line, the paperback from Leisure. Neal McPheeters, by the way, did a wonderful cover for the Overlook RED. Portrait of a dog, with something very special going on in his eyes. I'm very much looking forward to the short story collection, PEACEABLE KINGDOM. We talked about me being all over the place as a writer and this really will, I think, show a full range -- warts and all. There will be everything from hardcore nasty realistic stuff to surrealism in there, even a vampire story, hell, a couple of odd ghost stories! But I'm hoping my readers appreciate the stretch over the course of years and will want to go there with me. CD will soon do a revised SHE WAKES, probably in the summer. I'd always hated the ending -- which I thought I gave very short shrift at the time -- and that was a pleasure to work on once again too. I'm negotiating new deals for RIGHT TO LIFE, OFFSPRING and a 2002 nonfiction collection as well, but there's nothing firm on those yet. I'll be out there, though.

RLK!: And what will that "there" look like, Jack - how do you envision the horror genre growing and developing? While it certainly appears, thanks primarily to the numerous small presses, to be fully recovered and indeed flourishing since the horror genre's boom-and-bust of the '80's, do you see that trend continuing into the next decade? Where do you see your own writing, your own career in, say, five or ten years?

JK: The genre keeps moving around with or without me. I'm told that recently Zebra is coming back into play and what that means I don't know. I do know that it kept really fine writers like Edward Lee poor for a long time, at a couple grand a contract for truly excellent books, and that they published so many bad writers that, as you said, it helped tank the entire ship. Leisure's recent success may have inspired them to get back into the game -- again, I don't really know. I do believe what Bob Bloch told me many years ago when I was despondent about the fate of LADIES' NIGHT. He said, if you think it's any good you hold onto it. The wheel turns. Good advice. I would just hate to think that now, with some really good new writers coming up like Tim Lebbon out of England --

RLK!: A stunning talent. Reminds me of an early Simon Clark.

JK: -- and with some seasoned writers trying to make their way like P.D. Cacek and Elizabeth Massie just to name two, that they'll have this stupid row to hoe because publishers can get far worse writers far cheaper -- that hurts all of us.

RLK!: And what about your own row, Jack?

JK: As for me, five or ten years down the road? Here's a little prayer. Show me a story I'm meant to tell -- then give me the grace and time and wisdom to do so.

RLK!: A beautiful thought. On a lighter note, you seem to have become quite a fixture at genre-related conventions recently, entertaining and educating fans and colleagues alike on the nuances of horror, the art of writing…and how to have a good time. You exude an honest sense of delight at being in attendance - even when approached by an ax-wielding fan (your humble interviewer at his first Con) wanting the blade signed for RLK! Webmaster Steve Gerlach.

JK: Ah yes, the ax. I was abashed, astonished and thoroughly smiling, because of course -- and you'd maybe have to attend some of these crazy things to understand… There's a really neat, relatively small community of like-minded, twisted souls out there who will basically do anything, risk anything -- like in this case, fucking jail! -- in order to have fun with the people we've come to admire and who we feel are kindred spirits, fans and writers alike. It's a good thing and I recommend 'em. Y'all come!

   


RLK!: A good thing - made even better this time around by the avoidance of jail and security personnel. Lastly, borrowing shamelessly from James Lipton (Inside the Actor's Studio, Bravo Channel) who shamelessly borrowed from Bernard Pivot, our Lightning-Round: first up, what is your favorite word?

JK: You've got to be kidding but you're not, so here goes...My favorite word is FUCK, used well. Though YE is a runner up.

RLK!: What is your least favorite word?

JK: My least favorite word is FUCK, used badly. Though YO is a runner up.

RLK!: What turns you on?

JK: What turns me on? Jeez, so many things. The blue-black New York sky at five o'clock in springtime. The Parthenon at noon. Conversation. Good sex -- or sexual innovation -- or both. A beautiful paragraph. The line, CALL ME ISHMEAL. A cat purring on my lap. Mostly though, the sense that I'm with somebody I really want to be with (and that can be a cat too!) whom I sense I want to be with for a very long time.

RLK!: What turns you off?

JK: What turns me off? When I think about it, not very much. Even the stupid stuff I often find entertaining most of the time. I suppose it would be the things that would turn anybody off -- lies, cowardice, dishonesty, and when I can identify it, certainly, the urge to hurt. It's only the urge to hurt that I find unforgivable.

RLK!: That would help explain why it's always been such a strong and consistent theme in your writings. Next: what sound do you love?

JK: Elvis, in good voice. A cat purring. My lover snoring. The same damn thing.

RLK!: What sound do you hate?

