I speechified at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta on Saturday. I was nervous. Standing in front of so many of the literati, my friends and peers, and a world-wide-streaming audience sent butterflies with switchblades carving through my confidence. I'm told it was awesome and was a highlight of the Bram Stoker Award Ceremony. Thank God.
I do owe some thanks, however. Thanks to Brian Keene for being my first reader. Thanks to Yvonne Navarro for making sure I didn't make a fool of myself. Thanks to Marsha and thanks to Stephen King for his kind email and comments, which I included. Thanks also to Brian Keene and Monica O'Rourke for your comments. Thanks also to Linda Addison for your comments. I'm sorry I wasn't able to include your heartfelt words because the speech was getting too long. They were magnificent. And finally, thanks for Lisa Morton for asking me to speechify. It was tremendous honor.
I was given free reign with the speech, so I made it a little roasty. When I mentioned this to Chris Golden he said, "Dude, this isn't NECON." No it wasn't, but once you've been to NECON, it's in your blood.
So without further ado, here is the speech.
Congratulations Jack Ketchum, you are so deserving.
Speech for the Horror Writer's Association
Lifetime Achievement Award for Jack Ketchum
By Weston Ochse
When I first met Rob Lowe, I couldn’t get over how timeless he looked. His hair was a shade darker and his smile was a degree or two whiter, but it was definitely the same guy I’d seen in St. Elmo’s Fire and Hotel New Hampshire groping Brat Pack actresses.
And to think that Rob Lowe was also a horror author.
Call me a fan boy.
I mean who knew?
And then some dumb ass popped my Rob Lowe bubble and told me the guy’s name wasn’t Rob Lowe and was really Jack Ketchum. I said that sounded like a fake name and asked if maybe this Rob Lowe-looking guy wasn’t actually the real Rob Lowe slumming in the horror gutter pretending to be a Rob Lowe-looking Jack Ketchum but was really Rob Lowe all along?
Can’t you see it?
In fact, I was told that Jack Ketchum WAS a fake name. The Rob Lowe-looking guy-named-Jack-Ketchum’s real name was Dallas Mayr.
How many of you think that Dallas Mayr sounds like a fake name too?
Dallas Mayr. Sounds like Texas pork product.
Dallas Mayr. Something you eat along with the pickled eggs at a bar.
|Dallas Haranguing Me for Pronouncing His Last Name to Rhyme with Oscar Meyer (as in wiener)|
Dallas Mayr my ass.
And I was right. You see, it turns out that Dallas Mayr isn’t the only name he’s gone by. Turns out that his real name is Jerzy Livingston and he was a regular contributor to the iconic literary tome known as SWANK for a considerable number of my formative years. I remember reading Swank as a kid. You’d think I’d remember Jerzy Livingston, but in all honestly, I never knew there were actual words in the magazine.
Back to my hypothesis. Maybe this guy sitting here really is Rob Low pretending to be a horror author who just looks like Rob Lowe?
Can you see it?
Let me just point out the obvious. This Dallas-Jack-Jerzy person and Rob Lowe have never been in the same room at the same time.
Or have they?
Back to the lifetime achievement award presentation. Here’s how it works. To be eligible for this award, a candidate must either be at least sixty years of age by May 1 of the year of the award's presentation, or must have first produced professional work in the field of Horror at least thirty-five years prior to May 1 of the year of the award's presentation. All recipients must be alive at the time the President is informed of the committee's choice.
This guy checks all the blocks.
What the criteria doesn’t say, but is certainly implied, is that the recipient must have had a significant impact on the genre and that is definitely a block Dallas has checked with a giant marker.
Look at this Rob Lowe lookalike. Beneath his craggy whiskey-scented exterior, behind the shifty eyes, and hidden within his lean, teenager’s body, is a nurturing soul.
I know, right? It’s not so obvious. To think that the man whose mind created The Girl Next Door is a nurturer is like having the Good Rob Lowe and the Bad Rob Lowe in the same body.
I can remember when I first started writing back in 1997. I met up online with a group of other writers who would come to be known as the Cabal. Folks like myself, Rain Graves, John Urbancik, Mikey Huyck and Brian Keene huddled in front of our respective computer screens as we texted in hushed characters in a solemn but now lost place known as the Horrornet Chatroom. On occasion a real writer would come by. Folks like Ray Garton, Dick Laymon, Doug Clegg, F. Paul Wilson, and Tom Picirrilli would slide in and we’d shut our yammering to hear how it was to be a real writer. Jack Ketchum was one of these guys who would slide in and give us advice. Not that he needed to. He just wanted to.
