A dog strangled Dean Koontz when he was six. He still thinks dogs are magical angels with a higher-level intelligence.
WARNING: May cause excessive cuddling, so have tissues handy.
International bestselling author Dean Koontz joins us for a long and gratifying chat. The subject? Dogs, of course.
Dogs who have strangled him, inspired him, comforted him, and loved him.
Dogs who have strengthened his marriage and kept his family safe.
Dogs whose kisses felt like kismet.
Dogs who laughed, and played, and watched movies.
Dogs who serve Koontz, his wife Gerda, and his many friends with noble service.
Dogs who co-authored several of his books.
Dogs have entwined themselves in, featured in, and shaped Dean Koontz's writing career.
And now, in his seventies, he has a lot of heartfelt, inspiring, and hilarious tails to spin.
Your dog wants you to listen to this chat with one of our most kind, prolific, successful, talented writers.
100% Dog Satisfaction Guarantee:
Dogs, get ready for tasty treats, because this episode will prime your human to dispense them.
About Dean Koontz
International bestselling author Dean Koontz has written more than 105 novels, a number of novellas and short stories, and has sold over 500 million copies to date. Fourteen of his novels have risen to number one on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, making him one of only a dozen writers ever to have achieved that milestone. After graduating from Shippensburg State College Dean Koontz wrote nights and weekends around other jobs to launch his career as an author. With the support of his wife Gerda, Dean eventually made his mark and she eventually quit her job to run the business end of her husband’s writing career. The couple live in Southern California with their golden retriever, Elsa, and the enduring spirit of their goldens now passed, Trixie and Anna.
James: [00:00:00] Magical. That's how our guest today international bestselling author Dean Koontz describes the feeling that he had when his heart dog Trixie came into his life. She was a special golden retriever who would become his companion, his inspiration, and eventually his co-author. Hello, I'm James Jacobson. Welcome to the Long Leash. Dean Koontz has written more than 100 novels. Many have appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list. 14 hardcovers and 16 softcovers have risen to the coveted number one position on that list. He sold over 500 million copies worldwide, and he has a career that spans six decades. Today, in this special episode, we're going to explore Dean Koontz's admiration for dogs, which has underpinned his writing since the beginning. As you'll hear, Dean was almost strangled by a dog when he was six. His interest in the organization Canine Companions for Independence began as research for a book and continues today as one of the nonprofits largest benefactors. The canine connection is inextricably woven throughout so many stories that the celebrated author has told over the years. Sometimes a dog plays the lead character or a supporting role. Or on more than one occasion is the co-author of his books. This conversation with Dean Koontz will take you to the deepest of places about the love and respect that we all have for dogs, and the pivotal role that they play in our lives. There is so much more to this writer, this man, this massive dog lover. Dean Koontz. Thank you for being with us today. Dogs, they play such a central character in your life and your writing. Why?
Dean: [00:02:13] I started writing about dogs before I had one. Watchers, I never had a golden retriever and we had two dogs for very brief periods when I was a child, but we were a very poor family and it was country and the dog wasn't in the house. And in the one case, the dog didn't last more than a week because it's name was Tiny. And Tiny weighed 120 pounds when we got him. And my dad thought he was going to teach him to be a hunting dog, which he couldn't do. And I was out playing with Tiny and he wrapped a chain around my neck, and I was about five or six and that dog was trained like me and didn't know it. My mother looked out a window and saw it and came running out and got me out of the chain. I had link marks around my neck for awhile. And, uh, she insisted Tiny's gone. So Tiny was gone. So when I started writing about dogs, it wasn't from much of a childhood experience with dogs, it was just because I've always admired them. And this idea for Watchers came to me and it was irresistible. The idea. of a dog that comes out of a laboratory of enhanced intelligence experiments and is able not to talk, but to, in its way, communicate at a higher level, because it has almost human level intelligence. And that started me writing about dogs, I think. And I found it fascinating. So I frequently include dogs, sometimes as one of the major characters, sometimes as a supporting role. I just had a book out last year, Devoted, in which I visit the idea of the human dog bond, and say it is so mysterious and has been going on for so many thousands of years, that there is a possibility one day we'll evolve into something more wonderous than we can ever imagine.
James: [00:04:08] I totally believe that. So how long ago did Watchers come out? Cause you got Trixie when you were about 53, right? Your first dog, your first real dog.
Dean: [00:04:18] That's probably pretty close. Yeah. Uh, the Watchers was written back in the mid eighties.
James: [00:04:25] Okay. So did that evolve? Did your thinking about dogs totally shift when you had Trixie, who is your heart dog? And we will get into her, versus versus obviously, you know, this ferocious 120 pound dog that almost killed you when you were a kid?
Dean: [00:04:42] Yeah, I think writing about this golden retriever, it was a very emotional book, which I think is one of the reasons it's done so well over the years. I think would pay us 14 million copies of that book of solid quarter of life. And it never goes out of print, and it was a joy to write about that. There was nothing from a dog's point of view, however, and ultimately, I kind of wanted to do that as well. I got fur in my tongue now
James: [00:05:11] We all do instead of tongue tied, we got fur tied.
Dean: [00:05:15] Yeah. I, uh, I heard so much feedback from dog owners that I had gotten the dog in Watchers, so, right. That of course motivates you to want to write about dogs and more because you want that, if Ranger said Hey, you did that really well. You think, oh good, damn.
James: [00:05:32] Good writer, good writer.
