TIH 514: Dean Koontz on After Death, Suspense, Horror, and Science Fiction Labels, and His Unique Writing Voice

TIH 514 Dean Koontz on After Death, Suspense, Horror, and Science Fiction Labels, and His Unique Writing Voice

In this podcast, Dean Koontz talks about his new book After Death, suspense, horror, and science fiction labels, Dean’s unique writing voice, and much more.

About Dean Koontz

Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human. Dean, the author of many #1 New York Times bestsellers, lives in Southern California with his wife, Gerda, their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirit of their goldens, Trixie and Anna. His latest book is After Death.

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Michael David Wilson (00:00:28): Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers, and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson. And every episode alongside my co-host, Bob Pastor, we chat with the world's best writers about writing life lessons, creativity, and much more. Today we are welcoming back Dean Koontz to the podcast. He last joined us back in January when we spoke about his novel, the House at the End of the World, and he has just as of the last week released a new novel after death. So we welcome Dean back to the show to talk a little bit about that. Now, as with all of these conversations, this is a wide ranging one. So we also talk about suspense, horror and science fiction labels pertaining to Dean's fiction and in general, we talk about influential factors in terms of developing dean's, writing voice and a whole host of other things. But before we get into the conversation, a quick advert break

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Michael David Wilson (00:02:49): Okay, with that said, here it is. It is Dean Koontz on This is Horror Dean, welcome back to the podcast.

Dean Koontz (00:03:02): Well, thanks for having me back. Apparently I didn't offend anyone the last time, so here we're again.

Michael David Wilson (00:03:11): No, but we've got another episode so we can do our best if that is the challenge or we can avoid it if that is not what we're going for. Up to you really, whichever direction you want to go in.

Dean Koontz (00:03:27): Well, I've tried to be inoffensive then.

Michael David Wilson (00:03:30): Okay. Okay. Well, it has only been about six months since we last spoke, but I'm wondering what have been the biggest changes for you in that time, both personally and professionally?

Dean Koontz (00:03:48): Well, my wonderful beloved golden retriever came down with pneumonia and I didn't even know dogs could get pneumonia, so she ended up with that and it went on for four to five months with all kinds of complications. But now she's been pneumonia free for a couple of months and prancing around like a puppy and she'll probably be at the door whining at any minute. So that was the biggest change. And I finished a book called The Bad Weather Friend, which comes out in January and another book that we're trying to get a title on and we have a new book out today actually. So it's been busy. I've kept out of trouble with the cops and that's my main goal.

Michael David Wilson (00:04:42): Yeah, yeah, that's probably for the best. And I mean, since you've got another book that will be coming out in January as well, so The Bad Weathered Friend, are you looking at putting out two books a year? Is that kind of what's going on? Is that, I suppose you don't need a strategy as such being Dean Koontz, but is that just naturally the rhythm that you've fallen into? Is it a publishing demand?

Dean Koontz (00:05:15): It seems like I've fallen into it. I think a lot has to do with, I've always been kind of productive. I don't spend a lot of time by the pool with little umbrella drinks, eight or nine hours a day of that is enough, which leads me to a lot of time to write. And when I departed Random House and went with a new publisher, it was such an enthusiastic and creative team of people here at Thomas and Mercer that I just sort of fell into this two books a year routine and I'm having so much fun that why not do it otherwise I just become a problem from my wife and an irritation to the neighbours.

Michael David Wilson (00:06:03): Yeah. And then if you're irritating the neighbours, then they might call the cops, which as we said a minute ago is what you're trying to avoid. So it is all making sense.

Dean Koontz (00:06:15): You make one wrong step and all of life falls apart, so I'll just stay at the key one.

Michael David Wilson (00:06:21): Yeah, yeah. And I mean, you said that with the bad Weathered friend that is in a more comic mode Now when we were talking about writing previously, you said that some of your early loves were like Steve Allen and Mad Magazine, and so you were very much into comedy and the comic scene. So I'm wondering, I mean you've obviously written in such variety of genres, but when you're writing, let's say a comic novel or a suspense novel, do you have to get into a different space whether physically or mentally?

Dean Koontz (00:07:12): Well, the bad weather friend is comic and suspense, so I'm sort of bridging all of that. We're not getting rid of the suspense, but after I delivered that one, I, it is pretty funny. At the same time it's suspense. And I thought, I wonder how the publisher's going to handle that. And my agent reads it first and he came back and said, I adore this book and seemed to like it more than anything I'd done. And that was the publisher. My editor said, give us more of this. So I'm now working on a book called Going Home in the Dark, which is Comic and Suspense all over again. And the only thing is I think I'm naturally, I've been to seeing everything in life as comic, even tragic things. If you let enough time go by, usually months, sometimes years, there is always something comic no matter what happens. It's just the nature of the human condition. If you look at the story of Job, but yet it's funny after the fact, not so much while he's going through it all, but you think, what was God thinking here? You find something to laugh about and all of it. I like that when I'm writing, if I can be sitting in the office and keep that suspense edge but also be laughing out loud, that's a great way to be spending the day. And that's what I've been doing lately.

