Unlike his titular protagonist, Dean Koontz is anything but nameless. The renowned author of genre-blending fiction continues to gratify fans with riveting concepts, gripping storylines, and layered characters. His Nameless series of six novellas—about a vigilante with a mysterious past—reaches its thrilling conclusion with Nameless: Season Two, an additional six installments available as e-books and audiobooks from Amazon Original Stories. Koontz shared with PW his thoughts on writing complex protagonists, the importance of making “fresh choices,” and what it takes to endure as an author.
Can you share a little about your decision to write the Nameless series in short installments?
As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed the novella form as practiced so brilliantly by Henry James, Daphne du Maurier, Samuel R. Delaney, Joseph Conrad, and others. Done well, a novella can have the power, depth, color, and thematic intensity of a novel. In some ways, novellas can have more punch than a novel, because one tends to remember more of the key moments from the shorter work than from a longer one.
How important to you is it to balance your character’s vulnerability with his many exceptional strengths?
Character is everything in fiction. If the characters don’t fascinate me, the most dazzling story fades in the mind like a fireworks display. Nameless—who comes into his name in Season Two—is Sisyphean in that he is trying to roll this great weight of grief and guilt up a hill toward redemption. But because of his amnesia, he doesn’t even know why he’s so driven. I find genuine emotional vulnerability and humility necessary to make real a character who might, because of his courage and competence, otherwise seem like a machine.
After such a long, storied career, how do you keep the fresh ideas flowing?
Ideas are everywhere, from a line in a Paul Simon song to an image in a movie that sparks an idea utterly different from what the film is about. Often, I don’t know where the idea comes from, as with Odd Thomas; it is suddenly just there and can’t be traced back to any origin. If it’s too much like something that I’ve already done, I toss it out. There are always fresher choices.
Would you say that your writing style continues to evolve?
When I was young, I thought that after a few years, I would learn all the tricks of the trade, after which writing novels would be easy. Instead, it gets harder—and more exciting—because there are infinite approaches and techniques to explore. In the past, I’ve had some publishers express bafflement as to why I had to change direction. However, repetition of past work is not art; it’s imitation and not in the least satisfying. You have to do new things and risk failure. My experience is that readers expect that and will reward it.
There’s a certain comfort for readers in returning to a world they already know. Is it ever a struggle to maintain your own investment in a particular story or with particular characters?
I don’t think I could ever write as many words about any other character as I wrote about Odd Thomas. I loved him. I knew he was on a journey to absolute humility—which would really test my powers of imagination—and he won my heart with every page. Five novels was right for Jane Hawk, and two seasons for Nameless. Readers who want more of any one thing need to be won over by a new world and new characters that they like as well or better. Otherwise, both they and the author are standing still emotionally and intellectually.
Your ability to blend aspects of the thriller genre with the supernatural is among readers’ favorite qualities in your work. Do you have a preference for working within one genre over the other?
When I set to work, I never think of genres. I’m just writing fiction. Some have a touch of the supernatural, and some don’t. Some have a sci-fi thread and/or a love story, and many of them, though not all, are comic novels as well. When I delivered From the Corner of His Eye, some in my professional life deemed it “too literary” to appeal to a wide audience, yet it turned out to be my longest run at number one.
All my books share two things. First, there is the suspense, which is the central quality of all our lives, because we never know what might happen to us an hour from now or next week. Second is my view of life: I see humor in the darkest moments, and while I view the human condition as tragic, each day for me is filled with amazement and joy at the very existence of this dazzling world. In the end, no writer who has a decades-long career is selling genre; he or she is selling his or her heart, and success comes and endures because readers recognize something of their own hearts in the work.