Thursday, March 14, 2013

There are authors, and then there are authors

By Gayle Carline

I met Dean Koontz a couple of weeks ago. Every time I type that sentence, I have to pause for a moment to run around my house and squeal like a schoolgirl.

Me, Dean, and my hubby Dale

Frankly, I have to do that even when I think that sentence.

Dean was our guest speaker at the 2013 Placentia Library Friends Foundation Author's Luncheon. It is our largest fundraiser every year, and this year we set a record for money raised. Two years ago, I wrote a letter to Dean, asking him to appear at our luncheon. Believe me, I've been the belle of the ball in my community because he said yes, although I truly don't feel like I deserve the accolades. I wrote a letter, Folks. You can, too.

To say that Dean Koontz and I are both authors is like saying that these two are both cats:

Koontz is from the old school, where an author could actually make money being with a major publisher. He's prolific and hard working, with a normal schedule of ten hours a day, six days a week. Because I got to introduce him at our luncheon, I looked up some statistics on his best sellers, etc. The only number I want you to know is that he has sold over 450 million books.

Try to let that number sink in before you continue.

As famous and rich as he is, Dean is equally gracious and charming. His speech was full of hysterically funny stories. Even if I had not gotten to sit next to him at lunch, I still would consider this a highlight of my year, if not my life.

The thing I admire about Dean Koontz is not just his writing, but the choices he made with his life, given his childhood. He was raised in poverty. His father was a violent alcoholic. His mother died when he was on the young-ish side. I have seen these kids. Know a few of them. Too many times, they tell the world they will never go down that road, and end up being just like their parents anyway.

Koontz didn't. He found solace in reading and writing. He found a true soul mate in his wife. He avoided the many pitfalls of the children of alcoholics and built a life of calm out of chaos.

Even if you don't like his writing, how can you not admire him?

Koontz got me thinking about other authors I admire for more than their words. A couple of them came to mind.

James Thurber. I fell in love with his humor essays as a freshman in high school, and I confess, I owe as much of my humor writing to him as to my other humor-idol, Erma Bombeck. I visited the James Thurber House and Museum in Columbus, Ohio a few years back and was overwhelmed by the man's simple-yet-complex life.

The unicorn in his garden.

I knew that Thurber had problems with his eyesight, which was already poor before his brother accidentally shot him in the eye with an arrow. What I didn't know was that he kept drawing cartoons and writing beyond the point where he was legally blind. In his house, there are huge - and I mean wall-sized pieces of board, each one with a super-size sketch. A photograph shows Thurber hunched over one of these walls, wearing glasses that can only be described as a contraption, making thick strokes of one of his famous dogs.

I left that house amazed. Thurber's will to create was stronger than his physical limitations. At some point, wouldn't you say, "Hey, I'm freakin' blind here. I can't draw stuff anymore."

Speaking of humor, Erma Bombeck is also one of my idols. Although she teased and made fun of her life as a wife and mother, the underlying mood of each piece was that she wouldn't have done anything different. To see this woman who stood for home and hearth, even in a funny way, standing up for women's rights was a revelation to me as a young girl. Housewives can be activists? Wow! Erma was even involved with the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women, trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified. You go, girl.

I'm going to throw Ray Bradbury into the mix here, too. My admiration for him stems from the fact that I consider him hopefully naïve. I heard him tell his story at quite a few functions. Some of the details changed, but overall, his description of his life went something like this: "I decided I wanted to <do X, meet Y, etc>. So I did it." There was never any hint that he doubted his ability to, oh, meet John Huston for example. I always think of him handing me a big stick to beat my own insecurities down with.

Who are the authors you most admire beyond their works?


  1. Thanks for an enjoyable post, Gayle. Stephen King comes to mind because he conquered some serious addictions midlife and had the courage to keep writing even though he feared he'd lost his muse.

    I'm currently looking for a famous guest of honor for the 2015 Left Coast Crime, and I'm open to suggestions.

  2. While not a fan of Koontz, it is an inspiring story, and what a thrill for you to meet him, Gayle.

  3. To be honest, I know very little about the personal lives of any famous authors. I do have a photo myself and Jeff Deavers on my digital frame though. I enjoyed meeting him—he's very funny—but I don't know anything about his childhood or background or have any reason to admire him other than that he's written some good books.

    I think it's wonderful that you've had the opportunity to feel a connection to such a varied group.

  4. What an interesting, inspiring story, Gayle! Thanks for sharing it with us! Dean Koontz is a genius in so many ways, I think, even though not all of his novels are my cup of tea. To think he had the strength and determination to rise above that kind of childhood to succeed as he has is truly inspirational! Thanks for sharing that info about him, and the others.


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