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Newport Beach 'Titan of Terror' Cuts Big Deal : Books: Dean R. Koontz parlays string of bestsellers into multimillion-dollar contract with new publisher.

August 13, 1992|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dean R. Koontz was a struggling young Pennsylvania English teacher in 1968 when he sold his first book, an Ace paperback science fiction novel called "Star Quest," for $1,000.

What a difference 24 years and a string of national No. 1 bestsellers makes.

Last week, the Newport Beach man whom People magazine dubbed the "Titan of Terror" left his longtime publisher, the Putnam Berkley Group, and signed with Alfred A. Knopf and Ballantine Books for what is rumored to be $18 million to $20 million for his next three books.

"That's very close," Koontz acknowledged with a laugh this week. "It was substantial enough to make me happy."

But the rumors don't stop there.

It is also rumored that Koontz will receive $10 million to $12 million for the paperback reprint rights to seven of his old novels. Koontz, who has been asked by his new publisher to keep precise contract figures confidential, said he will neither conform nor deny the rumor. But he did say it's "pretty close."

Although few authors reach such stratospheric pay scales, Orange County's highest-paid author has a way to go to rival best-selling thriller author Tom Clancy. The Putnam Berkley Group, according to Variety, is paying Clancy what may be the biggest advance ever for a single book: $14 million to $23 million for his next novel, "Without Remorse."

Koontz, whose last four suspense thrillers have shot to the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, had been with Putnam for 15 years.

"Putnam and I had a lot of successes together, and it was a long relationship," he said, "but there were a number of disagreements--a lot of them were creative--and I was a little disturbed about some of that."

Koontz said he left the publishing house "with considerable regret. I like long-term relationships; I don't jump around much."

Actually, Koontz has two more novels due out from Putnam under his old contract: "Dragon Tears," which will be published in January, and another, untitled novel that he must complete by the end of this year. (His first novel for Knopf won't arrive in bookstores until early 1994.)

Koontz said his mega-deal with Knopf and Ballantine (both are imprints of Random House, with Ballantine publishing the paperback versions of his novels) was "settled within a few days. It was very quick, very easy."

But that doesn't compare with how quickly the deal for his first novel was settled.

Twenty-four years ago, Ace gave him a "take it or leave it" offer, and Koontz, who was writing in his spare time and trying to make ends meet as a teacher, said it took him less than a minute to accept.

*

"A Great Deliverance," Huntington Beach writer Elizabeth George's debut British mystery novel, has been optioned for an undisclosed sum by an independent film company for a four-hour miniseries on British television.

The 1988 novel, which introduced Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Detective Sgt. Barbara Havers, revolves around the gruesome murder of a Yorkshire farmer whose catatonic daughter is found seated near the corpse.

The script will be written by Rosemary Anne Sisson, whose credits include "Upstairs, Downstairs," "The Duchess of Duke Street" and "The Six Wives of Henry VIII."

"I look forward to seeing what they will do with it on the screen," said George, a former El Toro High School English teacher who has been favorably compared to British mystery master P.D. James. "I have a lot of faith in this particular film company (Film and General Productions) because we seem to share the same vision of what the series should be like."

Although no British air date has been set, George said that WGBH, the major PBS station in Boston, has already expressed interest in the miniseries after seeing Sisson's screen treatment of the book.

Because of the novel's complex plot and large cast of characters, George believes "A Great Deliverance" lends itself well to a four-hour production. She had no interest in selling the book to Hollywood.

"Hollywood generally doesn't do a terrific job with British material," she said. "The nice thing about this company is we all agree that we don't want a big name playing Lynley.

Indeed, George said she's looking forward to seeing who is chosen to play Lynley, the introspective and aristocratic sleuth.

"For the Sake of Elena," George's fifth British mystery featuring Lynley and Havers, is now in bookstores. The book, which deals with the death of a college professor's daughter at Cambridge University, has hit best-seller lists San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and Canada.

George will sign copies of her new book from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Ave, Orange. She'll also sign from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Southern California Home and Garden Show in the Anaheim Convention Center.

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