Built-in bookshelves line both sides of the hallway that leads to Dean Koontz’s office at his sprawling home in Newport Coast, and every one of them is crammed with books. Not just any books. His books.
“When I’m having a bad day,” he says as we pass through the hallway, “this reminds me that I’ve done this before.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
Dean Koontz is one of a handful of writers whose name people recognize even if they haven’t read his work. He’s written more than 100 books, 14 of which have landed on the top spot of the New York Times Best Seller list. He’s sold more than 450 million copies of his work.
But his latest project, “Nameless,” isn’t on these shelves. Nor will you find a copy at your local library or bookstore.
Published by Amazon, the “Nameless” series is being released only in electronic and audio formats. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can download the first installment free starting Nov. 12. It’s an unconventional approach for an unconventional book.
I spoke with Koontz about “Nameless” at his home office, where he says he spends a minimum of 10 hours a day, six days a week, typing away on a computer that does not have access to the internet.
Like much of his home, the room’s furnishings and design reflect an Art Deco aesthetic. “I just love the Art Deco period,” Koontz says. “Common everyday objects were made like works of art. That’s all lost now.”
His latest project is a bit of a throwback to the Parker novels by Donald E. Westlake (writing as Richard Stark): short, gritty crime stories with a no-nonsense protagonist. In one scene, Koontz even drops the name “Alan Grofield,” a recurring character in Parker’s capers.
“Nameless” isn’t a novel, but a collection of six short thrillers. The first is “In the Heart of the Fire (Nameless Book 1).” The stories are linked by a man without a past on a mission to take down criminals who are exceptionally evil: kidnappers, pedophiles and serial murderers. The protagonist can quickly memorize the details for his next mission, but he doesn’t remember anything about his own past, including his name.
“While I thought it was interesting that, yes, he has amnesia,” Koontz says, “he believes he had it engineered. It’s not an accident. It’s not an illness. It’s an escape from something he doesn’t want to know.”
Amnesia is to thrillers what evil twins are to soap operas. Along with brainwashing and repressed memories, amnesia turns up again and again in Koontz’s milieu.
Koontz is drawn to exploring the way our memories, or lack thereof, protect us from the truth. He says his father was a violent alcoholic who made life hell for his wife and son.
“I would start writing a scene,” Koontz explains, “and it would hit me that something in the scene, some little twist of a moment, came from my father. Something he did that I didn’t want to think about anymore … I do believe the very uncomfortable things in life we have a tendency to put away and just not contemplate. But when you’re a writer it just so happens that your work brings you to think about these things.”
In Koontz’s fiction, as in life, the past has a way of asserting itself in the present. His nameless vigilante has visions but can’t tell if they are memories shaking loose from his fractured past or warnings from a future he’s hurtling toward.
Although each thriller is a stand-alone story — like episodes in a television series — the visions intensify as the series progresses. When Koontz talks about the possibility of future “Nameless” books he refers to them as “seasons,” lingo he picked up from his colleagues at Amazon.
Over the summer, Amazon announced that Koontz had signed a major deal with the publisher for six books: the “Nameless” series and five novels. The relationship began when Amazon approached Koontz about writing an original short story for the Kindle in Motion series. He says he was so pleased with how “Ricochet Joe” came out that he was open to working with Amazon again.
“I’m not fond of change,” Koontz says, “it just seems that sometimes change becomes necessary to keep things fresh and inspire creativity … Amazon Original Stories is the only major market for shorter-than-novel fiction, more or less filling the role of the Saturday Evening Post, where 70 years ago writers could place wonderful novelettes. I love that shorter form.”
Does the move to Amazon signal an embrace of new technology?
Koontz still works on an old Compaq computer. (The brand is now defunct. ) “I couldn’t tell you the model if my life depended on it,” Koontz says. “It’s an older system with Microsoft Word and Windows XP modified for ease of use, so I’m loath to update and have to waste time learning a new software that can’t be easily adapted to my working habits.”
There’s no slowing Koontz down. He’s already finished two of the novels under contract with Amazon, the first of which, “Devoted,” will be published in April.
While Koontz won’t be doing any events for “Nameless,” he will for “Devoted,” the story of an unusual relationship between a boy and a golden retriever. “Devoted” also describes the author’s relationship to his golden retriever, Elsa.
After years of working with Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that provides training for assistance dogs, he adopted a golden retriever that didn’t make it all the way through the rigorous program. That dog was Trixie. Then came Anna, and now Elsa keeps Koontz company while he writes. (Koontz and his wife Gerda are longtime financial supporters of the Canine Companions nonprofit.)
Despite its feel-good premise, “Devoted” promises to be just as suspenseful as his other books and may even take a supernatural turn.
“I bore easily sitting at the typewriter,” Koontz says, “so I’m always looking to add that little extra element that’s going to keep me engaged.”
Ruland is currently working on a book with the L.A. punk rock band Bad Religion.