Dean Koontz: Angels, Demons, and Our Mysterious World

The best-selling writer talks about why in the short-term evil wins, but in the end, good usually triumphs.

BY: Dena Ross

Dean Koontz

As one of the most popular fiction writers today, Dean Koontz captivates his readers with his creative plotlines and unique characters, often incorporating a spiritual element into the story. According to a recent Beliefnet interview, Koontz says these elements are both partially woven into his writing consciously and partially come second nature as he's writing. This may have a lot to do with his own faith life. Although Koontz was born into the United Church of Christ, he converted to Catholicism after marrying his wife, Gerda.

Koontz—whose upcoming book, "Your Heart Belongs to Me" is set for release November 25th--spoke to Beliefnet about the amazing supernatural experience he had after his beloved dog died, how his father's attempt at murdering him affected his life and faith, and why he gives his characters free will.

Why did you convert to Catholicism from the United Church of Christ in which you were brought up?

I was from a dysfunctional family. And although my mother made sure I went to church, the family didn't reflect the values of the church. There wasn't a lot of closeness among relatives in our family.

When I started dating Gerda, we didn't have much money. We would go on Sundays to neighboring Jonestown, where she had aunts and uncles. I was so impressed with the sense of family among them and the fun they had being together and the easiness with which they interacted that I, either rightly or wrongly, identified that in my mind as being a consequence of Catholicism, which was so strong for all of them. So, it got me interested in it. When I was in college, I expanded my reading about things and ended up thinking about halfway through college that this was for me.

What's your favorite thing about being a Catholic?

It gives me a sense that the world has shape and form and function and meaning. I suppose that's my favorite thing about it, because I don't wander aimlessly seeking for some meaning in things. I have a sense of what those meanings are. It opened my eyes to a deeper, more complex world, and that leaves you a lifetime of exploring to follow.

What's your least favorite thing about being a Catholic?

How Vatican II threw away so much tradition. It's only beginning to come back. The Latin Mass and all of that was a great loss, something that is embraced and promoted for hundreds upon hundreds of years and then disappears overnight in an attempt to satisfy an urge toward trendiness. It was a great loss to the church, and I think it still is.

Has a situation in your life ever tested your faith to the point where you wanted to let it go?

There was a time in my life after losing my mother, who had a very difficult life, [where] she was ill. She was married to a man who later in life was diagnosed as sociopathic. I was in my 20s when she died. 

That seemed to me so unfair [and then I began to] question whether things had meaning. But, it was a sophomoric kind of questioning. It wasn't anything that was intellectual in its nature. And time passed, and that doubt passed.

Your father tried to kill you a few years before he died. How has that incident affected your life and your faith?

The attempt came before he was in the home. When [my wife and I] moved west, one of the benefits of it was [we were] 3,000 miles from my father. I thought, "At last, I've got some distance here. The phone calls won't come at 2:00 in the morning that he's in some kind of trouble or he's too drunk [and] they won't let him leave a bar and get in his car and somebody has to come get him.

However, his health took a turn for the worse, and we had to bring him west and support him for 14 years. It was really toward the end of that [time]—I guess he must have been about 80 [with] the first attempt. He pulled a knife on me on two different occasions. The second time was in a retirement home. The first time made it necessary for him to go on anti-psychotics. He didn't need to be in a nursing home, but he needed to be under some supervision where we could be assured he was taking the anti-psychotics, that somebody was monitoring this. He was taking them in that retirement home. He couldn't drive anymore, but he could walk to the shopping center across the street. It was not a facility to which he was restricted. What nobody knew was that he was developing an immunity to the drug, or it was having the opposite effect, as sometimes these things do.

The second attempt was in front of a lot of witnesses, and that ended up—after he was committed to a psychiatric ward— requiring that then he spend time thereafter in a restricted facility.

It certainly affects your life. What more affected the life was his presence in it up until that moment. In my childhood he—especially when he was very drunk—would threaten to kill us all, my mother, me and himself. As a kid I assumed sooner or later that would happen. Then, I grew up and it hadn't happened, and I felt guilty about that. I felt like, as awful as he is and all the terrible things he's done, I was putting upon him a heavier weight of evil perhaps than he actually carried.

But, one of the psychiatrists who had to deal with him after his first outburst, the first attempt with the knife and he went in for observation and everything, called me in and said, "Let me tell you some things about your father. He would not go to church or be religious in any way, except periodically, when things went really bad for him. Then he would sit around all day reading the Bible and quoting it and everything." She began to list a number of personality traits as things he would do from time to time. And it became eerie, because she was telling me things that I thought nobody could know unless they had grown up in [my] house. She said to me, "I believe your father is a paranoid schizophrenic with tendencies to violence, complicated by alcoholism." Later, he got a darker diagnosis than that. But, she said, "These are the kind of people with all this complexity of problems." This was in the days before they were really finding drugs that were effective.

She [then went on to say that], "Somebody with this tendency to violence complicated by alcoholism and has a paranoid schizophrenic complex will frequently be the kind of person you do see in the news who has killed himself and his family. It was good of you as a child to come through this without more of the problems you have." I said, "Well, writing is, to some degree, therapy, and I think every writer works out some of his own problems in the course of telling his stories."

But, at that moment I realized that my guilt was not proper, my feeling that I was putting too much weight of evil on him. Actually, I wasn't. And whatever his problems, whether they were partly behavioral, partly of his own making or partly because of some condition he was born with in a mental way, I'll never know, but I think it's probably a combination of both. But, it never taxed my belief that life had meaning and purpose. In fact, seeing him live his life without meaning and purpose sort of showed me the way to live life more successfully.

Good always seems to prevail in your books. Is it because of your faith that you always believe that, ultimately, good will triumph over evil? When you write, do you want good to prevail because in your own life to some degree it didn’t?

It's actually sort of the opposite. I saw my father live a life where everything was done for himself, when he subsequently was diagnosed as sociopathic. And, of course, I've written a number of novels where a sociopath is the center of the action, even before my father was diagnosed.

When I looked at the way he lived his life, it was always about himself. It was always about his wants and desires and not about anybody else. Therefore, he broke just about every kind of rule of behavior and cultural or legal behaviors that would make a life an acceptable or an admired one.

And yet, although he had a lot of fun—he drank a lot and he ran around with a lot of women and he was gambling—all the things he wanted to do that he thought were fun, he got to do and he got away with. But, he never had a pleasant life. He was always an unhappy man, and although he would never have acknowledged it, always sort of desperate.

In the end, he ended up with nothing, with no friends and no family who cared about him. When he died and I had to make a list of people to call, there was no one to call because he had left a life without any friends. Even what few family members he had were uninterested. Nobody sent flowers, nobody thought of coming to a memorial or anything like that. In the end, that kind of behavior did not lead to a satisfying life.

I often say that in the short run, evil wins. I've seen it all my life. Bad behavior can triumph in the short run. But, in the long run I never see that it does. I think it's more realistic to say that most of the time good does triumph over evil, even in the shorter run, but certainly in the longer run. It's partly faith-based, but it's partly just practical, just looking at the way I've seen life for the past 60 years.

Continued on page 2: Koontz on angels and demons... »

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