Dean Koontz
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Author Q&A: Personal

You wrote two books on writing popular fiction. If you were to write another today, what advice would be different?

Probably 99% of it. I was young when I wrote those books, and in the hubris of youth, I thought I knew so much. Later, I learned that after decades of dedicated work, I knew about 1% of what I had thought I knew back then. The learning never stops.

What are some of your favorite TV shows? — Stacie, whereabouts unknown

I never miss an episode of “Dancing with Dead Celebrities,” which is, admittedly, gruesome, but entertaining. William Shatner is terrific hosting “Show Me the Money and I’ll Show You What’s In My Pants.” The new “Survivor,” which pits a team of humans, smeared in butter, against a pack of hungry wolves, promises to provide the obnoxious contestants with a suitable fate at last.

I've read that you do not much like cats and that you are allergic to them. I've recently gotten a little 3-month-old male kitten from our local humane society and named him Sir DDK, after my favorite singer (Niel Diamond), favorite actor (Johnny Depp), and favorite author. Does little DDK have your blessing to use your name? –Karen, Illinois

I like cats. I would love to have a cat. But I am so allergic to them that if I enter a house where a cat resides, the allergic reaction is so immediate that I have to inject myself with epinephrine (which I carry at all times), chug liquid Benedril, and get to a hospital to avoid falling into anaphylactic shock and suffocating as my airway swells shut. Our friend Laura Albano, to whom I dedicated LIFE EXPECTANCY, knows all this and has decided to get me a kitten for Christmas. With friends like this, who needs Satan? (Hi, Laura.) DDK is free to use my name, although actually he is only using my initial. The fee for the use of my initial is only $415 annually.

What are your other interests? Your books are so diverse in their frames of reference that it's hard to identify your key interests other than a love of music, books, and dogs. –Lynda, England

My wife and I love architecture, art, and antiques, especially all manner of things from the Art Deco period, as well as Japanese Meiji bronzes, screens, and lacquerwork. We have a charitable foundation that focuses on severely disabled people as well as on critically ill kids, which occupies some of our time and energy. Then, of course, we devote hundreds of hours a year to research seeking proof that there was a fourth Stooge brother–Norbert, who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard and, thus, was such an embarrassment to the Stooge family that Larry, Curly, and Moe beat him unconscious with salamis, water bladders, and hardened loaves of French bread, then stripped him of all ID, and left him with amnesia in a bazaar in Istanbul.

I particularly love your dialogue, though I feel I should warn you that the people who translate your books into Swedish seriously demolish your work. My question: Is a Swedish character ever going to make it through one of your books alive? — Kim, Stockholm

Maybe not if he’s a book translator and if your report is correct. Actually, I hadn’t been aware that Swedes appear routinely in my books and meet a dreadful end. Perhaps my fictional Swede-killing is an unconscious response to my childhood experiences with a babysitter named Olga and her wicked sock puppet, Slash.

I was impressed to see you read up to 200 books a year. Do you prefer to buy and keep the books you read, or do you borrow them from the library? I prefer to buy and keep them. –Cristy, Gulfport

The correct thing, the courteous and moral and courageous thing, the wise thing, is to buy a book to read, buy a second copy to maintain in pristine condition in a vacuum under glass, buy a third copy to donate to the library, buy a fourth copy as a sign of solidarity with the author, and buy a fifth copy as an attaboy for Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of movable type. In our library and at various other locations throughout the house, we have close to 40,000 volumes–even after I conducted a ruthless culling of the collection four years ago.

Are you right or left-handed. I've heard that people who are left-handed (as I am) think differently from those that are right-handed.

Julia, I am right-handed, which would be all right except that I am one of those rare right-handed people who suffers from solodexterous ignoratio, a condition in which the right hand never knows what the left hand is doing. My right hand can be penning a love letter while my left hand is strangling an innocent passerby.My right hand can be sincerely waving bye-bye, while my left hand is making the most viciously obscene gestures, and my right hand remains blissfully clueless of what is transpiring only five fingers away. While engaged in a friendly shake with a new acquaintance, my right hand proceeds utterly unaware that my left hand is trying to gouge out this person’s eyes, thus the right hand is surprised and its feelings are hurt when the new acquaintance, for no reason apparent to the right hand, tries to crush its bones. Conversely, my left hand always knows what my right is doing, but that is another story.

