Up Close: Dean Koontz
Did Dean Koontz Predict a Global Pandemic?
By Dawn Ius
Let’s get this out of the way right here—no, Dean Koontz did not predict coronavirus in his 1981 thriller The Eyes of Darkness. While it’s true the novel does make reference to the Wuhan-400—a biological weapon brought to the US by a Chinese scientist—Koontz says that’s where the similarities end.
In fact, in the original version of the book, the weapon was called “Gorki-400” in reference to a Russian locality—Wuhan wasn’t mentioned at all.
“When the book was reissued in 1989, the Soviet was gone, so I just changed it to Wuhan,” Koontz says, which was a nod to the biological warfare labs that have been in existence in the area for more than 50 years. “It’s not even a novel about a pandemic.”
But knowing all this hasn’t stopped some conspiracy theorists from manipulating the facts—even going so far as to link text from The Eyes of Darkness to Sylvia Browne’s 2008 book, End of Days, which also alleges to have “predicted” the virus.
“We’re well past 1,000 requests for interviews about it, and I’ve turned them all down,” Koontz says, though he echoes a quote he gave to one publication in a rare interview about the topic. “As it relates to coronavirus, my powers of prognosticator are greatly exaggerated considering I can’t even predict what I’m having for dinner.”
That all said, Koontz does weave a prediction—or perhaps a warning—of sorts into his new thriller, DEVOTED, a chilling and yet heart-tugging tale about a mother, her autistic son, and Kipp, a remarkable golden retriever with telepathic abilities. There is, of course, a bad guy—Koontz is a master at crafting them—and the malicious evil that drives this story stems from scientific reading he’d been doing around the area of transhumanism and the ability to transmit DNA across species.
It makes for great fiction, of course, but in real-life practice, there are potential dangers, some of which are explored in DEVOTED with classic Koontz style. In fact, while this is a very different novel for Koontz, fans will recognize his signature trademarks.
Even more so if, like many os us, you cut your teeth on Koontz’s earlier work— such as 1987’s bestselling Watchers, the chilling story of two genetically altered life forms—one an extraordinarily intelligent dog, the other a terrifying hybrid monster.
DEVOTED is not a prequel or sequel to Watchers, Koontz says, but having had three golden retrievers, he realized there had to be another way to approach a novel about a dog, a story that would demonstrate what Koontz has known for a long time: “Scientists have always said that dogs don’t have the same emotions as us, but we’re learning now that dogs’ brains and our brains light up in the same way.”
Working with the non-profit group Canine Companions for Independence gave Koontz further insight into the human-dog bond, and the realization that dogs have a much larger vocabulary than was previously thought.
Koontz uses that vocabulary in DEVOTED, where Kipp narrates a third of the book in his own “voice.” That’s not to say that he’s a talking golden retriever, but the reader is immersed in his emotions as he bonds with Woody Bookman, a young boy who hasn’t spoken a single word in his 11-year life.
The point of view is well executed—but Koontz admits it wasn’t an easy choice.
“When I started to do it, I really wondered if it was going to work,” he says. “I had to think on it for awhile. Within the first or second scene, I got the tone down. Dogs are innocent—they don’t deceive. And once I started thinking about that aspect of Kipp, then it started to come together.”
Koontz dipped back into that well of experience to flesh out the “bad guy” that Woody believes killed his father and is now coming for him and his mother—and, eventually, for all of the good people in the town of Pine Haven where this thriller is set.
Loyal Koontz readers know that the villain in his books is never a simple criminal. Bank robbers, serial killers, kidnappers—none of these bad guys are quite “bad” enough.
“I go with total sociopaths,” Koontz says. “Because boy, do I understand that character.”
Koontz has gone on record many times to talk about his childhood—an intelligent boy trapped in a dysfunctional family, with an abusive alcoholic father he describes as a “very bad piece of work.” Much later in life, Koontz took him in, but the abusive behavior escalated to the point that his father was admitted to a psych ward and finally diagnosed as a sociopath.
“That explained a lot to me,” Koontz says. “It explained everything I had gone through. And it’s certainly guided the dark side of my writing, because it releases some of that stuff from my childhood.”
But despite those dark beginnings, Koontz describes himself as an optimist, even as a kid. One of his aunts—another “not the nicest human on the planet” in his life—often remarked when she saw him playing or reading, “You’re too happy for your own good.”
“I didn’t feel the way to deal with that was to get angry,” he says. “I just found something that I love and focused on it. It evolved into a career.”
And what a staggering career it has been. Koontz has published more than 100 stories, including novellas, standalone thrillers, and popular series installments. There are in excess of 500 million copies of his book in print, in more than 38 languages, and 14 of his novels have risen to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, making him one of only a handful to achieve that milestone. No question, Koontz makes it look easy—but the reality is, it isn’t.
“When I was young and stupid, I thought, ‘there must be like 30 or 40 writing tricks, and when I learn them all, it’s going to get easier,’” he says. “But there’s always more to learn. I always want to keep doing things that are not expected.”
More recently, he fulfilled that desire by making the big transition from traditional commercial publishers, to signing a lucrative five-book deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer. As an author who’s had to adapt to an ever-changing industry, he says the move puts him in a better position to keep doing what he loves—getting his stories into the hands of as many readers as possible. So far the experience has been everything he’d hoped for, and more.
“When my agent and I agreed that I needed to change publishers, he suggested we include Amazon as an option, and I wasn’t sure about it,” he says. “But we got eight offers, seven of them from publishers in New York. Amazon’s offer was as good as the best of them. The deciding factor was that the other publishers had given a one or two-page marketing proposal—Amazon’s was 30 or 40 pages. If it was about money only, I would have stopped years ago—but for me, it’s always been about sharing books.”
Thankfully, Koontz doesn’t see that changing any time soon. His next novel, titled Elsewhere, is slated to come out in October, and though he’s mum on the details, Koontz does have this to say about it: “It’s one of the best things I’ve written in about 10 years.”
We’re waiting with bated breath. Until then, there’s DEVOTED.
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