The horror world lost a tremendous voice this week in Dallas Mayr, better known by one of his many pen names: Jack Ketchum.
Facebook and Twitter are alight with remembrances of Jack. (You'll forgive me, I hope, if I use his pseudonym throughout this post. I didn't know him well enough to pretend like he was "Dallas" to me.) All these recollections combine to paint a portrait of the kindly, beloved uncle of the horror genre; a titan of an author, but one who did not act like he was above everyone else. By all measures, he seems to have been an avuncular, giving, and jovial person. This was my experience with him as well.
I met Jack on only one occasion: World Horror Convention 2016 in Provo, Utah. I flew in early and met up with Brian Keene just a few hours before he was planning to interview Jack for his podcast. I strongly recommend you listen to that podcast if you haven't before. It's a fascinating character study, going over his time as a literary agent to Henry Miller and how, as a family friend, he helped to encourage Lady Gaga's pop career. In the background, whenever you hear ice cubes tinkling, that was me, trying to pour bourbon for Brian and Scotch for Jack (Dewar's, if memory serves) as quietly as possible, while failing by and large. Simply being a fly on the wall for that afternoon was enough to give me butterflies in my stomach.
Jack was Brian's mentor, and Brian is my mentor. Going farther back Robert Bloch wrote letters encouraging a young Dallas Mayr. And H.P. Lovecraft, of course, encouraged Bloch. It's a literary genealogy I can scarcely believe I'm part of, but one of many reasons why I was very glad to meet my spiritual grandpa (A term I suspect he would have hated, having a perpetually wry and youthful attitude towards the world.)
|L to R: Brian Keene, myself, Jack Ketchum|
The two men then invited me to lunch. We walked a few blocks from the hotel to a New York-style deli. It seemed like a serviceable place to get sandwiches in north-central Utah, but with Jack being from New York City I looked at him and jokingly said, "You must feel right at home." A sour look crossed his face and he just shook his head and said "No."
We all talked a bit as I tried not to be "that guy." I recall asking where he'd been when Kennedy was shot - probably we'd been discussing 9/11 for some reason and where we all were. I remember flinching inwardly, because it had seemed like a perfectly natural question as it left my mouth, but immediately felt like I was calling him old. If he was offended (or even noticed) he didn't show it, and told us his Kennedy assassination story. And now I really wish that I'd written a journal of that weekend, because that's all I can remember discussing. I recorded my more immediate feelings about the weekend on the blog here, but not a terrible amount about that lunch, which is a shame.
The next time I encountered Jack that weekend was at the Gross-Out Contest, and, yes, he was doing a reading. I went on to win that contest. (You can read, or, more appropriately, don't, my winning entry here.) In my valedictory speech I concluded with "I've waited all my life to be told I was a greater writer than Jack Ketchum, and tonight you've all made my dream come true." I cringed again about that later, but at the time I was very drunk, and in any case, it made Jack and the whole room laugh.
Brian told me later that Jack walked up to him after the contest, and in a tone that even in our brief acquaintanceship I could tell was pure, 100% uncut Ketchum, asked, referring to me, "He's one of yours, isn't he?"
Later, at a party in Brian's room, Jack was sitting, an unwavering smile on his face, drinking Scotch, wearing a scarf, and just generally being Jack. Thinking to myself that this was possibly a singular opportunity, but still wary about being "that guy" I asked Brian if it would be okay to get a picture with him and Jack.
"I thought you were going to be cool," Brian hissed. "I'm not going to keep inviting you around anymore if you keep doing this shit."
A block of ice dropped into my stomach, and for the third time I worried that I had really stuck my foot in it, and now Jack Ketchum was going to hate me forever, and disown me as his grand-whatever. But, of course, Brian was fucking with me, because of course he was fucking with me. And then we got the photo pictured above.
I know that's not much, scarcely more than a long anecdote, but that was my experience with Jack Ketchum, and in that brief time he left a lasting impression on me. As I've described him throughout, he was charming, kind, a little rascally, and perpetually a fascinating gentleman. But the greater impression he'll leave is, of course, on the horror world, which has now lost one of its most singular and revolutionary voices.