Author Dean Koontz Answers Questions

When this insight came to me, I didn't need to brood on it for long to realize that the most generous thing I could do for my characters, the thing that would make them the most lively and alive, would be to give them free will, as God gave us: the free will to flourish or to fail, to learn from suffering or to be broken or embittered by it; to discover themselves and who they are through the course of the story rather than to have any traits imposed upon them. Then an amazing thing happened: Step-by-step, as I learned to let go of my characters, learned to stop shaping them with too much conscious intent, they began to shape themselves in greater depth and with far richer nuance than they would have had if I had kept them under tight rein. In books like Odd Thomas, I learn about the characters at the same pace that the reader does; I am amazed to watch them flower and become real.

There are wondrous and eerie aspects to this process. It is not something I could teach in a writing seminar; the understanding is deeper than instinct, something akin to a spiritual experience.

When you allow characters to shape themselves, as you watch them mature before your eyes, there is something humbling about their growth, as well, for it seems that you are tapping not some great genius in yourself but some more profound creative force in nature, and that you are merely allowing it to work through you. See, I said this would sound mystical and weird, but there it is. And though most critics and readers have always been kind about my characters, response to those written since '97 — beginning with Chris Snow and his friends in Fear Nothing — has been even better. Nevertheless, should I ever need them, I do have on permanent reserve a pleasant suite of rooms at Happy Haze Home for those afflicted with genteel lunacy.

Question: What contribution did Brandon Tartikoff make to Strange Highways? Sallymop, Shropshire, UK

Answer: Everyone who knew Brandon loved the guy. Have lunch with him just once, and you were charmed. He was a genuine, warm, kind, and enthusiastic man. Most people who run networks or have equivalent positions in the entertainment industry are insufferable in one way or another; they either trade their humanity for the thrill of power or are sadly deficient human beings to begin with. Brandon Tartikoff had none of the arrogance, none of the egomania, none of the venom so often found in others who have achieved his position. When he fell ill, after he left NBC, as he fought for his life, he remained full of enthusiasm and energy, and sought ways to channel them productively.

My agent, Robert Gottlieb, a friend and admirer of Brandon's, thought that with all of Brandon's entertainment contacts, he would be well-advised to start a book line of his own, within an existing publishing company, with the intention of trying to promote film and television projects based on them. Strange Highways was the first-perhaps the last, I'm not sure-in that imprint because cancer will too often have its way. Brandon didn't have as much time left as everyone who knew him hoped he would. His contribution to Strange Highways would have come if he'd been able to operate with his characteristic energy and if he had lived.

Question: Phantoms is my favorite book of all time. Where did you get the idea for such a scary book? Kendra, Odessa, Mo.

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