A Pair of Old Workhorses Walk Into A Bar

Actually that’s not true. We didn’t walk into a bar at all, but last week Catherine Coulter and I sat down together in the privacy of our own homes to do a Zoom event for this summer’s upcoming ThrillerFest sponsored by International Thriller Writers. Our task assignment was to discuss creating characters. I’m not entirely sure we followed through on that, but we had a lot of fun.

On the improbable chance that you’re not familiar with Catherine’s work, she started out writing romances, the her first one of which was published in 1979, six years before my first Beau book came out in 1985. According to her that made both of us a pair of dinosaurs who started out using computers with floppy discs. Anybody remember those?

Our paths to writing were similar in that writing was what we wanted to do for as long as we could remember. She wrote her first fifteen-page novels while still a teenager, and we had wake up moments when, after reading someone else’s stumble-bum effort, we both looked up from those pages and realized we could do better.

We both started out writing “genre” fiction published in “original paperback,” form, something the snobby elites of literary fiction look down on as the bargain basement of publishing. For those of you who are unaware of this, paperbacks were first published by Avon Books starting in World War II. They were designed to be small enough to be carried in service men’s pockets, hence the name “pocket books.”

I’m very proud of my connection to those original original paperbacks. I have a feeling that many a young soldier heading off to war overseas was able to lie in his bunk on some moving warship and find comfort by getting lost in one of those budget-friendly fictional creations.

Writing the above reminded me of something. Years ago, as a volunteer for the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, my assignment was to pick up an editor from NYC when her incoming flight arrived at SeaTac and drive her to the conference at Pacific Lutheran University south of Tacoma. At that point my books were all still original paperbacks. While she sat riding in my vehicle being driven by someone who had hauled her luggage out to the curb, she deigned to tell me that “original paperbacks is where anybody who wants to get published can get published.”

Well, thanks a whole hell of a lot! I took her where she was going and dropped her and her luggage at the designated location. I have NO idea how she got back to the airport, but I sure as hell didn’t drive her. For all I know, she’s still lost out there, wandering around in the woods outside Tacoma!

But back to Catherine and yours truly. We have a lot in common. For one thing, we’ve both written a LOT of books. Many of hers were Regency Romances. With a masters degree in European History in her background, she says she still speaks “fluent Regency,” and these days, as a fellow “woman of a certain age,” she has cut back from writing two novels a year to writing one FBI novel and one Regency novella.

With extensive catalogs of work in our both our backgrounds, there are words other people use to describe us that drive us nuts. Catherine hates it when someone says, “So you’ve churned out another one.” In my case, the trigger word is “prolific.” Both of those terms imply that we simply pop books out with the ease of toast emerging from a toaster—no muss or fuss. I can assure you that for both of us, a whale of a lot of diligent work and thought goes into each individual volume.

More than four decades later, both Catherine and I are still with our original literary agents, the ones who were willing to take us on to begin with. Over the years, publishers have changed and many editors have come and gone, but it turns out we’re both one-agent writers.

And both of us are fortunate in having wonderfully supportive and helpful husbands. When I’m writing a book, Bill is my first reader. He’s also the guy who helps me with tech issues both in real life and in my fictional world as well. Catherine’s husband, a physician, is her go-to-guy for all things having to do with medicine.

The first time I remember meeting Catherine in person was at the National Book Festival on the Mall in DC years ago. Our most recent “live” appearance together was at the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books where we did a panel under a tent that was full of a standing room only crowd.

The Zoom event we did last week will only be available to attendees of Thrillerfest. If you’re interested in attending, you can Google Thrillerfest 2021. That way you’ll be able to see which other authors, prolific or otherwise, will be in attendance. We did talk some about the origins of our characters, but this was mostly an author-to-author chat between two old broads who have been walking similar paths for a very long time.

As for people who read this blog? You’ve now had access to an unauthorized preview of coming attractions.

As for that snooty editor from New York? I believe she just reminded me of a song.

Did she ever return?
No, she never returned,
And her fate is still unlearned,
What a pity, may she wander forever
In the woods of Tacoma,
The editor who never returned!