I really believe that there is no one in this world with a knack for words quite like you. Is it really magic or just genuine talent? If it's magic, can you tell me where to get some? –Jane

Jane, thanks for your kind words. I’ve always loved writers who are enchanted by our beautiful language–perhaps beginning in my youth with Ray Bradbury. Over the years, I have come to feel that the way a story is told matters as much as the story itself, and that the language with which a character is revealed can bring the character to life more effectively than can the very details of that character’s history and personality. Developing an ear for the music of language also helps a writer with his dialogue. Talent is required, but is not the sole factor. I suspect I have an ounce of talent, not a gallon; but what I do have is a love of craft, which is why I can sit at the keyboard long hours, revising every page many times. Craftsmanship, when it becomes a passion, can produce effects that seem magical.

I bought a signed copy of a Koontz book, but it didn't have the middle initial in the signature. Later, I saw your books signed with the initial. Is this your signature or did I get ripped off?

Carrie, you did not get ripped off if you have a signed book in which I failed to include my middle initial. Years ago, I dropped the R from my by-line but for a while still included it in my signature. Then, after doing a series of book signings at which I signed over 8,000 copies, I realized that including my middle initial had been a reckless squandering of time. The initial and the precisely placed period following it required a full second to execute. In that single series of book signings, I had spent 133 minutes providing an initial that most readers didn’t need, and that those people with a phobia about the letter R actually found repellent if not terrifying. I figured that if I did book signings every year for 40 years, I would have gained 88 hours of time for other pursuits. Recently, I have begun to wonder what I will do with those 88 hours when I have fully earned them, and the possibilities are enormously exciting. At the moment, I think that because there is little else I love doing more than eating nachos, I will have an 88-hour marathon nachos-eating session. (For a while, I considered that if I signed 8,000 books every day of the year, leaving out the useless letter R and the time-consuming period, I would gain more than thirty-three days of life each year. Then I realized there must be an even higher number of books that, signed without the initial every day, would save me so much time each year that I would live forever. But the math didn’t work.)

What novel of yours featured a man-eating pig-like creature that lived in a sewer and was most likely written in the late 1980s? — Reader #1892917

Wow. Here’s an interesting question from Reader #1892917. What novel of mine featured a man-eating pig-like creature that lived in a sewer and was most likely written in the late 1980s? If I had ever done drugs, which I never have, this sounds like a book I would have written while totally stoned on some chemical that not only disoriented the mind but reduced the IQ by fifty points. I suppose if I have multiple personalities unknown to me, one of them might have written such a novel, but then I think I would have known it was happening because all the pig research done by that other me would have left the office reeking every time I came to work in my Dean persona. Sorry, but I think the novel you’re remembering was written by someone else, possibly William Faulkner or Henry James. By the way, I have met #1892917’s multiple personalities–#1892917A and #1892917B, and they were really nice people.

Why is the word "ululate" in all your books.

I’m not going to read all my books over the weekend to prove this answer, but I suspect I don’t use the word “ululate” in more than 39.5% of them. I’ll admit that may still be a high ululate ratio, as compared to other writers, and my only self-defense is to say that I strive hard to use the best word at all times. Because I set many of my books in California and the Southwest, and because I depict nature as vividly as I can when the story calls for scenes in the green of things, coyotes from time to time appear. If you have ever heard a pack of coyotes crying with excitement while chasing down prey, you know that their singularly eerie voices, raised together, can best–and perhaps only–be described as a ululation. I’m sure most of the ululating that goes on in Koontz novels involves coyotes. Then, of course, because I live in California, I’m surrounded by all kinds of crazy ululating cults; I can hardly get through the day without encountering at least a hundred public ululators, so when I sit down to write, the word is always in my head.

What are you currently writing? –Alicia, Kansas

The answer to your question.

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