JK: I am cursed with perfect pitch. That means a whole lot of modern music. Also, lately, sirens. I keep thinking some more awful shit is going to come down in my hometown (NewYork City) every time I hear one. That I'd like to think I'll get rid of eventually.

RLK!: Amen to that, Jack. What is your favorite curse word?

JK: Fuck, used correctly. Or in an Edward Lee book, peckersnot.

RLK!: (Laughs) What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

JK: What would I like to have attempted? I think I'd like to have been a paleontologist. It's always fascinated me and still does, and I'd loved to have been Roy Chapman Andrews, dusting off all those fossil eggs in Mongolia. Unfortunately, it's detail work both intellectually and physically, and in both departments I have eight or twelve thumbs.

RLK!: What profession would you not like to participate in?

JK: I wanted to be Elvis when I was a kid. I got lucky and didn't. And if you ever hear of me playing the Stock Market, please shoot me.

RLK!: If heaven exists, what you like god to say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

JK: "What the fuck are YOU doing here?" My reply? "I thought this was the A train"...that's unless god is a woman. In which case I have a much subtler reply...

RLK!: On that note, Jack, I think we'll call this a wrap. Many thanks for graciously taking the time and effort to answer these many questions.


(This interview was conducted by RLK! U.S. Editor, Ron Clinton, in early December, 2001.
Mr. Clinton's personal library boasts a near-complete run of Jack Ketchum first-editions…but no ax.)


The official Jack Ketchum website can be found at:
http://ketchum.dangermedia.org



Selected Published Works:


RATING:

Date of Release: July 2001

Publisher: Leisure Books

Review Source:

THE LOST by Jack Ketchum

Ketchum's back...get ready to rock!

The Lost has got to be the publishing event of 2001! Not only is it seeing limited edition hardback release through Cemetery Dance, but also mass-market paperback release through Leisure books. Who could ask for more?

Those readers who have dipped into Ketchum in the past know they're always going to get something special with a new Ketchum book, and The Lost proves once again why Jack Ketchum is one of the killers in the genre!

The Lost starts in the summer of 1965, in the woods, just three young friends - Ray, Tim and Jennifer. Oh yeah, and two naked campers. Ray's got an idea...a deadly one - and neither Tim or Jennifer can stop him carrying it out.

What Ray does that night will tie the three of them together for years to come...

Fast forward to 1969. The events of four years ago have remained unsolved, and Ray is free - on the streets, uncontrollable, horny and sure of himself. Ray can have anything he wants - drugs, booze - and anyone. He'd proved it in the past with Tim and Jennifer. They're his now, all his, because of the events of four years ago.

Because Ray always gets what he wants...

But all of a sudden, things start to go wrong. He's got his eye on some new girls in town; pretty, young and very screwable. He knows he can persuade them with his charm and good looks. He knows he can bed them whenever (and however) he likes.

Except the first girl, Sally, says no...

And so does the second, Katherine...

Then Jennifer and Tim start to get out of control too...

Ray suddenly doesn't feel so confident anymore. And when things start to go wrong, Ray starts to get mad. But he knows how to solve his problems...the same way he did four years ago.

And as news about the Manson killings of Sharon Tate and a bunch of her friends starts to filter into the nightly news, Ray suddenly has a new game to play...a very deadly one indeed.

Vintage Ketchum here...but with a twist or two more. Certainly The Lost is Ketchum's most detailed and visually textual book yet. The author takes his time, pacing the reader, allowing you to get to know all the characters - their thoughts, wants and needs. Also, certainly the most epic yet of any Ketchum novel - in both scope and character development. Just when you think Ketchum can't get any better, he produces The Lost and you just know it's going to be a killer of a read.

Don't walk, RUN to your bookstore and buy The Lost! You won't be disappointed.



RATING:

Publisher: Cemetery Dance

Review Source:

TRIAGE by Matt Johnson (ed.)

Triage is serious stuff. Let's face it, any book that features the masters of horror - Laymon, Lee and Ketchum in one volume - is bound to be a triple-bill of horror and gore.

And Triage doesn't let you down.

According to the introduction by the editor, Johnson, this project started out as an idea for Laymon and Ketchum to co-write a horror novel. This could be the source of Laymon's quote that he was working on a project that, when fans heard about it, they wouldn't know "whether to shit or go blind."

Unfortunately, the work schedules for both writers meant the idea was shelved. Eventually, it was turned into TRIAGE.

Simply put, a stranger walks into a place of business with a gun. That's the opening scenario. Laymon, Lee and Ketchum write their own stories from there. It's amazing to read how three horror masters can take a simple scenario and change it into three completely different storylines.

