Pseudonym for Dallas William Mayr; born 1946. Education: Emerson College, B.A.
Writer. High school teacher for two years; worked as an actor in summer stock theatre; former advertising copywriter in San Diego, CA; former theatre reviewer for Our Town, New York, NY; Scott Meredith Literary Agency, New York, NY, agent for three years.
Bram Stoker Award for best short story, Horror Writers of America, 1995, for "The Box," and nomination, 2000, for "Gone"; Bram Stoker Award nomination for best novelette, 1999, for "Right to Life"; Bram Stoker Award nomination for best novel, 2001, for The Lost.
Off Season, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1980, published as Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition, Overlook Connection Press, 1999.
Hide and Seek, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1984.
Cover, Warner (New York, NY), 1987.
The Girl Next Door, Warner (New York, NY), 1989, limited edition, Overlook Connection Press, 1997.
She Wakes, Berkley (New York, NY), 1989.
Offspring, Diamond (New York, NY), 1991.
Joyride, Berkley (New York, NY), 1994, published as Road Kill, Hodder Headline (London, England), 1994.
Stranglehold, Berkley (New York, NY), 1995, published as Only Child, Headline (London, England), 1995.
Red (also see below), Headline (London, England), 1995.
Ladies' Night, limited edition, Silver Salamander Press, 1998.
The Lost, Leisure Books (New York, NY), 2001. Red and "The Passenger," Leisure Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard (collection), Obsidian Press, 1998.
Right to Life (novella), limited edition, Cemetery Dance Publications, 1999, expanded edition published as Right to Life: A Novella and Two Stories (includes stories "Brave Girl" and "Returns"), Gauntlet Publications, 2002.
The Dust of the Heavens (memoir), limited edition, James Cahill Publishing, 1999.
Broken on the Wheel of Sex: The Jerzy Livingston Years (collection), limited edition, Sideshow Press, 1999.
(With Edward Lee) Masks (chapbook), limited edition, Sideshow Press, 1999.
Father and Son (chapbook), Camelot Books and Gifts, 2000.
(With Edward Lee) Eyes Left (chapbook), limited edition, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2001.
Station Two (chapbook), Camelot Books and Gifts, 2002.
(With Edward Lee) The Fountain (chapbook), Gauntlet Publications, 2003.
The Transformed Mouse (retold fable), Biting Dog Press, 2003.
Peaceable Kingdom (story collection), Leisure Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Honor System (chapbook), limited edition, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2003.
At Home with the VCR (chapbook), Camelot Books and Gifts, 2003.
The Crossings (novella), limited edition, Cemetery Dance Publications, 2003.
(With Edward Lee) Sleep Disorder (chapbook), Gauntlet Publications, 2004.
Also author of several one-act plays. Contributor of numerous short stories, articles, and reviews to periodicals, including Cemetery Dance, Carpe Noctem, Asian Cult Cinema, Mystery Scene, Genesis, Creem, and High Society.
Film rights for The Lost and Red have been sold.
Jack Ketchum is a horror writer who is well known for his spare writing style and vivid, sometimes graphic, scenes of violence. Mike Bracken, in a review posted at the Culture Dose Web site, likened Ketchum—whose real name is Dallas William Mayr—to author Ernest Hemingway: "Ketchum is arguably the closest thing horror fiction has to Hemingway—a masculine talent unafraid to look into the heart of darkness and report back each and every disturbing detail. Couple this with his minimalist prose style, and the apparent link between the two only becomes stronger." While some horror writers deal with ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural phenomena, Ketchum, according to an essayist for the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, "bases much of his fiction on true-life crimes and events, and he uses these situations to closely examine the human condition. Three common themes run through his novels: an exploration of the boundaries of human behaviour when the normal rules of civilization no longer apply, the role of love as a motivating force (as strong as the struggle for survival) and a justice system that fails those it should protect."
Ketchum was born in 1946 and raised in a small town in New Jersey. After graduating from Boston's Emerson College with a degree in English, he taught high school for two years and played in summer-stock theatre in the New England area. A trip to California led him to take a job as an advertising copywriter for the Psychology Today book club in San Diego. A stint as a theatre reviewer in New York followed, as well as residency in the backwoods of New Hampshire, before Ketchum decided to return to New York and try his hand at writing. A few one-act plays, produced by a small theatre, followed, along with acting and directing work. As Ketchum explained to the Buried.com interviewer, he "finally took a good hard look at the bank account which was sufficiently insufficient to inspire me to get a 'real' job as an agent for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, a job that lasted three hellish years, taught me everything I know about contracts, editing and marketing, handed me some invaluable contacts and slapped me with a near nervous-breakdown and finally kicked my ass into gear to get down to the business of selling what I wrote, not what everybody else did."
