As a self-confessed Jack Ketchum fan, I like reading interviews about what makes him tick as a writer and as a person. For those of you out there who like Jack Ketchum and his work, I figure you would probably enjoy them as well. Jack Bantry from the fabulous Splatterpunk zine, gave me permission to post this recent interview he did with Jack so without further ado here it is, plus all the available online links I could find to good text/audio/video interviews with the man himself. Enjoy.
The following is an interview I did with Jack Ketchum for the first issue of SPLATTERPUNK.
How did you come about collaborating with Lucky McKee on THE WOMAN? Who approached who with the initial idea? Was it always going to be a film as well as a novel? Did the novel come before the script?
Andrew Van den Houten, who produced and directed my script for OFFSPRING, made an executive decision – instead of killing The Woman off as my screenplay did, he let her live. With a sequel firmly in mind. When I saw Pollyanna McIntosh’s work, I realized why and was glad he did. She clearly deserved a movie all her own. Andrew had always wanted to work with Lucky and knew that I already had, so we showed him OFFSPRING too, and he heartily agreed. Polly was ferociously good!
The idea to do both a film script and a book together was there from the start. I don’t recall who first suggested it – maybe it was just in the air. But we quickly agreed as to how to go about it. We instant-mailed. We’d do maybe an hour, hour-and-a half until we went brain-dead, discussing the characters first, then the themes, plot, dialogue, all kinds of things. We had a fine time together, almost always on the same page, absolutely always willing to bend to a good idea. We’d talk about how the book would differ from the movie, scenes of internal monologue in the prose version, point of view changes, etcetera. And we kept everything on file, even the goofiest ideas we knew would never made it into either version. So that by the time we were done we had “bibles” for both movie and novel. We agreed that Lucky would do the heavy lifting on the script and I’d do if for the novel. So Lucky would write ten, fifteen pages or so and e-mail them to me, and I’d revise and send them back, and we’d do this until we felt we’d nailed them and then go on to the next section. When it came to the book, I’d write maybe thirty pages and send him to him, and we’d go back and forth on that.
How did you collaborate with Ed Lee on the SLEEP DISORDER stories?
I’d only previously collaborated with Lee on the five stories collected in SLEEP DISORDER and one story, THE NET, with P.D. Cacek – Trish to her friends. Lee had this story called I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU that he wasn’t happy with. He didn’t like the tone. So he asked me if I’d like to doctor it up for him. The first thing I did was change the title to I’D GIVE ANYTHING FOR YOU – more to the point of the story. Then, because Lee tends to write longer than I do, I did a lot of trimming, swatted down some of the sex scenes, zapped some adjectives and lines here and there, and sent it back to him. He fine-tuned and that was that. A couple of year later he sent me LOVE LETTERS FROM THE RAIN FOREST. Basically tonal problems again. Same thing – I edited, tinkered. Then I had a story called MASKS for which I couldn’t find an ending, and another called EYES LEFT. Lee found the right endings for both of them. We passed them back and forth maybe twice. I did have an ending for SLEEP DISORDER but it struck me as flat. Lee came up with one a whole lot much better.
The story with Trish was my idea. We talked it over at NECON, our annual writers-behaving-badly summer bash. The notion was, an e-correspondence between an older man and an underage girl, neither one of them being quite truthful, with disastrous results. It was based on a true story I’d read about. We decided to actually write the thing by e-mailing back and forth, playing our parts online – me the older guy, she the teenage girl – and with all the bare bones in mind, making up the dialogue as we went along. Then I did the final polish and the epilogue. It was great fun!
When working on the script how did you deal with some of the graphic details in the novel? I read the book first and wondered how you’d deal with some of the explicit details – pliers on nipples, the eyeballs, killing of Brian, the dog child, etc. – Did you think to leave some of the details out of the book because they couldn’t be shown on screen?
We discussed them at length, sure. Lucky’s a bold, even fearless film-maker, but he’s also a softie at heart. Believe it or not, we’re alike that way. We’re also very aware of the fine line between exposing hideous activity and exploiting it. It’s a balancing act perhaps harder to perform in a movie than in a book, because you can explain more in a novel, you can go deeper into the motives, the whys. But you’re going to be surprised at how closely linked book and movie are.
