Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

Advertisement

Nonfiction

Interview: Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz is the author of numerous bestsellers and horror classics, including Watchers, Phantoms, Intensity, the Odd Thomas series, and dozens of others, with more than 450 million copies sold. His latest book is a new novel, Innocence.

This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is produced by John Joseph Adams and hosted by David Barr Kirtley. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the hosts discuss various geeky topics.

* * * *

Your new book is called Innocence, and it’s the story of a young man named Addison Goodheart. Do you want to tell us about him?

Addison calls himself one of the “hidden” that lives among us that we do not see. In his case, he and somebody who was sort of a father figure to him live in a major metropolis in secret underground rooms, and they go by way of subway tunnels and storm drains and other secret entrances to all the major buildings in the city. When they go above ground, it’s only in the latest hour of the night or when there’s a major snowstorm, as is in the case in this book, or a thunderstorm where most people prefer not to be out and about.

From the day he was born, Addison has been a target because there’s something about him, when people see him they’re so repelled by his face—by his eyes, by his hands—that they are repulsed, and then they try to kill him. The same is true with the man who took him in. They’re among this group that they call together “the hidden.”

This is a story of Addison when he runs into a young woman at a library who is being pursued by a killer. They take to each other in a strange way. But as he says, he’s unable to allow anyone to look at him, so he wears a hoodie, and she has social phobia, and can’t allow anyone to touch her or to be too near to her in certain ways. So he says, “Well, we bonded by our eccentricities. We’re both such outsiders that we become bonded because it’s us against the world.”

Essentially it’s the story of what happens to them in the course of a couple of days with some flashbacks to his earlier life.

Speaking of those flashbacks, even before this book came out, you released a short story called “Wilderness” that’s sort of a teaser for this book. Do you want to tell us about that?

That was strange. I was supposed to write another story that was going to be a teaser for this book, and do it as an ebook. The next thing I knew, it was turning into a full length novel. It didn’t involve Addison. So I got into a panic, and I said to Bantam, “This is not going to work as a teaser because it’s going to end up being 100,000 words long.” I suddenly had to put that aside and go to a story that did involve Addison.

It’s the day that he leaves home. The book doesn’t open on that day, but he goes back, and he tells you about the day his mother threw him out. Even the midwife who gave him birth tried to kill him, but his mother tolerated him, but only for about eight years. At that point she couldn’t handle it anymore, having him around, or in the house, or the sight of him, and so this is the story of what happened the day he left home for his mother. He’s encountered a hunter in the woods, which is referenced in the book, but in the book you don’t know what happened between him and the hunter except he was shot at, so I decided there was a way to spin a little story out of it.

It’s a difficult thing to do because you don’t want to give away anything that’s in the book, but inevitably you risk that. I think this one doesn’t give away anything important, and can be read before you read the novel or after it.

In the Kirkus review for Innocence it says that this is “something different from Mr. Koontz’s imagination.” Do you agree with that? Do you see this as a departure for you?

I love the reviewer for being so kind, but you’re never sure if the reviewer is familiar with everything you’ve done. I think, in a curious way, that yes, this is different; even my publisher felt that it was a book that would break out to a bigger audience. But I look at it and say, “Well, it’s sort of an evolution.” I look at books like Fear Nothing or Seize the Night or From the Corner of His Eye or One Door Away From Heaven and then the Odd Thomas books, and I can see progression that’s led almost inevitably to this, but then again, it was probably the most fun writing experience I’ve ever had. I never had a moment in it where I was beating my head against the wall, which is the usual process.

You mentioned that Addison lives in the sewers beneath the city, and the sewers are described in an enormous amount of detail and felt very convincing to me. Did you do a lot of research into sewers to do this book?

Fortunately I didn’t have to go into the sewers. I could find out what lies beneath major metropolitan areas by a lot of other research means and how those things work. How the storm drains work, for instance, related to the subway tunnels. Which are higher? Which are lower? How are they connected and when they are connected? That sort of thing.

