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Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography

Overview

One of today's most popular writers, author of some 70 novels, including many New York Times bestsellers, Dean Koontz has never fully revealed one of his most dramatic stories: his own. Critically acclaimed biographer Katherine Ramsland now undertakes that task.

From his difficult childhood in rural Pennsylvania, to his years as a school teacher striving to get published, to his spectacular breakthrough to worldwide literary fame, Dean Koontz' life has been filled with struggle....

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Overview

One of today's most popular writers, author of some 70 novels, including many New York Times bestsellers, Dean Koontz has never fully revealed one of his most dramatic stories: his own. Critically acclaimed biographer Katherine Ramsland now undertakes that task.

From his difficult childhood in rural Pennsylvania, to his years as a school teacher striving to get published, to his spectacular breakthrough to worldwide literary fame, Dean Koontz' life has been filled with struggle. Yet he developed the tenacity, vision and business savvy to make himself succeed. He also married an amazingly supportive and resourceful woman.

Although he studied the classics and often utilizes a literary approach, Koontz initially worked in genre fiction, meeting with early success under an astonishing variety of pseudonyms in science fiction, fantasy, gothic romance, capers, how-to books and international thrillers. When he moved on to writing mainstream suspense, he began to develop what has come to be recognized as his unique cross-genre style.

Through it all, Kootnz worked out the childhood torment of having an abusive, alcoholic father who was ultimately diagnosed as mentally ill. An only child whose mother was afflicted with much illness, Koontz had to develop his own psychological survival strategies. As he matured, this unrelenting childhood struggle to protect himself gave him a special sensitivity to the politics of the individual. He used his writing, no matter what the subject, to entertain but also to explore both the dark and light sides of the human heart, to champion the rights of the individuals over those of institutions. In an age of widespread cynicism, each of Koontz' novels insists that those who embrace friendship, love, faith and an unwavering commitment to freedom will inevitably win out over those who are motivated by power, envy and greed.

And through it all, Dean Koontz was troubled by the secret his mother had tried to tell him before she died. What was the key to his father's rages, the mysterious tempests that haunted the family and inspired the monsters in Koontz' novels? Was Ray Koontz even his father?

More perhaps than any other writer today, Dean Koontz embodies in his own life and work the chiaroscuro contradictions, the glaring light and moody darkness, of modern America. Ruthlessly honest, ambitious and ready to experiment, he has fearlessly delved into every corner of his own psyche, and it is this artistic integrity and its application to larger social issues that has endeared his work to millions.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
Katherine Ramsland scores big with this readable biography of Dean Koontz, the reigning master of mainstream fiction. Ramsland's previous foray into biography, Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice, while engaging, did not prepare me for the spectacle of Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography. This is not just the biography of a bestselling writer named Dean Koontz. This is the biography of the archetypal writer of the last part of the 20th century. And it's a read that's as much a page-turner as any of Koontz's novels.

Has anyone on the planet not heard of Dean Koontz? Between the recent smash successes of his novels Sole Survivor and Intensity and his earlier novels of note, like Demon Seed and Phantoms, Koontz has defined precisely what makes popular, read-'til-you-drop fiction. And why, some might ask, would anyone need to write another piece of biography about this guy, when there's plenty of material in The Dean Koontz Companion, published a few years ago? Has so much happened in the intervening years? No. But Ramsland is not a light biographer. She doesn't gush, either. She also doesn't attack or maim. Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography is the biographical equivalent of a Dickens novel fused with the popular form practiced by the very novelist about whom she writes. Seamlessly interweaving brief story encapsulations with the chronology of Koontz's life, Ramsland's psychological and literary biography digs into the mind of Koontz and draws parallels between his life and his work.

From his dark beginnings, asaboy from what might modestly be called a difficult family situation, we're treated to the great expectations of the future man, the Koontz of drive, vision, ambition, talent, and a profound obsession with the search for, if not meaning of, some spiritual home in the universe. These are not merely a fan's notes: While Ramsland doesn't bite the subject of her biography, she becomes the camera, panning across sections of the writer's life, zooming in on his thoughts, philosophies, conflicts, then pulling back to allow the intelligent reader some room to figure a few things out for himself or herself. This is not just the biography of a writer, or a history of publishing with all its mercurial changes from the late 1960s to the present day, nor is it just family drama. Ramsland has successfully fused multiple biographical forms, and by focusing on a figure of wide appeal like Koontz, she has created a work that looms larger than anyone aspect of her subject's life. Sure, there is plenty here for the millions of Koontz fans, so go to it, if that's your bent. But more than that, I am willing to bet that in 50 years' time, this book will stand up as a fascinating understanding of the forces of an era — from the tail end of World War II, when Koontz was born, through the turbulent 1960s, through the trickle-down '70s and '80s, into the day before yesterday — and the writer who resisted those forces and for the most part emerges intact.

