My Interview with Dean Koontz! (part 2)

dean2photo_9Q: When did you begin to write seriously?

A: While I was in college. I sold my first short story when I was a senior, and the same piece won a prize in the college-writing contest Atlantic Monthly conducted at that time. I wasn’t very good for a number of years, but I kept selling. Later, I recovered the rights to all that early stuff and deep-sixed it, mostly science fiction and Gothic novels.

Q: What makes a writer great?

A: Writing truth, I think. By which I don’t necessarily mean entirely realistic settings and story lines. Any genre allows for the writing of truth. To do it means to write stories that are more than plot, to write characters that feel like real people, and to avoid writing ideologically. These days, a great deal of fiction is ideological, and that approach virtually ensures a limited lifespan for the work. Resist the temptation to be swept away by current
“issues” in your work and write instead about timeless human values and hopes. Ideologies sooner or later collapse due to the tendency of ideologues to ignore all manner of realities in the fashioning of their ideologies.

Q: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book,” look like?

A: After all these years, I’m still astonished when I write the final page and discover that the whole thing–story line, theme, subtext, and the characters’ journeys–have actually come together at least somewhat as I hoped they would. I’m always sure, at various points in the process, that the damn thing won’t ever work. Then when it’s done, my wife, Gerda, is first reader, because I totally trust her taste and honesty. I want no one to read it in process; until it’s done, it’s my little secret. I will share the first few chapters, so the publisher can develop jacket and catalog copy and so the art director can think about a cover.

I’ve had bad editors, good editors, and a couple of great ones, and I always look forward to the feedback of those in the latter two categories. I’m obsessive-compulsive about my prose, so there usually isn’t a lot that the editor wants done, and I’d say the average time it takes to address queries is three days. I have cover approval, so I often see the cover months ahead of finishing the book. When it’s a terrific cover–like those for THE DARKEST EVENING OF THE YEAR and INNOCENCE and THE CITY–having the mock-up of it on my desk can be highly motivating for weeks. I’m an art lover, and a great visual can stimulate my imagination. Then one day you have page proofs, and seeing the story typeset, in well-designed pages, makes it real for the first time. Finally, it’s always great fun to get the first copies off the press–and then the grim work of promotion begins, which I always find embarrassing.

Q: Where/when do you first discover your characters?

A: I start with a story idea, a premise. With a little thought, I soon realize what theme, what aspect(s) of the human condition, such a story is likely to concern. Then I brood for a while, usually less than an hour, about the lead or the two dean3_photo_3primary leads, about what kind of people the premise and the theme are likely to require. This usually means knowing no more about them than the central problem in their private lives, separate from the problems that the story will bring down upon them. And then I start. In the first few chapters, the lead characters are forming, and I am learning who they are. I’ve often said that if I give characters free will, if I don’t plot out the story and instead present them with a problem and watch them deal with it, they begin to take on a life of their own, frequently surprising me with the choices they make. This is mysterious and exciting. When it’s going well, it’s simultaneously an intense intellectual endeavor and an almost dream-state journey of wonder and emotion. I become very attached to my characters, even to those who are swine!

Q: Have you written or do you want to write in another genre?

A: I tend to combine genres in the same book, supernatural with police procedural, love story with fantasy with suspense, chase story with comic novel, because I have a low boredom threshold and have to keep myself entertained while I work. As a consequence, I’ve more or less written in every genre except the Western. And I might get around to that one yet–if the recent LONE RANGER movie hasn’t burnt the genre for the rest of my lifetime.

Best wishes,
Dean Koontz
   Click here to read Part 1 of this Interview
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