The movie version of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas is done, Koontz tells io9. He's actually seen the finished film, and he told us what he thinks of it. Koontz also talked to us about the prospects for a TV show based on his Frankenstein series, and what's next for Odd Thomas. Plus Koontz has a new novel in the works based on an idea told to him by a long-dead author. Really.
We were extremely lucky to get to speak with Koontz by telephone the other day, and he shared a lot about his current and upcoming projects. Here's what he told us about the Odd Thomas movie, which stars Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) as Odd:
I have pretty much given up on Hollywood and the whole idea of movies, because they never got what I did properly. And so I told my attorney, "When somebody calls and says, 'Are the rights to that book available?', Don't say yes or no. Call me up and tell me who they are, and I'll think about it." And about a year after he did that, he called me up one day and said Stephen Sommers is interested in Odd Thomas. And I said, "Hmm, I'll talk to him." Because he has done cross genre work in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. And he might understand what has to be saved and what doesn't have to be saved in an adaptation.
And sure enough, he's done a brilliant job. He wrote the best screenplay I've ever read — not just of my stuff, but of anything. I've seen the finished film. I never expected I would say happily, "I love the movie." I usually call up everybody I've met all my life and apologize for my relation with the film, but in this case, he's done a wonderful job.
SSteve said to me, the first day we met, before we'd started shooting the film, "There's only one actor under 30 I think I want, and I think is beyond just very confident and in fact great: Anton Yelchin." I didn't know who Anton Yelchin was, and when I found out who he was, I said, "I'm not sure." But I really had a great deal of trust in Steve. And when I saw this movie, all you need is the first two minutes, and a scene he has with a villain in a convertible. And when I saw that scene, I just relaxed and said, "Great. He has found the perfect Odd Thomas."
Koontz told us the Odd Thomas movie basically covers the events of the first book. And Addison Timlin plays Odd's girlfriend Stormy, and is just as great as Yelchin is. "She's just amazing. I couldn't be happier about the performances in this movie. They are really above the cut of this type of movie generally speaking." He also adds that Sommers does some things stylistically that are innovative: "He uses transitions, or he does scene transitions, in a way that I've never seen before, that just move me. And they're very effective at keeping the pace moving."
Adds Koontz: "I'm just happy. You never know if anything's going to be a success or not, but I can watch this again. And the rest of them I couldn't watch again. Some [of my movies] I couldn't watch the first time." He says Sommers is just shopping the completed film around, for a possible release this winter: "They're making the distribution deal as we speak."
Meanwhile, Koontz says he's in discussions about a TV series based on his Frankenstein novels, co-written with Kevin J. Anderson. They're "down to the last little thing about the contract. I can't talk about it until it's real. But it is Hollywood, you never know if it's real, even after you've signed. But I think it is real, there are some very credible people involved." He doesn't think he'll do any more Frankenstein novels, but there are great writers and producers attached to the series, so he has some faith that it will actually be close to the source material.
Frankenstein actually started out as a TV pitch, which started as a one-hour pilot and then got expanded to two hours — and then Koontz realized his producing partner had a very different agenda than he did, so he took his name off it. But in the end, he realized his ideas in book form.
The Future of Odd Thomas
Next week sees the release of Odd Interlude, a three-part novella being released in e-book form. (We published an exclusive excerpt, which you can read here.) At 65,000 words, it's actually too long to be a novella — and it's nearly as long as a lot of actual novels. "I decided it has to be, in essence, a novel."
In Odd Interlude, Odd and Annamaria are on the road and they encounter a service station and series of cottages called Harmony Corner. As usual with Odd, he knows where he has to go, and so he starts investigating Harmony Corner and discovers that "something very terrible is going on." Unusually for this series, it's not supernatural at all — it's "a bit more science fictional." The e-book format, and the somewhat shorter length, gives Koontz the ability to do things he wouldn't normally do, something he found previously when he wrote an e-book-only novella called Bloom a while back.
And then the fifth book, Odd Apocalypse, comes out in July. Koontz says h
e always saw this series as a six- or seven-book series, and now he's sure it'll be seven books — and he knows how the seventh ends. "Each step of it raises the stakes and it all starts accelerating, book by book. I once said I would never write a series that this one came to me in such an amazing fashion that once I'd finished the first book I knew I was going to. And it's only taken me several years to figure out how many volumes, but I think it's going to be seven." The sixth book is called Deeply Odd and the seventh is Saint Odd, "but that might not mean what people think it means."
The idea of Odd Thomas came to Koontz while he was working on a totally different novel — all of a sudden, the opening lines of Odd Thomas popped into his head, out of nowhere. "I realized that had nothing to do with this novel, and I wrote them down. I started writing by hand, which I've never done before or since, and I wrote out the whole first chapter." Adds Koontz: "When something comes to you like that, you know, 'Okay, this is totally different, and some people won't understand it. But a lot of people will, and they'll like that difference.' And you just go with it."
Koontz says he usually received about 10,000 letters a year about his books — but when Odd Thomas came out, that number soared to 50,000 letters about that book in a single year. Something about that character and his ability to speak with "the lingering dead" — and what he does about it — resonated with people.
