An Exclusive Guest Q&A With Dean Koontz
Perpetual bestseller Dean Koontz's new novel, Odd Apocalypse, goes on sale today. We're happy to share this conversation between Koontz and fellow prolific novelist Michael Koryta, whose new book, The Prophet, goes on sale next week. (Watch this space for a reciprocal interview between Koontz and Koryta on August 7th.)
MICHAEL: In the new novel, Odd Apocalypse, you write that "between birth and burial, we find ourselves in a comedy of mysteries." That statement could be a guiding light for the Odd series, and perhaps even your work in general of late. Was allowing the laughs to join the darkness a conscious decision?
DEAN: Humor began to enter my work as far back as Watchers (1987), and by Lightning (1988), my agent and publisher at that time became alarmed and counseled me that suspense and humor never mix. They were not able to offer a cogent explanation of why the two never mix. One of my favorite films of all time is "North by Northwest," which is tense and funny; so I just kept doing what I was doing. By the time I moved to Bantam Books with Fear Nothing (1998), humor became the binding glue in all of my books except for The Taking, Velocity, The Husband, and Your Heart Belongs to Me.
Odd Thomas is speaking for me when he says, "Humanity is a parade of fools, and I'm right up front with a baton." Odd is a spiritual guy, and in my experience, genuinely spiritual people--as opposed to those for whom faith is either a crutch or a bludgeon--have a great sense of humor. They recognize that our fallen world is not just tragic but also absurd, often hilariously absurd, and that laughing at humanity's hubris and reckless transgressive behavior is a potent way to deny legitimacy to that hubris. Besides, if a character is able to make you laugh out loud, a bond is formed that ensures you will worry more for him when he finds himself in jeopardy. And I will always remember that it wasn't my looks or my sartorial splendor or macho toughness--ha!--that won Gerda; she says that she laughed so much on our first date, her stomach hurt the next day. That was better than being told, as I expected, that her stomach hurt because, after I took her home, she spent the night throwing up.
MICHAEL: A three-part short novel titled Odd Interlude was released in ebook-only form this summer. Tell us a little about the way this was conceived and written. Did you have that planned before the new novel or did it come to you later in Odd's journey?
DEAN: I had written a 32,000-word ebook novella, The Moonlit Mind, to intrigue readers about a forthcoming novel, 77 Shadow Street. The novella sold very well and drew strong reader response. In fact, I'm pretty sure a lot of people liked Moonlit better than 77 Shadow Street! So as I was finishing Odd Apocalypse, my publisher asked me to write a 60,000- to 70,000-word short novel in three parts to reintroduce readers to Odd. It was outside the seven-book arc of the series, and I had great fun with it. By the way, those readers who don't do ebooks tend to get exercised about a piece appearing only digitally. In order to avoid being whacked by an irate reader while waiting at the counter for my Big Mac, I am happy to tell you that Odd Interlude will be published in paperback within a few months.
MICHAEL: Rumor has it a movie of Odd Thomas is on the way, and that you're pleased with it, which is anything but the rule when it comes to adaptations. What can you tell us about the film version and why you are so pleased with Stephen Sommers' take?
DEAN: I have a glowing review of the film at deankoontz.com and on my official Facebook page. Anton Yelchin and Addison Timlim give wonderfully nuanced and affecting performances. Steve's sense of pace and his writing are even better than his previous best, and his scene transitions are amazing, something really new and highly effective. The picture drops much from the book, but at the same time it's absolutely true to the book, to its characters and its themes.
Steve is also a great guy and a family man. When he'd send me long emails about progress on the picture, he'd write also about his daughters and family things. After one such email, I wrote him back to say that he was so normal, compared to most of my Hollywood experiences, that I was getting suspicious. I said I was steeling myself to wake up one morning and discover that he'd been arrested with Charlie Sheen, crossing the border from Mexico in a school bus loaded with drugs and explosives.
MICHAEL: I know that The Moonlit Mind came to you as an interruption, the first sentence catching in your mind and drawing you in. Odd Thomas, the whole series run, traces back to a similar experience. How often in your writing life has that been the case, in which the story knocks on your door, and not the other way around? Do you find your best work is the result of those sorts of moments?
DEAN: More often than I've written about, novels begin when a most peculiar line or even a paragraph enters my head, intriguing but mystifying. It comes out of nowhere and seems to have no connection to anything I'm doing at the time. If I'm working on a novel, I write down the intrusive words so as not to forget them, and I return to them when the current book is finished. This is one of the things that I love most about writing fiction, this sense of tapping into some deeper part of yourself that you can't consciously explore – or possibly being connected to some greater source of creativity than yourself, because these moments definitely feel supernatural.
MICHAEL: Over the course of more than 80 novels, you've only rarely--Odd Thomas, Christopher Snow, some guy named Frankenstein--returned to work with the same characters. Who would you like to catch up with again? Is any character from the past still knocking on the door?
DEAN: I want to return to Christopher Snow for a third and final volume, and of course I will finish the sixth and seventh Odd Thomases. I'm working on Deeply Odd right now. But beyond that I doubt I'll ever turn a past stand-alone into the first of a series. I get mail every week asking if I'll write a sequel to Watchers, and though that is tempting, I doubt I will. I might create a new series character. I have one in mind. But if I do, I want to have the second book finished before the first is in print, so no gap develops between volumes. I don't want irate readers circling while I'm eating my Big Mac and drinking my Cabernet Sauvignon shake.
MICHAEL: You turn in 60, 70 or even 80-hour work weeks. But you've said that you never see writing as a job, and that talent is "an unearned grace." Do you believe there's a responsibility that comes along with it, then? An 80-hour week suggests anything but the unearned.
DEAN: Talent is an unearned grace. You're born with it, so you can't rightly take pride in it. I've arrived at the conclusion that it does indeed come with an obligation to use it to the best of your ability and in a way that brings joy to others. Because I love storytelling and the deep beauty of the English language, writing is never work for me. Sometimes it's a struggle and very demanding, but so is any activity that's fun. If a thing is too easy, that is work because it isn't challenging or fulfilling. I love writing, but I dislike having written. So I keep promotion and publicity to a minimum.
I want readers to be engrossed by a book, with luck even enchanted, and I'm acutely aware that I must give them value. But there are only eight or nine people in the world whose opinion of my work greatly matters to me. I put in those long hours for me, for the delight I take in creating, and then because each book is a gift to Gerda, whose entire life has been a great gift to me. If you care too much about what people unknown to you might think of your work, you're writing for the wrong reason, for recognition and praise, which all but certainly guarantees a miserable life because you're giving total strangers the power to decide the degree of your happiness.