Where to Find Me

Monday, October 1, 2012

Day 1: Cat Winchester - Dean Koontz Tribute

I've read a lot of horror books in my time, from the so called master of horror, Stephen King, to English author, James Herbert, and many in between. I enjoyed the books I read (I wouldn't have finished them if I hadn't) but few horror writers have really captured my attention, until Dean Koontz.

I first discovered his books when I was 16 and found Hideaway in my mothers library. After that I made it my mission to read everything that he had written.
So what makes Dean Koontz's books so much more captivating than say Stephen King?
It isn't the plot. I can safely say that both authors use a variety of supernatural creatures, both keep things unpredictable and both keep their plots moving at a face pace, allowing the reader no time to be bored.
So what is the key difference?
For me it comes down to relationships. There are relationships in all books, obviously, but few other horror writers manage to make me interested in the central characters.
Mr Koontz could be said to have a formula in that there is usually a male and female lead character who are either in love, or will fall in love. Not every book, of course, and some books have a whole cast of characters to keep track of. Nonetheless, I take an interest in each character and pairing. It doesn't matter if they are doctors, police officers or waitresses, he gets to the heart of who these people are and makes me care what happens to them.
So when the Big Bad is bearing down, I am worried. When they do something foolish, I am rooting for them to put things right. When escape seems hopeless, I pray that there is some miracle way out that I haven't thought of yet.
When reading most other horror writers, I am interested in the plot, but I don't much care about the characters and in my humble opinion, that is what turns a good writer into an excellent writer. (obviously no one can argue with the success of Stephen King, but this is my own subjective view).
It seems that in the world of Horror, love is often a dirty word. For many years the world of Horror had been dominated by men (despite being started by Mary Shelly) and as in many male dominated areas, there is a fear of girl cooties. It's the same in Sci-fi, thrillers and adventure novels. Love them or loath them, you just have to look at the vitriol aimed at the Twilight series from “true” vampire fans to see how unpopular mixing romance and horror still is.
Nowadays more women are writing horror books and more women are (or will admit to) reading them, so things are changing. Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries series is a good modern example of horror with heart. The relationships change but she never fails to make you care about he characters involved, whether they're getting together, breaking up, or just living life. Still, on the whole, that kind of character based horror is still a rarity.
Even back in the 70s though, Dean Koontz was putting women and relationships front and centre in his books, seemingly unafraid of catching a few girl cooties. Not only that, but his women were strong characters who were central to the plot, not just a love interest for the male hero.
So not only did I care about his characters, I could relate to them.
When it comes to the Big Bad, Dean Koontz almost always goes for a person or people. Even if the events are supernatural, there is a real (fictional) person orchestrating events, or maybe doing the bidding of the supernatural entity. And oh boy, are they ever sleazy! He creates the kind of bad guys that really creep you out, they get under your skin, and would make you shudder if you were ever unfortunate enough to shake hands with one of them. Still, there is logic and a reason behind what they do and however twisted that logic may be, you can see why they do it, even while it repulses you.
Perhaps some of you are thinking that Stephen King's books are far superior because he doesn't dwell on relationships or people (or even for many other reason) but sales figured don't lie. Dean Koontz is number 17 on the list of all time best selling authors. Stephen King number 19.
Sadly, unlike Mr King, Mr Koontz had had little success with big screen adaptations of his work.
With Stephen King (just off the top of my head) I can think of The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Salem's Lot, Misery, The Shawshank Redemption and the Shining, all of which are outstanding adaptations.
For Dean Koontz, not a single adaptation has come anywhere close to the book that it is based on.
I don't know why this is the case and there are probably multiple reasons for it but in out media saturated society, I think this is the reason (or one of the reasons) why everyone knows of Stephen King and he is revered as a master of the genre, while many people I meet haven't even heard of Dean Koontz (before I tell them about him, that is!).

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