Trust us, you won't be disappointed!

Laymon is first up with TRIAGE, the title piece. It's Friday night and Sharon's getting ready to leave work. That is, until she receives a call from a stranger who tells her he's coming to get her. And get her now. Before she can make a move, her co-workers have been blown away by the gun-toting psycho and he's coming straight for her. Can she escape his line of fire, and can she find anyone else in a deserted office building to help her?

There's no doubt this short, bloody tale has some of his most extreme cut-to-the-bone imagery that will have the reader turning away from the page to gasp for air! It's bloody, it's graphic, and it's a damn good read. Vintage Laymon! And it shows you just what we'll be missing in years to come.

Ed Lee is next with IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 2202. He takes the same premise and throws us into a science fiction story with enough blood and brain matter to make Aliens seem tame. In this version, Sharon is working on the C.F.S Edessa for the Christian Federate as a data integrator. Her shift is about to end, but suddenly a psycho carrying a high-amp milliwave pistol kills her co-workers and comes gunning for her. The C.F.S. Edessa is on a routine mission to Utility Station Solon, 40 billion miles beyond Pluto. Can Sharon escape the man hunting her? Is the Edessa really just on a routine resupply mission? And just what does the Christian Federate have to hide?

Lee's piece is probably a little long, but he sure seems to have enjoyed writing it. Lee is in his element here - sandwiched between two other horror greats - and he delivers the goods in a sci-fi tale which, to begin with, seems quite out of place, but has an ending the reader is just not prepared for. Horror fans will love it!

Jack Ketchum, writing under his Jerzy Livingston pen name, rounds off the collection with SHEEP MEADOW STORY. This is an amusingly dark piece dealing with the frustrations of a reader, the Ketchum favorite Stroup, working for the Cosmodemonic Literary Agency and getting little pay - and no respect. He's losing his girl, his job, and quite possibly his mind. There's no way out for him, until events suddenly overtake him and he finds himself in a situation he never dreamed possible. And maybe, just maybe, if he plays his cards right, he'll come out on top afterall.

Jack has used some of his own experiences here to weave a terrific story that is the most realistic of the three. It is also probably the most compelling. Stroup comes across as the most powerfully realised character in the whole collection and he'll stay with you for some time to come.

The reader will close TRIAGE completely satisfied. This is a terrific collection of wham-bam-stab-you-ma'am horror that deserves to be on every horror lover's bookshelf.

Buy it - NOW!



ROAD KILL

Carole doesn't want to murder her drunken, sadistic ex-husband but if the police can't protect her how else will she ever be free? She solves the problem on a sunny mountainside. Her lover, Lee, has the baseball bat but she's the one with the courage to crush a man's skull and pitch him off the mountain.
Wayne sees it all. Every moment. It's the very best day of his life. Because it points the way down the road for him. The killing road. And the way he plans it, he and Carole and Lee are all going to do a little travelling together...
RATING
REVIEW
This story speeds down the highway at a hundred miles an hour, and there are sharp turns lurking here and there, making sure you are never too sure just where this novel is going to take you and which turn-off you'll head down towards the end. Shocking and funny at the same time, this is a book you will not forget in a long, long time. Terrific characterisations and very vivid descriptions of both scenery and the (very realistic) violence. This is the kind of book you wish you could read in one sitting. If you have a spare weekend - try to read it in one go. You won't be disappointed. A great read - not for the squeamish.
ONLY CHILD

Arthur Danse doesn't live by the normal rules. He knows he has been put on earth for a purpose - to show people that the world is a dark and terrible place. To say no to Arthur Danse is to receive a lesson in fear and pain. No matter who you are. Wife...lover...stranger...or eight-year-old son.
Lydia McCloud is one of life's givers. A nurse whose own hard upbringing gives her a special sympathy for those in need. Lydia doesn't discover the real Arthur until it's far too late. Until she's married to him and their son Robert has become the centre of her world. And she's forced into the battle of her life for the sake of her only child...
RATING
REVIEW

Half thriller, half court-room drama, this is a great read. Life isn't always peaches and cream - and this novel proves it. Gritty, realistic, and just downright horrible at some stages, here's a book that you could read again and again. Once again, you just can't put this novel down from page one. There is an uneasy feeling of fear and dread throughout this novel, and as the plot screams to its conclusion, your worst fears are realised. The scary part is coming to the conclusion that you would do the same things Lydia does if placed in her situation. Very realistic and very disturbing...this book is about life - warts and all. Ketchum has obviously never heard of the saying, "...and they all lived happily ever-after."
OFF SEASON

