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Dean Koontz

The legendary author Dean Koontz is back on the podcast! When he was a senior in college, Dean Koontz won an Atlantic Monthly fiction competition and has been writing ever since. His books are published in 38 languages and he has sold over 500 million copies to date.

His latest novel, THE BIG DARK SKY, was published on July 19, 2022. It features a thrilling and suspenseful story about a group of strangers bound by terrifying synchronicity becomes humankind’s hope of survival in an exhilarating, twist-filled novel.

During the podcast we chat about his latest novel, his legandary career, the state of the publishing industry, the history of mass paperbacks, e-book, Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer (Dean’s current publisher), and a lot more!

Other books by Dean Koontz

Video Version

Transcript

Please, note transcript was generated with software and it’s only been lightly edited and checked.

[00:00:00.550] – Alan Petersen
You are listening to Meet the Thriller Author, the podcast where I interview authors of mysteries, thrillers and suspense books. I’m your host, Alan Petersen, and this is episode number 187. I’m honored to welcome back to the podcast the legendary Dean Koontz, whose latest novel, The Big Dark Sky, is being published on Tuesday, July 19. So by the time you’re listening to this podcast, the book will be available. The Big Dark Sky is another twist filled novel by Dean Koontz, which has a group of strangers bounding together and becoming humankind’s only hope of survival. The interview is coming right up, but first, I wanted to let you know about my own thriller, Gringo Gulch, which is available right now for pre order. The book release date will be on July 26, but like I said, you can order it now via pre order, and then Amazon will deliver that to you on the 26th. No muss, no fuss. I’m very excited about this book. It’s a story that’s been bouncing around in my head for more than ten years, so it’s exciting to finally see it coming out in novel form. So you can all go and check it out. And it takes place in my home country of Costa Rica, where a local homicide investigator teams up with a rookie FBI profiler to track down a serial killer targeting Americans in Costa Rica. So I hope you check it out. It’s called Gringo Gulch, and you can go to Thrillingaries.com/26 and learn more about it from there. So I hope you give it a shot. All right, so here is my interview with Dean Koontz.

[00:01:33.770] – Alan Petersen
Hey, everybody. Alan Petersen here with meet the thriller author. And I’m so excited to have Dean Koontz returning to the podcast. Thank you so much, Dean, for coming back.

[00:01:44.000] – Dean Koontz
Good to be there. Let’s see if I make any sense.

[00:01:46.290] – Alan Petersen
At all this good stuff when you’re on the podcast, so I really do appreciate it. I really enjoyed the big dark sky. That’s your new book that’s coming out next week, july 19. Another genre bender. I just love how you do that. So can you tell us a little bit about it and how that came about and how you started writing The Big Dark Sky?

[00:02:06.190] – Dean Koontz
Well, since as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with synchronicity. There’s gigantic coincidences that are clearly not coincidental, that are so complex and interesting. And about 40 years ago, I said I got to write a novel about synchronicity, but I didn’t know how to do it. Every time I stopped and thought about it, wrote it, over it, I couldn’t find a way to pull it off or to raise the issue that the world, what appears to be coincidence in synchronicity is actually evidence that the world is structured just like quantum mechanics says it is, that on the lowest of all levels. Reality is spider silk. It’s very fragile, and nothing behaves by any rules, which is a strange thing to accept, but all of our technology is based on quantum mechanics, and it does work. It’s the one theory of everything that’s never been disproven. So finally, after 40 years, I kind of came up with a way to talk about synchronicity and show it in a subtle form in the lives of all the characters who buy one. Coincidence here, there, and elsewhere all come together at a very crucial time. And then there had been a long time that I thought about writing a story about somebody who had a secret friend in childhood and was a very strange secret friend, and maybe not so secret after all, maybe real, and had forgotten about it until one day they begin to get messages from this person 25 years later saying, please come back to Montana. I’m in a dark place. I need your help. And I sort of, with those two themes, got my platform and was able to take off with it. But the book also with in addition to the synchronicities that bring all these people together, at one point, Ganesh Patel, who is one of the characters, begins to talk about some real world synchronicities. So to help people understand that my favorite. Well, one of my favorites have a lot of I only use four real world synchronicities in the book, but one of them is about beatrice, Nebraska. West Side Baptist Church. In 1950, I have 15 members in the choir, 730. Every Sunday night, they had practice. That’s the dog in the background, snarling and jumping and having a good time.

