More Than 245 Meet Author Catherine Coulter For Free at the Ferguson Center

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Her characters sometimes name themselves, tell her what to write and notify her when a plot twist just isn’t working. So said Catherine Coulter, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, speaking to an audience of more than 245 on Oct. 27 at Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts.

"Sometimes characters are talking so fast, it’s hard to keep up with them. I’m just a conduit for them," said Coulter, the author of 67 novels, including 60 New York Times bestsellers. "Characters ask, ‘What about me?’"

In response to an audience member asking whether she had any idea what a book would be about before writing it, she clarified. "Once in a great while, I’ll know what I’m going to write when I go down to my office. Characters will tell you it won’t work, and you know, that’s your gut talking."

The author talk and book-signing was presented free to the public by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, which consists of the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College.

Coulter talked about the Nov. 1 release of “Prince of Ravenscar” as she paced the stage of the Music & Theatre Hall in bright red high heels, using humor to engage the audience in conversation about her characters, novels and publishing.

Her first job after graduate school was speechwriter for an actuarial firm on Wall Street. When she and her physician husband moved to San Francisco for his residency, she began reading lots of books, flinging one across the room, exclaiming, “I can do better,” she said. “This turns out to be very common.”

Her first novel was “The Autumn Countess,” a Regency romance published in 1978. “As any published author will tell you, it's best to limit the unknowns in a first book, and not only had I grown up reading Georgette Heyer, whom I worship, but I earned my M.A. degree in 19th century European history and could fit right into Napoleon's army, or beat his butt with Wellington," she said.

By 1981, she couldn’t afford to keep her day job and began writing full-time, she said. In 1995, she added her bestselling “FBI Suspense Thrill Series” to her repertoire.

She was given the opportunity to tour the FBI several months before Sept. 11, 2011, which was fortunate, she said. “After 9/11, even a mouse couldn’t get in.”

But it is a bureaucracy, she said, “So when I run into a problem, I ask myself what would be common sense – and write the opposite.”

She said that she enjoys switching between the widely disparate genres of historical romance and suspense thriller. “It’s nonconstipating.”

She writes about eight to 10 pages a day as “pantser,” by the seat of her pants, rather than plotting it out, she said, and always starts by rewriting what she wrote the day before. “When I sit at my computer, I’m writing a scene, not a whole book,” she said.

She finishes a novel in eight months, taking only a one week break before starting the next, and is always looking forward to the next one. Reflecting on her 67 novels, she joked several times, “That’s a lot of words. If you couldn’t repeat words, you’d be in deep trouble. … You always remember your first book, when you first see it and hold it in your hands. You’re looking at it and thinking, ‘that’s my name on it,’” she said. “You don’t remember the others, and that’s too bad.”

She shared personal stories of working with editors and publishers and the one agent she has had since 1981. She said that each author needs something different from an agent, and that calls for agents to wear a lot of hats. “I wanted a shark,” she said. “I got one.”

“My agent sends me 24 long-stemmed yellow roses, my favorite, when I’ve made No. 1. … And if the roses don’t arrive, you just say, ‘Oh, shit.’”

Publishing is changing so quickly now, she said, that something that happened three weeks ago is dated. Like most authors, she was against eBooks two years ago, she said, but embraces them now because the publisher is more in control.

“It’s a very interesting world,” she said. “There are so many ways to get published now that weren’t available a few years ago.”

Coulter capped the evening with a book-signing in which she signed every book, posed for photos and personally engaged with each person in line, including Beth and Dan Castaneda, who drove six hours from New Jersey to meet Coulter and get her to sign about 20 books.

“She jumps for joy when she hears Catherine Coulter,” said Dan of his wife, who tries to collect all of her books. “I enjoyed this. She’s very good at entertaining,” Dan said. “She explained how authors work, how characters get in the books – all with humor and candor. You name it, she had it.”

The Catherine Coulter event was the fifth free author event sponsored by the Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium, which presented the best-selling authors Amy Tan in 2007, Walter Mosley in 2008, David Baldacci in 2009 and Orson Scott Card in 2010. The Consortium formed in 2006 to encourage the study and enjoyment of books and to foster cooperation among all types of libraries on the Peninsula.

A grant in the amount of $1,250 was given to the Consortium to present the Coulter event by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The event also is supported by donations from local organizations. Barnes & Noble Booksellers were on site to sell Coulter’s books.

The Virginia Peninsula Literary Consortium brings together the public libraries of Newport News, Hampton, Poquoson and York County and the academic libraries of Christopher Newport University, Hampton University and Thomas Nelson Community College, collectively serving all residents of the Virginia Peninsula. Programs presented by the Consortium are free and open to the public. For more information on Consortium programs, please call 757-926-1350 or visit www.thevplc.org/.