Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Everett, Bedford County
Popular writer Dean Koontz, best known for his horror and fantasy works such as Beastchild, was born in Everett in 1945.
Born in Everett, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 1945, contemporary writer Dean Koontz grew up in Bedford County, graduated from Shippensburg University, and taught high school English in Mechanicsburg. Read more here.
Koontz, Dean. "About Dean." Dean Koontz website. 2018. 6 November 2018.
Dean Koontz was born on July 9, 1945, in Everett, Pennsylvania. The only child of parents Ray and Florence, Koontz grew up in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Despite a rough childhood with an alcoholic father, he found solace in the characters of books, movies, and cartoons—a hobby responsible for his passion to become a writer. From the age of eight, Koontz would write short stories and sell them to his relatives for a nickel. When asked by Jeff Zaleski of Publishers Weekly about his beginnings as a writer, Koontz explained how books enabled childhood escape: “When I was a kid, writers were my heroes because they took me out of that awful house. Books were an escape from the violence of the household and the poverty.”
The passion for reading and writing accompanied him throughout his education. Koontz attended Shippensburg State College (now Shippensburg University), graduating in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Communications. During his senior year, Koontz won the 1966 Atlantic Monthly Creative Writing Award with his story “The Kittens.” Soon after graduation, Koontz married his high school sweetheart, Gerda Ann Cerra, on October 15, 1966.
His first job was with the Appalachian Poverty Program, where he counseled and tutored underprivileged children. After a year in this program, Koontz taught English at Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School in Mechanicsburg, a suburb of Harrisburg, from 1967-1969. Still motivated to become a writer, Koontz wrote in his spare time during nights and weekends. In these years, Koontz wrote over a dozen short stories, some of them published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. At this time, Gerda, his wife, gave him the opportunity to write full-time, offering to support him for five years. Koontz’s hard work, enabled by his wife’s agreement, began to manifest in the publication of his first science fiction novel, Star Quest, in 1968. Published as an Ace Double with Emil Petaja’s Doom of the Green Planet, its cover depicts a futuristic world with the tagline: “They Drove a Salient into Another Universe.”
After this first novel, Koontz continued writing science fiction books for several years. In 1971, Koontz was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novella for Beastchild. This text reenergizes the aliens and interstellar war of science fiction with Koontz’s thematic contributions of friendship and redemption. The combination of genres and themes became a defining aspect of Koontz’s subsequent novels. Eager to expand his audience and abilities, Koontz began to write and publish in others genres under various pseudonyms. These pen names include Deanna Dwyer (for gothic romance); K.R. Dwyer (suspense); Brian Coffee (short suspense); Anthony North (techno-thriller); John Hill (occult mystery); Aaron Wolfe (science fiction); David Axton (adventure); Leigh Nichols and Richard Paige (romantic suspense); and Owen West (horror). Writing under ten different pseudonyms (in addition to his real name) enabled Koontz to publish across genres without being pigeon-holed as a one-genre writer, although it causes some debate over the exact number of books he has written.
With the publication of the novel Chase in 1972, Koontz began to emerge as a serious writer. Chase is a suspense novel that describes the after-effects of the Vietnam War on a veteran that returns to civilian life. Less than a decade later, Koontz had his first paperback bestseller in his 1980 novel Whispers. This book features a dark story about childhood cruelty that reappears after its antagonist rises from the grave. The bestseller success of Whispers was not a fluke, as Dean Koontz has become a standard name among top contemporary writers since the 1980s. As of 2008, eleven Koontz novels have reached number one on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list; in addition, fourteen of his books have reached number one on the paperback bestseller list. Unsatisfied with leaving a published book as a finished story, Koontz often expands a story arc across a series of novels.
One of Koontz’s most popular book series is the suspense-laden Moonlight Bay Trilogy, which features Christopher Snow as a recurring protagonist. The first novel, Fear Nothing (1998), speaks to an overall theme of Koontz’s novels—his characters, through relationships with family and friends, are able to overcome stories of terror and create their own happiness. Of Fear Nothing, SFSite.com reviewer Rodger Turner writes, “Despite being a non-stop thrill ride, Fear Nothing is more about family and friendship than anything else.” Later in his review, Turner explicitly describes this theme in Fear Nothing: “Family and friendship have given Chris the strength of purpose to overcome anything thrown up against him. He is a survivor despite his condition.” Some critics relate this theme of survival with that of Koontz’s own life story of overcoming his abusive, alcoholic father.