He was the same in person as he was online. He always offered an eager smile. He always acknowledged a fellow writer, even if that fellow writer hadn’t published anything other than a letter to his mother. When asked for advice, he was quick and confident, bestowing everything one might need to know about the craft of writing and the nature of surviving the publishing industry. He might look like the Bad Rob Lowe, but he’s always been the Good Rob Lowe to us writers scrabbling and scraping up the sheer wall of literary possibilities.
One stultifyingly hot NECON afternoon, found me getting a leg up. I had my first mass market book contract and was writing Empire of Salt for Abaddon Books. While everyone else was outside in the quad loudly getting their drink on, I was inside working. I got to the point where I needed to take a walk and get my thoughts together. I went outside, strolled around the building and through a parking lot, and ended up bumping into Dallas. He asked what I was doing and why I wasn’t with the others. I said I had a book due and that I needed to get some pages done before I could party. He then asked about the book and I meekly said, “It’s a work for hire zombie book,” as if work for hire was a disease. He locked me in that stern-take-no-shit-gaze he can produce on dime and asked, "Are you getting paid?" I nodded. "Is it a mass market book?" I nodded. "Then don’t apologize. You’re writing. They’re partying. My guess is that you’re going to keep writing for longer than they’re partying."
I never again felt bad writing a work for hire book. And I always remembered that it’s the work, not the partying, that makes a writer.
The success I’ve had in my own career can be directly attributed to the advice, mentorship, and friendship Jack Ketchum gave me and continues to give me.
And I know I’m not alone.
Here’s what my good friend Brian Keene had to say - "I received my first mass market contract at a convention. I was sitting at the hotel bar by myself, looking over it, when Dallas sat down next to me. He asked me to buy him a drink and let him see the contract. I did. He then asked the bartender for a red pen. Soon, he was going over my contract, adding things and crossing others out, all while not spilling a drop of his drink. When he was finished, he handed the contract back to me and said, "That's how you negotiate a contract. Keep a copy of this and use it as a template." That contract was for a book called THE RISING, and I have used Dallas's template on every book ever since."
I asked Monica O’Rourke if she had anything to say, knowing she’s been a longtime confidant and co-conspirator. She said, "do you mean something I can say in public? Something that doesn’t involve alleged sex, alleged drugs, and tons of booze?"
Notice we didn’t use the word alleged with the booze, man.
And I said, yes, something we can say in public and something that doesn’t involve alleged sex, alleged drugs, and tons of booze.
So after six months of thinking about it….
Seriously, Monica thought about it and after lots of tears and wringing of hands she provided this. "Dallas has always been one of my most critical readers, and while I didn’t quite appreciate it at the time, I sure do now. When Dallas read something I’d written, I wanted glowing praise, not, “Here’s what you should have done with the ending,” or “No, if you plug up that orifice with metal, blood will come out here, not here—and this is how I know.” I didn’t know how to overcome the horrifying fact that Dallas didn’t consider me the next Hemingway. I dreamed of ways to convince him I was brilliant, but most of my ideas involved chloroform and a lobotomy. Then, a few years ago, Dallas read something I’d written and had nothing but nice things to say about it. Of course I’d convinced myself he was just being kind. But isn’t that the sort of stupid thing we writers tend to do? Especially, when you finally manage to listen to the advice and apply what your literary idol has been telling you all these years."
Even Stephen King recognizes Jack Ketchum’s contribution to great literature. When I asked him to comment about Rob Lowe—I mean Dallas, he said, “Beginning with Off Season some thirty years ago. Dallas Mayr—writing as Jack Ketchum—almost single-handedly created a new form of horror/suspense fiction, marrying true crime to the horror genre and adding an unflinching realism that few other writers had the chops—or the guts—to equal. His stories are not for the fainthearted, and were never intended for them. His ability to create gripping situations and indelible characters is unparalleled.”
As you can see, this man has definitely made an impact on the industry. He’s always been easy to approach, he takes time out of his day to help new and old writers alike, and oh yeah—somewhere along the way he helped create a whole new subgenre.
Yes, he did that.
I’m pleased to call Dallas my mentor and friend, just as many of you are.
So Mr. Rob Lowe or Jack Ketchum or Dallas Mayr or Jerzy Livingstone, whoever the hell you are, please allow me to present to you the Horror Writer Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
There are none more deserving.
Photo Credits: First two courtesy of Yvonne Navarro. Third Photo courtesy of Jonathan Maberry.