Ramsland does something I find particularly engaging: She goes with her subject, the way that a good reporter does who's not out to muckrake. Her intrusions into the narrative seem brief, and the world of one man's life that she re-creates is a compelling read even if you've never heard of Dean Koontz before.

In a way, she manages to mirror a Koontz novel in her structure, for there is always a strong line of suspense and narrative tension underlying this story — as Koontz's demons follow him, and as his fortunes, like Pip's in Great Expectations, rise through much adversity and many adventures. Ramsland delivers the goods with Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography and has managed to write a book of breadth and depth, portraying one writer's devotion to both his life and his fiction. There's plenty here to surprise even Dean's closest friends and his most devoted fans. A standout!

—Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including the forthcoming The Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story "I Am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes" can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fabtasy and Horror: Volume 11.

VOYA - Florence H. Munat
This lengthy biography describes the most minute details of this best-selling author's life, and also summarizes the plot of every novel he has written, a list that includes science fiction, fantasy, erotica, gothic romances, thrillers, horror, suspense, and "cross-genres"-a Koontz specialty. After each plot summary, the books are analyzed, with an emphasis on what Ramsland calls "psychobiography," or the examination of fiction for the ways in which an author's themes, characters, etc., are reflected in his own life. In Koontz's case, the problems of his childhood seem to be related to his characters' struggles to find happiness and order in the universe. Koontz grew up in Bedford, Pennsylvania, in a tense, unstable home created by his alcoholic, schizophrenic father. According to Ramsland, the unpredictability of those early years influenced Koontz's writing, which almost always centers around a character struggling against the dark forces of evil and chaos, eventually emerging triumphant. The descriptions of the first half of his life become brain-numbingly boring at times. (Do we really need to know that his first-grade teacher remembers that Dean was "quiet and shy." And "a good student," and not yet creative, but then "he was young"?) When discussing his writing years, the book becomes more consequential and interesting. We see how Koontz persevered over piles of rejection slips and dedicated himself to hours of writing each day, and, now that he has achieved success, how tenacious he has to be to continue writing successful fiction while also challenging himself as a writer. This is not riveting biography that will captivate all readers; it is too dense and descriptive (as opposed to interpretative) to have that kind of broad appeal. Koontz fans, though, will surely delight in it. Index. Photos. Biblio. Chronology. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P S (Readable without serious defects, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061052712
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/28/1997
  • Pages: 528
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.57 (h) x 1.78 (d)

Interviews & Essays

On Thursday, December 11, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Katherine Ramsland, author of DEAN KOONTZ: A WRITER'S BIOGRAPHY.


Moderator: Thanks for joining us, Ms. Ramsland! We're happy to have you with us tonight. This is your first online chat?

Katherine Ramsland: Yes it is. It'll be fun.



Moderator: Let's jump right in with the first question!

Katherine Ramsland: OK...



Harry from Brooklyn: Did you approach Dean about doing the biography, or did he approach you?

Katherine Ramsland: It was my idea. I saw him at a book conference. I walked up and introduced myself, he knew I had written Anne Rice's biography, so I said, "How about a biography for you?" It was that simple. He said, "If you can find [a publisher] who's interested, let's do it." And I found someone in five minutes.



Sam from Alaska: It's clear from the Anne Rice quiz books and companion books that you've read all of Rice's work. Have you read all of Koontz's work, including all his early novels under pseudonyms?

Katherine Ramsland: Everything more than once. That's what a biographer does. Every essay, every short story, all his pseudonymous works. I read all of it for the proposal, which took six months. Six months to read everything and write a proposal I could show to Dean. I even read the books that Dean disowns. There were more than 70 books in all, and more than 50 short stories. And 11 pseudonyms. I'm the only one who knows the 11th. It was exhausting.



Susan from California: How was your experience different writing a biography of Dean Koontz as opposed to writing PRISM OF THE NIGHT?

Katherine Ramsland: They were very different personalities. Dean was more analytical and more conscious of the word-by-word craftsmanship. And more eager to explore his childhood experiences. Anne Rice preferred not to talk about the work because she said it blocked her creativity. I had to ask her more questions to get the same amount of material. Dean could take one question and talk for an hour.



Tony from New Jersey: Is there anyone else you'd really like to write a biography about?

