Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Truth Really is Relentless

Until I start hitting the delete key I have three drafts on the dashboard. The first -- written earlier this week -- is preachy. (Big surprise there.) The second is whiny. The third is unfunny. What I really want to do is delete them all, close the computer, and walk away. But that's what I did week-before-last. (Last week I had the flu and must, therefore, be immediately forgiven for not even looking at a computer.) Anyway, under the theory that the fourth time is a charm, I'll try one more blog before crawling back in my hole to stay.

It has been recently brought to my attention that this is a writerly kind of place and I am rarely if ever on-topic. Thus, in a radical departure from the norm, I will step gracefully down from my highly inspirational (if often insipid) soapbox and share a few lines from a new novel that have caught my fancy.

Before I do, however, I must make a deep, dark confession: I am probably not nearly as morally affronted by crude language and "graphic realism" as I know I should be. (I'm banking on there being a really good library in heck.) Unfortunately, I can't very well share a guy's words without giving him credit for them, but I want it understood from the start that I am recommending to this particular group neither the book nor the author. (As much as I personally love both.) Do not read Dean Koontz -- especially his early works -- if, like Stephanie, you have eyeballs that are easily burned. Do not even visit the website that I will link to his latest novel. Understood? Then we can proceed.

I absolutely swore that I would not fork out the cover price of Koontz's newest hardcover, Relentless. If I couldn't wait a year for paperback -- and I almost certainly couldn't -- I could certainly wait a few weeks for a library copy. Then I read the flyleaf while waiting in line at the grocery store yesterday and suddenly I couldn't. Wait, that is. For the book, I mean, not for the cashier to check out my groceries. (Sigh. Can you see now why I am going to give up blogging and take up needlepoint?) The premise of this novel is just too good: a bestselling artist and good guy author locked in a classic battle of good vs. evil with a sociopath literary critic.

I bought the book and with 25% off and an in-store coupon good for five bucks, I'd received my money's worth by page 7. I'm not sure just how much one can legally quote in a "review," but I'm going to go out on a limb and lift three whole paragraphs. In the first two, the hero explains his thoughts upon completing the first round of interviews for his new novel, One O'Clock Jump.

After five hours on the radio, I felt as though I might vomit if I heard myself say again the words "One O'Clock Jump." I could see the day coming when, if I was required to do much publicity for a new book, I would write it but not allow its publication until I died.

If you have never been in the public eye, flogging your work like a carnival barker pitching a freak show to the crowd, this publish-only-after-death pledge may seem extreme. But protracted self-promotion drains something essential from the soul, and after one of these sessions, you need weeks to recover and to decide that one day it might be all right to like yourself again.

Seriously, how many of you published authors don't relate to that?

But what really draws me into Koontz's later works is his heart and soul. This passage from the end of Relentless is truly, it seems to me, the man's life thesis:

Evil itself may be relentless, I will grant you that, but love is relentless, too. Friendship is a relentless force. Family is a relentless force. Faith is a relentless force. The human spirit is relentless, and the human heart outlasts -- and can defeat -- even the most relentless force of all, which is time. (Koontz, Dean; Relentless; Bantam Books; Random House, 2009.)

Now, we can argue all week about whether or not good Latter-day Saint writers should read Dean Koontz, let alone emulate him. (Let's not. Argue all week, I mean.) What heartens and amazes and impresses and touches and inspires me about this man and others like him is that he is not preaching to the choir. (Unlike some bloggers we know and love.) Koontz is writing not only to a mainstream audience of millions, but an audience who likely picked up the book looking for the very thing we eschew. They want thrills and heart-pounding suspense and -- while I'll admit that I haven't yet read beyond the third chapter -- I'm sure they'll get it, but look back up at the truth they're going to get with it. This is an author's stewardship at its finest: edifying and inspiring readers who need it most, mostly when they're not looking.

Could Koontz tell the same stories sans language and scenes of a sometimes graphic nature? Of course he could. (And he could do it in iambic pentameter if challenged.) Yet the questions remain: would he draw the same audience if he did, and how great is the value of sowing truth and goodness on as yet uncultivated fields?

