Prize-winning horror writer Jack Ketchum dead at 71

The author of The Box and Off Season was once labelled by Stephen King as likely the scariest writer in America.
Jack Ketchum was once labelled by Stephen King as likely the scariest writer in America. (Georges Seguin (Okki)/Wikimedia Commons)

Jack Ketchum, a prize-winning horror and screenplay writer known for fiction such as The Box and the controversial Off Season, has died. He was 71. 

Ketchum's friend and webmaster Kevin Kovelant told the Associated Press that Ketchum died on Jan. 24, 2018. No other details were immediately available.

Jack Ketchum is the pen name for Dallas Mayr, who initially wrote as "Jerzy Livingston."

He was once labelled by Stephen King as likely the scariest writer in America.

"Very sorry to hear that an old friend of mine, Dallas Mayr, died," King tweeted. "He terrified readers with books like Off Season and The Girl Next Door. Dallas and I went back to the 70s together."

Ketchum, whose admirers include King and Chuck Pahlaniuk, was a Newark, New Jersey, native and Emerson College graduate. As a young man, he worked as a short-order cook, actor, playwright and teacher, and for a time he was the literary agent for Tropic of Cancer author Henry Miller. 

He won several prizes for horror and his books also were a source for filmmakers, including The Girl Next Door and The Lost.

He was admired by Canadian writers as well. "He was a helluva writer. Boundary-testing, fearless, but he wrote with a ton of heart and talent," horror writer Nick Cutter (the alias of Craig Davidson) tweeted at CBC Books. "The horror community lost a great one."

He made an impression right away. His first novel, the cannibalistic Off Season, was so violent that publisher Ballantine pulled back on support. The book, which was released in 1980, has been republished over the years, most recently in 2015.

"Jack Ketchum's first novel... set off a furor in my supposed field, that of horror, that was unequalled until the advent of Clive Barker," King said in 2003 upon accepting an honorary National Book Award. "It is not too much to say that these two gentlemen remade the face of American popular fiction."

— with files from CBC Books

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