When I was a kid in high school and college, I hated research. I hated going to the library and doing that. It was the thing that most got on my nerves. I’ve said this before so nobody can arrest me for it now—it’s too many years late—so I just always made up my research with teachers and stuff. I’d write a paper, and I’d cite all these books, but the books didn’t exist. I made up the titles and the authors’ names and everything else, and I did that through college as well as in high school, and never got caught at it. What struck me as strange when I got to a certain point in my writing career is that the thing I think I like most about writing now is the research I’m forced to do. I guess that just means I’ve grown up.

You mentioned that the other main character in this book is this teenage girl, Gwyneth. Could you just say a little bit more about her? About her appearance and so on?

She’s taken up a goth look, but it’s a little different—it’s based on the appearance of a particular marionette that as the story unfolds you find out has a very dark past. The creator of this marionette has a very dark past. She’s made herself up basically to put distance between herself and everybody she encounters, to make herself look dangerous so that nobody might speak to her because she has this social phobia and she doesn’t like to speak to people or be touched, and so this has been one of her ways [of coping]. She’s kind of alone in the world because her father had been murdered sometime before all of this opens, and she’s had to live on her own, sort of like Addison, but in a different way.

I would imagine, given the horror elements of a lot of your books, that you would have a lot of fans who are kind of into the goth subculture. Have you had much exposure to that?

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve got readers who are everything from teenage goths to ninety-year-old retirees. It gives you an indication of the spectrum of your readership, which is really valuable.

You mentioned that Gwyneth’s father was murdered, and he was murdered in a very interesting way—with poisonous honey. Is that a real thing?

What I say in the book was his honey was contaminated with oleander toxins. Oleander is a flowering shrub that grows in a number of states—generally they have to be the warmer states, or a desert state—but it can grow part of a season in a number of others. If bees were to feed only on oleander and produce honey, the honey would kill you. Her father ate this honey, but it was not that the bees fed only on oleander blooms or took only the pollen of oleander blooms, but that somebody injected that into a jar of otherwise healthy honey. And I will give no more of that away.

How did you come across that fact that oleander would be poisonous if bees were to make honey out of it?

There are a number of things that can be bad if bees make honey from them, because they have toxic flowers. Somewhere maybe six or seven books ago, I had somebody killed with oleander toxin, and when I was researching poison back then, I was fascinated that here was this shrub that in California on some freeways is grown along the side of the highway in great big hedges, and that one leaf of it or one flower of it can kill you—it’s that toxic. It’s a “number six toxicity” which is the highest toxicity level. That has always stuck in my mind and been intriguing to me, not that I’m planning to poison anyone.

Occasionally because people are not aware of its toxicity they chop it up and throw it in a salad to see what it would taste like and it kills them. It’s intriguing. Everything in life is dangerous.

You’re known in your books for blending horror and suspense and the supernatural, and that’s true of this book as well. Could you just talk about some of the supernatural aspects of this book? “The Fogs” and “The Clears” and so on.

Addison sees certain things in this city that the people of the city never see. They’re two forms that he calls “The Clears” and “The Fogs.” What they really are, and what they’re ultimately going to mean, I don’t want to dance anywhere near that—it’ll give too much away.

I would say this book takes a little bit of a horror turn, but I write book after book sometimes with no horror in it, and this really almost feels to me like it comes out of a fable or a little bit of a magical realism approach to a story like this. When I’m doing a supernatural [story]—and in this book it’s pretty heavy—but when I’m doing it, I most like to do it [so] that [it] isn’t something you’ve seen before.

Somebody told me I did back in the day when I wrote science fiction, and I guess in a way I did. But I’ve always said I’ve never written a vampire story and I’ve never written a werewolf story, and I when I’m doing supernatural, I’m trying to look for some different thing, some new approach to it that you haven’t seen before. And in this book the supernatural entities are something you haven’t seen before—[or] it might end up that you have, [but] I’m approaching it from a totally different way.

It really struck me, listening to interviews with you, how you’ve talked about how much resistance you’ve got from publishers to blending different genre elements throughout your career. These days it seems like blending genres is the thing to do. Do you still get that kind of resistance from publishers?

No, not anymore, but when you go back to the late seventies, early eighties or even later than that, [there] was considerable resistance to it, and not just from publishers, but from agents saying, “What is this? How are they going to package it? Which section of the bookstore will it be stuck in?” My answer to that was always, “Put it in the fiction section and don’t worry about whether it should be in mystery, or horror, or science fiction, or whatever.” But [there] was tremendous resistance back then.

