Oh, wait… you want the more elaborate answer? I’m fine with doing that. My wife says I love to talk about myself. The woman is not only smart but she’s kinda into me, too. Go figure.
I was a very bad child growing up. Not so bad I went to jail or the cops had a talk with me, but bad in the sense I was hyper and liked to push the envelope. My brother is only eighteen months younger than me, so we’d get in trouble a lot together. I was sneaky but he was a bull in a China cabinet when it came to trouble, his head down and chaos running rampant.
We also fought a lot. I’m not talking yelling, either. I mean fists and kicks and trying to hurt one another. He has a couple of scars to prove it and so do I. I also have some crooked teeth from when he kicked me in the back of the head. He once pushed me over a barbed wire fence and began pummeling me while I tried not to get my body ripped apart and defend myself.
We had a stay-at-home mother. This was the seventies into the eighties. During the summers it must’ve been pure hell to have us around all day and night, especially when my father sometimes worked long hours. Our days were spent outside playing kickball, football, and baseball with the neighborhood kids. There were a lot of them our age, too. We lived in a small fishing village in New Jersey on a dead-end street.
The summer between fifth and sixth grade I remember well. My brother and I had been brawling for days on and off and my mother had had enough. School was coming to a close and we must’ve really given her the final straw, the last big fight, and she’d had enough.
From the first day of summer break until the first day of school, we were both punished. No outside. No TV. We were allowed out of our rooms for meals and then right back into our cells.
My brother got the best deal… at least I thought so at the time. I was twelve. I wanted to play with my action figures and listen to Top 40 radio or be outside with all the kids who weren’t punished. He got to stay in our bedroom, which we shared. I was only allowed in it at night for bed.
I got stuck in my parent’s room, with their giant canopy bed and walls covered in bookshelves. Books? No thanks. I liked to read but there was nothing in this room for me. This was all old people stuff. The junk my mother read. Hundreds and hundreds of dog-eared paperbacks. All piled on top of one another.
With nothing else to do, I started reading them. For hours. From the time I woke up until I went to bed, I read these books. They had demons and spiders and scary-looking houses on the covers. My mother was (and still is to this day) a huge horror fiction reader. She had a to-be-read pile taller than me on her nightstand. Still does.
Once she saw I was starting to get as obsessed with reading as she was, she began leaving a pile for me. She’d make sure she went through and crossed out the ‘dirty parts’ so my twelve-year old brain wouldn’t be completely corrupted. She left in the profanity, since we grew up in New Jersey and you could use the F word in every sentence as every other word without missing a beat. I mean… not twelve year old me. Unless I was using it as I rained down blows on my brother.
I told a story last year while at the Necon writer’s gathering in
Rhode Island. I was on a panel about Clive Barker, and I mentioned being a bad kid and everything I’ve just written. When I told the part about her crossing out the sex parts and one particular book I still remember, where a couple go into a dark movie theater, stare longingly at one another… and then the next page and a half was blacked out… author Grady Hendrix, who not only writes horror but released a must-have called Paperbacks From Hell with a ton of those old paperbacks I’ve read, was seated in the front row and started to laugh. He asked me a few questions at the end when the panel was wrapping up about it.
Not that I remember what he was asking. I know I answered. Seriously… Grady Hendrix was talking to me. He graciously signed a copy of Paperbacks From Hell to my mother.
But, wait… in the opening line to this amazing post I said it was Dean Koontz who was the reason you became an author.
Even though I was reading so many books each week of my imprisonment, none caught me as off-guard as the Dean Koontz paperbacks. They weren’t just horror stories to devour and move onto the next. They were literally life-changing to twelve year old me.
I know this isn’t hyperbole. I distinctly remember telling my mother I was going to be a writer someday. She remembers this, and reminds me I should’ve said I wanted to be a rich and famous writer.
Hey, I was twelve. My bad.
Anyway, books like The Vision and Whispers blew my mind. I’d also read some of the novels he’d written under pen-names like The Funhouse and The Eyes of Darkness, not knowing it was Mister Koontz but knowing I loved those books as well.
His writing changed everything for me. I began writing awful rip-
off stories of a few pages, using his character names with slight variations. All set in New Jersey, where I lived. I’d give them to my mother, who’d smile and nod. Poor woman. I’d like to think, thirty-eight years later, I’ve improved a bit.
And so began my love of Dean Koontz and writing stories I hoped to someday sell and make millions. While all of my friends would eventually get into King, I was a Koontz loyalist.
When Phantoms was released, my mother let me read it before she did, knowing I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. The book blew me away and cemented my life’s dream to do this for a living.
No, I never saw the movie. Stop asking.
Without Dean Koontz I might’ve still been an avid horror book reader but maybe not a writer at all. I’d be seated right now in a retail store, on my lunch break, trying to escape my awful life inside the new Koontz book.
Instead, I’m living the dream. If I someday get to meet Mister Koontz, I will tell him all of this. Or, likely, stutter and be unable to form words around the man that taught me words can be a solid living.