An interview with Dean Koontz, whose Bliss to You: Trixie’s Guide to a Happy Life by Trixie Koontz, Dog, as told to Dean Koontz, will be published by Hyperion.
PW: How did Trixie become an author?
DK: At some point my snail-mail newsletter had become a Trixie newsletter—lots of Trixie pictures, bits of her wisdom, etc.—and Kate Hartson, who at that time had Yorkville Press, came to me and said, “I think there’s a book in the voice of this dog and the way you write from her point of view.” So in 2004 Kate published Life Is Good!, Trixie’s first hardcover, which outsold my first hardcover 14 to one—it stung, believe me, but I got over it—and then came Christmas Is Good! But Kate was starting to downsize, and at that time Hyperion stepped in and asked if Trixie wanted to do another book. Right after we started talking about that, Trixie died. I had never had writer’s block in my life, but after that I had four or five weeks when I couldn’t write a word. I was in the middle of a novel, which I finally managed to finish, and when Hyperion asked if I still wanted to do the book, I said yes, because a month or so had gone by—I never would have agreed right after Trixie died. I enjoy so much writing in her voice and this seemed to be an additional way to memorialize her. Also, all her author royalties go to Canine Companions for Independence [CCI] so there were multiple reasons to do it. Now there’s more than just the Hyperion book; we have some other Trixie-related things we’ll be doing together.
PW: What started your love affair with dogs?
DK: I came from a very poor family, so we never could buy a dog, but we had two strays—one was called Tiny, who weighed about 120 pounds (he grew after we found him), and another one was called Lucky, who was very sickly and died young. One day when I was playing with Tiny—I think I was five—he somehow wrapped his chain around my neck and nearly strangled me. My mother rescued me, but much to my tearful protests Tiny had to be taken away. Other than that I didn’t have a dog of my own, but I had an aunt who had a dog that I thought was marvelous, and I grew up just loving dogs. [My wife] Gerda and I kept saying we’ve got to get one, and CCI, after we had worked with them for a number of years, suggested we take one of their release dogs—dogs who had failed out of the program—and give them a home, but we kept saying we’re too busy, because we both worked long hours. One day I said, “We’ll be 90 and I’ll still be saying we’re too busy; we just better do this while we can.” So that’s when we took Trixie, and it was utterly life-changing. She was an uncannily intelligent dog and endlessly mysterious. We went from working evenings to quitting at five, because she would not tolerate work past five o’clock.
PW: You’ve done a great deal of work with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI.org). How did you get involved with them?
DK: I had heard and read about CCI, and I thought it would be interesting if a secondary character in the book I was writing, Midnight, was somebody in a wheelchair who had a service dog. It was the first book I had go to #1 in hardcover, and I was contacted by CCI asking me if when the paperback came out I would be willing to put a notice about them in the book. I said absolutely, and that began our association. I was just so taken with them and what they do that it became a really significant part of our lives. It’s led to an interesting development in my writing: as we began to work with CCI, and there were so many people in my life with disabilities of one kind or another that I began to realize that these people never appear in novels, unless the novel is about their disability. They don’t appear as regular characters, or in heroic roles, and it dawned on me that there was a whole untapped area here. I also came to admire these people, who deal with such disabilities but who never complain. So I began including people with disabilities in the books, and the mail was phenomenal. It became clear that doing this had significant social value, so it’s become something that continues in my books.
PW: What accounts for the growing popularity of dog books?
DK: As people are having fewer children and as the baby boom generation gets older and the children are gone from the house the dog brings that childlike quality into the house again. But I also think that—probably a bigger reason—is that the whole greater awareness of nature and our role in it has a function in this. There is nothing more magical than dogs as a part of nature, because they relate so strongly to us. It gives you a sense of being closer to nature to live with an animal, and it gives you an abiding sense of the mystery of the human-animal bond. After all a dog is the only species out there besides human beings that is interested in play for the entire length of its life. And a dog will die for us. You don’t see a cow doing that, or a cat or a chicken. And I think there’s something unique and special and almost spiritual about the link between dogs and humans and I think that more and people recognize that.