Dean: [00:05:33] Yeah. And, uh, it was not a long time after that, just a couple of few books later that I wrote a book called Midnight, and this is how the dog thing moved in my professional life and also personal life. I was looking for something unusual with a character. And I read this article about Canine Companions For Independence, and I thought, oh, that will increase the suspense a lot. If there's a secondary character and story through this town that's under siege. There's a man in a wheelchair that you come to like, and he's got this assistance dog, and that ups the tension in that storyline. And after that book got published, it was the first book I've ever written that went to number one. And the people can come in and scan and say, Hey, we love seeing our name in the book and about us and our dog. When the paperback comes out, would you put our address and a little bit about us in it? I went, I should've thought of that in hardcover. So I said, sure. And then they invited us at that time. The closest, uh, campus was in San Diego and they invited us to come down there and see them then. And we did, and we were absolutely captivated. And we started working with them and years went by that we were donating to them and working with them and, uh, they kept saying. You've got to take one of our release dogs and we kept saying, we're too busy. We're too busy. And I said to my wife, we're going to be 90, same routine, just get up off the dime and say, yeah, we'll take a dog and that dog was Trixie and everything. I, I thought I knew about dogs, I didn't know, but there was so much, I didn't know, until one was sharing in our life and they became as magical as I already thought dogs were. They were far more magical than I ever realized. And Trixie was the first, Anna then followed. Trixie was actually in service as an assistance dog to a young lady who lost both legs in a traffic accident. A beautiful girl. And, uh, then, uh, Trixie developed an elbow problem and had to be taken out of service and came to live with us. Then Anna came after and Anna failed out of training after 20 months because she couldn't be broken from chasing birds.
James: [00:08:06] Not the best assistance dog,
Dean: [00:08:08] Especially if they're tethered to the wheelchair,
James: [00:08:11] Although there now there's fodder for a story.
Dean: [00:08:14] And then after Anna passed, uh, Elsa came to us and Elsa, they no longer say the dog failed out. We're too politically correct for that. We now say the dog had a career change.
James: [00:08:27] I love it. I love it. The PC have come to the, uh, the assistance dog world.
Dean: [00:08:32] Yes. And also failed at 21 months or had a career change at 21 months because in the words of the people at CCI, she doesn't want to work. She wants to cuddle. That is true and Goldens are amazingly affectionate breed. But this girl is the most affectionate of the three that we've had. And, uh, she's right here now. She won't go anywhere. That's why I seem to be jerking around.
James: [00:09:01] It's not me. It's the dog, it's nudging me. It's it's love nudges. Padding. Absolutely. And that's how you get fur tide. And there's a genetic connection between those three Goldens, right?
Dean: [00:09:14] Yes. This was kind of amazing. When we got Anna, I took her the first day into, uh, our vet. We take our dog in for bath every Thursday and we make sure that she's on everything. She needs shots and all that. So it took Anna into the vet and he came into the room, and he said my God, she looks exactly like Trixie and he said, I've treated hundreds of Goldens. And one thing I like about the breed is there's all kinds of different faces on Goldens. But these two look very much alike. And I said, I thought so, too, but.
James: [00:09:51] But you're the expert.
Dean: [00:09:54] It turned out that ,see I didn't even know this, after they got the all the dog's papers together to send me they were reviewing them and they discovered that Anna was Trixie's great niece so that we said, ah, and that one Elsa that came to us, it turned out that she, part of her lineage is she's a great niece of, uh, Anna. And the strange thing about this is the dogs came from different breeders. But those breeders worked with each other and they were in different states. And nevertheless, we've kept the same line that one's three out of three dogs. So it's been kind of eerie, but wonderful.
James: [00:10:34] Well, it is also part of the story of golden retrievers, which is that they, you know, there's kind of a small gene pool, which keeps being bred. And I think that contribute to some of the health issues that they have, right?
Dean: [00:10:48] Yes. Uh, we lost our first two to the same cancer. Now Elsa has looks exactly like a golden retriever. She is a beautiful specimen. She is part lab, and when I took her to the vet the first time. I called and got the appointment. I said, tell them we've got a new dog. She's part lab, part golden. And you walked in a room, and he said, no, she's all golden. And I said, no, she looks all golden, but she's part lab. And they've been breeding them that way in part for the strength of the lab. ease of personality of the golden. But also to hope that this will reduce the amount of that cancer, that goldens are so prone to, and we're certainly hoping because it's a horrible thing.
James: [00:11:35] It is. And that's hamangiosarcoma. Yeah. And, obviously, I mean, you have this strong connection to CCI. Which I think is fascinating that that evolved. Basically you read an article, you included it in a book, and then they approached you and said, Hey, thanks for featuring us. And so that was pretty, uh, I would say there's the hand of fate that may have had a role in that wouldn't you?
Dean: [00:11:58] I would definitely say that. It had other impacts on my work, as well. As we got deeply involved with them and we would be going to graduations we went to a two or three day affair there when they were still in the San Diego area. And we just started meeting so many people with severe disabilities. And as a writer, I started to think, huh, you never see these people in fiction unless the story is about a person with a disability. And I thought, but here's wonderful character material, you can have somebody who is in a wheelchair or who is a down syndrome child or who is autistic and that's not what the story's about. It just so happens that's who they are. And they have a role in the story that is not about that aspect of their life. It's about them being involved in the story. And it's been very rewarding to be able to write about characters like that. And I've written about quite a few of them and blending them into the story. So that impacted my work in many ways. And we just became evermore involved with them. Then it became ever more fascinating. First time I saw them pair a socializing dog with an autistic child. And we saw a film of what that boy was like. The four of the dog two weeks in training with the dog was just miraculous how he changed. He's still autistic, but all of that, what people would think of as problematic behavior went away. And it was this bond between this animal and this boy that frankly is mystical. And as you see things like that, it affects your work. It affects your life. And it becomes a very valuable and interesting thing. And we have a lot of fun taking people to, friends to graduations at CCI
James: [00:14:02] Well, you and your wife have been so instrumental in the expansion of what CCI is able to do there in Southern California. Talk about that.
