Dallas Mayr, a self-proclaimed “a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk” who wrote dozens of horror novels and short stories under the pen name Jack Ketchum, has died. His death was confirmed by his friend and webmaster Kevin Kovelant, who told the Associated Press (via The New York Times) that he died this morning. He had been battling cancer, according to horror site Bloody-Disgusting. He was 71.
Born in New Jersey in 1946, Mayr had a typical baby-boomer childhood, albeit an introverted one; on his website, he says “in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs, and horror probably saved [my] life.” When he was in his late teens, Psycho author Robert Bloch—who had himself been mentored by H.P. Lovecraft—took on the role of mentor in Mayr’s life, and he spent his 20s and early 30s working as a literary agent and at his parents’ luncheonette and publishing articles and short stories under the name Jerzy Livingston. In 1980, he published his first novel as Jack Ketchum, Off Season, which he proudly notes “prompted the Village Voice to publicly scold its publisher in print for publishing violent pornography.”
Mayr would go on to win four Bram Stoker Awards as Jack Ketchum, beginning in 1994 with the Best Short Story award for his story “The Box.” (That particular story was adapted into a segment by director Jovanka Vuckovic in the 2017 anthology film XX.) He received a Grand Master award from the World Horror Convention in 2011, and saw several of his novels—including The Lost, The Woman, The Girl Next Door, Offspring, and Red—turned into movies. Ketchum’s work is known for its disturbingly violent, psychologically harrowing subject matter, rendered even more impactful by his blunt, straightforward writing style. His admirers include Chuck Palahniuk and Stephen King, who said that he “remade the face of American popular fiction” in his National Book Award speech in 2003. King is also one of several horror luminaries who have paid tribute to Mayr/Ketchum on social media: