Happy Birthday Dean Koontz
To commemorate the birth of Dean Ray Koontz, This Week in Horror is proud to present an extended tribute to the great man himself.
Born on 09 July 1945 , in Everett, Pennsylvania, Koontz’s early life was an unhappy one. Koontz was regularly beaten by his abusive and alcoholic father. These beatings as well as the strength and courage of his mother, have played an important role in Dean’s writing. As with many who write, that unhappy childhood was the catalyst for Koontz’s writing , “I think it drives you to get control of your life. Writing is about structuring the story and controlling the language. I know a surprising number of writers who had one or two alcoholic parents.” Koontz has said his work is uplifting.
“My books are really about hope and friendship and triumphing over substantial odd.” This is in keeping with his philosophy. “It sounds so New Age or so shallow, but it’s true: You can choose to be happy. As a kid, I made that choice. I wasn’t going to let things suck me down.”
He graduated from Shippensburg State College (now Shippensburg University), and his first job after graduation was with the Appalachian Poverty Program, where he was expected to counsel and tutor underprivileged children on a one-to-one basis. His first day on the job, he discovered that the previous occupier of his position had been beaten up by the very kids he had been trying to help and had landed in the hospital for several weeks.
Dean had always wanted to be a writer and it was his time in the Appalachian Poverty Programme that really focused his determination to become a successful writer. Dean would write whenever the opportunity would arise, something which he continued to do even after leaving the poverty program and going to work as an English teacher in a suburban school district outside Harrisburg. After a year and a half of teaching his wife, Gerda, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse:
“I’ll support you for five years,” she said, “and if you can’t make it as a writer in that time, you’ll never make it.”
By the end of those five years, Gerda had quit her job to run the business end of her husband’s writing career.
Deans first novel Star Quest was published in 1968. It was originally published by Ace books in a flipper format, where two novels are published in one volume. The other novel was Doom of the Green Planet by Emil Petaja. It told the story of a galaxy ravaged by an intergalactic war, where the only hope of peace lay in the hands of Tohm a lowly peasant, transformed into the “man-tank” Jumbo Ten. Sadly as with all of Dean’s earliest works it is no longer available in print and with Dean’s reluctance to revist his earlier works highly unlikely to ever see print again.
In the 1970s, Koontz began writing suspense and horror fiction, both under his own name and several pseudonyms, sometimes publishing up to eight books a year. Koontz has stated that he began using pen names after several editors convinced him that authors who switched back and forth between different genres invariably fell victim to “negative crossover” (alienating established fans and simultaneously failing to pick up any new ones). Known pseudonyms used by Koontz during his career include Deanna Dwyer, K. R. Dwyer, Aaron Wolfe, David Axton, Brian Coffey, John Hill, Leigh Nichols, Owen West, Richard Paige and Anthony North.
It wasn’t until 1980, and after 12 years of relentless writing that Dean’s breakout novel was published. Whispers was the first book to bear his real name to sell over a million copies. His previous two novels The Key To Midnight, and Funhouse, had also broken through the million barrier, but these were initially published under the pen name Leigh Nichols.
Whispers was the first of Dean’s books to appear on the New York Times best seller list. In it Hilary Thomas, a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, is attacked in her home by Bruno Frye, a mentally disturbed man whose vineyard in Napa Valley she recently visited. Frye tries to rape her, but she forces him to leave at gunpoint and calls the police. Detective Tony Clemenza tells her that Frye has an airtight alibi. The police called his home and he answered, proving that he couldn’t have been anywhere near Los Angeles that night. Whispers contained some of the hallmarks that would appear in a lot of Koontz’s later books, the damsel in distress, and more importantly the handsome, compassionate and almost perfect male hero. Some believe that these almost mythical characters were written as an antidote to Deans own abusive father.
In the years since Whispers was first published Dean has gone on to have 14 Hardback and 14 Paperback books reach the coveted Number 1 position on the New York Times Best Seller List. Never one to be tied down to one specific genre, Dean has written in a wide range of genres, from the pure horror of an ancient evil terrorising an isolated town in Phantoms, to Science Fiction with his tale of time travel terror Lightning. Dean has also written a new take on the horror staple Frankenstein, which transports the story to modern day New Orleans, with The Monster now taking on the role as one of the heroes of the novel.
Up until the 1998 release of Fear Nothing, all of Koontz’s novels had been standalone novels. Fear Nothing introduced Christopher Snow, who suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a disease where the suffers are unable to repair the damage caused by UV light, to the world. Fear Nothing, told in the first person, follows 24 hours of Christopher Snow’s life, as he discovers and attempts to unravel a mysterious and seemingly endless conspiracy centered around a military compound called Fort Wyvern. The book opens with Christopher Snow going to visit his dying father at the hospital. As Snow enters, the lights are thoughtfully dimmed to protect him in his condition. As Christopher’s father is near to death he manages to say a few words, including the title advice “fear nothing”. Shortly after, Christopher’s father dies. There are three books planned in the Christopher Snow series, however as of yet there has only been two books published. When asked in the Frequently Asked Questions section of his website when the third book would be released Koontz had this to say
“The third Chris Snow novel – after Fear Nothing and Seize The Night – will be written, God willing, but has been delayed because other ideas demand attention first.Ride The Storm, the third Snow, has been cooking for a long time, but it’s a delicate dish to develop.”
Koontz has gone on to publish two further series of novels, his Odd Thomas series, in which fan favourite Odd Thomas, who can see and communicate with ghosts and shade like wraiths known as bodachs, battle supernatural threats to our world. Odd Thomas has gone on to be the most successful of his creations with the series running at a total of eleven books at the time of writing. With a film adaptation of the book in production.
Dean’s third series of novels, are his adaptation of the Frankenstein mythos. These books were initially billed as being a collaborative novel, between Dean and some of Dean’s contemporaries in the genre. The first book in the series Prodigal Sons, was written with Kevin J Anderson with Ed Gorman contributing to the second book in the series. Future editions of the books were re-branded with the co-authors names removed from the books.
There have been a number of film adaptations of Deans novels, the majority of which have not been well received by fans and Dean himself. So much so that Dean had to instigate legal action against the makers of Hideaway, to have his name removed from the project. Dean was also not a fan of the Watchers film. However things are looking good for the film adaptation of Odd Thomas. Dean had this to say about the film on his website:
“I’ve seen the finished film. I never expected I would say happily, “I love the movie.” I usually call up everybody I’ve met all my life and apologize for my relation with the film, but in this case, he’s done a wonderful job.”
So after 44 years in the business it looks as though Dean Koontz shows no sign of slowing down. And for that we are grateful. Happy Birthday Dean, we hope you are having a great day.