Interview with Dean Koontz

Posted by Goodreads on June 5, 2017
With dozens of novels to his name, including 14 No. 1 New York Times hardcover bestsellers, Dean Koontz is a master of gripping, spine-tingling fiction, often combining elements of suspense, science fiction, and fantasy.

Now he's back with his first new series since the Odd Thomas books. In The Silent Corner Koontz introduces Jane Hawk, an FBI agent on leave from the bureau after the death of her husband. Jane suspects that his death, ruled a suicide, was something much more sinister and sets off on a quest for truth that leads her into the world of cutting-edge nanotechnology and the ways it can be used to affect human minds.

Koontz talked to Goodreads about why he'll never go off the grid, the dark side of technology, and the excitement of bringing a new character to life.

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Goodreads: You said the book's main character, Jane Hawk, came to you fully formed. How long after you came up with her did you decide the plot would focus on nanotechnology?

Dean Koontz: When I sat down to do this, I knew that I wanted somebody of a certain age, I wanted her to be an FBI agent in the process of going rogue, and I didn't know what the underlying thing was going to be—except I knew it was going to be pretty terrible. It would have to sustain her, if I liked her, through other books. I hadn't gotten very far—maybe 10 to 15 pages of manuscript—when I understood it was going to be this "Crichton-esque" bit of technology. I read a lot of science, and I've always seen a potential dark side to it. And then Jane started taking the story where she wanted to take it, as really good characters always do. It sort of evolved into that.

GR: One of the characters in the book mentions the idea of the singularity and that he had read several books about it. Is that a subject you've researched?

DK: I find it interesting, yeah. Maybe it's just the way I see the world, but I always like that whenever some new technology comes along, everybody just sees the positive in it. In anything there can be a negative, too. I'm actually an optimist, but because of what I write, these things keep popping into my head. That character refers to a couple of books that are very positive about all this but never quite raise that other element. I think Jane actually says to him, "Does anybody ever say that the human heart is a deceptive and potentially evil thing and can use any good thing to any bad purpose?" Of course, nobody ever brings that up.

GR: You used "Crichton-esque," which gives me hope that the nanotechnology in the book is far-fetched. On the scale of totally plausible to science fiction, where would you place the science in the book?

DK: I just saw in the newspaper the other day that Elon Musk is putting up $1.5 billion to develop brain implants that will sort out certain neurological conditions, but then he says things will advance to include increasing our intelligence and the way we think. That's where the problem starts. How close is it? I don't know, but I do know people are thinking about it. Certainly somebody will think if we can enhance our intelligence, why can't we do something to control our thinking, not just enhance it. It's an obvious next step.

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GR: As an FBI agent, Jane Hawk knows how to go off the grid and says several times that even people who think they're off the grid really aren't. After researching the subject, do you think you could successfully go off the grid?

DK: I know now how to do it, but the problem is I wouldn't want to. You'd have to give up so much to be completely off the grid. Jane is only doing it because it's the only way to survive when she becomes the most wanted person in the country. It's been kind of fun in these books working through it and talking to a lot of people, and when she's faced with a problem thinking, "OK, how does she deal with that and how does she stay free," which is becoming more difficult for her as I move book to book. It's one of the things I'm having the most fun with.

Once you say you've got a character who's pretty darn smart, it challenges you to be pretty smart yourself. Fortunately, what she does in two minutes I can spend two days writing.

I asked one of my assistants at one point in the first book to get a lot of information about the Austin airport. As he was researching that, his computer screen went completely gray and onto the screen came a black outline of his head and shoulders with a message that said his photo had just been taken. I didn't even know that they could do that, that they could quite that easily take your picture when you were lightly researching something.

GR: This book starts soon after Jane leaves the FBI, but we get snippets of her backstory and personal life. As the series goes forward, are we going to learn more about her past?

DK: Things that are happening to her are bringing her private life more into the crosshairs, so there is more focus on that aspect of it. What I'm trying to do in these books is not only tell you Jane's story but trying to build an entire world in a series of books. As the books progress, people who were in some of the books are going to come back into it in different ways, unexpected ways. She's building up a world of people whom she can go back to in interesting ways, and in essence what she's doing without trying to do is building a resistance movement.

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GR: I know you just finished the third book in this series, but it sounds like you have many more planned.

