Dean Koontz, the prolific master of suspense, calls his new book, “The Bad Weather Friend,” one of his favorites.
Most authors favor their new work. But Dean Koontz isn’t most authors. He’s written more than 140 books that have been translated into 38 languages and sold more than 500 million copies.
So what makes this book so special?
“I think it’s because I had so much fun writing it,” Koontz said. “I never had a moment that I had to beat myself up to get to the next page. That tends to mean the book worked very well. It becomes one of my favorites if I suffered less in the writing of it.”
Koontz often writes about strangers who come together for reasons they can’t explain to confront forces they don’t understand. “The Bad Weather Friend” deals with a young man named Benny who begins to suspect he is being persecuted. After a series of unfortunate events turn his life as an Orange County real estate agent upside down, Benny receives a mysterious package that’s shaped like a coffin and contains a Craggle.
What’s a Craggle? We’ll get to that in a minute.
The idea for the book sprang from Koontz’s growing dissatisfaction with contemporary movies and television shows.
“We’re living in a time where you’re supposed to be hip and cool and kind of ruthless and a lot of TV shows are about ruthless people that we’re supposed to admire,” Koontz said. “And I thought: I just don’t admire those kind of people. Wouldn’t it be interesting to write about a guy who’s just too nice and who suffers for it?”
Koontz knew that Benny needed help, someone who could look after him and protect him while he confronted his adversaries.
“As soon as that hit me, I knew I had to write the book because the whole idea was just too much fun,” said Koontz, who joins the L.A. Times Book Club on Jan. 28.
At the time, Koontz was working on a book called “After Death,” a bestseller about a security specialist who wakes up in a top-secret morgue. “There’s a temptation, sometimes to say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to move on and write that idea while it’s fresh.’ But I long ago learned to finish what you’re on. The new idea will get more mature in the mind as you’re working on this one. It isn’t going to slip away from you. So as soon as I finished ‘After Death’ I was able to move on to this.”
In “The Bad Weather Friend,” the mysterious entity that has targeted Benny has a name: The Better Kind. This confederacy of society’s richest and most powerful people is determined to ruin Benny’s life.
“I think there’s much more class division in the country than there was when I was growing up,” Koontz said, “and unfortunately many people in the highest class have lost touch with almost everybody else. That was something I wanted to hit upon in this book, because I remember a time when the elite didn’t think they could solve every problem in the world, but now there’s such arrogance out there.”
The extent of The Better Kind’s efforts becomes clear in the novel’s subplot, a series of flashbacks that chronicle Benny’s seemingly endless string of bad luck — until Spike comes into his life.
Enter the Craggle. Spike is a 7-foot-tall wrecking ball of muscle. If a fair-weather friend is someone who only comes around when things are good, a bad-weather friend is someone you can depend on when things take a turn for the worse. Spike is more than Benny’s oversized bodyguard. He has a host of special abilities that nudge the novel from the supernatural into the realm of fantasy.
“I cross genres kind of continually,” Koontz said with a laugh. “I got a lot of resistance to that in the early days. But gradually the business has come around… This is closer to a fantasy novel than almost anything else because I don’t explain The Bad Weather Friend. He exists as much as fairies do.”
Koontz even toyed with naming the novel after him — “Spike the Craggle” — an idea he reveals in one of the novel’s many metafictional parenthetical asides.
“I knew I wouldn’t get away with it,” Koontz said. “I turned it in with that title and the first thing my agent said was, ‘I don’t think this title is gonna fly.’ I said, ‘Well, let’s just wait and see what they say.’ The publisher came back and said, ‘No, we have to find another title.’ And they were right.”
And how does Spike feel about the change?
“Spike is disappointed. He liked the title.”
Koontz worried that his publisher would also push back on those places where he seemingly enters the narrative and addresses the reader, but his editor encouraged Koontz to do more of it.
“It’s breaking the fourth wall, as they say in the theater, and just revealing yourself behind it,” Koontz said. “When I did it, my biggest fear was: Does it break the grip of the story or make the story seem false? But I felt that it actually, in the strangest way, enhanced it.”
Some writers get more formulaic with age, but Koontz continues to get more innovative and more experimental in his new work. He famously writes two novels a year — sometimes more, never less — and doesn’t rely on creative collaborations.
The pandemic didn’t slow him down. But he did experience a hiccup during a recent move when he, his wife Gerda, and their golden retriever Elsa — the Koontzes are longtime supporters of Canine Companions for Independence — moved from their 28,000-square-foot house in Newport Beach to a 12,000-square-foot property in Shady Canyon.
For instance, the new house came with an indoor pool that he converted into a library, which was a considerable undertaking. Even for Dean Koontz, life gets in the way. “Especially when you’re building a house and going through a supply chain crisis,” he said. “It just distracted the heck out of me and I sort of lost the feel of the novel I was working on, but it’ll come back. They do.”
Koontz is able to roll with the punches because he sticks to his routine. Every night he prints out the pages he worked on that day and puts them in the freezer — in case a wildfire burns down his home.
He also remains reluctant to embrace new technology. He doesn’t have the internet on his computer and continues to save his work to a floppy disk, which he walks down the hall to his assistant at the end of the work day. He did, however, recently upgrade to a large Hewlett Packard screen and a Logitech keyboard.
“They may be outdated by now,” he joked.
Koontz recently switched to a BMW when Lincoln stopped making the model of car he drove and he realized that getting parts was going to become a problem. He estimated that it took him about two weeks to get used to all of the features in his new car and wryly observed there are more screens in his car than in his office.
Koontz may be a novice at navigating new technology, but he is a pro at taking readers to places beyond their wildest imaginations.
Jim Ruland is the author of “Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise & Fall of SST Records” and the novel “Make It Stop.”
If you go: Dean Koontz
What: Bestselling author Dean Koontz joins the L.A. Times Book Club to discuss “The Bad Weather Friend” with Times assistant managing editor Samantha Melbourneweaver.
When: 1 p.m. Pacific Jan. 28
Where: UC Irvine, the Crystal Cove Auditorium. Get tickets on Eventbrite.
More: Sign up for the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.