(Musings of a horror writer appears as the foreword to Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs: A Horror Collection.)
What if? That’s how it always starts—with that imperative tug inside the fiction writer’s head, pulling him persistently out of what we call the real world and into that other one. The romance writer may well imagine a tale of unrequited love. The literary novelist might be stirred by the idea of an Oedipus-type of story with a different twist.
Me, I wonder what would happen in the moments after one of the wings is sheared away from the airplane I’m flying in Continue reading
While eating dinner with some friends in a restaurant the other night, I was having trouble keeping track of the conversation. For one thing, the place was loud and my days as a musician have left me saying “what?” a lot. But that wasn’t really it. It was the odd little woman in the restaurant sitting at a table a few feet away. Continue reading
That quote by Kafka comes to mind when I think of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. It’s how Ketchum tells his stories. He pulls them up from the gut and presents them without apology to the reader, saying, “This is what it is.” Under the harsh white glare of a fluorescent light, he turns over the rock and shows you the thing that squirms and writhes beneath. It’s usually painful, ugly, and hard to look at. Yet you can’t look away. Because as readers we seek the underlying truth inside the lie that is fiction, and a good writer understands the importance of telling that truth.
Jack Ketchum is such a writer.
The Girl Next Door is a gripping novel, a glance into the dark corners of the human psyche. It’s the story of a typical American neighborhood in the 1950s. But that neighborhood, and one family in particular, harbors an unspeakable secret. Ketchum shows us that, even—and sometimes especially—in the ostensibly idyllic world of Elvis, ice cream trucks, and Schwinn bicycles, things aren’t always what they seem to be at first glance. That there can exist a dark underbelly which people prefer not to think about, much less openly acknowledge, because it doesn’t fit into their mundane world of washing the family Chevy on Saturday morning and watching Ed Sullivan on TV on Sunday night. And the fact that these people turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to such evil is the very thing that allows it to live among them.
In the book’s afterword, Ketchum talks about how wickedness makes him mad. And doesn’t anger stem from fear? That’s what makes this story (which is inspired by actual events) such a suspenseful read. Ketchum is writing about what scares him, and what no doubt scares you.
I know it scared the hell out of me.
I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I remember when I was about seven and sitting on the floor with my best buddy, Mark Benningfield. Our trusty GI Joes were there between us, their expressions remaining calm and resolute even in the face of certain death. I recall Mark asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and out of the clear blue, without even thinking about it, I heard myself say I wanted to be a writer. Which is pretty strange, since I know now that I couldn’t possibly have known then just exactly what it was that a writer even did. Sometimes I’m still not sure I know. But there it was, out in the open, and I couldn’t take it back. Plus, I was seven for chrissakes. I mean, really, I think most boys that age would have answered Mark’s question with, “I’m gonna be a fireman,” or “I wanna be an astronaut,” or “I gotta go pee.” Continue reading