Dean: [00:14:10] Well, we've donated a lot to them, but we never ask when we donate something that we get our names put on a building or anything like that. And so at one point they added on the window with those, because what we are contributing to, they added buildings onto the Southern California canvas. It moved up to ocean side and, uh, and they had an opening of that. We pulled down for the opening, as it pulled in, there was this big monument sign and it was called the Dean of
James: [00:14:44] So much for anonymity. Now I heard you have that sign changed.
Dean: [00:14:48] Yeah. Yeah. We didn't want to have them tear it down. So that seemed ungrateful. So we said, okay, we don't really like that so much, but, but then as time passed and we went there so often with Trixie, uh, for various reasons, And that when Trixie passed, I asked them if they would change the name of it, that the Dean Jordan and Trixie Koontz campus, which they did, I saw that Trixie's name is now on that monument sign. And that's very satisfying because she's the one that made us love that organization even more.
James: [00:15:22] Well, she is extraordinary, and I feel like I know her so much from listening to a Big Little Life, which is your, only memoir, right? That's the only memoir you've written. But it basically is totally around your experience with Trixie.
Dean: [00:15:39] It's as I say, in the book, she changed our lives. She changed them in so many ways and in many ways, very quickly, which was, I think what astonished Nate. We're both workaholics and when Trixie came to live with us. I worked, I started in the morning and I worked till seven o'clock at night and we'd have dinner and Charlie would be busy running the business. I don't think she works the same hours Trixie wasn't there a couple of few days a week, less than a week. And at five o'clock because I think dogs have a clock in their head, but they do it's bizarre, but they know when it's feeding time, they love their routine. So at five o'clock, she would come around the edge of my desk and look at me as I'm sitting there and she would stare at me and they can give a pretty meaningful stare. Yeah. And I would look at her and smile. and say oh you're so cute. And after about two days of that, When she saw us staring wasn't working, she, she came to the desk. I didn't realize she was there. I thought she was still near the end of the neck. She came over and I was working on the keyboard. She put her head under my arm and threw my hand off the keyboard.
James: [00:16:55] I've had enough. I figured out what you're doing on that thing.
Dean: [00:16:59] What are you doing? And boom, she did it again. And so I said Trixie down. And she kept it up. So I stopped that night, the next night, five o'clock. She came up. Didn't even wait, came up threw my hand up. And after several days of this. I said, okay she's telling me I need more time than you're giving me. And that was the end of working until seven o'clock.
James: [00:17:27] She enforced reasonable hours.
Dean: [00:17:30] Yes. She should work for the state and on employers should change so many things in our lives that way. And it's just the, the sense that you begin to have. How much intelligence there is in that furry head begins to open your eyes to a greater sense of wonder about life in general. And also just going on a walk with the dog, you kind of walk that place a thousand times. When you walk out with the dog. It takes it at a different pace and find these things interesting you didn't. And when you look at them, you realize how interesting they are and suddenly everything becomes different than it was before. And that just keeps happening. It never stops.
James: [00:18:18] You talk in your book a little bit about the experience of going for a walk and the people you meet while you're walking and you get to know them as, oh, that's Rover's parent. Talk about that.
Dean: [00:18:30] Yeah. It took me the longest time. There's something to realize, you, you go for walks and meet some of the same people. Cause you're walking that neighborhood and you stop and talk to each other because you have dogs and come in first, it starts out, oh, your dog is very sweet, very cute. This and that. And you asked the dog's name and then talk, and this went on and on and on for quite a while. And I knew all these people had dogs. And one day I realized, I didn't know any of the people's names. I knew the dogs name, and that struck me as pretty funny, the dogs were more important to them and to me then knowing who we are as each other, but we did kind of know each other because you'd end up talking about other things. But then I started asking people's names. Cause I thought it was a little strange that I know these dog's names, but not theirs, and this is a little story I particularly like. We kept meeting this man. He was an Indian gentleman India Indian grandfather, and we would meet him on walks and he was very, very sweet, and he got frailer and he was in a walker and everything. And one day he stopped me and we were talking and he said, do you know what your dog is? And I think I write about this in a Big Little Life. And I said, yeah, she's a golden retriever. And he said, no, no, no. I mean, what your dog is. And he said in our faith which was Hinduism. You know, we believe in reincarnation and that you go through life trying to be better and better. And when you get to where you are almost finished with the travail of being human and then your last life, but for Nirvana, we sometimes believe it come back as a beautiful dog that as well can hurt for it. And he said, that's your dog
James: [00:20:21] It reminds me a lot of the book, the art of Racing in the Rain. The dog Enzo turns out to be, you know, they tell that same story about how dogs basically in their last lifetime, before they don't have to come back anymore, they reached that level of, of Nirvana and, uh, and they are beautiful dogs, which clearly, clearly Trixie was for you, and the impact that Trixie still has as we talk about this now, many years after her death is profound.
Dean: [00:20:53] You know, this is how they got to be thinking about that. After I wrote the Big Goal of Life. I started getting just a lot of mail from people and, uh, they had to tell me about losing their dog. And that's not what the Big Goal of Life is about, it's where it ends. And that's not even where it ends. There's helpful stuff after that, but they would write me and they would say one of the things they would say over and over, is um, I can't explain it. To pick by my family. They say, why are you so upset? It's just the dog.