Katherine Ramsland: I would be interested in Patricia Cornwell, actually. Whomever I write about has to have some dark childhood, some trauma. She had an interesting childhood, but she's too young so far. Both Dean and Anne were about 50 when I called them. But if Cornwell called me today, I'd do it. I also wouldn't mind doing one on George Lucas, because of his more philosophical approach to moviemaking; there is a certain intelligence of his craft. When you pick a subject for biography, you're going to be with them intensely. You have to be sure you can sustain that focus and attraction to their lives and to their work.



Jack from Colorado: As the leading authority on Anne Rice, what novel of hers would you suggest I start with to get a feel for her work? Same question for Dean Koontz. I've never read either Rice's or Koontz's work, although I'm a big horror-fiction fan.

Katherine Ramsland: Anne Rice INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE. Absolutely. With Dean, it depends on the kind of thing you like to read. I'd say, MIDNIGHT, WATCHERS, INTENSITY, or PHANTOMS (soon to be a movie). And NIGHT CHILLS.



Chuck from Verona, NJ: What type of research did you do for this bio about my favorite author?

Katherine Ramsland: I read everything that he has written. I go to the places he has lived. Sometimes I go to the setting of his novels. That's spooky. I then sit with him for many hours in interviews. If movies are made from the books, I watch all of them. I speak to everyone I can find who knew him -- friends, teachers, editors. And I'll read on subjects like adult children of alcoholics, becoming a Catholic, just things that I may not be familiar with that are part of his life. I do a lot of reading on creativity and the craft of writing fiction. I talk with Dean about all of these things to get his point of view. I read all the articles that hve been written on him. There's all the research, I think!



Matt Neal from Alaska: First...I want to compliment you on the new book. It was great! What can we expect in the future?

Katherine Ramsland: My next book is a participatory journalism on vampire culture. It's great fun! I just got back from Paris! It's a look at all the ways people today participate in the vampire image and mythology. It's a narrative approach. It's a book of all my conversations with vampire cultists from everywhere. I've been doing it for six months. It's taken me all over the U.S. to Canada, to the UK, and to Paris. I've met role-players, and real vampires (people who drink blood). I've gone to clubs with them, met them in graveyards, met them in secret places after midnight. It's been fun. Dean Koontz thinks I'm crazy! He likes to sit home and write. I like to run around and then write.



Greg from St. Louis: I hadn't realized that Koontz's dad was an alcoholic....The passage when he's taken away to a psychiatric hospital (September 20, 1988) was particularly disturbing. Do you think the incident with the knife has replayed itself in his work?

Katherine Ramsland: It is completely replayed in HIDEAWAY and DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART, about a son dealing with his father trying to kill him. The home where he put his father is in COLD FIRE. That's a tough question. What was really odd was that he received an odd phone call from a woman who simply told him to be careful. And she said it several times and then faded away. He swore the voice was that of his mother, who had been dead for decades. That same afternoon his father tried to kill him. That same kind of phone call was in one of his books (THE MASK, 1981) years before that happened to him. When I read that I called Dean and asked him if he had redone the book to include the phone call, and he hadn't. Spooky.



Ron from to: I've noticed that Dean has softened his look recently. Any reason?

Katherine Ramsland: Yes, and he admits this publicly so I'll say it. He got hair implants and shaved his mustache just because he wanted a change. And he loves it.



Matt from Rochester, NY: Sorry to do this to you, Katherine, but I'm going to play devil's advocate. Who do you feel is the more talented writer...Koontz or Stephen King?

Katherine Ramsland: I don't very much [know] King, so I can't even address that. Ha! It's also difficult because I've gone line by line with Dean to see his underlying craft and haven't done that with King, so it wouldn't be a fair comparison.



Kila from Berkeley: How much influence have [Koontz's] childhood experiences had on his writing? In what ways do these early episodes surface in his work?

Katherine Ramsland: I wrote a 500-page biography to answer that question. That's a very complicated question. The whole book is about that, so the answer is the whole book is about his childhood. Many of the villains resemble his father, and many books deal with the theme of the unprotected child.



Tom from Newark: What courses do you teach at Rutgers? Do you ever discuss Anne Rice or Dean Koontz in your classes?

Katherine Ramsland: I teach existentialism and philosophy and literature, and I have used INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE in both classes. I have also used THE QUEEN OF THE DAMNED by Anne Rice, and I've used ideas from Koontz but not his books. But I've just taught my last class. After 15 years I'm going back to school to learn forensic psychology. I have an MA in clinical psych, but I want to write more about forensic psych. It's a two-year graduate program.