In season, there's the tourists. Off season, there's only the locals - and visitors like Carla. She's on a working holiday, editing a book, but first she's got to clean up the house and play host to a bunch of friends.
Nearby, a family of barbarous humans lurks in the woods, watching, waiting to feed their unnatural hunger...And within the next few hours, a group of sophisticated people will learn just how small a step it is from civilisation - to savagery...
RATING
REVIEW
Slowly, ever so slowly, people are now beginning to recognise Jack Ketchum for what he really is; an outstanding writer of non-supernatural horror. Praise from such genre luminaries as Stephen King, Bentley Little, Phillip Nutman and others have been well justified. Ketchum's name is being passed around. It's just a matter of time.
Off Season was his first novel. Along with Richard Laymon's debut The Cellar which was published at almost exactly the same time, these two novels have been the forerunners in what has subsequently been known as "splatterpunk". But unlike many novels that are published under that name, Ketchum's is not gore for gore's sake alone. His is a powerful, troubling and moody book.
As expected from a debut novel, Off Season is flawed, it is rough and raw, not as refined as the novels that were to come. But in my opinion, this only makes the book that much more powerful.
The novel is based in a tourist resort. Told in Ketchum's trademark style, lean and spare, the book takes place at "off-season", the time of the year when the tourists have gone, leaving only the locals around.
Living in the woods nearby, are a family of deranged half humans, who satiate their barbarous instincts with incest, torture, rape and murder. When the civilised community comes face to face with these primitive monsters, the results are terrifying.
It rather reminded me of William Golding's Lord Of the Flies. The central theme in that book, as in Off Season, is that no matter how civilised we are, it takes only one small step to descend into savagery.
As with most of Ketchum's work, the novel is quite short, only 250 pages long. With little room to manoeuvre, this novel will go straight for your throat and hang on until the final terrifying pages…
-- Faisal Ahmad, England
RED

The old man hears them before he sees them, the three boys coming over the hill, disturbing the peace by the river where he's fishing. He smells the gun oil, too much oil on a brand-new shotgun. These aren't hunters, they're rich kids who don't care about the river and the fish and the old man. Or his dog.
Red is the name of the old man's dog, his best friend in the world. And when the boys shoot the dog - for nothing, for simple spite - he sees red, like a mist before his eyes.
And before the whole thing is done there'll be more red. Red for blood...
RATING
REVIEW
Look up "versatile" in the dictionary and you might just find a visage of Jack Ketchum peering out from the page. Ketchum is a cult horror writer who has toiled in the shadows of other more recognized - and less talented - genre writers for years, occasionally making a ripple with such classic bloodfests as OFF SEASON and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR as well as periodically making acutely-honed forays into suspense novels (ROADKILL), courtroom dramas (ONLY CHILD) and action thrillers (HIDE AND SEEK). The difficulty Ketchum treads is the same as other similar genre-bending authors like Joe Lansdale and Ed Gorman: refusing to be pigeonholed in a singular genre, embracing instead versatility of theme and style. RED continues the growth of this maturing author with an achingly poignant examination of loss and retribution, specifically the shooting of a beloved pet dog and the owner's - who is a common man, a *just* man - frustrating voyage to justice. Ketchum's portrayal of the protagonist and his struggle is at once heartbreaking and chillingly suspenseful. RED is a simple and lean tale told by an writer finally becoming recognized by a wider audience for the exemplary, versatile wordsmith he has always been. - Ron Clinton, USA.
OFFSPRING

The local sheriff of Dead River, Maine, thought he'd killed them off ten years ago - a primitive, cave-dwelling tribe of predatory savages. But he failed. Somehow the clan survived. To breed. To hunt. To kill and eat. And if the peaceful residents of Dead River are to survive, they too must unleash their primal instincts. For blood...
RATING
REVIEW
Ketchum had a lot to live up to when he decided to write a sequel to OFF SEASON. And, believe it or not, OFFSPRING is just as terrifying and horrific as the original, if not more!
Ketchum takes us back to Dead River, 11 years later and we find little has changed in the small tourist community. Sure, some of the faces have changed, but the horror still lurks, out in the woods. For Laymon fans, there's some lovely references to THE WOODS ARE DARK (now a successful CD-Rom computer game in the world of Dead River...) and, just like a good Laymon, OFFSPRING will drag you in on its first page and hang on to you for the whole book.
As with OFF SEASON, OFFSPRING takes place over just 24 hours and leaves both you, the characters and the author with the feeling of the ride of your life. If you can, grab a weekend and read OFFSPRING and OFF SEASON together as a terrific double-bill! It'll scare your socks off! Not many sequels are this good, but then again, not every author is Jack Ketchum.



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