[00:04:53.810] – Alan Petersen
Mine are snoring down here.

[00:04:55.970] – Dean Koontz
She’s making so much noise. If it comes across elsie, you want to tell this story? Yes. Anyway, this choir of 15 people met every Sunday at 730, and no one had ever been late because it was a very strict acquired master. And this one night, all 15 of them were late, each one for a different reason. One of them, a car broke down. One of them was a sudden illness with a child, and as a result, nobody showed up on time. One person was almost on time, and as she arrived across the street from the church, it blew up in a gas explosion. And if all those people had been there, all those people would have died that night. When you start looking at that sort of synchronicity that coins a word coined by CJ. Jones, by the way, CJ. Jones said, yeah, okay. The world is really mysterious. Things work on the level beyond our comprehension. And so I wanted to touch upon that in this book and also throw a lot of twists and turns at you with kind of sizable cast. So I have fun. I hope the reader has fun.

[00:06:09.800] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, it’s a fantastic reader. I really enjoyed it. And it’s so fascinating that you’ve been having this idea for so long once it all clicks in, because I know you’re famous. You don’t use outlines or anything like that. Once it clicks in for you and you start to write it, how long does it take you before you’re like, okay, this is gelling. Well, I think I’m going to be able to take this all the way through.

[00:06:29.960] – Dean Koontz
I was a little concerned about this one as I was writing it because there were so many balls in the air. There are essentially two villains, and they’re equally nuts. I like the book list gave us a very nice review, but the one villain is totally wacky, but absolutely compelling. And I thought, yes, he is totally wiped. I hope compelling, but he was so dark, and elements of it kept coming in and getting darker and darker, and I thought, okay, is there going to be enough light in this to guide us through in a good kind of way? And then there’s a computer hacker character whom I like, and his girlfriend and Ganesh Mello comes into it and all have a certain humor about what’s going on with him. And then, of course, Bad Guy actually is unconsciously amusing. He doesn’t know he is, but that’s the way I kind of deal with many villains. So there were the moments when I thought, well, is this one going to work or not? But I think it was about in the midpoint I thought, okay, I think I don’t have to worry about that. Whether it turns out to be wonderful or not, I won’t know until it’s done, but at least I know I’m going to be able to finish it.

[00:07:46.960] – Alan Petersen
Oh, wow, that’s fascinating. You go pretty deep in so, like, what, 50,000 words or so. You’re still kind of not sure…

[00:07:53.630] – Dean Koontz
Those are the ones you get really nervous about. I tend to be sure somewhere around 15,000 words that this thing is gelling and coming together, but I think it has to do with the number of characters I have this thing about even walk on characters. I like to paint them pretty detailed. For instance, you meet a guy named Harley Spondaler fairly early in this book, pretty much in there too. Well, and something pretty astonishing happens to him, and he never read Piercing Story again, but he gets like, ten pages, and I had to give him the ten pages and I had to get to them, and I’m kind of like that. I think when you had just walk in, a novelist purpose is simply to get you from X or from and that’s all they’re there for. It becomes transparent to the reader that all of this is kind of manipulation. But as the characters come through and they’re rounded and complete in their own little stories, it all feels more real to me. And as a consequence, when it’s a novel with a cast like this, you begin to wonder, can you get this all done? In some reasonable way fortunately, it was done and came out and so far, I think it’s been well received.