I can remember when I delivered The Bad Place—it’s got horror elements to it, it’s got a blend of other things, it’s a detective story featuring a husband and wife private eye pair (sort of an update of Nick and Norah Charles for our time). At the same time there’s something happening in it that’s very out there, and there’s a moment where these characters actually end up finding themselves on an alien planet.

The first time [I had a number one bestseller], my publisher, in those days, called me up and said, “You’re going to be number one on The New York Times.” I was all excited about that, but before I could say a word she said, “But don’t get too excited. It’ll never happen to you again.” The reason she said that was because [there were] several things that she thought would always keep me down, and she was a very wise publisher about certain things, and one of them was mixing genres.

In The Bad Place, she didn’t tell me how upset she was about that little “other world” moment in it, but later, some other people who worked with her told me she came down the hall yelling, “He has them on an alien planet!” She felt you couldn’t be number one and do this or that, but that’s sort of phased away over the years.

I think the last time I got negative feedback about the way I was blending things was probably with the first Odd Thomas novel. It was a feeling that that might be a disaster, but when it succeeded, then I stopped hearing very much of that. Now people are so accustomed to it now, it’s everywhere in publishing, and some things that work best are ones that blend genres, so I don’t think there’s that resistance anymore.

The book, it opens with this epigraph from Petrarch which goes “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together.” Could you just talk about what that statement means to you?

That doesn’t mean what it might at first appear to mean. I don’t want to say what it really means to me because that would give something away in the story. But here is Addison, who is no great beauty, but he is wonderfully innocent and true and so that quote works that way. But it works in another way once you finish the novel.

How did you come across that quote?

You read a lot of stuff, and things stick in your mind over the years. When you get to be my age you’ve read several thousand books. When I was young I used to read at least 200 novels a year when I was trying to figure out how fiction worked and what techniques worked and what didn’t, and in the early years, I couldn’t always find things I wanted, or think of things I wanted, so I used to write epigraphs myself and attribute them to The Book of Counted Sorrows, which was a nonexistent book.

I stopped doing that because we were getting thousands of letters a year from people saying, “Where is The Book of Counted Sorrows? I can’t find it.” I stopped doing it when I was getting so many letters from librarians who would say, “I spent twenty-two hours researching to find this book,” and so they wanted to tell me how much time they wasted before they discovered it didn’t exist. I don’t want to alienate librarians, so we ended up eventually publishing that book so that people who wanted it could get it, but I stopped adding poems to it.

I’ve heard you say that the names in your books often have special significance. Is that true here? In particular the name of Mariah seems like it might have some significance.

Every name [does have significance]—to a degree in this book, not so much in this as some others. But if you look up the meanings and the sources of Gwyneth and of Addison, don’t do it before you read the book.

It’s not [that] names have a subtextual meaning, it’s not that people need to know what it is, because it speaks to the subconscious in a way. If we go through life absorbing tons of stuff, there’s everything in my head from almost every Twilight Zone I ever watched to every Dickens novel to a bunch of nonfiction I like to read. All this stuff gets packed in there, and we think we forget a lot of it, but what science tells us is we can’t access most of it, necessarily, but it’s all there and the subconscious is aware of it.

When you’re using names that may have a resonance in them because of things that a certain significant part of your readership might have come across, it just adds something for people. I had a book, it was one of the Odd Thomas books, in which a number of the names were in Hebrew; they didn’t look like Hebrew words, but they were Hebrew words that add significance to the story. Low and behold, I started getting a bunch of mail from Israel by people who said, “Do you know that the names of some of these characters are actually words in Hebrew?” That would be amazing if that happened and I didn’t know it, but it’s intriguing just to see how much people will pick up on that kind of thing and write you about it. It’s just kind of fun.

Could you talk about the character Mariah? She is a character who’s in a coma, and the authorities wanted to disconnect her from life support. It seems like maybe that ties in with some of your feelings about the world. I’ve heard you talk about something that you call “utilitarian bioethics.”