Matt from New York: Katherine, I've read your own short fiction, and it's incredible. Particularly your story from the Masques series. Any plans on writing a novel yourself or following up with more short stories? Keep up the good work.

Katherine Ramsland: Thank you. I've written six novels, but they haven't been published. And usually when I write a biography, I'm completely immersed in that person. I try to read nothing else except their own work. I don't do my own writing then, in terms of short stories. And certainly vampire culture has kept me busy. Maybe when I get into my program, I'll be able to do some fiction. I love fiction! When I was 15, I wrote a thousand-page novel about ghosts! That was my first start in writing!!



Matt Neal from Alaska: In your book, you discuss Koontz's underlying metaphors (e.g., the river in DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART). Did Koontz place those there intentionally?

Katherine Ramsland: Yes. He's a very conscious craftsman, and he led me through that book. What wasn't intentional were psychological aspects related to his mother and father that I picked up, but he really understands patterns of metaphors.



Amy from Concord, MA: All Koontz's villains have a spiritual dimension that is unusual in today's glut of blood and gore horror books. Why is he different?

Katherine Ramsland: He includes it because he wants to do more with his books than most horror writers do. It's usually about spiritual transformation and the triumph of good over evil. His writing is something of a mission for him -- it's not just to entertain, it's to provide vision for people in tough situations.



Kimberly from California: What was the most surprising thing to you about working with Koontz?

Katherine Ramsland: I think it was the degree of thought that went into his craft. A lot of bestselling writers begin to relax and repeat themselves, and Dean is always trying to do better and not repeat. And he never relaxes. Really. He works all the time. Because he won't deliver to his audience anything less than what he thinks is perfect and unique. What was most pleasing about him was his integrity -- he won't just do a bad job on a book to deliver it quickly -- and I was also pleased by his sense of humor.



Ned from Cincinnati: I always wonder why biographers do what they do. How can you devote so much time to the study of your contemporaries instead of to yourself? Please explain to this narcissist. )

Katherine Ramsland: No narcissist will ever understand. That's a good question. I like to say I'm a psychological voyeur. There's a mystery in another person, and I want to be the detective that solves it. I think another person actually gives us perspectives on ourselves that we might not otherwise get. So that should motivate a narcissist.



Omar from Greenwich: What would you consider to be the watershed of Koontz's life?

Katherine Ramsland: Um. Life or career, hmmm. Life would be when his wife said after his second novel, which was sci-fi, "I will work for five years and support you, and if you can't make it in five years then you'll never make it." That was in 1969, when Dean was 23. That was a watershed for his life.The watershed in his career was when WHISPERS became a bestseller in paperback. That was in 1980. Then in 1986, STRANGERS was his first hardcover bestseller.



Janae from San Francisco: Could you offer any insight into either Koontz's or Rice's opinions about Stephen King's recent demand for a $17 million advance for his next book? Is there much rivalry amongst the leading authors in this lucrative genre?

Katherine Ramsland: That's so complicated. It's not as much about rivalry as about how the publishing industry works. If you're not making a profit at what you demand, the publishers are losing money. So everyone wonders at the wisdom of what he did. I'll say one more thing...they're also interested to see what will happen now.



Ruth O. from Chelsea, MI: What did you think of Bedford, PA?

Katherine Ramsland: I was surprised by how pristine it was. It was a cute little colonial Pennsyvania town. And I understood Dean much better, being there. They also have one of those huge turn-of-the-century resort hotels. This monstrous derelict at the edge of town that gave it an eerie atmosphere.



Michael from Miami: Dean seems to be a strong believer in the paranormal. Would you call him a deeply spiritual person? Also, your interpretation of his life reveals some of your own private suffering. Do you think it is a natural occurrence for a biographer to script the self within a work?

Katherine Ramsland: Dean doesn't know what to think about the paranormal. He thinks there's such a thing as the uncanny, and he is a very spiritual man -- he believes in God. Inevitably, what stands out about a person's life to a biographer will reveal something about that biographer.



Rebecca from Louisiana: After writing these critically acclaimed biographies, have you ever considered doing an autobiography?

Katherine Ramsland: No. I've too much to hide.



Moderator: Thank you for taking the time to join us this evening, Ms. Ramsland. Best of luck with your future endeavors, and we hope you'll join us again online soon. Any final comments?

Katherine Ramsland: I enjoyed the experience, and I want to thank all the readers who participated. Further questions can be directed to me at revisions@aol.com. Thanks.


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