July brings my birthday and my new novel
July 14, 2023

July brings my birthday and my new novel

I was born in July. I remember telling the physician who attended my birth that I was going to be a male model and therefore needed to be sure that my belly button was a neat innie and not an outie. The doctor obliged, but as it turned out I didn’t have the right stuff to be a model. I was four weeks old, making the rounds of agents, getting one polite rejection after another, when I finally encountered a man who understood that what I needed to hear was not insincere encouragement but the blunt truth. “Kid,” he said, though I was still a mere infant, “take a long look in a mirror. A moldering turnip has a better chance of being a model than you do.”

Oh, I recall vividly the emotional turmoil that overcame me when he issued that judgment. He spoke the truth, but there was no need to phrase it so cruelly. I wanted to give him a thrashing he would never forget, but he was six feet four, and I was only twenty-six inches tall with inadequately developed musculature. I told him I’d be back to settle the score in twenty years, and I left his office red-faced with anger and shame.

At four months of age, I was impatient to get on with a career as a private detective. To apply for a job, I visited the office of a gumshoe named Sam Hammer. The pitiless city had made him so tough that a pit bull had broken off its teeth when it tried to bite him. When I arrived, Sam was at his desk, eating a shark sandwich and practicing a series of intimidating expressions. Over the years, he’d had to kill a number of bad men, and he did so without remorse even when, on the spectrum of badness, some were just naughty rather than evil. Although Sam declined to hire me, he gave me some invaluable advice. “Kid, no one’s gonna mistake you for a tough guy when you’re wearing a powder-blue jumper with bunny rabbits on it.”

I was mortified but not angry, because Sam had taught me that appearances mattered and that I couldn’t rely on my mother to outfit me properly for work interviews. I spent the next eight months teaching myself karate—practicing my moves on an imaginary friend named Dirty Burt—and reading the novels of Mickey Spillane. By my first birthday, dressed all in black and carrying a candy cigarette that looked very real, I hitchhiked to the literary quarter of town, where I presented myself at the offices of a book agent, Geoffrey Chaucer XXV. Posing as a twentysomething little person to overcome the prejudice against hiring one-year-old children, I applied for a job correcting the grammar of some less than stellar authors. Only ten days passed before Mr. Chaucer elevated me to the status of a literary agent.

During the next five years, I guided the careers of nine talented novelists, six others with little talent, and seven more who were illiterate and incoherent. I learned a great deal about the publishing industry, not least of all that it was an equal-opportunity business in which the illiterate, incoherent authors had just as good a chance of success as those who were wildly talented and could spell.

Oh, but agenting is a demanding profession, in part because you come to adore your authors, all of them dear but emotional types who frequently call you at 3:00 a.m., in tears because a romantic relationship has gone sour or because they are having trouble with split infinitives and the subjunctive mood. By my sixth birthday, I was burnt out. I had been financially prudent, so I was able to take off two years to put myself through astronaut training. That dream was not fulfilled, for this was 1951-1953, when the country didn’t yet have a space program.

The path I followed that led me from that moment of my life to becoming the writer you now know is a tortuous story too long for a newsletter format like this. Before I run out of room in this issue, I must instead tell you that my new novel, After Death, is available in hardcover, eBook, and audio on July 18, the month I was born. Although when I was seven years old, I worked as a book reviewer, covering nonfiction volumes in foreign languages I couldn’t read, it would be inappropriate for me to review my own work with all the praise it deserves. I can only say that After Death is exactly the kind of thing that you tell me you love about my novels, so unless you’ve been lying to me, you should enjoy the heck out of it.

Get up-to-date messages from Dean Koontz delivered to your inbox.

Any information you provide will not be used for other commercial purposes and will not be sold, rented, leased or forwarded to any third party.