The author who in each of his books shocks his readers by descibing the most dark and vicious aspects of human nature. It is no coincidence that Stephen King said about him:
«Who’s the scariest guy in America? Probably Jack Ketchum.»
– Stephen King
Novels such as «Hide and Seek» and «The Girl Next Door» explore the evil lurking in the most cruel souls, through the literary work of a renowned horror writer. It is our great honor to have the chance to question him, in an attempt to peek into his brilliant, yet terrifying, mind.
Mr. Ketchum, we are truly thankful for the honor!
1) Many argue that a writer should have some kind of personal experience on events and facts he’s about to write. How do you feel about this opinion? Can the combination of research and imagination prove it wrong?
«Personal experience,» it seems to me, is a very broad concept. Is reading a book or seeing a movie a personal experience? I’d argue that it is — especially if it’s a good one! I don’t have to have lived through the Napoleonic Wars in order to write about them. I just have to have done my homework. When all is said and done, it’s people we’re writing about. And human hopes and fears and drives lean toward the universal, toward what’s known by each of us if we dig deep enough to find it.
2) One fascinating thing about your work is how deeply emotional and under the skin the horror gets. It goes beyond “this thing could happen to me”; it makes you think “I could do this thing, under the same circumstances”. Do you think this is particularly important for horror stories to achieve or would you say it transcends genre?
Again, it’s all about the people. Genre be damned. Whatever you’re writing, you have to stay true as best as you can to what real people would do and feel. You’ve got to empathize. I try to find the «him» or «her» in me. If I do that well, I’m also likely to find «you.» You’ll relate, and you’ll care.
3) Have you ever censored yourself thinking that maybe a scene is too cruel or brutal?
Only once, and that was in THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, where I have a chapter in which I say something to the effect of, «I’m not going to tell you about this. I refuse to. There are things you’ll die before telling and wish you’d died before having seen.» The reason for that was more or less aesthetic. I was aware in that book that I was treading a thin line between realism and possible violent pornography, and I wasn’t going there. The book was about child abuse among other things, and I didn’t want to exploit the material. Shortest chapter I ever wrote.
4) In both novels, “The Girl next door” and “Hide and Seek” we see that underground places, a basement in one and an underground tunnel in the other, provoke the nightmare, as well as the catharsis. Do you believe that the places themselves hide something in our inner psyche? An inexplicable fear of what is hidden and lays underground?
Absolutely. Our moods and emotions are often triggered by our surroundings. I dare you to stand on a mountaintop and feel claustrophobic. It isn’t possible. You’re much more likely to feel freedom, openness, expensiveness. Likewise basements, attics, closed-off spaces tend by their nature to pen us in, make us feel smaller. I’ve used that many times. Your spirit can’t soar in a basement.
5) Before you became an author, you did a lot of different jobs. If all these past selves of you were story characters, what would the title of their novels be?
My stint as a literary agent could be titled MY JOB FROM HELL AND THE LORD HIGH TELLER OF THE OTHER FROM THE WHICH. My years acting and singing for my supper could be ELVIS IS STILL DEAD.
6) As a representative of realistic horror, what qualities do you believe distinguish it from supernatural horror?
Supernatural horror depends on a cast of imaginary characters…demons, Old Gods, ghosts, etc. who reflect our fears but never directly engage them. Reality-based horrors are more immediate, more personal. They can appear at your doorstep and sometimes do. They’re cautionary tales. They identify the bad guys among us and ask you to steer clear.
7) Playing with the reader’s mind is an art you have mastered in each of your books. Which books have affected and inspired you the most towards perfecting this techique?
Hell, too many books to name. All good fiction plays with the readers’ minds, takes you into lives and places you’ve never experienced before. There are plenty of tricks you learn along the way in order to do that. But the most important is probably realism. If your book or story rings true, if the characters you’ve drawn ring true, the reader is drawn into the experience without hesitation, drawn into it gladly. You need to make them care about what happens to your characters just as you’d care about someone you’ve gotten to know and want to spend some time with.
8) In the novel «She Wakes», you vividly describe Greece during the 80’s. Are you considering coming back for a visit or even placing a future story again in Greece?
Second only to New York City, where I live, Greece is my favorite place in the world. I met so many good people there, had so many fine — even life-changing — experiences. So yes, I’d love to go back. I’m not a kid anymore so some of those mountains might be a little daunting. But my translator says he’s got a room for me whenever I want one and I wouldn’t be surprised if I take him up on that one of these days. And if I go there, I’ll write about it. You can be sure.
Visit the author’s official site: jackketchum.net.
Click HERE for the greek translation of the interview.