Michael David Wilson (00:08:51): Yeah, yeah. And I mean you've said as well that when you sit down to write a novel, we know that you don't plan. All it seems going in is the opening scene, but do you have a sense tonally as to what the aesthetic of the novel will be? And if not, I presume that by the time you finish that first chapter you're like, okay, now I know whether this is veering more towards the comic or the serious for want of a better word,

Dean Koontz (00:09:36): You have to fall into the right rhythm. You don't want it to be so comic that nobody will find anything suspenseful nor so suspenseful that nothing seems amusing about it. And this book Going Home in the Dark is somewhat different than the last one that had a comic element. So I've had to step carefully with it. But one thing I love about writing, no matter which kind of mix of genres you're working in, is moments like one that happened yesterday. It's a story of these friends who all were raised in this little town and they've all gone their separate ways, but they were all outcasts when they were in a school and when they were in freshman in high school or maybe eighth grade, they came together against the rest of the world and they called themselves the four Amigos. And it's one girl and three guys and three of 'em have gone out into the world and made a success of their lives.

(00:10:44): And one has stayed back in Maple Grove, this little town in the heartland. And one day they all get a call that their friend has fallen into a coma and may not be expected to live, and they all come back in case he doesn't make it. But as they all come back, they all start to think, huh, there was a time in their life when we knew a lot of people who fell into COAs, but they don't know what they're talking about. So it turns out, of course, there's something in their past that they've all been made to forget. And as they get back into this town to see their friend of falls in a coma, he seems to die. I accept they all look at each other and know he's not dead. He has no vital signs, but he's not dead and this has happened before and we've got to get him out of this hospital before the mortician shows up amongst to embalming.

(00:11:40): So one thing I love about this kind story is there was a little moment where they got to get the, he's in a hospital again. They got to get him dressed, they got to get a wheelchair to get him out of there on before the mortician shows up. And there's a moment where a guy, one of the three that hasn't fallen into a coma, goes to find a wheelchair and something happens. This is where these stories become a lot of fun. He's supposed to get a wheelchair, but he falls into an argument with somebody about hats and it's so absurd. And yet it's very comic and very suspenseful because by God they need that wheelchair and the mortician is coming. And one of the things that can work so well about mixing the comedy in the suspense is if it's done and I'm patting myself on the back, I think it's being done. The comic moments can in this essence heighten the suspense because you're laughing at what's happening, and yet they need that wheelchair very urgently. So I'm just having a great time. I hope somebody else who reads this has a great time, but you know what? I'm 78, so damn it, if they don't have a good time, I'm still having fun at this end of the process.

Michael David Wilson (00:13:01): Yeah, and I think a lot of people talk about, I mean, you have to write something for yourself. You have to write something where you are enjoying it because goodness, if you are not enjoying it, then it will show, the reader will not enjoy it if you are bored or if it's kind of reigned in,

Dean Koontz (00:13:23): Absolutely they won't enjoy it and they'll write you about not enjoying. So I particularly don't like that, so I don't want to have to track down and threaten any reader who didn't like the book. So it's better that you write it such that they do like it.

Michael David Wilson (00:13:42): Yeah, yeah, I've heard that that is the traditional way to stop getting bad reviews. You just track down the reader and have a strong word.

Dean Koontz (00:13:51): I know of a writer, he is no longer with us. His name was Harlan Ellison. Harlan was a volatile human being and apparently no. And fairly early in his career, some critic, he lived here in California, some critic on the East coast savaged, a book he'd written. So Harlan got on a plane, flew back to the town this critic lived in, tracked him down, locked on his door and punched him. I'm not that kind of personality, so I don't want to have to go there.

Michael David Wilson (00:14:23): As someone familiar with Harlan Ellison, both the writer and the legend, this story does not surprise me in the least. It feels fitting goodness he was built differently.

Dean Koontz (00:14:40): Yes, he was. Every time Harlan would call me, I would tense up not knowing what was coming next. If he was going to say, I'm going to be in town, I want to come see you. I got very tense, but it always turned out okay.

Michael David Wilson (00:14:59): And I have to say with the book that you are writing at the moment that you just described with the coma and the people around the hospital bed, I am totally sold on that. I want to read that right now. But I guess then with the timeline, that means that what it will be out in a few years is that the kind of, that's me just assuming steadily putting out two books a year.

Dean Koontz (00:15:31): The Bad Weather Friend comes out in January next year, then a novel that I finished. But we're working, none of us like the title that's on it and we've come up with a few others. So we're brooding about titles that comes out in July of next year. So going Home in the Dark will come out in January, 2025. So it's a while to wait, but I still don't have it done. So it'll finish about October.

Michael David Wilson (00:16:01): Yeah, yeah. And in terms of titles, do you typically come up with them at the end? Do you come up with them at the beginning? When does the title come into play?

Dean Koontz (00:16:16): It varies at different times after death. The one that just came out that hit me as I was starting the book and I realised it was too good a title, not two years. So that was there all the way through the book Thatwe Friend was called something else. I won't even say what it was called. It sounds incomprehensible and I knew nobody was going to like it, but I couldn't think of anything else. And then during when I finished the book, I thought, ah, there's this, the story in that one is about a guy who's just too nice, he's too nice for the world as it's gotten because niceness doesn't get you much anywhere these days. And as the book opens, his whole life is falling apart and he gets this inheritance from an uncle in Florida and the inheritance comes in this enormous box that's eight feet long and four feet wide and three feet deep.

(00:17:19): And it's no surprise that what's in the box is that is something a little bit supernatural. And I won't go into what is in the box, but he's told at one point by someone who comes out of the box that you're just too nice and people as nice as you are, their lives just get ruined and you're never going to be less than nice. So it's my job to make sure that the people who want to destroy your life never get the opportunity to do it. And when we finished the book and nobody liked the title but loved the book, I suddenly looked at it and said at one point, this person who comes out of the box says to him, A lot of the friends in your life are going to be bad weather friends, thought only are going to be good weather friends.

