Our Laguna: Koontz keeps audience enthralled

Not all writers have the gift of gab.

Dean Koontz does. From the moment he stepped on the stage of the Laguna Playhouse on Monday, he captivated his audience.

Koontz was hosted by the Playhouse Women, a support group started in 2007 to raise funds for the theater.

The event drew fans from all around Orange County to hear Koontz talk about his work and life, some lugging as many as 35 books (Jim Tucker from Tustin and Jeramie Anderson from Covina) and some buying books from Laguna Beach Books at the event to be autographed.

Koontz had the sold-out audience in stitches as he described his childhood, which looked at another way could have been called dreary at best. He lost his mother at an early age and described his father as a drunkard, womanizer and ne’er-do-well, who had 44 jobs in 25 years.

Ah, but his dad had a sense of the absurdity of life, which he passed onto Koontz, who explores the darker realms in his books, leavened with some laugh-out-loud passages tucked in among the shivers.

How many authors name a character “Odd”? His parents claimed it was supposed to be Todd.

Shades of Koontz’s dad, an inventor who never crossed his Ts. He invented the first electric jump rope.

“He said it was for people who wanted to exercise, but not too much,” Koontz said.

Another invention was a doggie bed he called the Koontz Komfy Kot.

“KKK — think about that for minute,” Koontz said. “It was designed to offend just about everyone on the planet.”

When it didn’t sell, his dad used a friend’s dog to demonstrate the efficacy of the kot, which was a foot off the floor. Fluffy didn’t cooperate, so Dad flung the pup onto the kot. The dog was so scared, he urinated and just exploded off the kot, never again to trust a living soul, Koontz said.

About that time in Koontz’s reminiscences, he was startled by bright spotlights suddenly beamed on him. He asked to have them dimmed.

“I feel like I might get melanoma,” he said, but to no avail.

He was ready to give up after his second request. Then the spotlight not only dimmed, it went out, along with all the lights in the theater.

“Somebody has a sense of humor — or a smart ass,” said the unflappable Koontz.

He went on to tell the story of an editor who thought Koontz’s 900-plus-page manuscript needed to be reduced by one-third and proposed cutting out three characters to achieve his goal, an action that Koontz declined.

After struggling with cuts, the editor sent the manuscript back.

“He had cut 10 pages and said the rest was up to me,” Koontz said.

Koontz spoke well beyond the expected 45 minutes, which was followed by a Q-and-A session, only wrapping it up when a couple of elderly women left.

“I don’t want to keep you up,” he said, and then quit talking.

From the audience reaction, he could have spoken another hour.

“He was marvelous,” said Martha Lydick, president of the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, which taps Koontz every year for a book to be sold at the annual fundraising dinner.

Koontz has a wide selection from which to choose his donation.

“He started writing in college, and he has been writing ever since,” said Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, host of KUCI’s “Writers on Writing and Book Salon.” She introduced Koontz and moderated the Q-and-A.

DeMarco-Barrett said Koontz held down a couple of jobs — including a short stint as a school teacher — until his wife, Gerda, made him a deal he couldn’t refuse.

“She said she would support him for five years and if he hadn’t made it as a writer by then, he never would,” DeMarco-Barrett said.

He made it.

Koontz has 60 books in print, in 38 languages, and 44 of them are best sellers, including “77 Shadow Street,” which debuted in December as No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

“It’s scary,” said Laguna College of Arts & Design President Jonathan Burke, who brought his copy to be signed.

But scary is Koontz’s stock in trade, lapped up by his fans, the majority of which are women.

“The split is 60% women and 40% men, spanning all age groups,” Koontz said.

Worldwide, his books have sold 450 million copies.

He prides himself on never repeating a book, just because it was a best seller, as one former editor wanted him to do.

In response to a question about whether he outlines his books, Koontz said he writes the first page and rewrites and rewrites and doesn’t go on to the second page until he feels the first page is right.

He has the gift of expressing complex notions without becoming verbose.

Koontz writes his books in Newport Beach, where he has lived since the late 1980s with his wife and golden retriever, Trixie, about whom he has written a book.

The Koontzes moved to Southern California from Pennsylvania in 1976.

“We had had 40 days of not one blue sky and my wife said, ‘Somewhere there are blue skies,’” said Koontz. “We packed up and left. It was the best thing we ever did.

“We felt more at home here than we ever did at home. We were lucky we ended up in Orange County.”

And so were the Playhouse Women to get a writer of Koontz’s renown for a fundraiser.

“In October of 2010, I asked him to appear,” said Ilona Martin, a member of the Playhouse Women. “He wrote me a note in his own handwriting and said he would be happy to.” (Martin said she saved and cherishes that note.)

However, a bleeding ulcer intervened, and it wasn’t until Monday that he was able to fulfill his commitment.

“This event is one of many to come in our Laguna Playhouse Women Presents series,” said Elizabeth Pearson, development director of the theater and city councilwoman.

The group was organized in 2007, with Martin and Suzanne Mellor among the original six. Its mission is to raise awareness and support for the Playhouse. Members span a broad spectrum of the community.

“But all of them value great theater in their community and want to ensure its long-term success,” said Pearson.

New members are welcomed. Annual membership dues are $125. For more information, call (949) 497-2787, ext 217.

Proceeds from Monday’s blockbuster event will be added to the $45,000 the group already raised to renovate the women’s restroom at the theater.

The fundraiser was catered by Laguna Culinary Arts. Mozambique donated the wine. Donors of opportunity prizes included Jane Hanauer’s Laguna Beach Books, which also donated a percentage from Koontz books sold Monday; the Chocolate Soldier candy store in the Old Pottery Place; Pelican Hills Resort and Spa; and Broadway and Sapphire restaurants.

In the audience: Visitors Bureau President Karyn Philippsen, Stephanie Skenderian and her daughter-in-law Tammy, developer Joe Hanauer, Sandi Hovanesian, Judy Jamieson, Playhouse Managing Director Karen Wood and Playhouse Women members Madeleine Peterson and Deborah Mayhew.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (949) 302-1469 or email with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.