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.