Known for his bestselling suspense thrillers, Dean Koontz has incorporated elements of science fiction, horror, and fantasy into his books, along with spiritual grounding. When Koontz writes about the battle between good and evil, he speaks from experience. He endured a frightening childhood with a violent alcoholic father, but found happiness and stability in his long-term marriage. He also converted to Catholicism, and though he later went through a period of questioning that faith, he has returned to it. No matter how dark a path his characters travel, good usually triumphs, and every life is shown to have value and meaning. This is evident in his most popular character, Odd Thomas, a humble fry cook who “sees the lingering dead” and is called upon to do battle against evil forces to help those in need. Odd Thomas returns in Odd Apocalypse: An Odd Thomas Novel, the fifth book of seven planned in a series with Odd’s name.
You weave spiritual themes into your books that are integral to your own beliefs, correct?
Yes. The spiritual element has been in my work for a long time, but I don’t write from a religious perspective so much as from a point of view that says life has meaning and that this meaning makes life precious. I occasionally get letters asking why good triumphs in my books and why I don’t write a noir novel in which everybody dies and life has no purpose. My reply is “You can get that anywhere. Why do you need me to write it also?” If I wrote that story, it would be completely phony, because it isn’t what I believe. The world is an amazing place, full of more beauty than many people bother to see, and in the complexity of that beauty is meaning.
There was a period when you moved away from faith. Your return was influenced by adopting two special dogs, Trixie [who died in 2007] and Anna, as well as your involvement in Canine Companions for Independence, a service dog organization for people with disabilities. Can you explain?
When you give your heart to a dog, you become a better person. Outside of my marriage to Gerda, my relationship with Trixie and now Anna are among the most beautiful experiences of my life. Those dogs taught me that the little moments in life are among the most beautiful, which is a valuable thing for a writer to learn. The more closely you regard the ordinary things in life, the more aware you become that all things are extraordinary, which is what led me back to a spiritual view of the world.
Gerda and I have been deeply involved with Canine Companions for Independence [www.cci.org] for many years, and when you are often around people with disabilities—paraplegics, quadriplegics—you find that they all but unanimously believe the world and their lives have transcendent meaning. That compels you to rethink your position if you have drifted away from faith. These people who have much to complain about do not, in my experience, complain at all, and their courage and fortitude helped return me to my faith.
How has Odd Thomas evolved for you?
I give my characters free will, just as God gave it to us, and they go places where I would never think to send them. Sometimes with Odd, I stop writing because I think “this won’t work,” but then I remind myself that he has free will, and where he takes me always turns out to work perfectly well. When I talk to new writers about this, I get baffled looks. They want to do outlines and character studies. I tell them to begin with a character who has intriguing traits, something that sets him apart—and then let him explain himself to you.
When I wrote the first Odd book, I knew only that he was extremely humble—you don’t see humility in male action-series characters—and that his psychic gift required him to lead a simple existence.
He is on a journey to ultimate humility, exploring the features and strengths of that quality over seven books. When you face the world with humility, you also face it with humor. Odd is alert to both the graces and the absurdities of the world.
You have not been happy with film and television adaptations of your work, but you are excited about the upcoming Odd Thomas movie. Why is this different?
Odd is as vivid to me as if he were a real person. I have had such bad luck with Hollywood, I thought I would never allow anyone to put him on film. Then Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) called and walked me through what he thought the character was about. He didn’t strike a false note. And then he wrote a perfect screenplay. It’s exhilarating. I’ve seen the finished film, and I am finally able to rave about a movie based on my work.