(00:18:16): They're only there when everything is going well. And you've seen that all of these friends are sliding away from you now that all this trouble is befalling you. I will always be your bad weather friend. And as soon as that came across my head, I said, the title's already in the novel and we just have to pull it out. And fortunately everybody liked that we've developed a cover that I just love. It looks very threatening, but very funny. At the same time, there's a hulking figure against a kind of gothic background holding a small yellow lumber domain and it just strikes exactly it right now.

Michael David Wilson (00:18:57): Yeah,

Dean Koontz (00:19:00): One after now just is a little harder to title, but going Home in the Dark, the one I'm working on, as soon as I got that title, I know that one worked.

Michael David Wilson (00:19:12): And I mean that covers, sounds like it tonally captures you at a certain brand of your fiction. I mean, obviously we know that there are some where there are a few less laughs in them, but typically there's humour and I mean I think that ties in quite nicely to the brand new book After Death. It is out today available via Amazon. So I mean, it sounds like there's quite a lot thematically going on in your mind at the moment in terms of people dying but not actually dying, coming back in some way.

Dean Koontz (00:19:57): Yeah, I didn't realise that's similar. It's totally different story. But the two books do have that element After Death is about, well, that is really about something else I've been reading for years. People like Ray Kurtzweil, people in the sciences and the high tech world who are all charged up about the singularity. There's a number of definitions of that that are slightly different, one from the other, but it basically is that there will come a point, many say by 2030 when humanity and machines will meld in one way or another, or at least the technology will advance to the point that human lifespan will drastically increase our intelligence because we'll be married to Machinability will soar and all these wonderful things will happen. And when I read one of these, it said, our intelligence will leap a hundred to a thousand fold overnight. I said, okay, this is all fantasy.

(00:21:06): Human beings aren't capable of that level of intelligence. We'd have to have heads four times the size they are. And we don't evolve that instantly. But it made me start to think what exactly might happen in the singularity. And our lead character is a guy who's working somewhere, he's head of security for a research place where they literally are working on a way to get this man machine meld that will allow us to have maybe a computer melted into the brain to enhance us that way or other, all those fantasies that they talk about. But I came up with something that happens for this character, and it's the only thing that happens. He doesn't become super smart, he doesn't become a superhero, he doesn't become above death. He dies once but becomes back. He's everyone in the research facility dies. He's the only one that comes back and he has one ability and it's interesting. And I thought, okay, I think that's something that might happen, but now what does he do? And that's where the book begins and takes off.

Michael David Wilson (00:22:20): And I mean, going into this book, how much did you know about the singularity and how much did you then have to delve deeper into it knowing that, okay, I'm now writing a novel where this is not even thematically a concern, but it's integral to the book.

Dean Koontz (00:22:43): And I didn't want it to be science fictional in its nature. I wanted it to be said in the real world our day, this one thing he can do gives him an advantage, but he could still die. And this time when he dies, he isn't coming back. He's not like a cat. So his dying and coming back is a limited arrangement. So I wanted it to have a mission and to be a real world thing, but I did have to think pretty solidly about how I would visualise this ability that he gets. I wanted the reader not just to say, oh, okay, that sounds interesting, but how would it actually work? So that was the biggest thing. It wasn't research so much, it was just trying to visualise it and then visualise it for the reader. But I think that's happened. Of course, here I am again, pat myself, the

Michael David Wilson (00:23:39): Back. Yeah, I think so too. And I mean, of course another concern thematically as was the case with the house at the end of the world, again, two completely different books here, but we're talking about corruption, we're talking about power, we're talking about inequality and how this occurs at every single level.

Dean Koontz (00:24:08): I don't think I'll ever get done writing about the power of power to corrupt because we're living in a world where we see it getting to be a bigger problem almost. Politics in our corporate world, in media, everywhere you look, power is being ated and not to the benefit of the rest of us. And so that'll probably be part of a lot of what I write, hence for it, although it's not going to be the single thing, but in this book there are some really pretty nasty people. And it's always fun to write about really nasty people, especially if you're not capable of being one yourself. It's what would I do if I was somebody with no moral compass whatsoever? But then again, as I think I might've said to you before, I don't want to make them romantic. I want to have that sort of comic side to them because embracing power, ultimately it's to disaster. And so people who think that is the end all and be all are basically fools. So it becomes my job to show you how they're foolish, even as it seems they are going to triumph.

Michael David Wilson (00:25:32): And I think that there certainly isn't any romanticising of the villain for want of better phrasing. And it is interesting too, how you manage to make the story both political and apolitical at the same time because you're completely critical of power, of politics, of the system. But without taking any side, it's like we are just stating these are the facts here, this is the corruption. It is all corrupt, it's inequality at every level here.

Dean Koontz (00:26:12): Somebody's just said to me in another interview, you often have people in authority police or FBI or whatever in the Jane Ox series, it was the FBI, you don't seem to trust like that. And I said, no, actually I have a respect for police. And I think there are a lot of good people in all of those, but it tends to be that the people that gravitate to the top of all those organisations that the wonders you have to watch out for it seems. And then it suddenly dawned on me, I said, you know what this is, I grew up, as I've spoken about before, under the thumb of a violent alcoholic father. And I suddenly was reminded of this interview I did, first time I ever did a press interview was when Watchers was about to come out. It was the first time any major media was interested.

