Interviews > Published on April 27th, 2012

5 Questions with LitReactor's Master of Horror, Jack Ketchum; 'Talking Scars' Starts May 7

LitReactor is thrilled to welcome horror-master Jack Ketchum for Talking Scars. In this four-week online class, Ketchum will lead you through the dark side of fiction, revealing the dynamics of how to craft compelling horror and suspense. Whether you have an affinity for viscera, or just want to learn how to build sweat-inducing tension into your work, you'll find that Ketchum is a supportive, challenging teacher. 

We posed five questions to Jack, so you can get to know him and his writing.

Don't be fooled. He sounds like a nice guy--but you won't want to take this class with the lights out.

What attracted you to the horror genre?

I was always into horror when I was a kid -- the old American International pictures, the big-bug movies, then the Hammer stuff. And of course the books, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein, Shirley Jackson's novels, and the great pulp writers like Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, and Richard Matheson. I even briefly liked Lovecraft, though I find him utterly unreadable now. When I decided that I wanted to get out of writing for magazines try my hand at a novel, King and Straub and a number of other really fine writers were already well into their stride and I was reading them a lot, and the movies had become a lot edgier and in-your-face, with stuff like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the like, and I thought it was a very exciting period to be writing horror. So it was natural that I gravitate there with my first one, Off Season.

I figure it's part of my job description to dig out the nastiness in myself as well as the "better angels" of my nature... Besides, if I don't scare myself, I probably won't scare you either.

What is the biggest mistake new writers make, when trying to build suspense?

Modifiers. Too damn many adjectives and adverbs. You've got to keep that train running and its fuel is verb and noun. Too much description.  Do I really need to know that his hat is worn at a rakish angle, or that he's wearing a hat at all? If I don't, leave it out.

Who are the writers--contemporary and classic--that true lovers of horror should be reading?

Good grief. There are so many! All of the above, for sure. But then Joyce Carol Oates, James Herbert's early stuff, likewise Graham Masterton, Edward Lee, T. M. Wright, Graham Joyce, Joe R. Lansdale, Harlan Ellison, Elizabeth Massie, Jack Cady, Tim Lebbon, Thomas Tessier, Sarah Langan, Tom Piccarilli, R.C. Matheson, Gary Braunbeck, John Shirley, Ian McEwan -- damn! This isn't fair. I could go on for two pages and still be leaving out some wonderful writers! And some of them are old friends. I'd better stop here.

Have you ever written something that's scared you, about where it came from?

Sure, with some frequency. I figure it's part of my job description to dig out the nastiness in myself as well as the "better angels" of my nature.  And it can be just as scary to lay out your tender, vulnerable side on paper as it is to admit to some of your inner violence. Besides, if I don't scare myself, I probably won't scare you either.

What scares you the most?

Alzheimer's. After that I'm with Indy -- snakes. I hate 'em!

Click here to learn more, and to sign up. 

As an added bonus, here's an interview with Nathan Wrann. He previously took a class with Ketchum at, and has since been crafting his stories into self-published novels.

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at

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