[00:09:15.900] – Alan Petersen
And then with your characters, too, it’s so amazing because, like I said, you’re famous for not using outlines. But the way you develop your characters is kind of organic as a process for you as well, isn’t it? Because I know that some of the courses say all you have to do these deep dives and this big profile on the character before you start to write. But you don’t do that either, don’t you?

[00:09:35.830] – Dean Koontz
No, I don’t. I find the characters come alive faster and better if I let them have flexibility about who they are. I did things like that very early in my career and I found out that I didn’t really follow it if I would have followed it. What you’re really doing is giving characters a series of traits. If you don’t know the character yet, you can sit brood about it. Say things like, well, here’s the appearance of the character and here’s what their psychology is, and here’s why their psychology has gotten there. But that’s kind of artificial. And then when you get into the story, if you compel them to stay within that narrow thing about what you can see, you’re sort of giving up the opportunity to let them blossom into something more and more interesting. So I just thought, okay, let’s just go with it. I know my character had this tragedy believe Jojo Joanna. She had this double tragedy in her childhood and it’s 25 years later and it’s still, on some level, affects her. But it’s 25 years. And I’m not one of those writers who says, okay, because this happened to somebody at eight years old. Now, when you’re 35, it’s still the dominant influence in life. I don’t really think life works that way. I had a pretty dramatic child, and while I realize things about myself that endure that kind of came out of that child, I’ve not been totally shaped by it. So I just like to give them see who they are, let them show and then see where they go and how they respond to certain plot developments that come along, and then they shake themselves.

[00:11:34.310] – Alan Petersen
And we talked a little bit about the villains for writers. That’s an important part of a book, isn’t it? Is the villain not to make it like a cartoon or something like that?

[00:11:43.110] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, mike Myers, Doctor Evil with a white cat on his lap. Very funny. But you don’t want to try to get away with that novel. My villain in this Asher Ifran, he’s one of the ones I won’t say, but the other is because the other remains cloak through most of the novel. You know he’s out there, but you don’t know who he is or exactly what it is. And Asher, however, is right there in the face, has a lot of scenes on his own, and he is a complete misanthropic guy. He hates all humanity and thinks the planet would be much better if everyone just died. And that’s unlikely to happen. So it’s Asher’s attempt to make sure she has this glorious vision of being the last living human being down the road and having been responsible one way or another for having taken everyone out. And he’s pretty like a due to election. Yet there are people in the real world who actually believe this and actually would like to see it happen. So I wanted to get into the psychology of that character. Came up with a few little things you learn about them. One of them I won’t give away fairly early on. That makes him a very committed guy to his philosophy. And when he reveals it to this woman he’s already captured, it’s kind of a chilling moment. She thinks somebody who’s capable of that could be capable of doing anything, including eradicating humanity. So, yeah, you need a villain that you can believe in, even as strange as you may be. And I found sometimes the stranger they are, the more believable they are. As long as you’re not using anything you’ve seen in a movie or that easy way of paying. Mine tend to be narcissistic cases. Sociopaths narcissists. Instead of guys who just want to rock the bank or want to steal millions from some grues or other or have killed their neighbor and get away with it. Mine tend to be more aggressive in their villainy. And I think that’s because my dad was ultimately diagnosed as associate. So I grew up with that and I saw it firsthand. And now studies show that, depending on the studies, somewhere between 10% and 20% of human population is sociopathic. I sometimes think it’s a little higher than that. And that means there’s plenty of them out there. So we’ve got a choice of the ones if you want to go that way, yeah.

[00:14:33.070] – Alan Petersen
It’s pretty big heady subjects in the novel. Is that something when you’re writing because there’s like, big subjects and big ideas but you still need to make it entertaining and fast moving and you do that. Does that come naturally for you or is that from experience? Kind of curious how that works for you.