(00:27:18): And people magazine centre reporter in those days, people did longer stories instead of 300 little bits per badge. And the reporter did a nice job, but then they sent a photographer and his name was Jim McHugh, and he came for a day and he ended up staying too. And after a couple of hours of trying to take my photo, he said, let's sit down and relax and put our feet up and just chat for a while. We don't have to do this all day and we'll come back to it in an hour or so. And I thought, I didn't know the first time I'd ever been photographed, so I didn't know. And we sat down and talked a little bit, and then he said, I'm going to tell you some things about your life that you wouldn't think I know. And I said, oh, okay, a fortune teller.

(00:28:13): But he said, one or both of your parents were alcoholics and one or both of your parents were violent. And well, that was my father, but I had never spoken of it and I didn't understand how he could have possibly known that. And he said, I said, how would you know that? I've never revealed it publicly. I just don't talk about it. He said, I grew up with parents who were both alcoholics and there was violence from my father. And he said, as an adult, I have gone to adult children of alcoholics classes and I've learned there's behaviours that those of us grew up under that all exhibit and you're exhibiting all of them. And I said, what behaviour? I said, number one, you're very nice. You're very polite. You are very pleasant to be around. But the moment I took out the cameo, you've been quietly trying to set up every shot.

(00:29:18): You don't want me to choose the shots. You're going to choose how the shots are done and that you probably are like that in most things in your life. And that's because as a child, you had no control. You never knew what was going to happen one day or the next because of who your father was. And you said to yourself in childhood, either subconsciously or consciously, when I grow up by God, I'm going to have control of my life, and you really do. He said, you probably also don't fly. I said, I used to not fly. I used to fly, but I don't fly in many years. He said, whatever caused it. That wasn't the basic cause. The basic cause was at some point you recognised you don't know the pilot and therefore you're trusting your life to a stranger. And that was sort of trusting it to your father. And it was one of the most amazing conversations I've ever had. And he was entirely correct. And it's behaviour you can't change. You're stuck with it. So then as I was in this interview the other day, when that issue arose, I said, you know what? That's one big reason so many of the villains in the books I write are figures of authority, because I don't like not having control receding authority to strangers. So that's probably why so many of the books had,

Michael David Wilson (00:30:47): Yeah. Yeah. And when you had this conversation with Jim, how did it make you feel going forward? I mean, I can imagine on one hand you might feel seen for want of better phrasing. It's like, okay, so people can almost see this trauma and this past experience without me having to communicate anything. But then at the same time, it is almost like, wait, I didn't tell you anything. I'm exposed here. I'm not sure if I like this. This is going on. Did it affect you in either of these ways? Did you then try to modify your behaviours? It's like, well, I'll show you then. I won't behave in that way, even though naturally that's how I want to.

Dean Koontz (00:31:44): I did end up that thing, allowing him to take a photo. I really didn't want to be taken. I knew it was going to make me look stupid, and that's not the most difficult thing to begin with. And the magazine said they wanted him to take a photo of me with holding an axe or holding the knife or something like that, and I refuse to do anything hokey like that. But finally he said, could I take you just to please my editor? And we won't use this picture. Now, I've learned that every time they tell you we won't use this picture, that will be the picture that is because it makes you look the most interesting as they put it, but actually it makes you look the most ridiculous. And I thought he wanted to take my picture with spooky trees behind me, and it was autumn and bare them trees and stuff. And I said, oh, okay, I'll bend that far. I wish I show him that I can see control to him more easily than he thinks. And he said, and I'd also like to shoot up at you. And I was naive then, which is a very bad thing. Never let them shoot up at you. It distorts the whole.

(00:33:14): So I did. And sure enough, that was the photo that it was on two pages, a two page spread at the beginning of the article. And when the magazine came out, my editor at the paperback house where I was published at that time, Susan Allison, one of the nicest people I've ever known in publishing, retired now, she called me up and said, well, if I didn't know you, I wouldn't know that was you in that photograph. She said, you look like a very dangerous anti-psychotic biker. And I said, that's exactly what I look about. And that isn't actually who I am. But I did give Jim a little bit of control. Now, the one reason I didn't think everybody now knows me for what I am is Jim only knew that because he went through these classes for dark children of alcoholics. So I figured there are those people who look at me and say, ah, but most people don't know that. They look at me and see something that isn't real.

Michael David Wilson (00:34:23): And I guess the fact that then it probably means the only people who would've recognised you as that had also been through a similar experience in a bizarre way. There's a kind of safety from that. There's a kinship and you don't really have to explain things, which I'm sure is tiresome to kind of have to recount anyway. And probably unpleasant or certainly was at the time when there wasn't so much distance between it.

Dean Koontz (00:34:59): It's once or twice since that experience when I've met somebody and gotten to know them a little bit, but not so much. I can see the same behaviour that Jim saw me and that I now see in myself. And one time I said, I think I can tell you something about your past. And sure enough, in that instance, I startled this person just as much as Jim had startled me, but I've never done it again because I thought it wouldn't have been very nice if they'd said, what are you talking about? My father was, and a very wonderful man. Then I would've felt like I need to hit. So I've not made use of that knowledge since.

Michael David Wilson (00:35:46): Yeah, I guess if you're going to say to someone, one of your parents was a violent alcoholic, that's a shot you don't want to miss. You got to be pretty confident at that point.

Dean Koontz (00:35:59): You probably should have film of it before you even met.