James: [00:21:28] My favorite thing. Yeah.
Dean: [00:21:30] They said, uh, how do I explain to them? I can't even find the words to say. And it made me think about it maybe more than I'd had before. And it really comes down to this, our relationship with dogs. Any human relationship, no matter how wonderful it is and how loving it is has its ups and downs. It has its moments of contention and disagreement. With a good dog, there isn't any of that. With a good dog. It's just this kind of pure, wonderful, happy relationship that goes on far too short, but still a lot of years. And that is a kind of miraculous thing. So of course, the bond is so deep with no negative connotations that it hits us pretty hard. I think that's a big part of it. Also because dogs are the way they are, we kind of give ourselves to dogs in a way. I sometimes think we find it harder to give ourselves to other human beings. No matter how much, how close we are with them. You know, the dog has always kind of have the same. It's not just that the dog thinks you're great and loves you. And you're gone to that dog it isn't just that, cause sometimes the dog looks at you and thinks, you can do this better.
James: [00:22:49] Yes. Have you had that experience where basically, I mean, clearly Trixie was training you five o'clock quitting time dad, but have you had the experience where the dog has made you a better person because they were basically saying uh uh?
Dean: [00:23:03] Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Uh, it's happened. I think it, you don't always realize that it's happening when that's happening, but, uh, this past year we moved and I used to take Elsa for long walks in this, uh, it's actually a business park near where we up a lot of corporate offices, but it's enormous amounts of green space with alleyways of trees. And it's just beautiful. And we used to go there and walk every weekend. Two times or whatever. And sometimes during the week and this past year moving into the new house, well, we're renovating it as we're moving into it. It was a nightmare and a whole lot less, fewer walks, less play. And one day I just saw an expression on her face that was like, okay, you know, and maybe it's my natural guilt, but I could see her looking at anything. Why, I'm still a good dog. I want to go for it. I want to go back there. I want to do this. I want to do that. Maybe she was psychically telepathically sending this to me because I do believe that I've seen dogs communicate with each other. I swear, telepathic. And I almost think that's part of what goes on with the dog and autistic child.
James: [00:24:17] I totally believe that. I think that animals are wonderful at nonverbal communication, obviously, but they read, thought pictures that we send.
Dean: [00:24:25] Yeah, I think that's true. And, uh, I just watch her, Elsa down. And so the last few weekends, uh, my wife and I are taking her on very long walks into those areas she likes walking on, and now I noticed she just pads around with me more faithfully than ever. And it's like, we may be going on a walk. So. Uh, she makes you a better person, if you're willing to pay attention and be made better. And sometimes we're stubborn about that being human beings.
James: [00:24:58] We'll be right back after a short break to hear from our sponsors. When we return Dean Koontz opens up about his father and a challenging childhood and how he wooed the love of his life. Welcome back. I'm speaking with celebrated author and dog lover. Dean Koontz. You talk a lot about the distinction between intuition and instinct with dogs.
Dean: [00:25:28] Human beings too. Instinct, that's that knowing this is dangerous or their intuition, is that for knowledge that we have before all learning, and it's been shown in many studies that children, before they go to the school, know that such things as two halves, the same objects equal a whole, there's all kinds of things that are intuitional knowledge that we're born with. It's actually a pretty spooky thing. When you think about it. And I have seen dogs have more than just that wild instinct. And it may be that their intuitional thing comes from. All of these thousands of years of bonding with human beings, they become slowly, slowly more like us. I had an experience. I talk about in a Big Little Life. I don't know whether this was instinct or intuition, but there was somebody in my business life that I had never met. I believe they actually lived at the other end of the country, but I was given to be on the phone with, in the publicity manner for a long periods of time every time a new book came out and this person was very, very pleasant on the phone. Very nice. And at one point was coming to the west coast and said, I'd like to have lunch. And the first time it was a group of people and I took them all to lunch and we had a very nice lunch and then this person said, I'm coming back. to the west coast, and now you have Trixie and I I would like to meet Trixie and I said, fine, you know, come to the house. And then after you had met her, we'll go to lunch. This person came in, the house, came into the living room. We sat and talked to him a little bit. Trixie was upstairs with my assistant and, and she had went to, I meet Trixie and I said, oh, and I went and called Trixie down. Trixie, who just loved people. Goldens love people more than they love other dogs. And Trixie that came barreling down the steps, came to the entrance of the living room. Froze, looked at this person and sorta went, no. I thought, what is this? She usually comes barreling into the room and wants to greet everybody. And Trixie would not come into the room and look at this person, get close to that person. I finally went and got her and pulled her into the room and she would only sit close up against me this other person was across the room. And it began to be really, and then when this person got up, to come across with him, Trixie retreated. And finally, I thought, I said, she must not be feeling well. And it was actually embarrassing. So I let Trixie go back to Linda. We went out to lunch, we're sitting at lunch and this person just as we've ordered lunch, says, oh, I hear you bought a beach house. And I said, yeah, we never take a vacation. So we thought if we had a house within 20 minutes, I would keep clothes there and not have to pack and everything. We could go there on weekends and finally take time off. And this person said, oh great, cause the next time I come, I'm going to stay there for two weeks and I'm going to have a lot of parties. But at first I thought this was a joke. It was not a joke. And everything got stranger and stranger during the course of this lunch. So that every time this person picked up a knife, I sorta went okay. I don't know where this is about to go. Uh, Then after this meeting, this person went back across the country and we started getting phone calls, constant long phone calls that I couldn't take. And they would be coming a couple of day and very intrusive, trying to be intruding ended up in your life in a very strange way. And I thought, look at that, this dog knew. First encounter walked up to the room went nah. Nope. Get me away from it. Now, dogs I'm told can smell schizophrenia. There may be certain conditions that Trixie smelled this and thought, no, this is something you don't get involved in. I think it had to do with scent, but it could also have been intuition. Or telepathic. I don't know. But it was so powerful and so immediate that it was quite a lesson and I thought, okay, in the future, anybody this dog doesn't like, we're not having any relationship with them.