Oh yeah, I wrote a whole novel about that. It’s One Door Away from Heaven. [The foundation my wife and I have run for the last twenty-five years] supports charities that deal with people with severe disabilities, and one of the key ones is “Canine Companions for Independence,” where an assistance dog can revolutionize the life of these people with everything from autism to paraplegic/quadriplegic [paralysis] and even to some people who would appear to be in the next thing to a vegetative state. It’s amazing to see that the quality of their life, how it flourishes, how it unfolds when they have an assistance dog.

The mysterious connection, for instance. There’s a girl who I remember vividly from one of the canine companions graduations. She was eleven years old. She had a neuromuscular disease that closes down various pathways in the body, and once the function is lost, the medicine tells us it can never be regained because the neural pathway isn’t there anymore. This girl had developed this disease when she was seven, and by the time she came with her family to get an assistance dog, it wasn’t an assistance dog that she could command because she’d lost her ability to speak; there are muscles involved in everything, speech and sight. She would eventually lose her sight, but she’d lost the ability to open her hands because they had closed the neural pathway to open and flex her hands. Her hands were like fists, and they were only open when her mother opened them to wash them every day. She’d lost the ability to walk, so she was in a wheelchair.

Then she came to CCI for the two weeks with her family, where they were going to get this dog. For her [it was] an assistance dog, but more than that, it was a socializing dog because as she loses these functions she withdraws further and further from the world until she’s eventually blind and deaf. It’s a horrible disease. But she got this dog, and came for the training of the dog, and they were in three or four days of the training, and one day she opened her hand so that she could pet the dog. Her parents, they hadn’t seen her open her hand in . . . I think it was two years. She hadn’t spoken in longer than two. And the day after that she opened her hand to pet the dog, she started saying, “Good doggie. Good doggie.” Which were the first words her parents had heard out of her in a long, long time.

By the time she was graduating, she could walk by holding on to her mother’s arm. Doctors are studying this now, and have been since, because it’s supposedly impossible. We had the connection with the dog, which is in some way beyond our comprehension, the human and dog bond had brought a quality of life to her that she was told she could never have again.

I’ve seen the same thing happen with people who are in very, very serious conditions. So I’m very reluctant to agree with Peter Singer that you should be allowed to kill children with disabilities or kill them by not giving them antibiotics when they get infections. I’ve seen so many disabled people who, with the right kind of assistance, lead a quality life that they’re very happy with. It’s only people who have no disabilities who look at them and say they can never have a good quality of life. And so, in a sense, this girl carries forward my concern about that kind of thing in this book.

I thought it was interesting, you said that many of these people that you’ve met with serious disabilities actually complain less about their lives than other people.

Yes. It’s to the extent that I’ve met and gotten to know, to one degree or another, hundreds of people with severe disabilities. It is always striking to me; I’ve never heard one of them complain. I was once the head of a writer’s group that had about 450 members and every day I got complaints. “My agent did this to me,” or “My publisher just did this.” And I’d been around long enough to see that anything they were complaining about had happened to me probably ten times over. It’s the nature of the world, and it’s the nature of the business, and none of it was really all that horrible. And sometimes the publisher or the agent was only doing what they had to do in order to make their profit or whatever, and the writer was perhaps being a little unreasonable, and sometimes not.

When you’re the head of an organization like that, you try to help. But we went away to one of these CCI things, and it was particularly special because we were away all weekend at it. When I came home, I think there were like forty some messages on my answering machine, and all but one of them were from members of this writer’s organization, and all of them were bitching about something. And I quit. I said, “You know what? I spent the weekend with people who can’t walk, some of whom don’t have use of legs or hands, just all kinds of terrible disabilities, and children with spinal bifida in wheelchairs and I didn’t hear a negative word out of any of them. They just want to improve their lives and they were joyful during the weekend and very forthcoming. It’s time to get everything in perspective. There’s a lot worse in life than having an agent who doesn’t work for you, which is so common that that’s not even a problem. That’s just the nature of the business.”

Just speaking of bad experiences that writers have with the world in general, it seems like you have had not great experiences with Hollywood, right? There was just an Odd Thomas movie that actually it sounds like you were very happy with, but I was just poking around online, it doesn’t seem to be widely available.