Michael David Wilson (00:36:02): Yeah, yeah. Well, I dunno if we need to go that far, but that'd make an interesting book I think. So there's something in that for sure. But I mean, when you're talking about a situation where they wanted to take these photographs, give you an axe, make it quite hokey. I mean, this comes back to the idea that over the years you have been classified as a horror author, found your work in the horror section of bookstores. But to the best of my knowledge, you've never actually self-identified as a horror author. In fact, quite the opposite, that on all the branding, you are a suspense offer. You have written elements, Ari, you've written elements of science fiction. You've honestly written elements of everything. So I mean, I'm wondering, firstly, what do you think distinguishes a suspense offer from a horror offer? And how do you feel about this relentless pursuit of bookstores and magazines and the media to try and categorise you as a horror author?

Dean Koontz (00:37:27): Well, I don't like any labels, actually. I don't even like the suspense label. I started out writing science fiction, and when I got, I wasn't very good at it, but I did publish a number of novels, and when I realised it was never going to be doing more than second right genre work in that field, that was pure science fiction set for futures in that. And I realised this isn't what I am going to be any good at. I may have told you before, I had to buy back all the novels that I had published under science fiction, which is a very unfortunate circumstance to have to buy back and pay them what they paid you just to get out of it. And yet, years later, I'd gone on, I had written a comic novel, I'd written a lot of suspense novels, and I would have a new novel come out and I'd get a review more than one that would say, oh, here's something different from this science fiction writer fiction.

(00:38:35): And I hadn't written science fiction in 15 years, so I became very sensitive about any labels because they try to crowd you into a narrow alley in publishing, generally speaking, and don't want to let you out. But suspense is one I could live with. And what I often say to justify it is, Hey, every novel that's any good from Dickens to Mickey Lan has suspense in it because that's the basic quality of our lives. We never know what's going to happen to us tomorrow or an hour from now or a week from now. So we live in a constant state of suspense. We just deny it, and therefore I can accept this suspense label. They want to put one label or another on you. I've noticed that Amazon will put you in different categories of interest. They will, when it's released, they'll say, oh, if it has a romance in it, they will say, here's a love story. Here's a suspense novel. Here's this, here's a sci-fi novel. Here's a horror novel. And I think that's kind of wise. But I grew up in high school with the label sort of nerd, and so that made me sensitive to the labels pretty early on.

Michael David Wilson (00:40:00): Yeah, and I like that your solution to labels is like, well, okay, I'll accept a label, but a label that actually by definition is a non label because as you say, suspense can be in anything. So yeah,

Dean Koontz (00:40:20): It's my cunning way of getting around it.

Michael David Wilson (00:40:22): Yeah, and I mean, we're going to bounce around between different topics we need to go back to after death. And I think we've just got to talk a little bit about the apple orchard scene or the extended scene because we come back to it again and again. But there is talking about a multitude of genres. There are a multitude of genres in this one scene, because there is comedy, there is suspense, there is a hell of a lot of tension. There's some surreal laugh out loud moments, a bit between some of the characters. And I mean, you've pulled this all off masterfully, but were there any concerns going into it? And I mean, how much did you have to go over this scene to get it right?

Dean Koontz (00:41:25): It was, I honestly reveal going into the apple ocean, it was a big scene. I didn't realise how big it was going to become and how much was going to occur in the apple orchard. And the buildings that service, it's a dead apple orchard, which is on its own kind of. And there's in Central California now, there are areas where because of water shortages and bad management by the state government, some historic orchards are just dead, and they're very strange places if you knew them the way they were. So it struck me as a great place to have an extended spooky scene. And then this is a book with more than one villain, aside from the government agent Khalifas who is pretty vile. There are a number of gang bangers from the equivalent of the Crips or the Blood, they call themselves of the VIGs. And I knew at some point there was going to be a big showdown in this orchard, but when I got into it, that's one of the great things that's fun. You get into something and you think, oh, this is probably a good 12 page scene, and suddenly 40 pages later, you're still here and you haven't even touched some of the things that could occur in this.

(00:43:06): That is when writing gets a lot of fun because you didn't recognise all the opportunities you were going to have for tension in the sequences. But these gang bangers are, it's also fun to have them in this novel because I like capturing the way characters talk in different social strata. And that was a thing I had fun with in the Jane Hawk books. And here it gave me some real places to have it, because when you're dealing with ultra violent gang members who are ultra violent, you don't want to run into these people in real life, especially not after having written about them as I did. And however, they are ultimate fools because this is a dead end kind of life. Literally, you're going to end up dead more likely than not before you reach any advanced stage. And that opens the door to all sorts of comic elements with in those scenes. So I'm happy you liked that sequence. It was touchy to write about because there's a lot of death in that sequence, and there's a lot of threat to the characters we like, but at the same time, some things happen, I don't want to give much away, but there's some event that happens related to their cell phones, which our lead character has been they were able to take control of. And that had me laughing out loud at one point. So I had a lot of fun in that book, and I guess you noticed that.

Michael David Wilson (00:45:02): Yeah, yeah. No, there was something I wanted to reference, but because of what you've said about the cell phones, I now can't reference it, but I can in a very obtuse way, say to you that you made me think of something that used to be in popular media that I haven't thought about for the last 20 or 30 years. And we can't say anymore because it might give it away, but people will know when they get to that scene, what I'm talking about,

Bob Pastorella (00:45:39): The imagery that is so powerful because, and here's the thing, whether you love this piece of media or you hate this piece of media for it to actually happen to these characters at the moment that they're at, you would realise that you would be the most annoyed that you've ever been in your entire life. It's like this is the epitome of being extremely pissed off. This happened at the wrong time and everyone's happening. And so it was grand, a grand centrepiece to a massive set piece that really just makes the whole book. I loved it.