[00:14:51.790] – Dean Koontz
It’s partly experience, I think. But also one of them is I would think it’s something that’s absolutely true in film writing too, but not often thought about so much when people writing novels. And one of the key things about keeping moving and keeping it exciting is knowing how to cut. How to cut not the amount of pros, but how to cut from scene to scene and when to do it. I’ve had reviews that say I throw a lot of balls in here. Amazing thing is I continue to juggle them without dropping it. Well, that’s one way to put it. But also, if you have several storylines and they’re all intertwined, they’re all related to this central thing going on, but you’re cutting away to them all of those have their dramatic momentum going on, then you can keep the scenes deep but shorter than you do otherwise, and you’re able to keep cutting in between them. And I don’t think a reader gets bored at all that way. The challenge is making all those characters distinct and their problems distinct enough so that when you go back, the reader has no problem remembering who that was. That’s sort of one of my key tricks, is that knowing when to cut from one thing to another.

[00:16:12.750] – Alan Petersen
And just as a reader looking at all those books there behind you, you’re known for your library collection is amazing. How many books do you have in your library collection now?

[00:16:22.450] – Dean Koontz
So far, I called it when we moved and was sort of the hardest thing I did, except my wife said, you keep every book whether you like it or not, and there’s a lot of these books you didn’t like at all. And that’s true. I would keep the book to remind myself why I thought that was a bad book or why you don’t do this or that, if I ever needed an example of it in something not right or whatever. But then she said, but when you die and somebody looks at Vibrate, they’re going to think that was your taste. All these bad books that are mixed in with the good ones. And I thought, she’s right. So I had to get rid of that one time. I know there was at least 50,000 books that we had throughout the house, recovers paperbacks. I don’t know anymore. I’ve called them down. We’re in an interim house, and a lot of books are still in storage, especially the old paperback collection that didn’t bring that long. So I don’t fire them quite as often as I used to, but still, in many ways, a shameless collector. If I’ve got to have it, I’ve got to have it. And over the years, I bought a lot of very strange nonfiction books, and I looked at it and why do I want to book on butterflies? Why do I want to book on this thing or that thing? Some of them are very esoteric subjects, and as years have gone by, almost every one of them I’ve needed. So I tend not to get rid of the nonfiction because it surprised me. I’m writing, and I think, oh, it’d be great if this character was an official model of this or a specialist in this, then I had several books on that subject, and I can go get them. I’m still an old fashioned researcher. My assistant will go online and get things I need, but I never go online. I do most of my research from books or from people I can call a special knowledge of various subjects.

[00:18:34.770] – Alan Petersen
And do you, like, take notes then for your research? You’re like, oh, this is interesting to take notes so you have it when you start writing it.

[00:18:41.310] – Dean Koontz
I usually mark up the book side. I highlight things in the articles that we got offline or online. I’m in a tracking office. This is my assistant’s office right now, but my office is attractive until I’m working on Double, and then it’s stacked with things all over the room, and it looks like I wouldn’t be able to find anything, but I tend to be able to find it no matter how many things are piled on top of it.

[00:19:10.910] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, that’s amazing. And I read it earlier this year. You signed a five book deal with Thomas and Mercer. So that’s great for us fans that we have more books coming out. You’ve also talked before about the changing condition of contemporary publishing. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how many experience so far with Thomas and Mercer? I find a lot of the thriller books I’ve been reading the last few years that I’ve enjoyed a lot, I usually pull for Thomas and Mercers. They really seem to know what they’re doing, even though they’re not having been around as long as the traditional is the big five.

