“Devoted,” Dean Koontz’s latest bestselling novel, has several characters none of us would ever think to be avid readers, yet he writes of one of them:
Bella could not live without stories. Stories were the blessing of intelligence. They were food for the soul. They were medicine. You could live a thousand lives through stories—and learn to shape your own life into a story of the best kind.
Consider yourself blessed if you are among the millions who have discovered how extraordinarily entertaining, enriching, insightful, and intelligent Dean Koontz’s stories are.
He is a phenomenally prolific novelist—more than 100 novels so far, including ones he wrote under 10 different pen names early during his 52 years as a published author. He has also published novellas and collections of short stories and been a poet and a screenwriter.
He is as popular as he is prolific—his books having sold more than 500 million copies in 38 languages. For years it has been routine to see Dean Koontz novels on bestseller lists, often in the top spot. Many have been adapted as major films.
Koontz may well have had himself in mind when he wrote that through stories you can “learn to shape your own life into a story of the best kind.” He came from a very poor family, and his father was a violent alcoholic. He has said that in reading stories he escaped and learned that other lives were different, and this motivated him to strive to make a good life for himself. By any measure, he has succeeded spectacularly.
“Devoted” is a cross-genre or multigenre work, as unusual to find in most novels as it is classic with Koontz, who has been called “a literary juggler.” What an eclectic mix this novel blends together: mystery, fantasy, thriller, crime, suspense, action-adventure, science fiction, romance, and horror.
And what a cast of characters: a genius autistic 11-year-old boy who doesn’t talk and has uncovered via hacking that his father’s death was not accidental but murder; his devoted mother; her long-ago boyfriend, now evil and wealthy and on the run in the wake of a heinous crime, bent on taking her with him, all the while experiencing increasingly more bizarre changes in body and mind caused by a life-extending experiment gone catastrophically wrong; a billionaire who will stop at nothing in pursuit of his creepy goals; corrupt law enforcement officials; murder-for-hire operatives; a good-guy ex-Navy SEAL; and a golden retriever dog with human-level intelligence and a heart of gold who can communicate with humans and with a network of similarly gifted dogs by telepathy and who picks up signals that the boy is in grave danger and sets out to rescue him from it.
Characteristic of Koontz, “Devoted” is a novel that runs deep, harnessing his gift for mesmerizing storytelling honoring essential virtues and values.
Though never preachy, his works explore “the divinely inspired moral imperative to love” that he believes “we carry within us.” They celebrate triumph of good over evil, the dignity of the individual, the hope of becoming better, and the wonders of the world around us and within our minds. It is a body of work that is incisive, deep, brilliant.
I interviewed Dean Koontz from his home in Southern California:
Ambassador Fred J. Eckert: How would you sum up what you try to accomplish in your novels?
Dean Koontz: I want to extravagantly entertain readers while making them feel the wonder of life and consider its profound mysteries. I want readers to feel that meaning—therefore hope—is woven into the fabric of the physical universe, which in fact the sciences from quantum mechanics to molecular biology confirm.
Amb. Eckert: Even though you are not prone to stand on a soapbox proclaiming your religious beliefs, would it not be correct to characterize your works as reflecting a worldview deeply rooted in spirituality, more specifically by a strong belief in your Roman Catholic faith?
Mr. Koontz: Perhaps some will consider me an apostate when I say the church and the faith are not always one and the same. When the leadership of the church steers it to secular causes antipathetic to its foundational message, which has happened often in my lifetime, I am not of the church but always of the faith. Some writers without faith tend to produce works that are angry and despairing. I’d rather never have been a writer than to spend my life in the grip of such negative emotions.
Amb. Eckert: You have said, “The desire to write well can never be fulfilled without hard work.” Describe how you work at your writing.
Mr. Koontz: I rise at 5:00, shower, walk the dog, have breakfast at my desk with The Wall Street Journal, and work from 6:30 until 5:00 p.m., without lunch. I do this six days a week. Long work sessions allow me to fall away into the fictional world and to rewrite each page from 10 to 20 times.
Amb. Eckert: That does not seem to leave much time for you to enjoy the abundant fruits you have harvested from your years of great laboring. You are, after all, very wealthy, and come July 9 will turn 75. Any plans to, if not stop, at least slow down the pace of your output. Any places you would much rather be visiting than your office at home? What do you like to do when you are not working at writing?