In 2001, Dean Koontz partnered with bookseller Barnes & Noble to expand reading into the digital age by developing an exclusive eBook for the company. According to Gopika Vaidya of IDG News Service, Koontz was “tapped as the first author to create an original eBook, The Book of Counted Sorrows, for Barnes & Noble Digital.” Although the book would cost considerably less than a print version, online purchase records would enable Barnes & Noble to track Dean Koontz readers and individually market new books to them. Also, Koontz received a larger royalty percentage of his book sales. The publication of The Book of Counted Sorrows represented a long-awaited reward for loyal Koontz fans. Several of his previous novels featured verses quotations from The Book of Counted Sorrows although the book had not been published. The text, finally published in 2003, features these previously released verses along with new poems.
Consistent with his ability to write across genres of literature, Koontz expanded to the graphic novel medium, creating an original comic book series Nevermore and an adaptation of the first novel in his popular Frankenstein series, Frankenstein: Prodigal Son. In 2008, Koontz partnered with illustrator Queenie Chan to create In Odd We Trust, a graphic novel featuring Odd Thomas, another popular Koontz character who has the ability to communicate with the dead. This installment functions as a prequel to the published novel series. In a review in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Charles de Lint enjoys the premise of the genre switch: “It moves quickly, with plenty of Koontz’s humor, and it’s fun to visit again with some of the characters who are no longer in the prose book series.” However, de Lint takes issue with the Japanese Manga style of In Odd We Trust, complaining that he “found it too hard to keep track of the characters because they all have a somewhat similar look, especially the male characters.” In spite of favorable or unfavorable reviews, Koontz constantly expands his ability to write both across genres and cross-genre novels.
Confirmation of Koontz’s abilities as a superior storyteller can be seen in the numerous movie adaptations of his novels. Over a dozen of these stories were adapted as films for television and cinema, including Watchers (for which he wrote the teleplay), The Face of Fear, Intensity, Mr. Murder, and Frankenstein. However, recently Koontz has grown increasingly hesitant about allowing his stories to be produced as films. In Giants of the Genre, a collection of interviews by Michael McCarty, Koontz describes how his books do not translate well to the screen: “The story lines are too complex, the characters too complicated, and the themes too dense for movies…[F]or the last five or six years, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid having movies made of his books.” Even with this lack of film representations, Koontz remains an influential and highly read writer. As of the end of 2008, Dean Koontz’s official website lists over 60 novels translated into over 30 languages with a total publication of over 300 million copies—and growing annually.
Despite—or, perhaps, because of—his popular success, Koontz continues to write full-time with intense sixty- to seventy-hour-a-week work schedules. Yet, instead of rushing through a book without much revision, Koontz meticulously works his way through a writing a novel. In an audio interview with John J. Miller of National Review Online, Koontz explains his emphasis on revision: “Well, I write in an interestingly different way. I do twenty or thirty drafts a page before I move to the next page, and I inch my way through the book.” This dedication enables Koontz to successfully fulfill his childhood passion of character-driven stories that he enjoys writing and his fans enjoy reading.
Dean Koontz currently lives with his wife, Gerda, in Newport Beach, California.
Star Quest. New York: Ace Books, 1968.
Beastchild. New York: Lancer Books, 1970.
Legacy of Terror. New York: Lancer Books, 1971. (as Deanna Dwyer)
Chase. New York: Random House, 1972. (as K.R. Dwyer)
The Face of Fear. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977. (as Brian Coffey)
Whispers. New York: Putnam, 1980.
Watchers. New York: Putnam, 1987.
Mr. Murder. New York: Putnam, 1993.
Fear Nothing. New York: Bantam, 1998.
The Book of Counted Sorrows. E-Book: Barnes & Noble Digital, 2003.
Odd Thomas. New York: Bantam, 2004.
In Odd We Trust. New York: Del Rey, 2008.
De Lint, Charles. “In the Small/In Odd We Trust.” Fantasy & Science Fiction 115:6 (2008): 41-2.