“My Journey with Dean Koontz”
Wayne C. Rogers
My first recollection of Dean Koontz was the movie tie-in for Demon Seed, which he wrote back in 1973. I don’t remember much about the novel, but I do remember Julie Christie being in the film. I had a crush on her at the time.
Though I didn’t know it, my next encounter with this author came under the pseudonym of Owen West and the novel was Funhouse. For a number of years I thought Owen West was actually a pseudonym for Stephen King, and then Dean finally came clean and admitted that he’d written the novel, which was another movie tie-in at the time. It was also a fun book to read by the way.
Whispers came out in 1980, but I never read it, and it was a bestseller in paperback. My first wife read the book and loved it. For some bizarre reason, I couldn’t get involved in the story, though I tried reading it a number of different times.
It’s important to remember that Dean Koontz was writing under many pseudonyms during this period, one of which was Leigh Nichols. Since I was working in a bookstore at the time, I was aware of many of the other names. Any novel with Leigh Nichols’ name on it sold like hotcakes. Women loved her stuff. I don’t remember right off hand if any men bought her books. I don’t think so. This was still a time when female writers (going by the author’s name on the cover) sold to female reader and male authors sold to men. There were crossovers with big novels like Jaws, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, Shogun, and a few others.
It wasn’t until 1983 that my relationship with Dean Koontz was cemented. His novel, Phantoms, was published that year, and I still consider the first half of it to be the scariest book I’d ever read. A movie was later made from it, starring Ben Affleck and Peter O’Toole. Unfortunately, the film was never able to achieve the levels of fear at the beginning that the book obviously did. Imagine driving to the airport to pick up your sister, and then returning home to the small town where you live only to discover that everyone has disappeared. The author pulled it off in such a way that nearly every page during the first half of the novel is terrifying to read. I think I had nightmares for weeks after I finished the book.
In 1984 came Darkfall, which was a wonderful follow-up to Phantoms. Darkfall was also the first novel I reviewed, setting in motion my love for well-written horror novels and sharing that love with other fans. From that year onward, I eagerly awaited a new Dean Koontz novel. Both he and Stephen King were the foundations of my life. Without these two magnificent authors in my sphere, it would have been even more boring than usual. They added excitement and terror into my ordinary existence in a rather fun way, taking me to new locations I’d never have a chance to visit, except for maybe Las Vegas.
Dean stayed true to his part of the bargain by writing such terrific novels as Strangers, Watchers, The Bad Place, Mr. Murder, Hideaway, Intensity, Fear Nothing, False Memory, and Seize the Night to name just a few.
He wrote them and I read them.
Because I’d moved to Las Vegas in 1986 and was dealing with a different set of living experiences (no, not hot babes and gambling), I stopped writing book reviews until I finally got a computer in 2000. I immediately starting writing customer reviews for Amazon and one of the first reviews I wrote was of Dean’s From the Corner of His Eye. I wrote this using my middle and last name—Christopher Rogers. Amazon was about to make some changes I didn’t like so I voiced my opinion under Wayne C. Rogers and still kept writing reviews under Christopher Rogers, until everything eventually settled down.
Before I talk about From the Corner of His Eye, I want to mention that I wrote Dean Koontz a year or two before, after reading his novel, False Memory. I have a background in Far Eastern religions as well as Middle Eastern. Dean named the villain in this novel, Ahriman, which was the name of the god of evil in Zoroastrianism. An author like Dean Koontz literally gets five-to-ten thousands fan letters a year. I never expected to hear from the man. I know how busy he is and figured my letter would get lost in the shuffle, but it didn’t. I receive a very nice reply from him, discussing why he’d chosen the name of Ahriman for his villain. He was surprised that a fan had caught on to what he was up to and enjoyed the discussion.