First Horror Novel a Cult Classic
Ketchum's first horror novel, Off Season, tells of a houseful of Manhattanites vacationing in rural Maine who are besieged by an inbred family of ravenous cannibals who are lineal descendants of the region's first settlers. Some critics noted a resemblance to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. But the essayist for the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers found that Ketchum had taken the idea of a band of isolated individuals who are cut off from society a step further: "Off Season extrapolates the further breakdown of societal bonds that would have occurred in Lord of the Flies had the boys not been rescued from their predicament." He went on to say that Off Season became "an instant cult classic and has often been referred to as the ultimate horror novel." In 1999, the first unexpurgated version of Off Season was finally published, including those scenes deemed to be too gruesome and extreme when the novel first appeared. Lisa DuMond, reviewing the unexpurgated edition online for the SFSite.com, explained: "This is a book that was genuinely horrifying in its tamer form and, of course, even more shattering in full. And is it ever back in full. . . . Let me emphasize right now that Off Season is not for the faint-hearted or those with a powerful gag reflex." A critic for Publishers Weekly found that "its bleak vision and extreme violence still influence horror today. Only a novel of expert articulation and emotional truth can cast such a long shadow, and Ketchum's is both." Ketchum's sequel to Off Season, titled Offspring, is set eleven years after the initial story. In this novel the family of inbred cannibals re-emerges from the Maine woods to restock their larder with townspeople and abduct women and children to propagate their species.
In Cover Ketchum tells of Vietnam veteran Lee Moravian, whose natural anger and violence was only intensified by his war experiences. Now back home, Lee finds that he cannot adjust to civilized life. His wife and son leave him, and Lee takes to the deep woods to isolate himself from the world. But when he encounters a group of campers, Lee snaps and begins a deadly cat-and-mouse game with them. "Ketchum creates very complex characters," an essayist for the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers noted. "Moravian is a Vietnam veteran who has suffered greatly from his war experience, but nevertheless has a seldom-seen softer side. Ketchum first introduces us to this battle-scarred survivor in his relationship with his wife and son; tender moments that contrast with later moments of ferocity towards his victims." In her review of the novel for Cinescape Online, Denise Dumars explained that "Ketchum is a very spare, efficient writer; this is not a long book, but it is densely packed with everything that makes a novel work. He's truly one of the best craftsman writing in the genre."
In Red Ketchum focuses on a Korean veteran whose beloved pet dog is purposely killed by some cruel boys. With both his wife and son dead, Avery Ludlow's dog Red meant a lot to him, and he demands an apology from those responsible. But the wealthy McCormack family cannot afford such a scandal. They refuse to admit anything. So Avery seeks a violent revenge. A critic for Publishers Weekly found that Ketchum "succeeds in inspiring the reader with righteous rage at Avery's plight." Lee Cushing of Blood Rose Magazine admitted that "the reader ends up rooting for [Avery] not in response to any sort of simple appeal to vigilantism. Rather, we root for him because he is a character drawn deep and rich and real." Ketchum's The Lost is set in 1965, when Ray Pye wantonly kills two girls in a secluded camping area for what he construes as their sexually illicit relationship. Years later, the local police are still trying to pin the murders on him, and Ray, whose sociopathic tendencies are keyed to his macho self-image, has become a powder keg of confused emotions, waiting for the right spark to touch him off for a violent explosion. Although he
expressed doubts about the story, the Publishers Weekly reviewer allowed that Ketchum "writes with genuine skill; he knows precisely what he wants and can manipulate his readers as easily as he does his characters."
