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The SALON - Winter 2014-15
Meet and mingle with the Literati—BYO wine and cheese
Interview by Perry King
License to Thrill
Author Catherine Coulter has written 73 books and counting, nearly every one of them hitting the New York Times and major bestseller lists. She earned her reputation writing historical romances and in 1996 added suspense thrillers to her repertoire—with great success. The Cove, the first book in her wildly popular FBI Suspense Thriller series, spent nine weeks on the New York Times list and has to date sold well over 2 million copies.
Her 18th FBI thriller, Power Play, was released in July 2014. Coulter has now partnered with bestselling author J.T. Ellison on a new suspense thriller series, A Brit in the FBI. The first book, The Final Cut (2013), was a bestselling hit. The second book, The Lost Key, which came out in September 2014, has been hailed by critics as "hair-raising" and "unputdownable."
Coulter grew up on a horse ranch in Texas, graduated from the University of Texas, and received her graduate degree from Boston College. She became a speechwriter on Wall Street then, to her joy, was able to quit her day job and become a full-time writer. She lives in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three cats.
MillValleyLit knows that Catherine Coulter’s dedication to exercise has definitely kept those fingers flying across the keyboard. We were delighted to spend some time with her, and was thrilled that I was a namesake character, Perry, in Power Play.
MillValleyLit: Catherine, your books are very topical and well researched. How do you approach research: specifically the inner workings of the FBI with Power Play and the computer wizardry and frightening spying technology in The Lost Key?
Coulter: How do I approach research? The thing is I have to come up with the exact point of the research first, and believe me, that sometimes takes a while, but when I know what I need, I have an excellent assistant who's a whiz on the computer and searches out my most esoteric questions. I've got to say too that having a very good friend at FBI headquarters, "Disney Land East" in Washington D.C., is very very helpful. If she doesn't know an answer, she finds out or puts me in touch with someone who's an expert. (Thank you, Angela.) You mentioned the terrifying nano spying technology in THE LOST KEY. This is thanks to J.T. Ellison (my co-writer in this series) She loves this stuff. She consumes it, researches it and makes it work. She herself is a computer wizard and I've got to say that's a wonderful thing. So when it comes to research, there are a lot of brains at work here, and I mix all the ingredients and make one big pie.
MillValleyLit: Tell us about personal influences on your literary career—relatives, teachers, friends who inspired you to read or write?
Coulter: When I was three years old, I remember very clearly sitting on my grandmother's lap, and she's holding a book in front of us and reading aloud to me. She's moving her finger over the words as she reads them, which, I'm convinced is why I'm a fast reader. She also made up "Tricker" stories for me. Tricker was a mischievous little fellow the size of a grown-up's thumb—ah, what an imagination she had. It's sad, but I can't remember any of the stories now. My mom also read to me all the time until I learned how to read when I was five. And let me preach a moment: READ TO YOUR CHILDREN. I love in particular Georgette Heyer, a British author who actually invented the Regency Romance—an extraordinary talent. So a lot of people poured water into the well and it was up to me to bring up the bucket.
MillValleyLit: Your novels excel in dialogue and exposition. What were your dialogue influences and how did your experience as a speechwriter help you?
Coulter: What a lovely thing to say. Actually, I've always been "dialogue" heavy, and where does it come from? I'm not lying here, I swear, when characters are talking in my head, all I'm doing is typing as fast as I can so as not to miss anything. This is not The Twilight Zone. Ask other authors and you'll find a colony of spooks. Did speech writing help? Well, it sure added to my hamper of jokes, but I'd have to say no, it had no bearing.
MillValleyLit: What was the motivation to shift from romance to thrillers?
Coulter: I didn't switch, I simply added to. Let me put it this way, these are two very disparate genres. Writing only one genre makes the above mentioned well run dry. Thankfully, I've found that to keep my brain unconstipated, I need to switch from one genre to the other—it's refreshing and fun. For example, in the thrillers, it's all about pacing and blood-curdling explosions of action and terror and suspense. In the historical romances, if I want, I can take us all to the cat races. Actually, I've finished NEMESIS, the 19th FBI thriller for the summer of 2015, and so I'm writing a historical romance novella about a character I really like.
MillValleyLit: How has it been working with the co-author J.T. Ellison?
Coulter: J.T. is here at my house this week. We'll brainstorm the second half of ZERO HOUR, the third Nicholas Drummond international thriller. Do you know I never planned on the series being international, but that's the way it's worked out. And going around the world is what really differentiates between A BRIT in the FBI series from my Savich and Sherlock FBI series.
J.T. copies my style beautifully, she's a computer fiend, so smart it's scary, and she's become one of my best friends. In short, I see no divorce in our future.
MillValleyLit: As a self proclaimed "pantser" (writing from the seat of one’s pants), what are the advantages to "pantsing?" Do use any pre-determined plot points as you conceive of your novels? How do you approach and decide upon the ideas and storyline?
Coulter: Alas, J.T. is also a pantser, but with THE LOST KEY, we sat across from each other and brainstormed each chapter up to chapter 96, this from two authors who can't plot their way out of a paper bag. We used maybe 85 percent of what we'd outlined. Will this phenomenon continue? Stay tuned. The thing is, each book is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. Me, I really like peanuts. Being a pantser has handicaps, sure, but not knowing every little thing about the plot makes it more interesting for me. Sometimes I wake up in the morning, wow, gob smacked by an epiphany and everything clarifies, sharpens, and I can't wait to get it all down on the page.
