Horror writer Dean Koontz ghostwrites his pet's book

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The latest Koontz to become a published author likes to chew squeaky toys and tends to drool when she eats peanut butter.

Her writing -- though edited by mega-author Dean Koontz -- is a bit rough. You might say the book's a real dog.

"Playing games is fun, makes life good," advises one passage. "Bacon is good. Bacon is very good," reads another.

"Life Is Good: Lessons in Joyful Living" is an inspirational guide credited to Trixie Koontz, the beloved and photogenic golden retriever of Dean Koontz and his wife, Gerda.

A short, lavishly illustrated work, it was created to benefit an organization that provides canine assistance to people with disabilities. The book chronicles the pampered and contented life of Trixie, a retired service dog, as she pads about the palatial Koontz home overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.

"It's an odd little book," says Koontz, the human author. "It's gratifying to see it's doing well."

Koontz, 59, whose new novel, "Life Expectancy," is also out this month, says his main hope for Trixie's book is that it helps Canine Companions for Independence, a California-based organization that has provided 2,200 dogs to people with such disabilities as autism or paralysis.

He also believes dogs -- with their exuberance and curiosity -- can teach humans how to enjoy life and appreciate the world.

Trixie's advice? It includes such things as "allow yourself to day dream," and "howl a little. Let loose." She also advises to "think of yourself as a movie star" but don't act like one by whining on TV about the price of fame or getting married five times in one year. Koontz seems to have taken this to heart since he rarely does television interviews, personally answers much of his fan mail and has been married to Gerda Koontz, his high school sweetheart, for nearly 40 years.

The author, whose supernatural suspense novels have sold more than 250 million copies worldwide, says Trixie helps him notice details such as the pattern a fern makes when it casts a shadow on a wall.

"She inspires me by her curiosity and her interest in small things," he says during an interview at his home, a 25,000-square-foot Art Deco mansion. "She can take you out of yourself and make you start looking at the world more closely."

Trixie, who has deep, brown, soulful eyes and whose blonde muzzle is starting to turn gray, blends into the sofa as she lies next to Dean Koontz in a tidy home office that features bookshelves lined with classics, a collection of Bakelite radios and a computer with no access to the Internet -- something Koontz avoids because he fears it will consume too much of his writing time.

"Life Is Good," has nearly sold its first printing of 25,000 copies and publisher Yorkville Press plans a second run of roughly the same size.

Of course, it helps that the cover includes the name Dean Koontz, whose dog has long been known to fans who read his Web site -- Trixie gets 5,000 letters a year.

The idea for "Life Is Good" began with Hartson, who saw the possibility for a book after reading joking entries in Trixie's voice on Koontz's Web site. The author had already written the forward to "Love Heels," a book about Canine Companions.

In gratitude to the Koontzes substantial support over the years, the organization gave them Trixie when the dog developed joint problems and could no longer work as an assistant. The golden retriever, who is 9, has become a central part of the Koontz family.

They take turns walking her each morning for an hour and brushing her for another 45 minutes.

Koontz fell in love with Canine Companions while doing research for his suspense novel, "Midnight," which includes a paraplegic character who uses a service dog. He and Gerda Koontz have donated more than $2.5 million to CCI since 1991, said southwest regional director Linda Valliant. "They have been our angels," she said.

The organization breeds and trains dogs for people with disabilities other than blindness. Their canines learn 50 commands, and can open doors, pick up dropped objects, help with transactions in stores and provide badly needed companionship.

"They no longer feel isolated and alone when they have the unconditional love of this animal that is their constant companion," Valliant said.

Koontz, who said the author's royalties for "Life Is Good" will go to CCI, plans to do much more. He and his wife, who have no children, have designed their home to be completely wheelchair accessible -- even the 22-seat movie theater -- in part so that they can hold benefits for the charity. They also plan to donate their estate to the group in their wills, he said.

That estate is considerable thanks to a steady stream of successful fiction. Koontz has 45 works in print in more than 30 languages. He has acquired the kind of following that creates instant best sellers, which is helpful since he doesn't do book tours and hasn't been on a plane since an unsettling flight from Pennsylvania to New York in the mid-1980s.

Of his success, Koontz says, "It's amazing considering where we started."

Koontz, a trim man who has the pale skin of someone who spends much of his time writing indoors, grew up "dirt poor." He describes his father as a violent alcoholic who terrorized him and his mother and held 44 jobs in 34 years. Although many of his earlier novels featured characters who had a traumatic childhood, the author says his was challenging but not unhappy -- in part because he managed to find escape by reading.

"I was always happy in my way," he says. "I'm not a Pollyanna. I don't believe life is perfect. But I do believe you can manage the shock and terror of it."

He graduated from Shippensburg State College and married Gerda (pronounced Jer-da) in 1966. At the time, the couple had only $150 and a used Ford Galaxy to their names. In their first home, in Saxton, Pa., they used an old door for a table, slept on a sofa bed that was inches from the ground and used homemade pillows stuffed with plastic bread bags. He first counseled kids for a government anti-poverty program and later taught school outside Harrisburg.

Gerda Koontz offered to support her husband for five years while he tried to make a go at writing. He started with science fiction but evolved into what he calls "genre-bridging" stories that blend elements of mystery, suspense and fantasy. The strategy annoyed editors but it proved successful and he gradually worked his way up the paperback and hardcover best-seller lists.

Koontz's newest book, "Life Expectancy" is a morbidly comic novel about a man who is predestined to live through five dark days throughout his life. The author says he got the idea while driving home from Los Angeles and listening to the Simon & Garfunkel song "Patterns" that includes the line, "My life is made of patterns that can scarcely be controlled."

He went home and hammered it out in his usual manner, working from early morning to dinner without a break, constantly revising as he goes -- often with Trixie sitting on a bed in the corner of his office. Lately, the writing has flowed easily and he expects more books.

"In my old age, I'm getting more exuberant than ever," Koontz says.


On the Net:

http://www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell/ko...

http://www.caninecompanions.org/

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