James: [00:30:08] Dogs are awfully good judges of character. One of our dogs who is like that is so intuitive. Can watch TV and you know, she's watching TV and the character comes out. And she barks. And it's like, before you recognize that it's going to be a bad person, but she's able to see that somehow through at the actor, just through the T.V.
Dean: [00:30:29] Yeah, that reminds me of a lot of things. You used to be told about dogs they no longer tell you. Because they finally realized they were wrong. But we were told that dogs could not see images on a TV screen because they couldn't see that two dimensional, they need three dimensional. Well, one of the first things we ever watched on TV with Trixie. She was sitting on the floor with me. My wife was on the sofa and I was sitting on my back. So on the floor and her cuddling, she was watching the TV and I thought, well, she's not really seeing anything there. And somebody came into the scene in a wheelchair. She immediately got to her feet. When it crossed the room to the TV and stood watching that person. And I knew right then she had to see him. There was no sound of the wheelchair. There was no reason for her to know that if she hadn't seen it. And her having been a dog, serving a person in the wheelchair, she immediately wrapped into it.
James: [00:31:28] She was responding to her training through the visual cue of what was on TV.
Dean: [00:31:32] Yeah.
James: [00:31:33] That is extraordinary. You also talk about in your, one of your homes, you had a home theater put in and Trixie decided to plunk herself between you guys.
Dean: [00:31:42] Yeah, well, that was actually, Trixie, I'm trying to remember whether she plumped between us at all, because she preferred to the control module. It was a pretty large theater and the control module was in front of the last row and we designed the theater with little bays that people in wheelchairs can pull up to. If we had people in the chairs. The whole house was wheelchair friendly and, uh, and she preferred to lay with her head right behind us overseeing us. But yeah, it was totally the opposite and insisted on sitting in a chair. So Gerda and I couldn't sit side by side. but in a round chair and she would stay in that chair all the way to the end of the movie. For a while Trixie. Yes. You reminded me, Trixie actually did sit in a chair, one or two movies between us. And we had heard about this movie. I forget what it was called now. And we didn't know what it was about. We heard it was very exciting. It was actually very, very bad movie and it was early in his career and started Vin Diesel and, uh, Trixie had watched one movie in the chair between us and we went down to watch this movie and movie came on, and in about 10 minutes, Trixie got off the chair on the floor and put her head up into the seat and stayed there until we turned the movie off of which wasn't that much longer. And after that, she would not sit it in a chair and think it's like, no, if there's stuff like that, we're going to have to watch. I'm going to be sitting back behind you, but then saw it and sleep if I want,
James: [00:33:24] Everyone's a critic. I love it.
Dean: [00:33:26] Yeah.
James: [00:33:27] So dogs in a very real sense have been like children for you and your wife.
Dean: [00:33:33] Yeah.
James: [00:33:34] I think a lot of people, a growing number of people are choosing to have dogs instead of children. And they play that pivotal role. Was that a conscious choice that you made or is that something that just sort of happened in your life? Because again, you guys are workaholics
Dean: [00:33:53] Workaholics. There was also another aspect in my life and it had to do with my father. My father was a very strange and dangerous person. There were a lot of people on my father's side of the family. Who had problems. My father had 44 jobs in 34 years. And a lot of the time he didn't have a job. He was given to violence. He was extremely problematic. He made my mother's life Hell. He toward the end of his life, he was destitute and made a move to California. It was a relief not having the doorbell ring at two in the morning, and there he is drunk on the doorstep. But then we hadn't been here a year, and a friend of his called and said, and he only had about one friend, said, he's right at the end of his life, he's destitute. You couldn't send him money. Cause he'd take it to a bar and buy everybody drinks and it'd be gone in two days. So we thought, okay, he's got a year to live or whatever. We moved him to California, got him an apartment and set a series of rules, what was, I sort of became the father and he, the child, he never changed. He got worse and he lived 14 years. So we had even more experience of it. And he ended up in psych wards a couple of times. And the second time. He was diagnosed as sociopathic, which explained a great deal about my childhood and everything else. Whatever we knew he was, it always concerned us that when we looked at my father's side of the family, it was pure dysfunction everywhere. We always thought, do we want to risk bringing this into the world? And it was a difficult decision. But it was one we finally made many years later, we had reason to believe my father might not have been my father. My wife saw this in a newspaper that the very first artificial inseminations were done by Johns Hopkins University Hospital, which was right across the state line from the Pennsylvania, where we lived. And that all of those first experiments with that were done with very poor families. Where the husband was not fertile, and they chose poor families with no education in rural towns and in this county in Pennsylvania, so that they would never talk about it. Because what nobody knew at that time was whether artificial insemination might lead to birth defects or to other problems. So there were non-disclosure agreements signed. And my wife read about this in the paper one day and said, you're always called the miracle child. And it was, your father always was sleeping around with everybody and never had another child. And here it is who the daughters, not their names, but they were famous writers, famous artists, famous musicians. And she said, I think you should have a DNA test with your father and see if he really is. By this point, we were too late in life to go back to the family issue. And I said, what would I gain? It wouldn't gain me anything. We're going to support him now for the rest of his life. And that would be no matter what happened here. And if I find out he isn't, then I have to go to Johns Hopkins and they're not going to wonder who the assistant for a night. And so do I really want to know? And what if I find out that he is? Then this fantasy isn't my problem goes away.