I’ve met some really nice people and really dedicated people, but my experience has been that that’s a small percentage. Every time you think something will work, it doesn’t. I just stand in amazement of those who’ve had successful or repeatedly successful experiences with Hollywood. Like the Odd Thomas film, which Stephen Sommers wrote and directed. He called me up and talked me through how he would deal with it, and I was so impressed with him. At that point I had told my entertainment attorney that if somebody calls and they ask are the rights to this book or that book available, don’t say yes or no, just call me and tell me who they are, and let me consider who they are, and then I’ll decide whether they’re available or not.

Of course, I liked a number of Stephen’s films, and when he was on the phone, he was just a great guy, and in two hours he convinced me he understood this territory and the book backward and forward, and then he delivered his screenplay. Usually when they send me the screenplay for notes, I have five different colored inks, and I start with great dread. I have to keep it aside for two days before I even look at it. In Stephen’s case, I made, I think it was four little checkmarks in the margin, and then I went back and crossed them out because he had answered the little questions that came. It was, to my mind, a perfect screenplay.

He ended up making the movie in which he edited some of that out, but still a terrific movie. There’s always something that goes wrong; it’s amazing that anything gets produced. So we ended up with a film that I liked. I saw it in an audience with about 500 people, and the reaction was strong in the audience to everything. It was obvious that the audience liked the picture. It was one of these test audiences, and they scored it very high. Then all kinds of internal production issues related to nothing to do with the movie ended up getting this thing stalled in release. I don’t know how exactly, but I understand it will get some sort of view-on-demand [release], and it’s supposed to go into theatres also at some point, but I no longer believe anything.

The one good thing out of it was I met Stephen Sommers, whom I consider now a friend and one of the most genuine human beings I have ever met inside or outside film. It was still a good experience because he ended up with a film I like that maybe nobody else will ever see, but I liked it, and I got to know him and like him immensely. So there was that benefit to it. Sometimes there aren’t.

But we’ve got a TV show based on the Frankenstein books in development, and the writer on that came down here for an afternoon. We had lunch, and he’s just a great guy, and he totally gets it, so I know that that could turn out to be pretty good, but we’ll see whether that actually gets produced that way. You just never know. I’ve had particularly bad luck, so I just don’t expect anything anymore.

You actually said of the Odd Thomas movie that it might change some of the ways things are done in Hollywood. Could you say what you meant by that?

What I meant was how you approach this kind of film. Stephen does some amazing things in this movie that I’m fascinated with because they’re technical. I’ve only seen the movie once in an audience with all those people—I haven’t had the ability to be able to see it again—but I said to him after, I’ve never seen transitions done the way he does them many times in this movie. I thought when you see how he approaches this kind of story, it’s different than he’s ever approached it before, and it’s incredibly sophisticated in its technical expertise and the cutting of scene to scene and a number of things like that. That’s what I meant.

I thought once they saw this, and some of the things he was doing, and the economical way in which he was doing things, and how seamless it was, that it would change the way that other directors might approach this kind of scary film. But maybe I’m totally wrong about that. I’m not wrong that he does a magnificent job. But it has to be out in theaters first and succeed before it affects other people.

I mentioned that this is primarily a show for science fiction fans, and I know that you were a big science fiction fan as a kid. Could you just talk about how you go into science fiction and what role it played in your childhood?

I was born into a very poor household, and my dad was a violent alcoholic who held forty-four jobs in thirty-four years, and there were periods of time when he wasn’t employed by anyone. He often punched somebody out, which is a very bad way to get a job advancement if it’s your boss you’re punching out. So there wasn’t much in the way of money. There was no money for books, but by the time I was eight—I don’t even know why—I was telling little stories and drawing covers for them and stapling the edge and peddling them to relatives for a nickel. By the time I was nine or ten, I was starting to go to the library a lot, and one of the first things I read were the Robert Heinlein young adult novels. I was swept away.

For a considerable period, ninety-eight percent of what I read—I would say almost most of the way through college—was science fiction unless I was assigned something, and then I would always try not to have to read what was assigned, but read something I wanted. I was formed by Heinlein, and Theodore Sturgeon, and Ray Bradbury, and all the great classic writers of the field.

By the time I was starting to write for a living that’s what I was going to write. My first short stories were science fiction stories, and then novels. A lot of them weren’t that good because some people [aren’t] blessed with an understanding of storytelling when they write their first novel; I was fumbling for a long time, but I wrote an awful lot in the field, and a few of them I still like.

