Some authors like to collaborate, some prefer to go it alone, and some do both. But in the following email interview about his new novel The House At The End Of The World (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), iconic author Dean Koontz says he collaborated with a young writer named…Dean Koontz.
Photo Credit: Douglas Sonders
To begin, what is The House At The End Of The World about, and when and where does it take place?
Okay, let’s see if I can adequately sum up a 100,000-word novel that’s very atmospheric and packed full of fast-moving events. Nope. Not a chance. The best I can do is give you the set-up.
Works for me…
After suffering a profound loss, sick of a society that no longer protects the innocent, seeking whatever peace isolation might offer, Katie — an artist with a growing reputation — relocates to Jacob’s Ladder, an island in one of the Great Lakes. As the first paragraph says, “Katie lives alone on the island. She lives less for herself than for the dead.” Of the two nearer islands, Oak Haven and Ringrock, the latter is said to house a research facility operated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Katie trusts nothing the authorities say anymore, and her suspicion is justified. Something goes wrong on Ringrock — and Katie is no longer alone on her island. At first it seems the threat comes from the Internal Security Agency’s gestapo-like agents, but soon she’s in a fight for survival against something far more terrifying than Internal Security Agency thugs.
Where did you get the idea for The House At The End Of The World, what inspired it?
Nostalgia was my muse. I wanted to write the kind of story that I produced much earlier in my career, but bring to it all the style and technique it’s taken me decades to acquire. It’s the older Dean Koontz agreeing to collaborate with the younger Dean Koontz, one of us drinking caffeine-free Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, the other drinking the same brew with caffeine because he hasn’t yet had a bleeding ulcer. In the finished book, the fright factor is high, but so is the emotion. Though I found the younger Koontz rough around the edges and a bit of an idiot, we never argued. When the novel was done, we exchanged gifts. I have him a Rolex, and he gave me the finger.
So is there a significance to Katie being a painter as opposed to some other kind of artist — like a sculptor, musician, or actor — or, for that matter, for her to have been in the public eye for some other reason, like she’s a politician or a journalist?
This book is (I hope) full of highly visualized scenes, and it made sense for Katie to be a painter. She is a hyperrealist, out of synch with abstract impressionism and other schools of art that she (and I) find stupid and annoying. She tries to paint a scene both with exactness but also in such a way as to capture the hidden truth beneath the surface. In other words, she seeks to understand the hardest truths, which few politicians or journalists would care to do in our corrupt age. The greatest actors are chameleons, who can inhabit any character of any philosophy and make him or her real. That is highly entertaining, but by definition, it is not a search for the truth; it is make-believe.
The House At The End Of The World sounds like a thriller that may or may not have supernatural or sci-fi elements. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s a cross-genre novel. At least four of them. I’d rather not specify. Part of the fun for a reader is discovering what the mix is and how it works. Knowing too much about a book before you read it is not good. It’s like refusing to date someone you’re attracted to until they have answered a hundred-page questionnaire about their likes, dislikes, and attitudes. The relationship is drained of all meaning before the first date.
The House At The End Of The World is, of course, not your first novel. But are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on World but not on anything else you’ve written?
Over the 256 years that I’ve been writing novels, I have found, at least for the last two centuries, that few if any books have been influenced by just one or two other writers or stories. They’re inspired by your entire life experience, by literally hundreds if not thousands of influences. And the more you can stuff into your head, the better.
And what about your dog Elsa [pictured above with Dean]? What influence did she have on The House At The End Of The World?
There is a canine in the novel, but of a different kind. He’s a fox, a creature of the wild that bonds with Katie against an unnatural enemy that threatens not just them but every living thing. Elsa was a little ticked off that the fox, which Katie calls “Michael J.,” wasn’t a golden retriever, but her breed can remain disgruntled only until a cookie or a tennis ball is offered. Just as I can remain disgruntled only until I’m offered either dark chocolate or a good cabernet sauvignon.
You’ve had a number of your novels adapted into movies over the years. Do you think The House At The End Of The World could work as a movie as well? Or would it be better as a TV show or a game? Or none of the above?
There’s so much story, so much event, in this novel that it would be best as an 8- or 10-episode series. However, there is one small change that could be made that would allow it to run for some years. A friend of mine, who’s a producer, was so excited about it that he said he felt fourteen again. He’d like to set it up, and there’s an award-winning actress who wants to play Katie and would be great. Beyond great. She’d be a dream in the role. But I have not had much luck with the film and TV business, so I waste no time thinking about it.
Finally, if someone enjoys The House At The End Of The World, and it’s the first book of yours they’ve read, which of your other novels would you tell them to read next and why that one as opposed to the others?
If they like the eerie atmosphere and headlong pace and the theme of victim empowerment, then they’ll probably like Intensity. I do many kinds of novels, some comic, some not (House is not), but what all of them share, I think, is unrelenting tension. I would hope that readers read not just one kind of book but read more for the author’s unique voice than for plot alone. Now I’ll go take my anti-pomposity medication and lie down.