May 13, 2010

WATCHERS From the Author

If I am fortunate enough to live to such an advanced age that my wardrobe consists entirely of bathrobes, loose jumpsuits, bunny slippers, and adult diapers, and if I am also fortunate enough to be writing novels in that twilight of my life, I know that I can expect to receive mail from readers that says, in essence, “I love your new book, but that story you wrote when you were just a puppy, Watchers, is still the best thing you’ve ever done.” I’ll be at a book signing–accompanied by a nurse and by an attendant holding an ear trumpet, hooked to an IV drip feeding me liquefied nachos, wearing a lavishly embroidered jumpsuit more dazzling than anything Elvis ever wore in his Las Vegas period–and as readers greet me and receive their inscribed copies of my latest effort, a significant percentage of them will ask me to write a sequel to Watchers. I will smile, promise to think about it, try not to drool, and explain that I don’t believe in writing a sequel to a book unless I can be sure it will be at least the equal of the original.

For years after finishing the story of Einstein–the genetically engineered golden retriever with wildly enhanced intelligence–and his friends, I wondered if I would ever write another book that was as personally satisfying to me as this one had been. When I am writing a novel, I experience bleak spells of deep self-doubt about my work, moments of surging confidence, despair followed by joy, although there are usually more dark moments than bright. With Watchers, however, I knew only joy. The desire to write well can never be fulfilled without hard work, and Watchers involved as many hours at the keyboard and as much struggle as any book I’ve done; but in this case, all the time and effort was pure pleasure, because I was aware that I had a grip on a unique idea, special material, and a group of characters whose depth and warmth were greater than those in any book I’d written to that time. For days at a stretch,

I found myself in what psychologists call a “flow state,” a condition in which one performs far beyond what previously had seemed to be the peak of one’s abilities, with greater fluency and speed and grace; it is similar to what athletes mean when they say they are “in the zone.”

Eventually, I wrote a few books I liked as well as Watchers; but to date, as I compose this essay, I can’t honestly say I’ve written one that I like better. I remain confident that day will come. I am an eternal optimist. I believe the greatest scientists of our time will soon discover a cure for gnarly oak fungus and perfect a process to make Brussels sprouts taste like peanut butter. I believe that one day society will become so compassionate that Big Foot will finally be able to come out of hiding and will be welcomed as a neighbor in any community in this land, as long as he showers regularly. And if that day comes, I suspect Mr. Foot will show up at a book signing to personally congratulate me when I do, at last, write a book that is a better performance than Watchers, because judging by the fleeting glimpses we’ve had of him over the years, he seems like a shy, kind soul. If I’ve misjudged him, and if he tears my arm off for lunch,

I will be dismayed, but I’ll not be less optimistic and will not stop striving–albeit with five fingers–to write a better book than this tale of Einstein.

In an annotated bibliography in The Dean Koontz Companion, a book about my work, the bibliographer made the following observation about Watchers. “It embodies all of the major themes with which [Koontz] has been obsessed: the healing power of love and friendship; the struggle to overcome the past and change what we are; the moral superiority of the individual over the workings of the state and large institutions; the wonder of both the natural world and the potential of the human mind; the relationship of mankind to God; transcendence; and how we sustain hope in the face of our awareness that all things die.” Those are, indeed, the fundamental issues in this novel.

For the most part, as I have written the essays for this series of editions, I have tried to keep them light and amusing, because although I take my work seriously, I never take myself seriously. The human species is a parade of fools, after all, and I am often at the front of the parade, twirling a baton. Nevertheless, for a moment here, I will wax serious (and then the car) because Watchers is so close to my heart.

I believe that we carry within us a divinely inspired moral imperative to love, and I explore that imperative in all of my books. In Watchers, this issue is central to the story, and I even post signs announcing the theme, such as those embodied in the epigrams that are used at the start of Part Two. (“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves”–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends”–The Gospel According to Saint John.) We have within us the ability to change for the better and to find dignity as individuals rather than as drones in one mass movement or another. We have the ability to love, the need to be loved, and the willingness to put our own lives on the line to protect those we love, and it is in these aspects of ourselves that we can glimpse the face of God; and through the exercise of these qualities, we come closest to a Godlike state.

With that said, my greatest hope is not that you find the themes of this novel worth analyzing, but that you find this to be a rip-roaring, rattling-good story. I hope it keeps you so far out on the edge of your chair that you have butt bruises from repeatedly falling to the floor. I hope it makes you laugh and cry. A novel can have multiple, intricately woven levels of theme and symbol, but it fails if it is not first a wonderful tale.

When I’m ancient, if you come to one of my book signings and see me sitting there in a pink terry-cloth bathrobe or in a jumpsuit embroidered with scenes from the life of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges–I’ll be happy to hear any kind words you whisper into my ear trumpet, even if it is only to say that my finest hour was with Watchers, this tale of a hero with a tail of his own. If Big Foot is in line near you, however, I would also ask that you do me the service of determining that he’s in a good mood and has already eaten lunch.

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