Dean Koontz (00:46:23): Well, when you're writing novels and you've hit upon, I don't know why I didn't realise initially how large the whole App Orchard sequence would be because you're always looking for some environment, some place to set a dramatic sequence that's different that you haven't used before, you haven't seen before, and that offers you all kind of opportunities. And that apple orchard and the associated buildings gives you atmosphere, different kind of backdrops and just some grand stuff to work with. So I should have known going in that this was going to give me all kinds of opportunities, but in the case of that, also with these very bad guys when this media, we're not going to mention when this moment truths on, they're horribly embarrassed. And that was the big fun for me was these real bad guys, they're humiliated by this. And I was laughing out loud through that whole little sequence all through that part of it.

Michael David Wilson (00:47:32): Yeah, yeah. No, I hope that we get a film version of this because to see that visually would just be, yeah, that would be wonderful.

Dean Koontz (00:47:45): We're entertaining a film offer right now from somebody who actually made a deal for the house at the end of the world. And then this is a producer I know from the past and whom I like very much as a person. We never got anything produced together before, but he's quite a lot of fun. And so he said, what's the next one? After he got together with the studio and made a deal for the House of Theme of the World, and I said, well, it's this thing called After Death. I said, I want to see it. And I said, well, I don't think you're going to want to do two things on our own. This one's kind of different in some ways, but I sent him an advanced proof of it and he read it over a weekend and he called me up and said, I have to do this. So now he's back with the same studio actually, and they looked it and they're supposedly making a deal, but we'll see. That almost seems too good to be true because this guy will know how to do both these books and to do them well.

Michael David Wilson (00:48:53): Yeah. Excellent.

(00:48:55): Yeah. I wonder too, and it might be something that you can't really talk about, but being with Amazon Publishing, I mean, does that open up opportunities because Amazon are streaming and producing content, I guess being published by Amazon, does that give you more access to the potential video options? Are these two arms of Amazon just completely disconnected? So it isn't something that they can do? I mean, it seems like as an outsider looking in, I mean Amazon are trying to diversify in as many ways as they can. So it would make sense that if you've got the publishing rights that you're going to look at of a media rights too,

Dean Koontz (00:49:49): You would think so. So far, no. I think it's, yeah, it's 15 books in development as TV series or films, including the eight autonomous novels, which another producer has made a deal with, and none of them are an Amazon Prime. So that opportunity would seem to be there. I sometimes think that when a company is very large and they have different divisions, the divisions become little kingdoms, and the people in this little kingdom don't want the people in this little kingdom thinking they can tell them what to do. I don't know. Amazon's prime has made some things. Amazon Studios has made some things I've liked quite a while, so I would hope they maybe one day come along, but so far not.

Michael David Wilson (00:50:43): Yeah, and I mean, we said before that with after death, we've got three worlds here. We've got the world of the rich and the elite, we've got the hood. We've also, in terms of place, got Eden, which serves as an in-between, but then in addition to having these three worlds, I mean the hood and the life that Nina and John have is very different to the life that the gang bangers have. I mean, they're trying to avoid that. They're trying to get away from that. So I mean, what kind of things went into writing about all of these different areas? Did you physically go to any of these areas? I mean, we spoke before how luckily Google Maps means that you don't actually have to do that if you don't want to.

Dean Koontz (00:51:46): It's many years, but I've been in South Centre a couple of times, which is centre of gang in, well, one of the centres in the larger Los Angeles area. But no, I chose not to put my life at risk by going to the actual locale. Having seen it and having Googled it, my response to refresh my memory, I didn't really need to do that. But when I was in the very early stages of the book, the book opens with the scene of our lead character coming through Beverly Hills after midnight on foot. And that's nothing that anybody does without drawing the attention of police in a minute. Nobody's on foot in Beverly Hills residential areas that doesn't get noticed. So I had him moving through that, but I knew he had this ability that was going to be rather striking and people were going to be after him because they knew that he had been dead and now was back.

(00:52:56): And the people behind this experiment and the federal government won't want to get their hands on him, but there was going to have to be some mission. He was on some reason for us to care about what he was going to be doing aside from his unsu survival. And this is giving something away in the beginning, but it's minor because it's so toward the front. His best friend in the world was in that same operation, that same project and died. And that friend had a woman that he was too almost shy to approach. And this woman lives in South Central has a son, and she's trying to get that son, make sure he never gets involved in the gang, which it so happens his father is a member of, and that gives us some heart in the story. And our lead character wants to do what his dead friend couldn't achieve or didn't have time to achieve in his life as to rescue this woman and this boy. And that sort of brings all the worlds together in this and gives it a kind of variety of place. And I think I'm answering your question, maybe not, maybe I've just got lost in the woods as I tried to, but it did give me a lot of varied backgrounds to resort to during the course of the story.

Michael David Wilson (00:54:26): Yeah, I think that you answered the question, or at least provided some interesting insight. And as you say, you don't want to get lost in those words, particularly if it's dead apple orchard, that ain't somewhere to be staying

Dean Koontz (00:54:43): And in a thunderstorm too.

Michael David Wilson (00:54:46): Yeah,

Dean Koontz (00:54:47): It can't just be dead apple orchard. There has to be lightning and thunder and rain.