MillValleyLit: Thank you for your time and we look forward to your upcoming novels.
Terse titles—a Coulter trademark. Vol. 18 of her FBI thrillers.
MillValleyLit Editor Perry King is listed on Acknowledgements page in Catherine Coulter's FBI thriller POWER PLAY for a character based on Perry's name.
----------------------------Regency Historical Romances as a Kindle collection—a whopping 1283 pages!
The Cove launched her FBI Thrillers in 2003 and was called "Romantic Suspense at its best!"
Recent MillValleyLit interviews include:
David Harris, Tom Barbash, T.C. Boyle, Louis B. Jones, Peter Coyote, Beat expert\biographer\poet Gerald Nicosia, rockin' writer Deborah Grabien, DeLorean Auto CFO Walter Strycker, audiobook narrators Simon Vance and Paul Castanzo.
Available in Stacks
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the Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW
J. Macon King, O'Hanlon Center for the Arts reading, 10-2014
John Macon King is Publisher of The MILL VALLEY LITERARY REVIEW. John wrote and directed for Rhubarb Revue Theatre and his writing has been featured in the Marin IJ, San Francisco Marina Times, San Francisco's Beat Museum and various magazines. He has given invited readings at the Book Depot, the Sweetwater, Sausalito Women’s Club, Mill Valley Outdoor Art Club, O'Hanlon Center for the Arts, and Words Off Paper.
After penning several screenplays, he nestled them in his desk drawer, safe from the money and glamour of Hollywood. King’s upcoming novel, Circus of the Sun, tells us: "Amidst the sexual and cultural frenzy of '79 San Francisco, a volatile musician is beguiled by an incandescent artist and her entourage, unveiling disturbing past relationships."
King explains how MillValleyLit came to be:
Q. What was your background for this literary venture?
A. I have always enjoyed a passion for reading, writing and the creative community. While earning a Creative Arts degree I worked in a library and then as a manager at the bustling SFSU bookstore. In Marin I found a niche as a marketing consultant for LucasArts and basked in the creativity at Skywalker Ranch. In 2000 I revived the Rhubarb Revue community theater, after its seven year closure, to encourage regular folks to take to the stage and perform along with seasoned performers. This same concept I applied to MillValleyLit - mixing emerging writers with published authors. The Rhubarb continues to be a venue for local writers and talent. http://tamvalley.org/rhubarb2012.shtml
Q. You have had previous experience as Editor of a community newspaper and web site?
A. Yes. Four friends and I put out an underground newspaper in high school when our work was censored in the school paper. This was small town midwest in the early 70's and the paper, and our audaciousness, were very controversial. No students had ever done that in the entire school district. We had Freshmen passing them out at the Homecoming Parade! The principal grilled the prime suspects, and really wanted to expell us, but he couldn't prove it was us. Emboldened, we printed two or three more issues. Ironically, the bigger secret was we were printing them at a local church! A sympathetic minister believed in our 1st Ammendment rights. The premier issue was called "The Dove" (you know, anti-Vietnam) and then we changed the name to "The Cynic," I suppose more properly reflecting our attitudes. At our high school reunions teachers and classmates were still talking about it.
With that depth of experience, I became Editor in Chief for The Progress TVIC newsletter which at times went to 2,500 homes in Tam Valley. After negotiating with Marin County to assume the name and site, we launched www.tamvalley.org as our own Tam Valley Improvement Club site. It was really the first neighborhood web site. I soon gave up on expensive paper, printing and mailings.
Q. Besides the poetry readings did you participate in other groups?
A. I took several writing seminars including Syd Field and Robert McKee. McKee's was a huge group, but a handful of us went to lunch with him every day of the seminar. I knew the Van Ness\Polk (SF) area well so I helped pick the spots. That was fantastic. For a number of years I was the only male in an engaging Mill Valley book club led by Barbara Nelson. The women were supportive and interested in hearing a masculine perspective, which I did my best to uphold. MillValleyLit developed from all those experiences.
Q. What other contributions have you made in the community?
A. My secret identity is the meek mild-mannered computer consultant known as Computer Whiz. I specialize in helping small businesses and home offices. Besides the Rhubarb Revue, my community activities formerly included: Vice President of the Tam Valley Improvement Club (TVIC), Founder and Chair of T.V. Services District's Revitalization and Safety Commission, President of the Marin BNI Power Lunch, Tam Valley School Technology Coordinator, and consultant to three successful local political campaigns.
San Francisco Magazine Feb. 2014 http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/the-literary-review-disrupted
Marin Magazine June issue: "Local Literature" at top of page 30. Marin Magazine is available by subscription, on select newsstands, and a snazzy digital version at: http://digital.marinmagazine.com/marinmagazine/june_2013#pg1
Mill Valley Herald's front page interview with King: http://www.marinscope.com/mill_valley_herald/news/article_3329e140-8c20-11e2-91d0-001a4bcf887a.html
Harris photos, Farina bench - J. King
King headshot, OTR shirt phots - Perry King
Additional photos by J. Macon King except some stock promotional book jackets, posters, archival, or credited.
© MillValleyLit. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any material without permission is strictly prohibited.
All writing, submissions, and comments are the views of the respective authors and interviewees do not necessarily reflect the views of MillValleyLit or Editorial staff.