And meanwhile Koontz says he's also working on a non-Odd Thomas book, which came to him in a dream:
I'm working on a thing that I can't talk about the idea, because it's so unusual. People always ask you in a book signing, "I bet you get a lot of good ideas from dreams. And over the years, I've said "No, I've never ever gotten an idea from a dream." And then here now about three weeks ago, I suddenly sat straight up in bed out of a dream. And in the dream, I will not say who, but I was having lunch with a famous dead author, and he was talking about his new book that was out, and how successful it was, and I was telling him how much I liked the book. And we were talking about the book at lunch, and it was a very vivid dream and as we were talking about the book, I would see scenes of it in my head. And I woke up, sat straight up in bed, and said, "I've got a whole novel in my head."
I've sort of, as a secondary thing, started to write it on the side. And I really am liking it. I think I'll have to dedicate it to this author. But since he's dead, he can't sue me for plagiarism. This isn't anyone I've ever known, and haven't thought about in 15 years. So it was a very very strange experience. But I thought, "Well, the idea is good. Wherever it came from, I'm going to have to approach that."
He says he's not writing it in the style of this famous dead author, but rather writing it in his own style — just using the ideas that he got from the dead author in his dream.
Koontz on Writing
Koontz says he grew up reading nothing but science fiction — especially Heinlein, Bradbury and Sturgeon. "We were a very poor family, and my dad was a violent alcoholic, and it was a house that you wanted to escape if you lived there. And the greatest escape was going completely elsewhere. Other worlds, or our world in the future. What Sturgeon did so brilliantly was introduce a number of strange and creepy elements into different settings: Bianca's Hands. Most all of his famous stories — or a lot of them — take place now, but something very unusual enters the picture. So I'm sure that he had a great deal of influence on me that way."
When he started writing professionally, he naturally veered towards writing science fiction — his first novels were strictly SF. Then he started branching out into different genres, and "after I did that for a little while, I found that I wanted to create hybrids — what's now called mash-ups, basically." He defines his basic approach, since the late 1970s, is to create books that feel like mainstream novels but have "elements of the fantastic" — although not all of his books have those elements.
Koontz firmly believes that no genre is superior to any other — whether you're talking about SF or the genre known as literary fiction — and the best writing in any genre is equal to the best writing any other. Adding fantastical elements to otherwise realistic writing "does give it a heightened sense of hyper-reality that, if you play it right, is very affecting and interesting."
And Koontz has resisted having the "horror" label stuck on his books, because he hates labels generally and feels as though not all of his work contains horror elements at all. He's constantly butted heads with publishers — not his current publisher, he's happy to report — who want him to fit more closely into a genre box:
I've had publishers tell me, "You can't do that. You can't mix in humor in a suspense piece. You can't introduce science fiction into a suspense piece. You can't introduce science fiction and humor into a suspense piece." There's all these rules of publishing that I don't think anybody's ever thought through. And I just started, many years ago, saying, "I don't care. I have to entertain me first, and I have a low boredom threshold." I write what I want to write, and I hope the public goes along with it, because I cannot do anything else. I couldn't do plumbing, for instance, because I am totally incompetent at anything requiring tools. You do what you're really enthusiastic about doing. And readers react to it, if they know your heart's in it.
Since Koontz mentioned having a low boredom threshold, we wanted to ask him how that affects his writing style. And he responded: "It certainly makes me really conscious of pace. There's no reason at all why a book can't be as serious as anything else, but also fast paced. I'm well aware of that. Although I don't particularly write fast. I write one page over and over again, sometimes 20 times, sometimes more, before I move on to the next. And so I inch my way through the process, like an [inaudible] built by a lick of dead creatures. So for me, I'm with a story very intently, page by page."
He seldom gets bored with what he's writing — although if he gets bored with something in the first chapter, or the characters aren't coming together on the page, then he'll throw it away. "Better to do it earlier than later." This usually means that the intuitive part of his writer brain is telling him "this won't work." Fortunately, he says he doesn't have too many of those sort of discards.
We asked Koontz the biggest mistake people make in trying to break into supernatural fiction or other speculative fiction, and he responded: "The biggest one is probably looking around and scoping the market. Don't think about what's selling." People see vampire books selling like hotcakes and think the way to become successful is to write yet another vampire book. "Vampires have always been hot. But that doesn't mean you have to write vampires. I would always take it to believe that if I started writing about vampires, that's exactly when they would go cold."
Horror fiction, in general, has never come back from its peak, because publishers put out so many horror books in such a short time. "When something becomes very popular, you get just a huge amount of it. And any time you get a huge amount of anything, a huge amount of the huge amount isn't great." And that turns people off, sometimes forever.
Instead, Koontz advises writers: "Think about what you can do that's different, and yet is within those genres. That takes a little more effort... trying to come up with ideas that nobody's done before. Or if they've done them, they haven't done them in the same way." You'll know you've succeeded when you get the kind of letters Koontz receives in the mail, saying things like, "'You must have a freaky weird interior mind.' I'm about as cuddly and normal as you can get. But yeah, just letting the mind go, sometimes you can be stunned at what comes into it."