[00:19:41.350] – Dean Koontz
Well, I signed a deal, I think it was probably toward the end of last year. I announced the beginning of this year, and I delivered two models of the five. One called The House at the End of the World, which I like quite a lot, and one called After Death, which was a lot of fun tackles. I don’t want to say what it tackles, but it’s a subject a lot of people have written about, mostly in nonfiction. And I thought, I don’t think they quite perceive how this would evolve. And I had a lot of fun after death. I’m working on a third now, so I’m not slowing down. I’m just having too much fun. And I will say that one is because of the way things are at Thomas and Mercer. There’s not that pressure to stop crossing, which I felt almost everywhere else that had worked. It would be expressed not as an order to stop it, but how do you get away with putting this into this kind of novel? And I thought, Well, I’ve been getting away with it for almost 50 years. Why wouldn’t I get away with it one more time? I don’t get that feedback now. It’s also true that when I worked in New York Publishing, if somebody was a publisher, they generally were mid 50s or 60 or even older, and senior editor was 40 something, 50 something. And now I find when I went to Thomas and Mercer, the first thing that struck me was how young everybody was. It was sloped much more towards the for a lot of the cheap people was dealing with as a consequence. I think that’s part of it just maybe it all comes out of different background. It’s not coming out of 150 years of publishing a certain way. So everybody isn’t real obsessed or obsessed with common wisdom, and there’s a lot of energy and excitement about doing different things, and that’s very heartening it’s uplifting, and it’s only kept me out of trouble with the cops and at my desk.

[00:22:06.650] – Alan Petersen
Yeah, and at least you mentioned you’re not slowing down. I mean, The Big Dark Sky is going to be the second book you published this year with Thomas and Mercer. I think that’s a refreshing I’m seeing more and more of that, even from the A list type writers like yourself are publishing more than usually. We had to wait a whole year for a book. See, that’s changing a lot.

[00:22:31.020] – Dean Koontz
Well, it changed when a couple of writers some years ago just stopped living by the one book, Euro, and did perfectly fine and publishers didn’t like it. The common wisdom back when a couple of decades ago, was that if you did more than one year, the audience would get tired of you very quickly, so you have to keep them waiting and anticipating. I always thought, well, maybe that would be true if you’re writing the same kind of book all the time, but if you’re looking for different kinds of stories to tell and they never know quite what you’re going to give them, it seems to me they would have no problem keeping the audience there. And I think that’s proven out then. I think another thing is that the book business has been hammered the last number of years, partly out of mistakes that were made there. I may have talked about this when I was on before, the conscious effort to destroy the mass market paperback because the price point was too low, and the idea that they could do away the eight to $10 paperback and get people to pay 16 or $17 for trade paperbacks, the larger size, I always thought was ridiculous. There’s just a lot of people not going to pay that much more for it. And that’s happened. The mass market is all but gone just to be able to sell 2 million in the first year. Now I see you have to sell a few hundred thousand to be at the top of the list for a week. Now I see people at the top of this selling 10,000 copies. That’s how bad the mass market it’s not widely distributed anymore. And they made that happen. Well, the trade paper bank never made up for it, and neither has e books entirely. So I think a lot of writers saw their income shrinking and thought, I’d better do two books a year. That’s fine. I think anyone who can write one a year can probably write two at the same level of quality. Many of the writers back when I was starting and even before I started my reader, I like, Salah, we’re not writing one book either. They will write a Donald Westlake would write a Donna Westley novel, and he’d also write a Richard Stark novel, and then maybe he’d also write it. They spread it out, overseeing them. And I did a little bit in my early years, which is actually not a very smart thing to do because you’re not building one audience, you’re trying to build multiple ones, which is multiple times.

[00:25:16.430] – Alan Petersen
It’s amazing because you’re talking about the battle that the big publishers did with the paperback, the battle that they got on Amazon years ago with the ebooks. There’s the same thing. And now you’re seeing the new ebooks coming out and they’re like 15 dollarsteen, dollars for the ebook. Which is kind of expensive for digital, I think. But they haven’t learned.

