Dean Koontz's dog days

"One of the greatest gifts we receive from dogs is the tenderness they invoke in us." Those are words from the suspense thriller author Dean Koontz. His dog's tale is a very human story of love and inspiration. Anthony Mason has tracked him down.


Author Dean Koontz has written more than 100 books - including thirteen number one bestsellers.

"You're incredibly prolific," says CBS' Anthony Mason. "Where does that come from?"

"The imagination's a muscle partly. And the more you use it the easier it becomes," says Koontz.

His success - he ranks number six among the world's best-paid writers - has built him a stunning California home he calls "Amazing Grace," with carved book cases in his library.

"The woodwork here is meant to look like an opening book, the pages of a book," explains Koontz.

The library also has custom stainless steel doors.

"These are all your books," prompts Mason.

"Yes, these are all mine," says Koontz. "There's over 6,000 editions so far."

"How many different countries?" asks Mason.

"Thirty-eight languages," says Koontz.

Koontz has sold more than 400 million books worldwide.

"When a day is going really bad and I can't get any good prose out, I come out here and stand in the hall and say, 'Okay, I did it once. I can do it again,'" he says.

He does it on an 18-year-old computer.

"So you don't have e-mail on here?" asks Mason.

"No, no, no, no," he says.

"This is just a word processor?"

"I don't personally do e-mail," says Koontz. "If I do an email, I give it to an assistant. I write it out. I might make a disk of it and give it to her," Koontz laughs.

"Isn't it just easier to do the e-mail?" Mason asks.

"You should be grateful I don't have a steam-driven computer!" Koontz laughs.

Koontz has written suspense novels, thrillers and science fiction. But a few years ago, he wrote his first nonfiction book - about a 60-pound golden retriever.

"She arrived with her name, Trixie. I joked sometimes that it sounded more like a stripper than a dog," Koontz reads.

"A Big Little Life" was Koontz's tribute to his dog, who lived less than 12 years.

"The more I watched her she seemed to be the embodiment of grace and more," reads Koontz.

The 65-year-old writer rarely does television interviews, but he granted this one in part because he wanted to talk about Trixie.

"And I kept being changed by this dog, by her exuberance," he says. "And it opened my eyes to how much I started turning off the beauty of the world out of busy-ness."

Trixie came to Koontz and his wife Gerda when she was three years old, from Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains assistance dogs. Trixie had helped a young woman who had lost both her legs before a joint injury forced her into retirement.

Koontz recalls a mystical moment with his dog, when they were lying in the hall staring into each others' eyes.

"And I said, 'I know what you really are.' And she raised her head up and gave me this strange expression," Koontz says. "And I said, you're not a dog. You're an angel.' And she shot to her feet and ran the length of this hall and stood at the far end."

"I actually had to get down on the floor and coax her to me," Koontz continues. "And I brought her to me and it had put the hairs up in the back of my neck. And I said, 'all right. I'll never say that to you again."

"I say in the book, I think she was a theophony, an entrance of God into my life."

In many ways, Koontz's memoir is as much about himself as it is Trixie. He grew up poor, in this four-room house in Pennsylvania that didn't have indoor plumbing until he was eleven. His childhood was overshadowed by a father who held 44 jobs in 34 years.

"My father was a violent alcoholic," says Koontz. "It wasn't great having to walk with your mother to whatever barroom he'd passed out in and pick him up at two in the morning because they called, and he had the only car we had. But I was not an unhappy kid."

At age four, while his mother was hospitalized for six months, Koontz was sent to live with a neighbor.

"And every night she would read me a story before putting me to bed, and give me an ice cream soda," says Koontz. "And many years later, I came to believe that's where I associated storytelling and stories with happiness and calm."

In college, Koontz won a writing contest. He married Gerda, his high school sweetheart, and in 1966, after he sold a couple of short stories, she made him an offer:

"And she said, 'I'll support you for five years. And if you can't make it in five years you'll never make it.' And I tried to negotiate it up to seven, but she has Sicilian blood," says Koontz. "She wins negotiations."

"That's a pretty good deal," says Mason.

"It's a good deal. Oh, everyone in her family thought I was a bum. But her belief in me was really profound. And it always has been."

Gerda would eventually quit her job to manage the business side of Koontz's booming career. Hard workers, they never had children and resisted even having a dog. But losing Trixie to cancer devastated them.

"My wife and I couldn't hardly mention that dog's name for six months that we didn't start crying," Koontz says.

In Trixie's memory, they put a plaque on their porch - and they've contributed millions to Canine Companions. And now Anna, Trixie's great niece, is gracing their lives.

But while we were visiting, Koontz revealed that we almost lost him in February.

"I suddenly broke into this sweat," Koontz recalls, of the incident.

A bleeding ulcer had caused the author to black out.

"Do you remember passing out?" Mason asked.

"No, I have no memory of it at all," says Koontz. "I woke up lying in my office floor in a pool of blood, with my eyebrow cut all the way across and hanging down over my eye. It was a very Hannibal Lecter sort of moment."

He'd lost half of his blood, but Koontz says he never felt any pain.

"If you've really gotta nearly die - and I was told there were several times I should have died in the hospital - if you've gotta nearly die, that's the way to do it. No pain. No fear. And a very quick recovery."

And the author of 100 books says it's given him many ideas for more.

"Do you see an end point to this?" asks Mason.

"I don't think writers who love what they do retire until they fall dead on the keyboard," laughs Koontz. "I nearly did recently, but it still hasn't stopped me."


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