Dean R. Koontz is an American author, one of the most successful thriller writers of his time. During the horror boom years, his name was the center pillar of the horror triumvirate “King, Koontz, and Straub.” After writing science-fiction and working in assorted other genres under pen names and his own name for more than a decade, he achieved worldwide success after his breakthrough novel Whispers was published in 1980. He has written over 140 books and hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list 14 times.
Winning an Atlantic Monthly fiction writing competition in 1965 jump-started Koontz’s career. Shortly thereafter, he sold “Soft Come the Dragons” to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where his work would appear for the next several years. His novella “A Darkness in my Soul” first appeared in the January 1968 issue of Fantastic. He built a solid reputation in science fiction in a few short years, warranting top billing on the magazine’s cover with Fritz Leiber.
Koontz was always a prolific writer. He had more than 20 science fiction novels published between 1968 and 1973. His first published novel, Star Quest, appeared in an Ace Double in 1968, but his new career in fiction made for some lean years. He wrote Gothics under a pen name to help make ends meet. Wikipedia states that Koontz also wrote 30 erotic novels to supplement his income throughout his early career under a variety of pen names, but this remains unconfirmed by Koontz — in fact, he outright denies it. That said, collectors claim to have discovered many erotic novels written by Koontz, corroborated by evidence from the Library of Congress copyright records. Some of these paperbacks are listed online for prices in excess of $600.
By the mid-1970’s Koontz built a solid following. He was making a living as a writer, but in a 1981 interview he said in retrospect that he was discontent with his decision to start his career as a science fiction writer. This, despite the fact his 1973 novel Demon Seed was made into a motion picture by MGM in 1977 and was one of his top-selling novels before Whispers. An essay by Stan Brooks in the 1998 reference work Discovering Dean Koontz explains Koontz’s disappointment stemmed primarily from the fact that publishers were reluctant to consider books by him that were not science fiction. He was tagged as an SF writer, and this confined his work. His chronological bibliography indicates he managed to break free from those shackles in the mid- to late-1970s with works that dipped into thriller territory, such as After the Last Race (1974) and Night Chills (1976), both published by Fawcett.
Koontz’s journey to megaseller status was not far around the corner. He followed the success of Whispers with Phantoms in 1983. At the same time he was writing novels under the pen names Leigh Nichols and Owen West. All of these novels met with increasing levels of success in the mid-1980s. Finally, Koontz landed his first hardcover bestseller when Putnam published Strangers in 1986, followed by Watchers in 1987. Watchers yielded increased success and ranks among my favorite Koontz novels.
My core collection includes his novels I enjoyed most — due in part to nostalgia, but also due very much to the fact that I still consider them to be good novels. My essential reading list for the Koontz fan includes: Whispers, Strangers, Watchers, Lightning, and Midnight. These rode the crest of the horror boom wave, and while horror fans seemed to be the publishers’ target demographic, keen readers will discern a clear indication of Koontz’s science fiction roots — albeit with a decidedly darker edge. In the mid-1990s, after the decline of the horror publishing boom, Koontz’s novels took a turn toward more traditional thrillers.
Koontz is an abashed dog person, as any reader of his novels knows, and makes generous contributions to canine organizations. He is also known to have paid-it-forward in other ways, particularly in his support and encouragement of new authors.
Dean and his wife Gerda Koontz became close friends of Ann and Richard Laymon when Laymon was struggling to gain a foothold with his work in the United States. Koontz’s recommendation that Laymon reach out to Koontz’s contacts at Headline in the UK opened the door for Laymon’s massive success overseas. Likewise, Koontz was friends of David B. Silva, publisher of the influential small press magazine The Horror Show, and supported the magazine with occasional contributions of stories and interviews.
Koontz grew up in Pennsylvania but has lived most of his life in southern California, where he used to appear for book signings from time to time. That’s where horror author Bentley Little got a helping hand from Koontz. In a 2008 Orange County Register article, Little recalls finishing his Masters degree at the University of Southern California where Koontz appeared for a book signing. At that time Little had been regularly published in The Horror Show, and had finished his first novel but “had no idea how to get it published.” When they met, Koontz recognized Little’s name from the magazine and asked for his number; he promised to call and help him get an agent. Koontz was true to his word — with Koontz’s help, Little landed an agent and sold his debut novel The Revelation to St. Martin’s Press.
Koontz recently ended up back in the news. As of this writing, the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 — which originated in Wuhan, China — have caused worldwide death, disease, lock-downs, quarantines, job loss, and economic uncertainty the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Great Depression. An astute reader of Koontz’s novel The Eyes of Darkness (a reprint edition of the Leigh Nichols novel published years before), posted a picture on the internet of page 353 of the novel, which mentions a virus called “Wuhan-400” originating at the RDNA labs in Wuhan, created as a biological weapon that could “wipe-out a country.” This triggered a spike in interest in all editions of the novel, but particularly this edition since it was in the photograph that went viral.
Koontz finally spoke of this in a recent interview with Dawn Ius in The Big Thrill, the newsletter of the International Thriller Writers Association. Asked if he was a modern day prophet who predicted the biggest black swan event of our era, Koontz says: “As it relates to coronavirus, my powers of prognosticator are greatly exaggerated considering I can’t even predict what I’m having for dinner.” He went on to explain that the original edition of the book called the virus the “Gorki-400” after a locality in Russia. When the book was reissued under Koontz’s name in 1989, the Soviet Union was gone, so he revised the text and named the virus after Wuhan, since it’s a known location of “biological warfare labs.”
Koontz recently signed a deal for several new novels to be published by Amazon’s Thomas Mercer imprint. For a list of Dean Koontz books currently available, click here.
Note that many of the early Dean Koontz books scanned from my library in the gallery below are currently for sale. Please check out our eBay auctions and follow us as a seller for these and future sales.
2 thoughts on “Dean R. Koontz”
I’m also a fan, I’m surprised you didn’t mention ‘Night Chills’, which is one of my personal favourites.
Hi Graham — thanks for stopping in. I did mention Night Chills as one of his early non-SF novels, but I haven’t read it yet, so thank you for the recommendation!