[00:25:37.070] – Dean Koontz
No, exactly. My previous publisher, the idea of publishing any book below 1495, they couldn’t tolerate it, couldn’t see that Amazon has always been smart pricing them like a paper back. That was the highest price for a premium mass market, the ones that were slightly polar, and sometimes the discounted to 699 or something like that to promote pre orders. And they just won’t do that in New York. They say margins are too small anyway. Well, it’s kind of like they thought margins were very small on mass market. $10 mass market, the publisher would give 45% discount to bookstores. Maybe certain accounts get a little more or less. So they took back 550. If the writer was getting a dollar or 50 of that, they still were making $4 a unit. And what it cost to print it in large quantity was about thirty cents per copy. Henderson distribution, some copies were taken back. They were turnable, but in the end they were clearing up $3 a copy, I would guess somewhere around there. And if in my case, they were selling 2 million in the first year, that’s considerable. Not a profit. Governor does that and think that, oh, we’ll make much more if we just charge a lot more. It doesn’t work out that way. You price people out of it. And there’s a fear, it seems to me, that if they price like Amazon, that they will sell the same number and then they’ll make less money. But what I think we see is that when you lower up that price, you sell more and you make more. And it seems like a no brainer, but it’s still basically Amazon takes that approach. Now, it’s fair enough to say that Amazon is a company with enormous number of revenue streams. So if they do take in less on something they’re publishing, that is more something they can handle because of the breadth of all their businesses. So, to be fair enough, publishers, that’s also true.

[00:27:57.590] – Alan Petersen
I was reading I’m excited about this, that you have several projects that are in development for the screen, including Devoted and elsewhere. Just kind of curious how that’s going. And what’s your take on seeing Hollywood adapting your work? I was hearing horror stories and funny stories. How’s it for you?

[00:28:17.810] – Dean Koontz
Horror stories that are also funny. All the horror stories end up being funny in retrospect because there’s so much foolishness in that business and they can make you can infuriate you. But then subsequently I have a story about the development of Midnight that I’ve used sometimes when I do public speaking and it gets a lot of laughs. But at that time it didn’t strike me as terribly it was only in retrospect. And right now I went 14 years without an agent because I had too many agent problems over the years. And after those 14 years my attorney said the business is changing so much, you have to get agents. And I said, yeah, but I haven’t been fortunate about that over the years. He recommended somebody and I’ve been with this attorney for 30 years. So I said, all right, I’ll try it. They turned out great. They brought in the woman work with them as the phone agent and she’s been excellent at putting me with a different quality of producer which might make all the difference in this. And so we’ve got devoted is in good hands elsewhere in good hands. I heard there’s a potential now for a series moving to series on that. I believe it all actually begins to film the Jane Hawk novels were placed I’ve seen the pilot script and it is phenomenal. The strange thing was they wanted to move the whole series to Europe and the pilot script was set in Europe and subsequently a lot of people that have taken it to say we like this but it should be set in the US. Somehow. The script is being moved to around a little to make it be us. And Jane is very quincent of American characters but the writer did such a brilliant job it would have worked filming it all over Europe. So that one I’m kind of feeling good about. The name of the story is being placed with production group for a starring vehicle for Henry Golden who is the star. Crazy rich Asians is widely thought to be one of the next big things and I really liked him. Anything I’ve seen before me, he could be really cool. And then the boot guy and velocity of another producer show on the writer who is excellent and I think is soon to produce finished script on that. So we’ll see all these things are in the development phase but I’d be astonished if one or two or three of them doesn’t end up actually production. And then at least one of them has to be something I like. We’ll see.

[00:31:25.060] – Alan Petersen
It’s exciting to hear that. Okay, Dean, well, I want to thank you so much for your time. Pleasure talking with you. The Big Dark Sky comes out on July 19 and I highly recommend listeners to go get thatt. Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us today.

[00:31:38.980] – Dean Koontz
Thank you for having me. There. Now I’ll go play with the dog.

About the Author
I write thriller and crime fiction novels and host the Meet the Thriller Author podcast where I interview authors of mystery, thriller, and suspense books.

1 comment on “MTTA 187: Dean Koontz

  1. Vic Babin says:

    It seems very similar to a very early Koonz novel concerning a group of strangers. Any thoughts ?

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