Mr. Koontz: Talent is a grace. Having done nothing to earn it, I feel a moral obligation to refine it and employ it to the greatest extent I can. I am slowing down a bit. I enjoy spending time with my wife, with friends, walking and playing with our dog, collecting art deco and Japanese art. I’m not much of a gadabout. I know people who’ve spent their whole lives in a small town yet are more enlightened and sophisticated than world travelers whose journeys have brought no enlightenment.
Amb. Eckert: Talk about what it took for you to make it big as a writer.
Mr. Koontz: Each writer needs perseverance and a determination to remain true to a certain worldview in spite of the endless naysayers. In my case, the most important factor was that I married Gerda, who offered to support us for five years while I took a shot at writing full-time. That was an expression of love that humbles me to this day. My career is really our career, as we have been two dray horses pulling the wagon together every step of the way. We’ve been married for 53 years.
Amb. Eckert: Where do you get your plot ideas? How do you then proceed to write the book?
Mr. Koontz: Ideas can come from a line in a Paul Simon song or seemingly out of nowhere. It’s wonderfully mysterious. I don’t outline. Novels start with an intriguing premise and, more important, with characters who intrigue me. If the characters have depth, they take the story places I never planned.
Amb. Eckert: Which current writers do you enjoy reading—and why?
Dean Koontz: Kate DiCamillo is at the top. Ostensibly, she writes for middle-grade kids and young adults, but books like “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” are for all ages, wise and timeless.
Amb. Eckert: How big a role does research play in giving you ideas for books and in giving you the confidence to cover the variety of subject matters in your books?
Mr. Koontz: I enjoy the research, always learning something new and often complicated, which keeps the mind sharp. And it’s a must. If I make a mistake, one expert or another will write to take me to task, and I prefer not to be mortified.
Amb. Eckert: Your novels show a reverence for the ideals of the American Revolution—at age 11, you won a national essay contest on “What It Means to Be an American”—and, while never embracing any particular persons or policies, they seem to show sensitivity for traditional political conservatism. What say you?
Mr. Koontz: It’s a rare politician whom I fully trust, on either side of the aisle, so I stay away from political issues in favor of writing about humanity’s yearning for freedom, fulfillment, and truth. The beauty of the American Revolution is that it didn’t promise justice, which means different things in different times and cultures, but was instead based on the undeniable truth that we enjoy certain inalienable rights that are not granted by government and therefore can’t be taken away by it. The definition of justice can be corrupted, but truth is what it is.
Amb. Eckert: You have said you agree with Vladimir Nabokov that Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx were the two greatest evils influencing our times. What makes you think this?
Mr. Koontz: In short, Freud strove to relieve the individual of responsibility for his actions, and Marx strove to make each of us a servant of the state. The consequence of each ideology—and especially the two in concert—is mental disorder, moral insanity, society-wide despair, and mass murder.
Amb. Eckert: You have said you are no Pollyanna, but you are an eternal optimist. Our country and the world are seriously troubled. What gives you optimism?
Mr. Koontz: I have lived long enough to see that evil can work in the short term but never in the long term. Sometimes the short term can be three-quarters of a century, as with the Soviet Union, and new evils always arise, but Earth is a long-term project. The human heart may be deceitful above all things, but it is also capable of love and self-sacrifice.
Amb. Eckert: So many of your fans rank “Watchers” as their favorite Dean Koontz novel, and you once said that while there are a few you like as much, there is not one you like more. To those who have already enjoyed “Devoted” or are about to and might want a recommendation for another dose of Koontz, would you join me in suggesting “Watchers”?
Mr. Koontz: Yes, but I have come to like “From the Corner of His Eye” better, plus “Odd Thomas” and “Life Expectancy” and certain others fully as much.
Amb. Eckert: What advice would you give an aspiring novelist?
Mr. Koontz: Don’t scope the market to see what the public wants. Write what you’re passionate about, and they will discover they want that.
Amb. Eckert: What is coming next from Dean Koontz?
Mr. Koontz: A book titled “Elsewhere”—a scary, funny, and I hope moving novel about the power of family. Following that, a rather dark—but hopeful!—contemporary take on Orpheus and Eurydice.
Amb. Eckert: What are your hopes and dreams for the years ahead?
Mr. Koontz: To write a little less and a little better, and to share many more years of peace, companionship, and love, with Gerda, for as long as possible in the company of a dog.
Thomas & Mercer
369 pages, hardcover
The “Ambassador of Good Fiction” series will be recommending to our readers a work of fiction, giving information not just about the novel but also what makes its author worth checking out—and, when possible, interviewing that author.
A writer and favorably reviewed novelist himself, Fred J. Eckert has been a member of Congress and twice served under President Ronald Reagan as a United States ambassador.