DK: I initially thought this was a trilogy, and I finished book three, and it's obviously much more than a trilogy. She's growing on me. There's a lot of characters that by the time you get to the end of the first book, you think, "Well, I like him or her, but there's really nothing else to say about their story." When you get to the end of a third book and think, "Wow, there's depths opening up here that I wasn't anticipating," that gets to be very exciting. In the case of Jane I've gone through three books with her now, and at the end of the third book she's so much more than she was at the end of the first. I have no idea where she's going from here or what she's capable of doing. What I like about her—I won't say she's fearless, but she's able to overcome her fears in an interesting way, and she has such determination.

One of the things I just love about writing is when the character comes alive, you don't know where they're going to go, and things they'll do will totally astonish you. When you get into the scene, what they do comes out of the character and who they are, and that you don't really have any control over.

The challenge is to keep each book self-contained, and yet the story evolves as it goes. At my age to be so excited about a character is a blessing, so I'm just happy about that.

GR: Goodreads users submitted questions for this interview, and overwhelmingly the most-asked question was whether you'll ever publish a third Christopher Snow novel.

DK: I'll tell you what happened there. I wrote the first two with the intention of going right to the third, and my publisher at that time did not like the second book. Readers did, but he didn't. It was a very sore point between us. I had just come to this publishing house—Bantam—and here we were having this disagreement about things.

Once that happened, I thought I'd better take a pause and deliver another book or two and then do the third Christopher Snow. Well, that never eventuated. I've got a partial of the third, and I will return to it, but I'm trying to get ahead of the Jane novels. I have a different publisher now, and I think I could go back to that and be encouraged to do so, so I will probably go back to that third one.

GR: Karen asks: Why so many eyeballs in so many jars in so many books? For a while there seemed to be a theme of really bad guys with fixations on eyes.

DK: I don't know about "so many." I can think of three books that have eyeballs in them. I don't know, I don't have any [jars of eyeballs] myself, so that's nothing to worry about. You won't find collections of them here.

GR: Julie asks: Do you ever dream about your characters?

DK: Sometimes I do. Not too much because I work long hours. I like long writing sessions. I feel that I fall away into the fictional world more than if it was just three or four hours a day, so I'm at this ten hours a day, generally six days a week, sometimes seven. So when I'm that intense on it during the day, you would think maybe I would, but in fact I think it inoculates me from dreaming about those characters.

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GR: Lindsay asks: While a few of your books have been turned into films or miniseries, do you have any certain novels that you prefer would remain in print only and not be adapted to film?

DK: There's some that I think are almost impossible. I think a book like From the Corner of His Eye would be almost impossible. The complications of filming it [make me] very reluctant to hand it over to anybody.

The Jane books have been placed with Paramount TV and Anonymous Content, and I'm very comfortable with everybody who will be dealing with this in the early stages. I think more about the ones I would like to see somebody handle. The ones I won't I won't name them because then somebody will come and make an offer on them.

GR: Do you have any preferences for who plays Jane?

DK: I've learned over the years that I'm stupid about this. I can remember when Stephen Sommers told me that he only had one actor in mind for Odd Thomas and it was Anton Yelchin. I said, "What?" I couldn't quite grasp that, but then when I started seeing film, I said, "Oh my god, he's entirely right." Of course, the film got tied up in legal stuff, which was a nightmare, and then Anton died tragically, but he was wonderful in the role. If you're dealing with talented producers and directors, they'll see things in a way you will not, and you might be surprised.

GR: What's your writing process?

DK: I start with a little premise. Usually I will know a little more than I did with Jane—not a plot, just a premise, and a character who seems best to explore that. When I have those two things, I just start writing. I don't do outlines, I don't do character sketches; I just start writing and see where that character starts to take me. I do one page over and over again until I can't get the writing any smoother. That means I might write page one 20 times before I move on to page two.

By the time I get to the end of a chapter, I print it out and I pencil in corrections—I usually do that two or three times. By the time I reach the end of the book, the whole thing has had multiple drafts. It's a very strange way of writing, but it's the only way I can work. That way the character just becomes who the character wants to become. I used to do outlines and found out that didn't work because the story always went somewhere better than the outline.

GR: Who are some of your favorite authors?

DK: My favorite of all time was Charles Dickens, who I didn't read in high school or college because I thought I wouldn't like him. When I was about 30, I picked up A Tale of Two Cities and was blown away, and then read all of Dickens. I love John D. MacDonald, a suspense writer who's no longer with us. I've read every MacDonald novel at least twice. I've learned more about characterization from those two authors than from anyone else I've ever read.

MacDonald has this wonderful ability to stop the entire story and spend two or three pages telling you about a character's background, which is violation of any rule you can think of. I can remember reading him and thinking, "What's he doing?" and then getting to the end of those pages and not wanting to go back to the story because I was so interested in the background.

