One of the most popular writers of chillers and horror thrillers of the 1980s and '90s, Dean Koontz has been a regular denizen of the bestseller lists and a somewhat less frequent contributor to movies and television (as a screenwriter, occasional executive producer, and author of several source novels). Born Dean Ray Koontz in 1945 in Everett, PA, he attended Shippensburg State College and worked for an anti-poverty program as a teacher and counselor during the mid- to late '60s. He wrote in his spare time, and later took a job as a high school English teacher outside of Harrisburg. It was with the support of his wife, Gerda, that Koontz had the opportunity to pursue writing full-time during the 1970s, a period in which he wrote novels in various genres, including romances and thrillers, under a multitude of pseudonyms, including David Axton, Deanna Dwyer, Leonard Chris, Leigh Nichols, K.R. Dwyer, John Hill, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, Aaron Wolfe, and Brian Coffey.
Koontz's breakthrough into movies took place in the mid-'70s when his 1973 novel Demon Seed, about a computer with an almost human desire to procreate, was sold to MGM. The subsequent film, despite its extremely unpleasant concept and graphics (Julie Christie playing the scientist's wife who is raped and impregnated by the machine), did respectable if not overly profitable business, and eventually made it to prime-time television, developing a cult following in the process for the author. Koontz was still a long way from success, however, and he often found himself taking on projects that well-established authors might have rejected. One of these was the novelization of the screenplay for an upcoming movie entitled The Funhouse. The film, to be directed by Tobe Hooper (who had already established himself with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), was anticipated eagerly, and Koontz, writing under the name Owen West, accepted the project. He broke many of the usual rules for novelizations, utilizing the screenplay directly for only the final quarter of the book. Finding the characters inadequately drawn and their motivations almost nonexistent, he fleshed out the figures and the backstory of the characters in the first three quarters of the novel in directions that were scarcely suggested in the script. More than a movie tie-in, the resulting book was really a free-standing work in its own right, and it intersected with territory akin to that of such writers as Stephen King and John Saul. Laced with vivid (and up close and personal) visions of insanity and obsession, disquieting notions of Catholic guilt, and grisly depictions of maiming and slaughter (usually seen from the victim's point-of-view), the book was a runaway hit, despite the fact that movie it was intended to promote ended up being released many months after the novel's publication. Ironically, the movie turned out to be nowhere near as good as hoped, and was so lackluster that it killed the novel in the marketplace, despite the latter's having gone through multiple printings and chalked up close to a million sales.
In the years that followed, Koontz developed a serious audience and began topping the bestseller lists regularly. The secret of his success lay in his ability to create likable, easy to identify with, and believable characters and place them in macabre or mindbendingly futuristic situations -- by the mid-'80s he was sufficiently respected to serve as president of the Horror Writers Association. (Ironically, The Funhouse enjoyed a serious reputation among his fans, but it would be 14 years before the book saw print again, this time credited to Koontz). Subsequently, his books Watchers, Whispers, and Hideaway were adapted to the screen, and he wrote the screenplay for the film version of Phantoms (1998). Several of his novellas and short stories have also served as sources for movies and television shows. Koontz had become something of a "franchise" author, similar to Stephen King or Tom Clancy, with a sufficiently wide following to rate his name going into the title and credits of miniseries (Dean Koontz's Black River) and made-for-television movies (Dean Koontz's Mr. Murder) as a selling point.