There came a day where I realized that isn’t what I was going to be good at, and if you’re not going to be best at it, or among the best, then there’s no point to go on plowing forward to do it, and that’s when I started changing over to suspense. And also a comic novel was one of the first things I did, and it got well reviewed, but it sold almost no copies. Then after the fact, an agent said to me, “Well, that’s because comic novels don’t sell.” I said, “Okay, why didn’t somebody tell me that before I actually wrote one?”

So I didn’t put comedy in novels for a while, I just sold straight suspense and worked on that and developed technique, but then at one point, I started to slip a little humor into it that would have probably been with Watchers. When it got to be more than that on some books, that was another thing some publishers didn’t like. They would tell me, “You can’t have a character be funny in a suspense novel or in a scary novel.” And I would say, “Why not?” And they’d say, “Because nobody would be scared if they laughed.” I’d say, “But, in real life, we like people who have a sense of humor. They seem more real to us, and we’re more engaged with them, and I think a character in a novel, we’d feel the same way about it. If he can make us laugh, and we see his view of the world allows for humor, then we care more about the character and the fate of the character.” But it took me a long time to sell that theory.

Which of your science fiction books are the ones that you still sort of like?

I did a book called The Flesh in the Furnace—there’s nothing I wrote from that period I wouldn’t go back and rewrite, but that book I remember fondly, and I liked the original Demon Seed, but I eventually did completely rewrite it, and I liked it much better in the rewritten version. There aren’t that many that I really love. It was just a field that I loved as a reader, but I was not really born to write.

You mentioned Theodore Sturgeon, and in an interview I saw you mention his short story “Bianca’s Hands,” and I was just blown away by that story. I’ve never heard anyone else mention it that I can think of. I don’t know how well you remember it, but could you talk about what about that story struck you so much?

It’s a story of obsession, and it’s creepy in the extreme. It’s beautifully composed. Sturgeon fascinates me because he could write things that were just gorgeous in their composition and the way he used the language, and then you come to a story that felt like he tore it off in three hours; fortunately, most of what he wrote was of the superior category, but “Bianca’s Hands,” it’s been many years since I last read it, but it’s this girl who is essentially, as I remember, she is maybe mentally disabled. He’s just drawn to her by the beauty of her hands and everything, but it’s about fetishism and obsession, and it just conveys it so incredibly well. It’s a story that sticks in your mind. Or another story of his that is like that is a story called “It.” Have you ever read that one?

I’ve read all of them, but which one is that?

“It” is the one with just the little girl. She says that there’s this creature that comes alive around the remains of some guy that was killed in the woods, and the body’s been missing, and it gets a spontaneous kind of life that generated it. It stands up in the forest, and it’s just one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. Not up there with “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, but awful scary.

He just had that way of doing things that were different. It may be my admiration of Sturgeon—although it’s also just the way I feel about life—that so many of my characters are outsiders, or to one degree or another are not in the center of society. Somebody like Odd Thomas is on the edge of things. Chris Snow can’t go out in light at any time. I don’t tend to write about mesomorphs like Schwarzenegger or people who have great skills with every kind of weapon imaginable. Mostly I write about gardeners and fry cooks like Odd, or people who have mundane jobs but get caught up in extraordinary things. I think maybe some of that had to do with Sturgeon.

Do you still read much science fiction these days?

I don’t read as much of it as I used to. For one thing, I read so much nonfiction. I’ve always loved reading science, so if there’s a new book about quantum mechanics or chaos theory or this or that, it’s first on my list. I find the older I get I tend to be doing that more. I don’t do it to get ideas for fiction, I don’t think, because I just enjoy it so much. Sometimes history is intriguing more than fiction, but I still from time to time read in genre.

You mentioned that you started this story related to Innocence that kind of ballooned into its own novel. What’s the status of that?

I sent a couple of chapters to my publisher and said, “What do you think of this?” And I never do that. I’m always worried to let anybody see anything before it’s completely finished. They were expecting a story, and I said, “I’m going to have to put this story aside. It’s called The City,” and they liked it so much that they shifted releases, and a book called Secret Forest that was originally coming out next summer will come out in 2015, and this book called The City will come out next summer.