James: [00:37:32] Your whole life would have been different decisions would have been way different if you knew. Well, he's not really my dad.
Dean: [00:37:38] Yeah, so it was, it was what it was. And did we make that decision correctly? I don't know. We missed out on a lot in life, but on the other hands and it did mean we could work these kinds of hours. We could put in a seven day hour weeks for year after year, and you didn't have that obligation of the child and having grown up in that situation where I never had a father, a relationship that was father, son, it was much darker than that. I would have known what was required. I would have wanted to be the father, my father wasn't. So that's just the way life takes you in strange places and you make decisions and you hope you make the best one.
James: [00:38:23] Well, let's talk a little bit about that extraordinary relationship you and your wife have and the partnership and how you are working in those seven hour days every day. And you were almost barely apart from one another, right?
Dean: [00:38:38] Uh, we've been well, this October it'll be 54 years married and probably 57 years together. And it was, uh, greatest grace in my life was my wife. It was, uh, it's one of those things you realize, how tenuous everything in life is we went to the same high school and it was in this town of 4,000 people, but it had 1200 students because they came from all over the county to that school. And as a consequence, it was a pretty big school and busy and she was one year behind me. She was always present in every class. And I was always the class clown with my class, so we didn't exactly meet. And so I never saw her. And one day I was sitting in a car riding shotgun, with my best friend whose family had something, uh his dad was the town banker. So they had two cars, and uh, so we could cruise and it was his mother's car. And we pulled up to an intersection and there was Gerda waiting to cross the street. And I said, oh, who is that? I've never seen her. And he said, oh, you don't want anything to do with her. And I said, why not? And he said, she's the town shoemakers daughter. And I said, I'm the town drunks son. That's one heck of a step up.
James: [00:40:12] It's an upgrade.
Dean: [00:40:14] So then I started sort of almost pursuing her like a stalker. And in A Big Little Life, I talk about how she turned me down for days, several times. And she would always say, oh, I'm working in the dry cleaner that night. Or the next time I asked her I'm working in the theater that night, and I thought she forgot the lie. It's a dry cleaner. And then the third time, oh, I'm babysitting that night and it turned out she was because she didn't come from the well-to-do family either. And her dad was very old world immigrant from Italy. And if, if his daughter wanted new clothes when she was 13, she had to start working. She had a buy her own clothes. And so she had various jobs and worked from the time she was very young and her mother died when she was young so that was an aspect of that is. When I find out, I asked her four times, she said, I can't. I said, you can't be working. I asked her to go to class, to dance and since she was president of her class. She had to go to the class dance. She said, yeah, but I have to sell tickets at the door. Then I have to run the record player. Then I have to take a tone selling refreshments. And then I have to clean up the gym. And I said, well, that'll be our first date. And it turned out great. Uh, yeah, it's been great ever since.
James: [00:41:34] You guys have been working together ever since. In fact, she helped to facilitate your career in a pretty extraordinary way.
Dean: [00:41:42] Yeah, I was, I was teaching school. I worked in a poverty program for a year, teaching underprivileged children, and then I worked in a regular school district for a year and a half, and I was selling short stories and a couple of paperback novels, but not enough to earn a living. And she said, look, I know what you really want to do. And I'll support you for five years. And if you can't make an in five you'll never make it. And I sometimes say I tried to negotiate her up to seven, but she has Sicilian blood. And, uh, it took almost that five years before there was a reliable level of income, but we never saw coming what happened when we sat down, could we do this? It was. Success would be making 25,000 a year on a reliable basis, which was more than now, but not a lot. And we never saw it become magnificent success at the game. And it wouldn't have without her giving me that opportunity. But boy was I the bum of the family for a few years. Nobody understood what she was doing.
James: [00:42:51] But she believed in you and we're at 500 million copies worldwide since you guys are doing okay.
Dean: [00:42:57] We're doing okay.
James: [00:42:59] Like what are the secrets? I mean, clearly you're both extraordinary people with extraordinary backgrounds that brought you together, but is this effortless the partnership that you and your wife have forged?
Dean: [00:43:11] Every relationship has ups and downs and, uh, especially, I mean, I think it took both of us a while to understand, given you lose a mother as young as she did, and you have a father who is very overwhelmed and not that very sharing of emotion and things. And given my father was who he was. And my mother was very sickly. There's things out of that that shape you that you have to get past and are things you don't really at first even realize are things inhibiting you. And so in a sense, I think it was something like Kismet. Even though we didn't know we were doing it, we were helping each other through some of the same problems and I'm prone to make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. But I think because we came out of similar backgrounds, the and because she's smarter than I am. And that makes a big difference too. That she's my first reader. I can give her a manuscript and then she'll come back. She's my toughest and fairest critic. So that was also an important part of it. But also I think we've discussed this. Why have we been so happy with eachother? We spend all day together in some ways. And a lot of people say to me, I couldn't work with my wife all day long. We'd both go crazy. and we don't know what we do if we weren't in the same house all day. And partly it's because we have the same sense of humor. I think if you share a sense of humor. If you have a sense of the absurdity of the world and with life, it gets you through almost anything. And we've often times found ourselves laughing at things that other people would find a little strange laughing at. Would think, okay that terrible thing that happened to you and suddenly. And it wasn't anything funny in that at the time, but you know, a lot in life, aside from death itself, but almost everything else sooner or later, there's funniness to it. There's a humor in it that you missed at the time, because I once said humanity is a parade of fools, and I'm right up front with a baton. So they tell us we have that same sense of humor when you enjoy the same movies and the same books and have the same favorite comedian, Steven Wright. I don't know if you've ever heard of Steven Wright.