Masters Art of Compressed Narrative
Ketchum's many short stories appear in two collections of his work. The Exit at Toledo Blade Boulevard contains fourteen stories which elaborate simple crime scenarios into horror stories with possibly supernatural events. Included are "The Rifle," in which a woman discovers through the theft of a rifle that her young son is a psychopath in the making; "To Suit the Crime," a tale of future justice; "When the Penny Drops," in which a man's Good Samaritan impulses are perverted into vengefulness by the death of his wife; and "Winter Child," a story originally intended as an episode in Ketchum's novel She Wakes. In Peaceable Kingdom Ketchum gathers thirty-two stories displaying a wide range of approaches to their varied subject matter. Included are the Bram Stoker Award-winning story "The Box," about the unforeseen consequences of a boy's sneak peak at the contents of a gift box; "The Turning," an urban vampire story set against the class struggles of contemporary Manhattan; "To Suit the Crime"; and "The Holding Cell," about a prison cell that absorbs its inmates. Shannon Riley, in her review of the collection for Strange Horizons, believed that "Ketchum builds his stories upon the solid foundations of universal themes that transcend genre and lifts them to a literary level. He can deliver chills aplenty, and quite often does, but many of his stories go beyond the 'shock and awe' of horror." Paula Guran, in her review of Peaceable Kingdom for Cemetery Dance, described Ketchum as "a straightforward writer. He might toy with the reader a bit or end with a twist, but he never cheats, never pulls the narrative rug out from under the reader's feet—although it may get blood-soaked and gore-splattered."
If you enjoy the works of Jack Ketchum
If you enjoy the works of Jack Ketchum, you may also want to check out the following books:
John Fowles, The Collector, 1963.
Lawrence Watt-Evans, The Nightmare People, 1990.
Richard Christian Matheson, Dystopia: Collected Stories, 2000.
"Ketchum has made a major contribution to the field of psychological horror by virtue of his sparse, tight prose, his well-rounded characters and his unflinching gaze into the depths of human depravity," according to an essayist for the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers. "Like the crime novelist Andrew Vachss, Ketchum is at heart a moralist, and his excesses are in the services of morality." Bracken concluded that Ketchum's "ability to weave tales of human depravity . . . with sparse prose, shocking violence, and clever subtext has made him into a cult icon in the horror community."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Christakos, N. G., editor, Jack Ketchum: A Selected Bibliography, Seele Brennt, 2003.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Supernatural Fiction Writers, 2nd edition, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.
Brutarian, Number 20, 1997, Stanley Wiater, "Who Is Dallas Mayr?"
Carpe Noctem, Number 16, 2000, "Casting the First Stone."
Cemetery Dance, September, 2002, Paula Guran, review of Peaceable Kingdom; Number 44, 2003, Ron Clinton, "A Conversation with Jack Ketchum."
Epitaph, Number 1, 1996, Tom Piccirilli, "Words with Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee."
Flesh and Blood, Number 9, 2002, Monica J. O'Rourke, interview with Ketchum.
Funeral Party, Volume II, 1997, Philip Nutman, interview with Ketchum.
Mystery Scene, spring, 1996, Stanley Wiater, interview with Ketchum.
Publishers Weekly, June 28, 1999, review of Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition, p. 49; September 25, 2000, review of Hide and Seek, p. 93; April 23, 2001, review of The Lost, p. 54; April 8, 2002, review of Red, p. 210; August 18, 2003, review of She Wakes, p. 63; November 24, 2003, review of Sleep Disorder, p. 47; January 5, 2004, review of The Crossings, p. 41.
Silver Web, Number 14, 1997, Ann Kennedy, "A Conversation with Jack Ketchum."
Studies in Modern Horror, Number 1, 2003, special Jack Ketchum issue.
Ultra Violent, Number 4, 2002, Chas. Balun, "Treading the Razor's Edge."
Blood Rose Online,http://www.bloodrosemag.com/ (March, 2003), Lee Cushing, review of Red.
Buried.com,http://www.buried.com/ (October 8, 2004), interview with Ketchum.
Cinescape Online,http://www.cinescape.com/ (May 17, 2000), Denise Dumars, review of CoverL.
Culture Dose,http://www.culturedose.net/ (January 29, 2003), Mike Bracken, review of The Lost.
InfinityPlus.co,http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/ (June 19, 2002), John Grant, review of Right to Life: A Novella and Two Stories.
Jack Ketchum Home Page,http://www.jackketchum.net/ (October 8, 2004).
SFSite.com,http://www.sfsite.com/ (October 8, 2004), Lisa DuMond, review of Off Season: The Unexpurgated Edition.
StrangeHorizons.com,http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (October 20, 2003), Shannon Riley, "Horror, and Something More: Jack Ketchum's Peaceable Kingdom.."*