I like music, but I realized I’ve never really written a book with a musician as a lead character. That isn’t why I started to write this. I had this curious little idea, and I thought it was a short story, but when I looked up, I had like 100 pages of it, and I was nowhere close to halfway, so I realized it’s going to be much bigger. It’s about a black musician who is about fifty-eight when he’s telling the story. It’s sort of an oral history of something that happened to him between the ages of ten and fourteen.

Character is what sells novels to me as a reader, and as writer, that’s what carries me forward. So this guy comes out of a family of musicians. His grandfather was a pianist in some of the big swing bands. The more I listened to him, the more I got intrigued by him, and it’s got an element of fantasy, but it’s kind of something totally different, and it started to intrigue me. So let’s hope it intrigues the public. I can always learn plumbing or something.

Do you have other projects you want to mention? Is there anything more you want to say about Secret Forest?

There’s a character in Velocity—Ivy Elgin—she’s a walk on. She has a short scene or two in the beginning of the book, and then I think it’s past halfway she has a major scene. She fascinated me because I didn’t even know what it was about her that fascinated me except that she seemed to have a very unusual relationship with nature. She has a big scene with the lead late in Velocity when he’s trying to uncover this or that, and she’s kind of a blind alley, but I got so much mail on that scene and that character, and never before has a walk on character generated thousands of letters. People kept saying, “I want to know her story. Could you write a novel about her?” And I said, “You know? She fascinated me too, but I don’t know what the novel would be.”

So years passed, and one day when I wasn’t even thinking about it, there was this idea for Ivy Elgin going on this kind of journey into strangeness. The book came together, and obviously had been cooking in the subconscious for a long time, but it just suddenly came together.

Other than that, I’m finishing The City, and as soon as I get that done, I will write the last of the Odd Thomas books. That, I’m going to enjoy, but it’s going to be dismaying to do because writing from Odd’s point of view, for me, is like just listening to somebody. It’s a joy. I laugh out loud at things he says as if I didn’t write them, as if I’m listening to somebody say them. So that’ll be bad.

But I’ve got a number of projects [in mind]. You plan certain projects, but as you get to the point where you’re [going] to write them, something else occurs to you that you might want to do more, and at that point, you just go with whichever idea is the most intriguing at the moment.

One last thing I wanted to mention is I was looking over your website, and you have your own podcast that you do. Since obviously anyone who is listening to this is a podcast fan, I just want to let people know that if they want to hear more of you, they can go and check out your own podcast. Do you want to talk a little bit about your own podcast and what kind of things you cover?

We did that a few years ago. Bantam sent somebody here, and we recorded a bunch of different things: little stories, things that have happened to me. I can’t even remember now which ones I recorded. So anybody can go there and see what they are. They’re basically all related to the writing life and stupid things I did or stupid things that were done to me or some of these stupid things that happen.

Since I just listened to them, I’ll recommend the one where you talk about alien abduction, and some of your Hollywood stories had me laughing out loud.

To sum up the Hollywood stories, every time I do public speaking I have to throw in a few Hollywood stories, and I never run out of them. It’s kind of sad. But on the other hand, it’s funny in retrospect. There’re so many things in life that weren’t funny at the time. Sometimes there’s Hollywood meetings where you want to strangle everybody in it, and then you get about a day or two down the road and it starts to strike you as very funny. But the day may still happen when I have some film project that I don’t end up making a joke of. We’ll see.

We certainly wish you the best of luck with that. I think we’re going to have to wrap things up there. We’ve been speaking with Dean Koontz and the new book is called Innocence. Dean, thanks so for much for joining us.

Thanks for having me here. You take care.

Enjoyed this article? Get the rest of this issue in convenient ebook format!

The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Geek's Guide to the Galaxy

The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction/fantasy talk show podcast. It is produced by John Joseph Adams and hosted by: David Barr Kirtley, who is the author of thirty short stories, which have appeared in magazines such as Realms of Fantasy, Weird Tales, and Lightspeed, in books such as Armored, The Living Dead, Other Worlds Than These, and Fantasy: The Best of the Year, and on podcasts such as Escape Pod and Pseudopod. He lives in New York.