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Slow, Steady Koontz Is Suddenly on Top

February 11, 1989|DENNIS McLELLAN

Now that he's made it to the top of the nation's premiere best seller list, Dean R. Koontz can think about retiring his reputation for being "the least-known best-selling author in America."

On Sunday Koontz's new novel, "Midnight," soared to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best seller list. The mainstream thriller had entered the list only the week before--and that was based on just 3 days of sales.

"We were astonished," said Koontz, 43, who lives with his wife, Gerda, in the hills east of Orange. "I've been jumping up and down so much my ankle joints are beginning to give out, but it's a lot of fun."

"Midnight" has also hit the No. 1 spots on the Los Angeles Times and Publisher's Weekly best seller lists and, according to Koontz, just about every other list in the country. The highest position Koontz had ever reached on the New York Times list came in 1988 when his thriller "Lightning" rose to No. 6.

Koontz said his phone hasn't stopped ringing since Sunday's New York Times hit the streets.

"It seems like I've heard from everyone I ever worked with in publishing all these years," said Koontz, who began publishing in 1969. "When someone has been around a long time and makes it to this degree, it seems to please people in the industry because current wisdom is that you have to make it quick and fast with a lot of hype. Making it slow by writing better books and improving your skills over a lot of years is an old-fashioned approach and it gives editors who love books the feeling that the book itself actually matters, not just the hype."

As has been his policy in the past, Koontz said he has been avoiding doing publicity for "Midnight."

"I told Putnam I couldn't do anything for this book because I'm desperately trying to finish the next one. I have no time for it," he said.

In fact, despite his best seller status since 1981, the author of "Whispers" and "Strangers" has never done an author tour and has largely avoided the national media, particularly television, to promote his books.

"No. 1, I'm always working on something else, and that's more exciting to me than going out and pitching books," he said, adding that he'd also like to retain as much anonymity as possible. A writer, he said, "is an observer, and if you're aware of other people watching you, it's harder to watch them."

The best-selling "master of menace" is, after all, one low-key kind of guy.

The day he and Gerda heard "Midnight" had gone to top of the New York Times best seller list, Koontz decided to celebrate by doing something "self-indulgent" and going out for a celebratory dinner afterward.

"All I ended up buying was a sport coat," he said with a laugh. "And we went out and had salad for dinner. We're going to have to work real hard on being self-indulgent and celebrating."

Mystery Writer: Elizabeth George of Huntington Beach said she was thrilled to learn last week that her 1988 British detective novel, "A Great Deliverance," has been nominated by Mystery Writers of America for its "best first novel" award. The novel, published by Bantam Books, was among five books nominated nationally. The winner will be announced at an awards dinner in New York on May 11.

Opera Star: Dame Joan Sutherland will sign copies of her record albums at Rizzoli's Book Store in South Coast Plaza from 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday. Sutherland, who is appearing in Opera Pacific's production of "Norma" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, will be accompanied by her husband, maestro Richard Bonynge.

Readers Theater: Steve Mellow's Readers' Theater will be presented at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Elan Gallery in Laguna Beach, 1145 S. Coast Highway. In the spirit of the opening of a new one-man exhibition by French satirist Francis Meyrier, the readings will be from French and English satirical writings.

Mellow's Readers' Theater also will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Scribner Book Store in Crystal Court at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa. The readings will be from modern story tellers: Jeffrey Archer, T.C. Boyle, Harlan Ellison, Isaac Bashevis Singer and Barry Yourgrau. pichar

Humbug Witch: Lorna Balian, author of "Humbug Witch" and "Humbug Rabbit" will sign copies of her books from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday at the Children's Bookshoppe, 1831 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach.

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