James: [00:45:37] Absolutely.
Dean: [00:45:39] He is a genius. It is so amazing.
James: [00:45:41] I agree
Dean: [00:45:43] If you have that sense of absurdity, which he has in spades, there are a lot of things that are upsetting in life. You get past a lot easier because, Hey, this is life. It is like this. It is absurd, and some of it is awful, but then so much of it is beautiful. So just get past the awful part and find something to laugh about.
James: [00:46:05] In what way was Trixie Koontz, and I thought the book was great. We basically evaluate my gosh. She has a last name. This is, uh, this is, um, a real member of our family. Your first dog. In what way did she shift or change your marriage.
Dean: [00:46:22] Well, we started working somewhat less. We still work on, we started working somewhat less, which gives us more leisure time together. There is, I think it is probably what happens in a marriage that works and the two people feel the same way. It's what happens when they have a child they love. That brings a new dimension to their own relationship and the affection they have for that other actually increases the affection they had for each other.
And, uh, and that's certainly what Trixie did. You had this dog that you loved that make both of you laugh that you both get concerned about when there's any illness that she has, is something you're going through together. And it bonds you in another way.
James: [00:47:07] Can you ever see your lives without a dog in it now?
Dean: [00:47:11] The only way I see that as if I get to be afraid that I won't outlive the dog and given my age. That's something I have to start thinking about. And I'd have to have some arrangement for that dog, but I felt very comfortable in that and I know dogs can handle that, but I also know dogs grieve, I talk about that in A Big Little Life. I've seen it. And, uh, yeah, there's classic stories of dogs that visit their master's grave for eight years afterwards on their own hook. And, uh, so it's something to think about. It's an obligation. When you take on a dog, you want to be there to see that dog off. You don't want him having to go off in some other relationship that you're absolutely sure. I would never, ever, nobody don't love it as much as you did.
James: [00:48:00] You make a really interesting point in that book about the distinction between a natural death for a person. And the obligation that we as dog lovers have for dogs in the end.
Dean: [00:48:16] It's, it's the hardest thing. Um, it's, uh, human beings. Uh, I don't want to be euthanized just because I've got, when you work with so many people with disabilities, mental ones, physical ones and so forth, you realize those lives are just as precious as any other. And there's no reason to think their quality of life isn't worth living, because there are people who feel that way. And when you feel that way, you think it's not our job to decide when the human life isn't worth living. But in the case of they helpless animal like a dog, they're just suffering and there is no hope. That's a different thing. And, uh, and it was just the hardest thing. Uh, when we had to put down Trixie. The vet came to the house and he came with the Vet Tech. Just did a beautiful job with us. But it was devastating. Same thing with Anna, it's something I don't look forward to with Elsa. And uh, it's I remember the first time Gerda said, I can never do this again. I can't go through it again. And it took her six months or took her eight months, took me six months, to say, I can do that again. Then we got Anna and then after Anna passed. It was shaping gone for two weeks. And the people from CCI came up for a lunch and, uh, we were sitting talking and they said, we know what you're like and just kind of being months yet. Until you can take on another dog. We do have one that needs a home. If you know anybody. And she held up her phone at the picture of Elsa and Gerda and I both just burst into tears. And said we'll take her And it was two weeks that she was into it with us. And, you know, I think the first time you think it's like a betrayal, it's a dog you lost. And of course it isn't, but that's, what's kind of in your mind. And then once you've gone through it, a couple of times a year, you understand better that that new dog has a home and that you can give it and then maybe it doesn't get out. So
James: [00:50:21] In a moment, Dean Koontz on his latest work season two of Nameless, his series of short thrillers. But you won't find these in bookstores or on shelves and some final thoughts on Trixie and the afterlife. That's when we come back,
We're back with Dean Koontz. Dean, you have another collection of works coming out, uh, Nameless season two, it's from a publishing model that I'm intrigued with, that partnership that you have with Amazon. How does it work, and how do you as such a prolific writer view it.
Dean: [00:50:58] Well, it's kind of strange. I'll try to condense this. I was writing novelettes. novelas to support the publication of the new book and random apps. I was putting them online for a dollar 99 each, you know, it's promotion, but also selling them. And they sold very well. And Amazon Original Stories came to me. And said, would you write a story directly for us? We'll pay you and we'll put it on that Amazon original stories. And I said, sure. And it registered called Ricochet Jail. And it did very well. And so time passed and they came and said, would you write six stories with the same pilot? And this, I thought what I said, I liked the shorter form. And a novelette can be almost as rich as a novel if you approach it in the right way. And it's always been a form I like. These are between 10 and 20,000 words, whereas a novel 100,000 or longer. And I said, yeah, let me do this. So I'll think about it. I'll send you a proposal of a character in a situation which I did, and two pages, my agent callbacks, and they want to make a deal of six stories like this, and they want to give it away on Amazon prime, Amazon prime member. And I said, huh, how's that work?
James: [00:52:19] That's not my business model.
Dean: [00:52:21] And they said, oh, they said, they'll make it worth your while. Uh, they'll pay you to write the, make it worth your while, but they want Amazon prime members to have feel it's some sort of benefit they get from being on Amazon prime. Well, let's see what that offer. Well, their offer was such that I would have been an idiot just as I know. So I wrote the stories and I think as they have said it, they were, they were hoping to get a million downloads of the series in a year or so. And I think they passed 2 million in the first year and it's just kind of.