GR: What's the best thing you've read lately?

DK: I've been writing so much that my pleasure reading time has gone away. Also, I'm reading so much research. For pleasure one of the most recent things I've read was a book by Paul Johnson called Intellectuals. It's the funniest and most appalling book I've ever read. He takes famous intellectuals from Rousseau to Hemingway and he tells you about their personal lives—in most cases the absolutely most horrendous stories. It's sort of saying, Be careful of intellectuals; they're people with ideas, but they don't care about people. That became sort of a theme for me in the Jane books—that ideas are fine, but when ideas mean more to you than people, something's gone wrong with your head.

Read more of our exclusive author interviews on our Voice page.

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Roger (last edited Jun 06, 2017 11:08PM) (new)

Roger Weston Interesting article by an amazing author. One of my favorite books is
Icebound by David Axton

message 2: by Kay (new)

Kay J He's such an interesting author, i love his writing.

message 3: by Aja (new)

Aja Allsop Excellent always a good read by Dean !

message 4: by Fiona (new)

Fiona Great interview, thanks :)

message 5: by Dustin the wind Crazy little brown owl (last edited Jun 08, 2017 05:49AM) (new)

Dustin the wind Crazy little brown owl I love Dean Koontz :-) All Dean Koontz Fans are invited to join us in the Koontzland - Dean Koontz Goodreads Group:
We read at least one Dean Koontz book every month. The Silent Corner will be featured as a group read June 20 - July 31.

message 6: by Terri (new)

Terri This is my favorite author. I've been reading him or writings of his under a pseudonym since the '70s. I so enjoy learning how he thinks when he writes. Thanks for the interview!

message 7: by mary p tickner (new)

mary p tickner My first Dean Koontz book was Watchers which is still my favorite by the way. I was hooked and read everything before and after that book including ones under pseudonym's. I own every book he has ever written. To say he is my favorite author would be a definite understatement. I own hundreds of ebooks, many of which are his, but I do prefer his in hard copy. I also make sure I watch every movie made from his books. Those I'm usually disappointed in. If only they would just stay true to the book! I look forward to every new book with great anticipation.

message 8: by Chris (new)

Chris Deggs Dean Koontz has been one of my favourite authors for many a year. He is a great inspiration to me in my writing. Nobody paints word pictures like Dean. He's skill at getting into the heart and mind of his players, including animals is truly amazing and something towards which continually aspire.

message 9: by Leonard (new)

Leonard II The first book I read by Koontz was The Servants of Twilight. Around the fourth chapter was a major event that was horrific and I was immediately hooked. I read every book of his that I could find. Like Chris, his writing inspired me to write. I look forward to reading this new series, but I wish he'd finish the Christopher Snow series.

message 10: by Anne (new)

Anne Macaskill I love all Dean Koontz books. First one I read was Twilight Eyes when he was writing as Leigh Nicholls. Always a fabulous read.

message 11: by Anne (new)

Anne Macaskill Leonard wrote: "The first book I read by Koontz was The Servants of Twilight. Around the fourth chapter was a major event that was horrific and I was immediately hooked. I read every book of his that I could find...."

I wish he would finish the Christopher Snow series too

message 12: by Ellie (new)

Ellie Chudleigh Love Dean Koontz. My favourite is Tick Tock.

message 13: by Rachana (new)

Rachana Lovely interview... haven't read him till now but looking forward to take an exciting journey ahead going through his writing/ books.

message 14: by Lacie (new)

Lacie Collins I've read 62 books by Koontz and loved all of them, some more than others. Some of my favorites are Fear Nothing/Seize The Night(waiting for the next one), The Face of Fear, Dark Rivers of the Heart, Watchers, Intensity, Phantoms-just to name a few. I love Koontz's style. I'm always pulled in by at least one character that I feel a kinship with and the humor in between all of the suspense is wonderful. Just truly amazing literature.

message 15: by Mary (new)

Mary Ann Loved the Odd Thomas series!

message 16: by Cher (new)

Cher Green-LaRock Great interview. Koontz is one of my favorites. Thanks for sharing.

message 17: by Jeanette (new)

Jeanette Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors. I was very fortunate to meet Dean Koontz at a book signing in the 80's at a small bookstore in Orange County. Besides getting books signed, we were able to sit down next to him while having our photos took with him and talking to him. Needless to say he was very nice and it is one of my favorite memories!

message 18: by Juxiliary (new)

Juxiliary I will always love Tick Tock <3 The suspense, the humor and the romance are so balanced in the story that I finished it in no time with me wanting more of Deliverance (and Tommy).

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