Although I am only a distant bystander, and admirer, I've studied the development of Koontz's work and come to believe that the author has deeply considered these questions himself. His early books are . . . well, some of them are ick . . . whereas his later work is much more subtly crafted, though just as terrifying in content and tone. (That said, let me assure you again that as far as he has moved, there remain elements in his works that you would not want to read aloud to your book group on Enrichment night.)

Honest and true, I hesitate to now enter a fray that I've tirelessly ignored lo these many years. But, since one can't preach forever, I'll say that Publishers Weekly nailed it when they stated that Koontz (and his ilk) is "providing terrific entertainment that deals seriously with some of the deepest themes of human existence: the nature of evil, the grip of fate, and the power of love."

Go ye forth, writer, and do the same. But watch your mouths.


At 7/17/2009 3:59 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Ya know, Kerry, I have had Koontz recommended to me many times--I can handle language and stuff too--but I have NEVER actually read one of his books. I loved these excerpts though and I think I'll go put Relentless on hold at the library--great review.

At 7/17/2009 4:16 PM, Anonymous Wm Morris said...

This is excellent, Kerry. Thanks.

At 7/17/2009 4:53 PM, Blogger David J. West said...

I liked that a lot Kerry. I think we should read things of good report regardless of the potentially offending nature because life can be offending. Thats life, and writers write best about life as it is, even if it's fiction.

I'm quite sure that if you were to whip out a seer stone and see events from scripture quite a few are NC-17. Moroni 9 and half the Old Testament. So as I writer I am perfectly alright with pushing the boundarys a little beyond the usual LDS fare and being PG-13.

At 7/17/2009 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read most of Koontz's earliest works, and like you said, they've terrified me and entertained me all the while putting up with the "ick factor." It was only after I read one of your books, Kerry, that I started reading LDS written stories and never looked back. I guess I've neglected poor ol' Dean. Just don't ask me to read anything from Stevie King again. Just ... don't.

Terrific post.


At 7/17/2009 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the relentless quote.

At 7/17/2009 8:27 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

I completely agree. I've read several of his books. I started when one of my children requested a horror book for her birthday. Aghast, and yet wanting her to read, I went to the bookstore and did some research. I landed with Odd Thomas, because although there was the "ick" that she wanted, there was a positive message hidden in there. And then we had some long talks after she read the book.

I've been pleased to find that the more he writes, the more that inner morality shines through. Not what we might call morality, but certainly what "the world" terms morality.

I would seriously love to read similar type stories without the "ick" factor. Anyone out there writing them?

At 7/18/2009 1:33 AM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

Glad to see you back, Kerry! I've only read one book by Dean Koontz, which was Odd Thomas but now I think I might just go for some more.

I really loved this line: This is an author's stewardship at its finest: edifying and inspiring readers who need it most, mostly when they're not looking.

At 7/18/2009 1:52 AM, Blogger Kimberly said...

What a beautiful and inspiring post Kerry. You've crafted a lesson into a simple blog post and built around it edifices of humour and thought-provoking prose. I think I'll find myself thinking back to this for some time to come.

At 7/19/2009 10:55 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I'm a new convert to Koontz. I've read about 4-5 of his books (newer books), and have loved them. Yes, they are dark, but "the good" wins out. The Odd Series is completely fascinating.

At 7/20/2009 2:42 AM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

I'm a long time fan of Koontz. One of my favorites of his is Intensity and its ending line. Though it does have "ick" factors, the "intensity" of feeling that shines through by the end is what endears me to many of his books. Twilight Eyes and Watcher are some of my favorites. It's the message and you're right, it reaches a large audience and reveals a great truth. While his works may not be for all, they have meant a lot to me.

At 7/27/2009 2:41 PM, Blogger Gale Sears said...

Thanks, Kerry. I have not read Koontz yet, though my SIL loves him and has offered to lend me books several times. I have 16 books on my "to be read" shelf, but I think I will slide Relentless into the mix. I do love the quotes, and can relate to the book promotion angst. The final quote you shared was true, true, true...especially for a secular world.


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