Jack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk–a former flower child and baby boomer who figures that in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs and horror probably saved his life. He will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. His first novel, Off Season, prompted the Village Voice to publicly scold its publisher in print for publishing violent pornography. He personally disagrees but is perfectly happy to let you decide for yourself. His short story “The Box” won a 1994 Bram Stoker Award from the HWA, his story “Gone” won again in 2000–and in 2003 he won Stokers for both best collection for Peaceable Kingdom and best long fiction for Closing Time. He has written eleven novels, the latest of which are Red, Ladies’ Night, and The Lost. His stories are collected in The Exit At Toledo Blade Boulevard, Broken on the Wheel of Sex, Sleep Disorder (with Edward Lee), Peaceable Kingdom and Closing Time and Other Stories. His novella The Crossings was cited by Stephen King in his speech at the 2003 National Book Awards. Four of his novels have been filmed — The Lost, The Girl Next Door, Red and most recently Offspring, for which he wrote the screenplay. You can visit his website at http://www.jackketchum.net/ .
Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?
Not sure what you mean by “writing seriously” since it seems to me writing is always pretty serious. You’re exposing yourself, after all — and willingly. It’s essentially a somewhat crazy thing to do. In junior high and high school it was all about popularity, probably. The first thing I ever published was in the seventh grade — a mimeographed weekly paper called THE DAILY BLAB, a class-clown kind of thing which my homeroom teacher encouraged to reign in my urge to disrupt pretty much everything I possibly could. I graduated from that to high school poet laureate — their designation, not mine — wherein I got to show all the girls my sensitive side. By then I was hooked though, and all through college I was reading precociously and writing constantly. The goal was the literary magazine for prose and poetry and stage production for my one-acts, with which I had some success. I was also submitting all over the place, going through the back pages of The Writer, at which I had no success at all. Somehow after college I got it into my head that I was either the next Harold Pinter or the next Henry Miller. Sort of hard to reconcile the two, doncha think? So that for years thereafter, that was where the problem lay. It was only after a dozen or so rewrites of my massive “road” book a la Henry that I finally burned the only copies of the damn thing in our fireplace, and — free at last — not long after sold my first short story to Swank, a wannabe Playboy. So, say that I was twelve baring my disturbed, disruptive soul in THE DAILY BLAB, and thirty selling that equally disturbed story to Swank, it took me eighteen years of trying. And they said in school that I had problems with my attention span.
How many stages does your work go through before you send it off to a publisher? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft, and how much time is spent in revision? What sort of revisions do you do?
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