A couple of years later, when From the Corner of His Eye was published, I had a close friend at work in the Stardust Hotel here in Vegas. Her name was Patti and she was a 21 Dealer. She’d seen me with a book in my hands for nearly ten years and finally came up to the counter where I worked and introduced herself as a fellow reader. Dean Koontz happened to be her favorite author. When Pattie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I wrote to Dean, reminding him of our conversation about Ahriman a few years back. I told him about Patti and how he was her favorite author. Dean was kind enough (I mean few authors would take the time or trouble to do something like this) to send an autographed copy of From the Corner of His Eye to me to give to Patti, plus a letter for her. Patti had those two items next to her bed when she died in a hospice a month later. She told me that Dean’s letter and message had been the best thing that had ever happened in her entire life. I wrote back and thanked Dean for his compassion and kindness and what it had meant to her.
I then went through the ups and downs of life and didn’t contact Dean again until after I read Odd Thomas. Of course, I read every novel he published—One Door Away From Heaven, By the Light of the Moon, The Face, The Taking, Life Expectancy, The Husband, Relentless, Breathless, and What the Night Knows.
Since From the Corner of His Eye, the villains in the novels had become more terrifying and all-knowing, but the good guys had also become tougher and more spiritual in nature. In fact, in almost all of the novels written during the last decade, the reader will see a dramatic change in the storyline of each book, which incorporates more scientific fact and theory, as well as a larger degree of hope for the main characters and for the world at large.
A lot of Dean’s fans didn’t enjoy the changes he was incorporating into his stories, but they worked perfectly for me and with the things I was discovering on my own about our planet, our inter-connectedness, the power of thought, the possibility of parallel universes (Albert Einstein was working on a theory about time travel and parallel universes when he died), time travel, and the vastness of the Universe and what we still have to learn as human beings. I felt, and still do, that the author was in his subtle way offering the reader, not only a great story, but the opportunity to think and expound upon the mysteries of life that still surround us. It certainly didn’t hurt that he was also offering the reader hope for the future. If ever we’ve need hope, it’s now.
After I read Odd Thomas, I wrote Dean a letter, and I don’t remember it being a happy one because I was upset with the death of Odd’s girlfriend, Stormy Llewellyn. Yeah, I know, spoiler alert!
Now, I realize that Odd Thomas is a novel, and that Odd and Stormy were nothing more than fictional characters drawn up by the genius of Dean Koontz’ mind. Still, here’s this poor kid in a novel, who’s a fry cook in a small desert California town with the power to see death approaching and who actually attempts to help as many people as he can. His only great love in his life is Stormy Llewellyn. She loves him as much he loves her, but she also tells him how it is and doesn’t pull any punches. Needless to say, Odd Thomas lives and breathes for her. She’s everything to him.
What does the author do?
He kills off the love interest so the main character can go about with his business in new locations around the state and have interesting adventures. It pissed me off to say the least. How often does a soul mate come into one’s life? Hardly ever, if that. You simply don’t kill off a soul mate!
Dean wrote me back, understanding exactly where I was coming from because he’d had strong reservations about killing Stormy off, too. He explained his thought process to me and said that Odd and Stormy would be reunited in a future book. Yeah, right, I thought. A lot can happen before a future book is written. I might kick the bucket. The author might do a Robert Parker (sorry Bob) and die at the keyboard of a heart attack. The author might decide to move on to other projects and forget his promise.
You get the idea, don’t you?
Well, as of 2013, Dean is still on track with Odd Thomas. Three Odd Thomas novels have come out during the past two years. There probably won’t be another one until sometime in 2014. He plans on wrapping up the series and reuniting the two love birds, though I don’t know if this will be in death or on the physical plane. I hope the physical plane, but I can’t it happening with Stormy already dead.
But, I digress.
I know I wrote Dean about his books Relentless and What the Night Knows. These two novels had villains in them that reeked of pure evil, especially in What the Night Knows. These were the type of people you definitely wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley or out on a sidewalk at night. These were the type of characters that could give you nightmares. My imagination is already overactive. I don’t need a couple of supernatural evil-doers to lurk in the subconscious of my mind. I’d never leave my apartment. Still, these were fantastic characters and raised the bar for the good guys.