Michael David Wilson (00:54:53): Yeah, yeah, that's right. And I mean with that scene, as you said, in total, it's over 40 pages, but I mean it both does and doesn't feel like it doesn't like it in a positive way because of course you're breaking it up that you are still, whilst you've got that, you've still got these short chapters that you're becoming known for. And so it's pacey, you're cutting away. And I mean, I guess that seems to be how to do it. I've had times before where I've written scenes of similar length. I'm kind of battling with that at the moment, and it's like, I can't keep this 40 page scene of this one event in, but reading this, it inspired me. It's like, no, you cut away from it. If you cut away and you put other points of view in, then you totally can. You just probably shouldn't write a 40 or 50 page extended scene with no cutaway.

Dean Koontz (00:56:05): Yeah, that's the benefit in a scene like that of having multiple villains. There's not just one gang member after them. It's several. And then you've got Nina and her son who are on their own in this apple orchard, but our lead character knows where they are and is on his way to get to them before the gang members do. So you've got all these different viewpoints and it keeps it fresh. It's something I've learned over the years that being able to cut away to multiple points of view where there's something dramatic happening in all of 'em, because with the gang bangers in that scene, things are going wrong for them and they don't know why, and it's making them angry and more violent. And then with Nina and her son, they're trying to hide in this complex buildings at the heart of the orchard, and they've got their own concerns.

(00:57:07): And then our lead is they're trying to get to them and rescue them so it's not just cutting away to the same thing. They've all got different concerns and different things happening to them. And that also just keeps me as a writer more interested in the sequence because then it becomes, it's kind of like juggling a series of balls and how do you switch? Where do you switch? Why do you grab this ball on that one in this order? And that can be quite challenging and fun actually, because you've got a lot of material up here. So for a while you're not going to be thinking what next? You're thinking, okay, how do I get all this together and do it? And that becomes, in some ways easier and more fun.

Bob Pastorella (00:58:02): Yeah, I love how you bring in kind of late in the game and these two guys are going to stick in my head as Juan and Walter,

(00:58:13): And they provide to me some of, I guess that high tension comic relief and they come in late. They're not in very long, but I feel like I've known these guys and it's like I've known people. 'em very, very relatable. And I think that's one of the most powerful things about your writing is you can bring the character in so late and they're fully fleshed out, bam, here you go. And you got these two guys and they're completely unpredictable. I'd love to see a whole book with these two guys. I can imagine they could probably, if you're talking about something that's going to be comedic and suspenseful, well those two guys are probably going to be, they could definitely do something.

Dean Koontz (00:59:01): Now you've put a seed of an idea in my head. They also on the maltar, when they come in where they do, I had fun with the characters. I liked their relationship. I liked where they are in their lives and why they're out here at night doing what they're doing. And at the same time, it was necessary for me to, you've got your lead character and these people, he is rescuing and a very bad guy coming after them, and you've got this other element, I won't say what it is that our lead is using that is on its way to help them, but it's going to have to get there. And what you always want to do in a book is not let that element that's going to help them get there too quickly. Part of the suspense is will it get there at all?

(01:00:00): And if it does, will it get there too late? So then there has to be something makes it difficult for that element that's coming to the rescue to get there. And that's Juan and Walter. So there also a little comic relief at a moment of high suspense, but they're also inhibiting the rescue of our lead characters. So that's where the little characters coming in by surprise. The reader hasn't seen them before, but it's logical. They would be out there and they come in just when they're needed, but they start, they give you again, a cutaway thing to cut away and build that suspend. That's what I'm always looking for and it's a tricky thing to do, but it is a technique that 99% of time works

Michael David Wilson (01:00:57): Well. I knew that we'd have no problem filling an hour once again, and indeed as happened previously, we've got so much more that we could talk about. But I wonder, do you have time for a few Patreon questions? We seem to be very good at selling them short and being like, sorry, Patons, we spoke to Dean Greedily for an hour for ourselves.

Dean Koontz (01:01:28): I can stick for some of that. Yeah.

Michael David Wilson (01:01:30): Okay. So Robert Stahl wants to know, what do you think has been the most influential factor in the development of your unique writing voice?

Dean Koontz (01:01:46): That's an interesting question. Well, two things come to mind. One, as a reader, I've always read everything. I don't read just in one or two narrow genres. I read all kinds of fiction and I've read a lot of it. So a lot of different influences came in. The other thing, I think, and I've been forced to think about this the older I get, I think one of the big influences is just a certain little in my personality that when I'm told by a publisher or an agent or an editor, you can't do that, then I have to prove that you can. That's where I started crossing genres because nobody back then was doing it. That's where I started introducing comedy into suspense when I was told that you can't get away with that, you'll lose the suspense reader. And when I look back on it, it was being told, no, no, no, you can't do that. And I would go, yeah, just watch. Let's see if I can. That had a profound influence on where I ended up, I think.

Michael David Wilson (01:03:01): Yeah. So it seems like if people tell you you can't do something, then my goodness, you are going to do your damnedest to do it.

Dean Koontz (01:03:13): I haven't murdered anybody just because it says thou shalt not murder. But within the writing world, that seems a way to motivate me.

Michael David Wilson (01:03:23): So there are limits, particularly the 10 Commandments. So apart from the 10 Commandments, don't tell Dean he can't do it.

Dean Koontz (01:03:34): Yeah, I think that's a fair judgement . Yeah.

Michael David Wilson (01:03:37): But this is progress because in the last interview you confirmed you hadn't murdered a child, and today you've confirmed you haven't murdered anyone. So

Dean Koontz (01:03:49): I know wondering about that.

