The Big Thrill Interview with Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison
By Jeremy Burns
Simon and Garfunkel. Siegfried and Roy. Bert and Ernie. Some duos are just destined to be legendary, and if the upcoming collaboration between two industry veterans is any indication, Coulter and Ellison may soon be joining that list. Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison are joining forces in their new book THE FINAL CUT, which will launch a fascinating new spin-off series for their respective brands. To help spread the word about this new project, Catherine and J.T. sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take us behind the scenes – and to provide plenty of entertainment along the way!
Tell us a little about yourselves.
CC: I wrote my first book while aboard the ark. When the ark landed in Manhattan it turns out the printing press had just gotten up and going. What excellent timing. I soon realized writing novels was not only fun it had the added advantage of making enough money to feed the cats. I’m currently writing my 72nd book (wow, that’s oodles of words), and the 18th FBI thriller, POWER PLAY, out next summer.
JT: I began writing in 2003, and my first novel came out in 2007. I write two series, Taylor Jackson, Nashville homicide lieutenant extraordinaire, Dr. Samantha Owens, a spin off from the Taylor series based in Washington, D.C., and now, the Drummond novels. I did a great deal of research with Metro Nashville homicide, the FBI, and the M.E.’s office to make the books come alive. I also co-write with Alex Kava and Erica Spindler on awesome connected novellas with our main series characters. Plus the various short stories, blogs, Facebook quips, etc., that make up our crazy writerly lives. I want you to interview me when I write my 72nd novel (I’m on 13, you do the math. I became a writer so I wouldn’t have to.).
THE FINAL CUT is a huge international thriller. How did it all come about?
CC: A year and a half ago, I realized I wanted to write another series, no, not stop the FBI series with Savich and Sherlock, but I had this other character in my head and he was yelling at me, “Hey, my turn!” His name is Nicholas Drummond, and he’s an inspector with Scotland Yard. More than that I even had the series name — A Brit in the FBI. Not only was Nicholas alive and well in my head, so was his American mother and his Brit dad, and even his butler, Coombe. It was getting really crowded in there. But I knew I couldn’t write two big books a year, so what was I to do?
I called Clive Cussler because he collaborates with three or four other authors besides his son and he was kind enough to let me pick his brain, e.g. how he got started, his process, sometimes good, sometimes with lots of potholes. The most important thing he told me? Don’t be surprised by anything. I didn’t know what he meant then, I do now. I thank him very much for all the excellent assistance.
I spoke to my agent, told him I wanted to hire an author of my choice to work with to write this new series. He was very excited and gave me excellent suggestions.
The smartest thing I did? I took my time since I knew this new writer would become an integral part of my life. My husband and I between us read maybe 20 books each by different suspense thriller authors. I honestly didn’t care if it was a man a woman or an orangutan. What was really important was that the writer I selected write near to my own style so when a reader picked up one of this new series, the read would be seamless. Now here comes the serendipity: independently, both my husband I picked J.T. Ellison, an author I’d never heard or nor read before. I’ll never forget standing in the middle of my office and shouting, “I’ve found her!”
Six months had passed and it was now early June when I placed a phone call to J.T. Ellison in Nashville.
JT: I knew my name was in the mix for the co-writing gig, but I honestly never thought it would happen. I mean, were talking about Catherine Coulter! I’ve been a fan of Catherine’s books for years – since I read THE COVE, I especially love Savich and Sherlock – and the idea of working with her on a book both scared and thrilled me. Co-writing is a big decision, for both the writers. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if I was?
There was a couple of months of what if?, then out of the blue my agent called and said “You’re about to get a phone call.” Catherine called minutes later, and the first thing that struck me was her laugh. She has the most wondrous, wicked sense of humor. And then, how smartly she’d planned the series, the characters, the whole works. She knew exactly what she wanted. I knew immediately we were going to have a good time, and I was going to get an education, and I was right.
Do you and J.T. have advice for writers who might be considering a joint project like this?
CC: When I met J.T. I knew she would help me bring my new series, A Brit in the FBI, to life. It turns out that J.T. not only wrote some books set in the UK, she had a great interest in all things British. How perfect is that? We spent three days at my home in California brainstorming the first thriller in A Brit in the FBI, now titled THE FINAL CUT.
Neither J.T. nor I knew what was going to happen when we started this project, everything was new to both of us, but to be honest here, I never had a single thought of failure. We had many things going for us — we sparked off each other, ideas flew, we both approached the project with great enthusiasm and a positive attitude. When I told her I wanted the Koh-i-Noor diamond to be focal point in this first thriller, J.T.’s eyes glittered and her wonderful writer’s brain went into full gear. We never looked back.