Will there be another book in the series?
Can’t say for sure at this point one way or another. But we’ve discussed some options. We’ve resolved that if we do a sequel, it’s got to be a story that’s as important to tell as the story in THE WOMAN, and it’s got to explore theme and character. Neither of us are even remotely interested in a Jason/Freddy franchise.
You have written other novels, like RIGHT TO LIFE and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, where someone has been held in a basement or cellar, any reason for this? Have you had a traumatic experience in a basement or enclosed space?
When I was a kid growing up in the fifties, everybody had a cellar, and nobody had the bucks to light, heat, and convert there’s into a playroom. So that what you had was this room that stayed cold and usually damp, even in summer, and not a lot of light coming in through ground-level windows. They tended to be spooky places, dark, with bare bulbs handing from the ceiling. We had coal bins. Stone wash-basins with wooden washboards. There was a chute that collected our ashes from the fireplace. I’d open it and hide stuff there. On one occasion I found a dead bird inside, and on many occasions, bits of charred bone. Freaked me the hell out. When I was about ten or so, we neighborhood kids used to have meetings of our Horror Club down there, and pasted our favorite photos from FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND or CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN up on the cinderblock walls.
So, no traumatic experience, but I do associate basements with mystery and horrors. And in all those true-crime stories you read, where do they tend to keep their victims? Not usually on the front porch, in a rocking chair. It’s down in the cold dark depths.
Where did you and Lucky get the idea for having THE WOMAN become the captive when she’s always been the hunter?
That came right away, and it was a natural — a reversal that would immediately avoid the same-old-same-old. It was also a way to get at her character in a lot more depth, to show many more sides of her. Remember that we always had Polly in mind, and we wanted to showcase her skills as an actress, as well as tell a good yarn.
We’ve mentioned OFFSPRING and THE WOMAN, but the novel that started it all was OFF SEASON. Would you like to see it made into a film / Are there any plans / Have you considered writing a script?
I sold film rights to OFF SEASON quite a few years ago but thus far the buyer hasn’t been able to finance the movie. There’s new interest just this year, though, from a very reputable director whose name I can’t mention yet, but who I’d love to see at the helm. Should that happen, I suspect he’d want to write his own script and knowing his work, that’d be fine with me.
That sounds interesting!! Yes, indeed…
I got a kindle for Christmas, but I still prefer reading books: being able to hold the book; having the cover in my hand; with older books the smell of the paper, etc. But a lot of horror novels are very limited and expensive (mass-market paperback seem to be disappearing), and the Kindle versions are much cheaper so your work becomes more widely available. You’ve been a writer for over 30 years and will have noticed the changes much sooner. What are your thoughts on this?
I think very few people were prepared for e-books and I was not one of them. In fact it’s only within the last year that my stuff has been available in that format. I can’t feel too bad about that, though, since most of the publishing industry were and still are in the same boat. If I were to make a prediction about all this, it would be that things will settle down as the world’s economies settle down and perhaps even before then. That e-books will co-exist with paper formats and each will support the other. And though I’m not sure mass-market paperbacks will ever make a comeback, it’s not out of the realm of possibility either. Look at vinyl. What worries me right now is e-piracy. There’s a lot of it. And we writers work too damn hard to have a bunch of spoiled, entitled, low-level sociopath assholes steal away our living.
What would you write on your epitaph? Jack Ketchum…
It would have to be either: JACK KETCHUM, LOVED BOOKS, WOMEN AND CATS, NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER or just JACK KETCHUM, LUCKY GUY
All questions by Jack Bantry
Photo by Steve Thornton
(Originally published in SPLATTERPUNK, Issue 1, April 2012)
Available Online Interviews with Jack Ketchum (Text/Audio/Video):
Essay by Jack Ketchum: http://litreactor.com/essays/jack-ketchum/splat-goes-the-hero-visceral-horror
- Jack Ketchum: Official Homepage
- Jack Ketchum: International Homepage
- Jack Ketchum @Twitter
- Jack Ketchum @Facebook
- Jack Ketchum @YouTube