KJ Howe: When an iconic author like Dean Koontz takes on a road-trip story, I’m always up for a ride. And the book brought the serpentine twists and brilliant characterization that are always part of a Koontz novel. Perhaps you’ll enjoy Dean’s analysis of road-trip books and discover why QUICKSILVER will quickly become a fan favorite! Welcome, Dean!
By Dean Koontz
I love road-trip stories. Some road-trip stories. Butch Cassidy and Sundance went on something of a road trip with horses and jumped off a cliff at the end of act three. Thelma and Louise drove off a cliff. Reading On the Road made me want to run headlong off a cliff. Not my kind of road-trip stories.
Because I’m an optimistic guy who likes people, when I write a novel built around a road trip, none of the sympathetic leads will plunge a thousand feet to his or her death, or smash into a concrete wall at a hundred miles an hour, or be obliterated on a desert highway by an Acme death machine operated by Wile E. Coyote.
If those are the fates you prefer to see the lead characters meet, you would be well advised not to purchase my new novel, Quicksilver, in which the characters are harried across Arizona. In addition, you might want to consider having a psychiatric evaluation.
In The Road, the bleakest road-trip novel ever written, the brilliant Cormac McCarthy allowed one sympathetic character to die of disease, but not another, and though he destroyed most of the world, he didn’t destroy every last spec of it. Indeed, on the final page, in two moving paragraphs, he speaks of the mystery of existence and suggests that even in the wake of Armageddon and the near extinction of all life, there is hope. I’ll take that ending, even sigh with contentment, rather than endure one in which the narrative ends in absolute extinction. Call me a sentimental fool.
The idea for Quicksilver began as an intriguing image that came to me: a lonely, two-lane, desert highway; a white bassinette on the dividing line; a three-day-old baby abandoned therein, with a name——Quinn Quicksilver——pinned to his blanket. I have no idea why things like this come into my mind. I have considered undergoing a psychiatric evaluation of my own——but then I remember that Hannibal Lecter was a psychiatrist.
I didn’t want to write a novel with a baby as the lead (a bit too Avant Garde), so I knew we would begin with the character now nineteen and briefly recounting his time as an orphan. I figured anyone who had been through what he had endured would have a wry sense of humor. Therefore, this is the second paragraph of the novel, in his voice:
“Although you might think that this was about as bad a start in life as one could have, I assure you it could have been worse. For one thing, this was coyote country. Had one of those creatures found me, it wouldn’t have suckled me as did the wolf that saved Romulus, the founder of Rome, but instead would have regarded me as a Grub Hub delivery. I could also have been run over by an eighteen-wheeler and turned into pate for vultures.”
As soon as I heard his voice, I liked this guy. I didn’t want to see him drive off or fall off or be thrown off a cliff. But because I write novels that have a certain velocity with characters in high peril, I knew that, after ignoring him for nineteen years, everyone in the world would suddenly be after him when he was out of the orphanage. But why? When I understood why (which I won’t reveal here), a chill went through me, and then I laughed out loud, and then I had a glass of good cabernet sauvignon to celebrate, which is a better idea than having a psychiatric evaluation.
By the end of chapter two, after government thugs from the Internal Security Agency try to arrest him in a diner while he’s having lunch, Quinn Quicksilver is on the run: “At the back door, I snatched a fire extinguisher off its wall mount and threw open the door, expecting machine-gun fire. The guy in the alley was wearing jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, but he was big and alert. He said, ‘Hey there, boy-o.’ No normal person calls a stranger ‘boy-o,’ so I figured he was ISA, and I foamed him relentlessly with the fire extinguisher. As he staggered around like Frosty the Snowman dissolving in the Phoenix sunshine, I ran west, carrying the extinguisher just in case I might encounter another overheated federal employee.”
Moments later, Quinn is in flight, and the pleasures of writing a road-trip story are manifest. I believe that good writing requires vivid depictions of the human environment, the natural world, and the weather, which all should serve the mood of a scene and the themes of the novel. One strength of a road-trip story is that its numerous locations and conditions provide a potentially invigorating, enchanting variety of images.