I learned later on that he didn’t need to defend himself. He was, in fact, Jack Ketchum, and his talent was untouchable. As for the man himself, he was kind, good-natured, and often the first to poke fun at his own chain-smoking, hard-drinking, leather-jacket-wearing, awfully-cozy-with-the-ladies ways. He knew what he liked, and didn’t apologize for it.
What a loss to the horror community when he passed away Wednesday morning.
Casual horror readers are most likely to know Jack Ketchum from his works Off Season, Offspring, and The Girl Next Door. Full-blown aficionados of the genre know he penned many more--thirty, plus countless short stories, long stories, articles and reviews. One of my favorites was the novella Weed Species, loosely based on the Paul Bernardo/Karla Homolka case, mostly because it sparked a long-running conversation Dallas and I had over the span of probably five years.
It started like this: We were chatting one summer day about serial killers, and specifically the two that Weed Species is based on. This led to a conversation about another idea he was toying with, basing a story on a cross-dressing cannibal serial killer he’d just heard about that morning.
Me: That’s funny. I actually know a cross-dressing cannibal serial killer.
Dallas: Well, sure. Don’t we all? (I think he thought I was kidding.)
Me: No, seriously, this guy, Hadden Clark, his family has a place [redacted because I don’t want trolls harassing his brother]. His brother was the last person I hung out with and said goodbye to the day I moved away from there.
Dallas: Yeah, him! You’re the second person to mention him today! I gotta find out more about this guy.
I offered to put him in touch with Hadden’s brother, but he wanted to learn more about the case before deciding if it was really something he was interested in.
Then, a year later, in New York City:
Me: Dallas! Hi! (I honestly didn't know if he'd remember me. After all, I'm nobody, and he's Jack Ketchum.)
Dallas: Hey, what was that thing you told me about Hadden Clark’s sister? I remember it was funny, but not exactly what it was. I want to write it down this time.
Two years later in Worcester:
Dallas: Hey, Stacey! I’ve been thinking: I think you should write the Hadden story.
Me: I don’t think I can do that to his brother. How’ve you been, by the way?
The thing is, my encounters with Dallas aren’t much different than a hundred other stories I’ve seen online from writers and readers the past couple of days as we mourn the death of this man. Because he was a genuinely decent human being. He always remembered who I was, greeted me warmly, and picked up our last conversation right where we’d left off, no matter how much time had passed. One time when we were on a panel together, he defended me against a writing bully, and for that, I’ll always love him.
He was not perfect, and he was okay with that. I admired that so much in him.
So rest in peace, you crazy, funny, wonderful man. Thanks for always encouraging the little guys. And for always being up for a discussion on cross-dressing cannibals.