Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Five things I learned about writing from Dean Koontz

I actually read most of my generation's YA books back when I was MG, so by the time I hit middle school I was on to adult books. I read a handful of different mystery and suspense authors, but nobody quite held my attention like Dean Koontz. Here's what I learned from devouring the entire Koontz catalog:

1. Write what you love. Dean Koontz loves dogs, especially golden retrievers. Not all of his books contain canine companions, but many do, and his human-animal relationships live and breathe on the pages. They talk directly to your heart, not because he's manipulating you with cheap sentimental tactics, but because the dynamics feel real. It's a lot harder to craft emotional scenes and sincere character interactions when you as a writer aren't passionate about your own words.

2. Begin with a bang.  The Vision begins with the line "Gloves of blood." Do you want to know more? I did. In chapter one of Velocity, the main character finds a note on his car that reads: If you don't take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher somewhere in Napa County. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have six hours to decide. The choice is yours. Holy high-concept! What kind of crazy person would leave this note? And what will the main character do? I ripped through Velocity in record time to get the answers.

3. Writing is hard work. According to his website, Dean Koontz reads over 150 books a year. He writes ten to eleven hours a day and sometimes revises a page forty or fifty times before moving on. He's written over sixty books, and when he was starting out he wrote as many as eight books in a single year. His first four books were never published. I know of a very few writers who managed to sell their first book for a giant pile of cash, but that is not the norm, and if you're an aspiring writer planning on hitting the big time with your first novel, you're probably setting yourself up for disappointment.

4. The execution matters more than the idea. I remember being skeptical when I heard the storyline for Odd Thomas, what is now my all-time favorite Koontz novel. Hmm. A guy who sees dead people. Didn't I see that in a movie not too long ago? Has Dean run out of ideas? Now that I have seen how slow publishing is, I know it's entirely possible that Dean had the idea for Odd Thomas before anyone saw The Sixth Sense. But who cares? Both works may use the same setup, but that's where the similarities end. Odd Thomas is a suspense novel, a horror story, and an epic love story all woven into one.

5. Don't forget to give something back. Dean Koontz and his wife, Gerda, have a charitable foundation that supports critically ill children and dogs. He also apparently finds time to answer occasional letters from mothers of debut authors such as myself. Yes, my mom actually put pen to paper and invited one of my writer-idols, the uber-mega-bestseller Dean Koontz, to my Halloween launch event for Venom. Alas, he can't make it, but he did send my mom a personal note and me a box of Koontz-awesomeness including an autographed limited edition copy of Velocity. I was so surprised that I cried. I will never forget the fact that a workaholic, super-famous, bestselling author took time out of his schedule to autograph some books for me. I suspect I will never be quite as famous as Dean, but I will definitely do my best to pay this incredible act of kindness forward to other young authors.

Koontz fan? Love dogs? Click here to find your local golden retriever rescue organization.

Thanks Dean. My mom and I think you rock! :)


  1. OMG THAT'S AWESOME!!! :D Getting stuff from authors never wears off. Getting stuff from your IDOL. Now THAT'S something else!!! WOOT!!!

    Also wow. Love your mom already!! XD Now imagine if he DID come. He'll totally come to the Belladonna or Art of Lainey launch. ;)

  2. Well, he lives in California so, probably not ;) But hey, there's always the twitter party!

  3. Wow, he's so nice it's great to see he's kept his humility.


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