As I write this, it’s been just a few short hours since I learned of the death of Dallas Mayr (better known to the horror world as Jack Ketchum) from cancer, and I’m still processing the terrible news. It felt like a kick in the stomach, and I didn’t even know him personally. I can’t imagine how his close friends and family feel. My heart goes out to them.
As a man, Dallas was a great friend to the horror community, and I’ve been reading a lot of stories testifying to that fact. He gave generously of his time and talents.
As a writer, he was incomparable, unflinching, bravely flipping over the rock of polite society to shine a harsh light on the horrible things that wriggle and writhe in the dark underneath. Even when those things happened to be our neighbors, friends, family, or (god forbid) ourselves.
The first book I ever read by Jack Ketchum was Off Season, a story about cannibals, and I remember thinking, “This is something new. This is something different.” With that story, I think Ketchum paved the way for a whole new breed of horror writer. I know it made me look a storytelling with a keener eye.
Dallas also wrote (as Ketchum) one of the most gut-wrenching and poignant novels I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door. It became a hugely controversial book (still is), perhaps because of its explicit violence, or the fact that it was based on the true story of a young girl who was horribly abused, or both. The Great Offended were all over Dallas about it, calling him “sick” and saying he should go to jail for writing such filth. But someone needed to tell that girl’s story, and tell it like it happened. If not Jack Ketchum, then who? With The Girl Next Door, he was saying, “Look at this. I know it’s hard, but you need to know about it, you need to know what can happen.” Sometimes the darkness and the ugliness is where the hard truth lies.
Jack wasn’t afraid to go there. To get at the truth. And isn’t that what a writer’s job is, after all?