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Slaughter with a smile

Dean Koontz, the author, doesn't spend much time signing books: The Newport Beach resident writes new novels for at least 60 hours a week.

January 07, 2011|By Tom Titus

College didn't seem an option at the time, but Koontz worked graveyard shifts at a supermarket to put himself through Shippensburg State College, in Pennsylvania.

"I hated doing research in college," he recalls ironically, since now he puts in extensive research on each new book. "I always faked my sources, made up references. And I never got caught."

His "aha moment" came in college when he enrolled as a history major, but switched to English when a teacher called attention to his writing talent. He graduated in 1967 and took a job teaching English at a high school in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

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In 1968 Koontz published his first novel, "Star Quest," while he was teaching English in Harrisburg, Pa. After a year and a half of teaching, his wife realized what joy he took in writing and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"Gerda offered to support me for five years while I wrote," he says. "If I couldn't succeed in that time, I'd get a regular job."

Succeed he did, writing suspense novels and horror fiction both under his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. During this period he might publish eight books in one year.

And, in a practice he says that "drives publishers nuts," he'd switch genres with virtually every novel. One story might lean heavily toward his passion for science fiction; another would be in the more accessible contemporary drama mode.

Although Koontz has creatively eliminated a plethora of his characters, "there's little blood and guts in my books," he maintains. He admits to being "a little squeamish" about such things as was Alfred Hitchcock, whose grisly achievements are legendary.

An example arises from his research on the aorta transplant one of his characters was required to perform. While discussing the procedure with a surgeon, he was invited to watch the operation in person. He politely but emphatically declined.

Many of Koontz's novels involve the subject of quantum mechanics, popularly known as the "butterfly effect" — how one person's acts affect others, often on the other side of the world. It's a personal fascination that resurfaces in many of the author's later works, including the last one I read, "From the Corner of His Eye," which deals heavily in this area.

And no matter how evil his villains might be, Koontz pulls the rug out from under them regularly.

"I find ways to present them as a figure of fun," he says.

As he did in the aforementioned novel in which the killer finds himself sharing a garbage Dumpster with a corpse.

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