James: [00:52:54] 2 billion.
Dean: [00:52:57] Million.
James: [00:52:57] Million. Okay I was going to say they doubled what they were expecting.
Dean: [00:53:00] Yeah. And it is still going very strong. So when they, they came back and say, look, let's do a season two and we mutually agreed. Let's not make this. And then not. Let's give this character and then dark and, and bring it to an end at 12. And, uh, I had just great fun with these stories. I think the character is fascinating. His situation is fascinating and there were plenty of places to take him and each one of the stories is a standalone, but there's also an overriding arc that I think, especially in season two, I urge people. Read them in order. Cause they're scarier that way because they overriding arc is pretty scary.
James: [00:53:41] I like it, and you can either read them or you can download the audio book, the audio version.
Dean: [00:53:47] Yeah. And the audio is, are brilliantly narrated too.
James: [00:53:50] Well, speaking of brilliant narration, I got to say, I don't know how many books you have narrated, but you know, a Big Little Life. Was extraordinary as read by you.
Dean: [00:53:59] Well, now I read a condensed version. They only wanted an, abridged version and they wanted me to read it. And it was the hardest thing that I've got great respect for people that narrate audio books. And it's tough work because the director is always saying, you muffed that word, or you did this for that. Uh, and uh, also when I got to the losing the dog, it was the most emotional recording session. But once I finished it, I said never again. I respect what these people do. Hire somebody else. Now the book is available in its full version and narrated by somebody else. And I will never try that again.
James: [00:54:40] Well, it is so wonderful to hear it in your voice and to feel the emotion that you just clearly share. And it just comes through both in the words and the voice. You say that in the book, you basically identify, you know, you asked Trixie, is she an angel? And that was the time that she was like, do you feel that, that she was an angel?
Dean: [00:55:03] I don't know. There is something mystical about that relationship. How profoundly it changed me and how much beauty is brought into our lives and how it brought us into a connection with a group of Norbertine monks that live near us, and we've become pretty, pretty closely involved with. So I have to wonder, I certainly have to wonder, but whether they are true angels or just a angels in the sense that they're more perfect than human beings will ever possibly hope to be. Either way. the word angel fits them
James: [00:55:41] When you see the rainbow bridge trope that is so often used when someone loses a dog, what do you think?
Dean: [00:55:49] Uh, I certainly think there, uh, if there's an afterlife, which I believe, I'm a believer. The dogs are there. There's no question in my mind. Not to offend cat people. I'm not the person that's sure about cats, but, but the, but the dogs yes. Uh, CS Lewis said that when he was talking about, can animals have an afterlife? And he said his way of thinking about it was that if a dog and a human relationship is so profound, or another animal, but so profound that it makes a better person to person. Then that dog is definitely, has an afterlife. I forget, what do you call it? But it's because of the dogs function in this life as how would he probably put it as a vehicle of grace. And I like that. I think that that's. But whether they are not. Yeah, I think they're there. That'd be a lot of dogs on the other side.
James: [00:56:46] There are.
Dean: [00:56:47] Probably more than people.
James: [00:56:50] Depends where on the other side I suppose right?,
Dean: [00:56:54] Well, there's not any dog gone to Hell. No, I'm sorry.
James: [00:56:58] No, that is for sure. Well, Dean Koontz, thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. And, uh, again, I celebrate you for all the success that you have had and share with people, but this revelation that you had relatively, you know, mid life, when you were like, hey, dogs really make a difference is extraordinary. And I want to see some more dog books from you.
Dean: [00:57:21] Uh, they're coming.
James: [00:57:23] They are okay. What? Sneak peak?
Dean: [00:57:26] No.
James: [00:57:27] Never reveal what you got in the works. Well, I thank you so much.
Dean: [00:57:31] Thank you. This was really a pleasure to do so. Thank you.
James: [00:57:37] Such incredible insights from Dean Koontz on dogs, writing, family, and life. What a privilege to sit down with him and relive some of the poignant moments that he's experienced and how it's shaped him professionally and personally, you can find out so much more about Dean Koontz and Nameless online. We will have links in our show notes. And if you like what you heard and want more fascinating chats like this one, please check out the rest of the Long Leash. If you're already a regular listener. We have plenty of other shows on Dog Podcast Network, like Dog Edition and Dog Cancer Answers made by dog lovers for dog lovers. If you have anyone in mind that you'd like to hear on our show, or even just some feedback, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We would love to hear what you think you can find us on our website at www.longleashshow.com. That's longleashshow.com. As well as in all the social media channels. And if you happen to stop by the website, go ahead and click that little blue microphone icon found at the bottom right of every page, and leave us a voicemail. We're also available on all the podcast apps. We're on Spotify as well as YouTube. So please make sure you follow us so you don't miss a thing. And one last thing we'd love it. If you would tell your friends about us here at the Long Leash. And Dog Podcast Network. We, dog lovers are always looking for something good to listen to while we, you know, accompany our dogs around the neighborhood. So please tell a friend, a fellow dog lover about this podcast and about Dog Podcast Network. That's it. For this episode, I'd like to thank Dean Koontz for being our guest. I'm James Jacobson, and on behalf of all of us here at Dog Podcast Network. We wish you and your dog, a very warm, Aloha.
Dean Koontz is an 'International Bestselling Author of Suspense' who has written more than 105 novels, including a number of novellas and short stories. His books have sold more than 500 million copies around the world, making him one the most successful authors of our time.