I also wrote Dean about my novella, The Encounter, and one of its heroes, an American long-nosed, long-tailed pit bull named Betty, who reminds me of Old Yellow. I sent him a picture of the real Betty with her scarf and sunglasses on, ready for her fifteen minutes of fame. Both Dean and I love dogs and see something very spiritual in them. At the time I was living with a friend off of Easter and Tropicana. My former roommate has a wonderful, loving dog named Betty, who I used to walk around the block when I could walk without falling down. Betty, however, always watched out for me. The story is about something evil that returns into an ex-US Army tunnel rat’s life and destroys everything he loves and cares about. He eventually has to fight the entity in a life or death battle, but this is when the power of love takes over and the ones he cared about return to save him, especially Betty. Dean loved the picture of Betty, saying that she already looked like a star. That’s my honey!
This reminds me of another event that happened in September of 2010. I’d been in the hospital for a week due to my legs swelling up. When I was released that evening from the hospital, my roommate dropped me off at a Wal-Greens near her condo. I needed to get my prescription filled. Since it was going to be an hour, she left me sitting in the back of the store while she went to do some shopping at Wal-Mart. Now, I was already kind of drugged up, but still functional. I was sitting in a chair not far from where the cash register is for the pharmacy. I would occasionally glance around for a minute and then shut my eyes as I dozed off for a while. You have to realize that there isn’t much to look at in a drugstore at night. Anyway, I saw a nicely dressed man walk over to the end of the aisle, not far from where I was sitting. He was about 5’ 9” and slim in appearance. I stared at him, thinking I knew the man from somewhere. He was wearing a pair of nice gray dress slacks, a long-sleeved blue shirt, and expensive shoes. A minute later, a woman stepped over to where he was and talked to him. She was smaller in statue, but wearing a lovely gray dress that highlighted her figure and her brown hair is pulled up into a tight bun. It suddenly dawned on me that I’m looking at Dean Koontz and his wife, Gerda. Then, as I started to get up and say something, they walked off. I’m thinking, “It’s probably not them. Just two people who favor the couple.” I sit back down and wait to see if they come back to the area where I’m sitting.
I thought about that moment for a couple of years. I finally asked Dean about it, and he told me that he hadn’t been to Vegas since 1995 for a convention and that it must have been a really handsome couple who favored them. That’s Dean for you. He sees the humor in just about everything. Of course, the man also never leaves his house in Southern California. He writes like eighty hours a week and thrives on it. This is what keeps him going. Actually, I think Gerda keeps him handcuffed to the desk until he finishes the required number of pages each day.
Dean and I have been conversing about Odd Thomas for the last two years, not that we write each that much. A few times a year. There were also conversations about David B. Silva. Dean and Dave had been friends for a long time, but Dean lost contact with him when Dave moved to Las Vegas a few years back. I was attempting to get Dave and Dean together again. I felt that if they could make contact, things might start looking up for Dave. He was going through a lot of tough times and some of the same stuff I was, but on a more intense level. I just never realized how intense. Both Dean and I never got the chance to say goodbye to Dave, which I suspect bothers Dean as much as it does me. It always hurts when a friend passes because most people simply don’t have that many close friends that they can afford to lose one. I know I don’t. It leaves an empty hole in your heart that can never be filled.
So, what can I say about Dean Koontz?
The man is a perfectionist when it comes to the written page. He will write a page over and over again (fifty-to-sixty times) until each word is precisely the one he wants. He’s a workaholic, putting in 70-to-80 hours a week on his novels to make sure they’re absolutely the best he can write at that moment in his life. Dean is also an exceptional author, whose novels have hit the bestseller list every time out since 1980 in either hardcover or paperback. Even more important than any of the above, Dean is a kind and compassionate person who will gladly reach out to others in moments of conflict or illness. If he doesn’t, his Golden Retriever, Annamaria, will growl at him until he finally does. It used to be Trixie who kept him in line, but now it’s Annamaria. Though Dean probably won’t admit to this, I consider him to be very knowledgeable with regards to scientific discovery and theory. This is a man who ponders the mysteries of the Universe, but does so with a child-like smile, ready to be enchanted by any answers that might come his way. Last, Dean is a writer whom I believe wants his readers to think for themselves and to ask questions that others are hesitant to put forth. You don’t always have to expect an answer when a question is asked. Sometimes it’s enough just to ask it.
Need I say more?