Michael David Wilson (01:03:51): Yeah, it is always good to clarify, but we don't lead with it. It's not an opening question. It might make the guest a little bit uncomfortable an hour in. Well, if it's awkward, we're going to end soon anyway, so no worries. We've got a question from Alice Phelan who says, how has your religious faith influenced your process and has it ever caused any controversial responses from either the horror or Catholic communities?

Dean Koontz (01:04:32): I've never had any problem that way, and I've never had a problem from readers either saying, oh, I don't like the idea that there's a belief in these books that life has meaning and purpose because I'm not proselytising. I'm just writing from that perspective saying, this is the way I see the world. It has meaning, and I'm not going to try to sound my belief to you. I want the story to sort of embody that. And no, I have several friends who are monks and none of them have ever said, you better come to confession.

(01:05:12): They know I might not show up anyway, but I just never encountered that. In fact, my friends who are monks are big fans of mine, and I have a number of convents in the United States where the nuns are big fans that started with a book called Life Expectancy, and there's a character in life suspect, see Grandma Rowena, who's a cantankerous old woman who is actually a little bit found out. And I began to get letters from nuns saying, here at the convent, we formed a Grandma Rowena club. And wow, isn't that interesting? But nope, I've never had any feedback negatively either way.

Michael David Wilson (01:05:59): Alright. Well, it seems then that you obviously tapped into something within the nun community wasn't a sentence. I expected to utter this today, particularly so early, but there we are.

Dean Koontz (01:06:17): Well, it doesn't result in millions of new readers who are nuns. There are not quite that many of them, but it's kind of interesting to think that. I think it's always interesting when you get mail from somebody you never anticipated you were ever going to reach. And one area that always surprises me is once in a while I will get a letter from some kid who says, I'm 11 years old, I'm 12 years old, and I just read this and I just love this book. And I go, that's a book. 11 year olds probably shouldn't be reading. And then they'll proceed to write this highly articulate letter that could have come from a 40 year old college professor. And it makes me realise there's all kinds of people out there at all ages that you don't recognise or realise you're not sitting or writing for, but it's kind of fun to realise that you're tapping into some people you would've never imagined picking up the book.

Michael David Wilson (01:07:21): As a side note, there's a bizarre alert that has turned up on my zencaster. Bob, do you have that as well? It says Dean is having a problem with his audio stream, but it's like, no, he's not. I can hear you. I don't understand why this message has appeared.

Bob Pastorella (01:07:43): No, no, I don't see anything like that at all.

Dean Koontz (01:07:47): Maybe that's an ominous supernatural warning. I have to think. The

Bob Pastorella (01:07:51): Spectral presence.

Dean Koontz (01:07:52): Yeah, spectral presence, and it's speaking in code of some kind. I'll have to think what that is. Is it a threat, a promise? I'll think about,

Michael David Wilson (01:08:03): Yeah. So what it is is actually maybe your publicist or your assistant has built in something into the computer. It's like if they go over an hour again, again, we are going to stop the microphone, we're going to interfere. And well, I suppose then we should reluctantly wrap this one up. I mean, I'm hoping if you've enjoyed it and we can do it again and we're just going to keep the stance, I want to know about the next novel too. So

Dean Koontz (01:08:41): Yes. Well, I have enjoyed it and that's why my publicists, they don't, at least as far as I know, they don't have any tricks. We'll film you if it gets out of hand and we'll tell you, your Uncle Jim is dying. They're not trying tricks like that.

Michael David Wilson (01:09:03): Yeah. So the code word is Jim is dead. So if someone runs in and says, Jim is dead, we know we've overstepped. And I mean it feels appropriate and an endorsement to you after death that there is this bizarre interference with technology. Anyway.

Dean Koontz (01:09:22): Well, it had occurred to me over the last month, life plays odd tricks on you. And I was thinking, I just hope I get through a publication day because it would've been a very interesting point in the media that he published a book called After Death and he died the day before it appeared. So now I've passed that threat and I'm very grateful for that.

Michael David Wilson (01:09:47): Yeah. Well, fingers crossed that your health is okay at the moment. We don't want after Death to be final book that is not posthumous, that is not the direction we want to go in

Dean Koontz (01:10:04): That it has been published. It can't have been published after my death. So I've escaped that possible irony.

Michael David Wilson (01:10:11): I mean you say that, but we also know that you like to kind of mess about with time and it not being so linear. We also know that you're not into Lazarus, but you write about such things. So I mean, we'll have to take your word for it, that you have not, in fact died.

Dean Koontz (01:10:37): I'm here, have no way of checking the veracity of that.

Michael David Wilson (01:10:48): All right. Well, do you have any final thoughts for our listeners

Dean Koontz (01:10:54): Final thoughts? I thought we just got them with that. No, I don't want to go where the final thoughts are. I intend to think 'em right for a long time.

Michael David Wilson (01:11:07): Thank you so much for listening to Dean Koontz on. This is horror. Join us again next time when we'll be chatting with Eric Larocca about his brand new novel. But if you would like to get that ahead of the crowd, if you would like every episode ahead of the crowd, become our Patreon at patreon.com/this is horror. Not only do you get early bird access to each and every episode, but you can submit questions to the interviewee and coming up soon, we have got the likes of Sadie Hartman, Nick Cutter, and Andrew F. Sullivan talking about the fantastic, the Handyman Method and Stephanie Parent. So if those are conversations that you want to hear ahead of the crowd, if there's a guest that you want to submit questions to, then go over to patreon.com/this ashora. Have a little look at what we offer and see if it's a good fit for you. Okay. Before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break

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