We learned as we went, ran into some of Clive’s predicted potholes, but it didn’t matter. One of J.T.’s great gifts is her understanding and knowledge of computer technology, tech savvy since she was in 7th grade. It contributed tremendously to the plot of THE FINAL CUT. We’ve become great friends and trust each other implicitly and what’s really nice — we have a lot of fun together. My main advice: If you’re a Type A writer, then your co-writer MUST also be a Type A else you’re probably looking at murder. If you’re disciplined and write every day, then your co-writer must also be disciplined and write every day else you’re probably looking at another murder. But the two biggies: You’ve both got to see the characters the same way and you’ve got to communicate.
JT: This is a thrilling, humbling, exciting, challenging, and downright fun way to write a book. Catherine has a wonderful, fertile brain, and she’s so smart, she knows exactly what the reader wants. THE FINAL CUT was my 12th novel, but it felt like my first many times, as we sailed into uncharted territory of joint creation. Catherine was always open to my ideas and suggestions, and she’s right, we became great friends over the course of this book, and this friendship makes everything richer and work smoother. There was a moment, toward the end of the book when we were on the phone literally writing together, each contributing words to the sentences, and it was sheer magic.
You have to have a lot of faith and trust in your co-writer to do this, and from the moment I met Catherine, I knew I could trust her. She’s a writer’s writer, which I greatly respect. We have a similar work ethic – there’s no nonsense, no prevaricating, we just get down to it every day and make the words flow, and I think that was a big part of our success with THE FINAL CUT. She’s made me a better writer, a better businesswoman, a more rounded person, brought me on board her (fabulous!) publishing team, and I’m forever grateful. And ready to do it all again!
The book’s main protagonist, Nicholas Drummond, has a fascinating culture-straddling background that seems to play a big part in how he approaches his work. How did you go about giving life to this unique character?
JT: I’ll take this one. Catherine of course has written tons of Brits. I’m a closet anglophile, and have also written British characters before. She knew exactly who she wanted Nicholas to be, so it worked perfectly that I’d already done a couple of books with a high-class Brit. We had a lot of fun with the British epithets.
I’ve always wanted to write broad-scoped international thrillers, and this has given me the chance to do so. Which makes my writer’s heart jump for joy.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
I think we’d both say Kitsune. She is such an enigma. Such a gorgeous, devious enigma.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
CC: My own personal favorite book is BEYOND EDEN. It touches deep.
JT: OUTLANDER, by Diana Gabaldon. It’s my ultimate comfort read. And I’ve ties to Clan McBean (by marriage) and Clan Wallace (through my mother), so I have a special interest in the setting. And kilts. I do like a man in a kilt.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
CC: Fly me to Italy and I’m a happy camper, doesn’t matter where, although the Amalfi Coast and Capri are favorites. But then again, there’s Rome and Florence and Umbria…
JT: What she said. All of it. (We really are two people with one brain.) There will be some books written in Italy before I’m done.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
CC: What is my very most favorite thing about writing? Watching people who never before existed come to full life. And it makes me happy.
In all seriousness, what totally touched my soul are the emails from readers who say the book has taken them away from or entertained them during a bad or stressful time. It never occurred to me anyone would ever use my words for comfort, or escape. It’s the most humbling experience in the world.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
CC: If you want to write, here’s what you do: SIT YOURSELF IN FRONT OF YOUR COMPUTER AND JUST DO IT.
JT: I have a large section for new writers on my website, because I love to pontificate about this very subject. In addition to “just do it,” I’d like to say – write with reckless abandon. Too many great writers-to-be get caught in the loop of I’m not good enough/no one will want to read this/what if they hate it, and never try. If you’re not being rejected, you’re not a real writer. Go out there. Submit. Take the chance. It won’t come to you. And read everything you can get your hands on.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
CC: I’m currently writing POWER PLAY, the 18th FBI thriller, out in the summer of 2014. And yes, Nicholas Drummond makes an appearance in this thriller just as Savich and Sherlock will continue to appear in the A Brit in the FBI series.
JT: Catherine’s Facebook is a blast, so be sure to like it (and mine, natch!). I’ve just finished my 3rd Dr. Samantha Owens novel, WHEN SHADOWS FALL, which releases 2.25.14, finished a secret project, plotted the 4th Sam book and have been doing my research for the next Nicholas Drummond novel. Not to make you mad or anything, but when you read this, I will have my toes in the sand for an actual vacation, recharging my depleted mental batteries for the busy fall ahead.
CC: Also… our second thriller in A Brit in the FBI series is titled YARD OF GRAVES. J.T. and I have already met and plotted out the book. (I had the premise and a broad outline, but that’s it.) This time Nicholas and Mike Caine (FBI agent in NYC) will end up in Scotland at Loch Eriboll — and yes, both J.T. and I love Scotland and know it fairly well. What will YARD OF GRAVES be about? You’ll have to wait until next year.
JT: She is such a tease….
If you’re not excited about this project yet, go up and reread the interview again. Clearly these two veteran thriller authors have a writing chemistry that should serve readers very well in this new series. Thanks to Catherine and J.T. for one of the most fun interviews I’ve done in a while. Old fans and new should find plenty to like in THE FINAL CUT, so check it out when it releases September 17!