Tuesday, August 01, 2000

Coulter writing hard to stay ahead of her readers

'Riptide,' her 48th work, on best-seller list

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two hours before her book signing and Catherine Coulter is worried:

        “I always worry. What if no one comes? What if I'm up there talking to empty chairs?

        “I never worry in Europe. I did a signing once in Norway in a butcher shop and had a line. But here?”

        She needn't have worried. Ten minutes before her 7 p.m. signing at Books & Co. in Kettering, Ohio, the place is packed. Readers carrying canvas bags full of her novels (she's written 48, 36 of which have been New York Times bestsellers) fill every seat. The overflow crowd stands surrounding them.

        Close to 100 people, and it wasn't even a butcher shop in Norway. Neither was Norwood's Joseph-Beth Booksellers the night before, where another 100 fans showed.

        She was in the Tristate to sign Riptide, her fifth contemporary suspense novel. Her other 43 books have been historicals and romances, which might explain why the crowd is mostly women.

        Women like Charlene Murray of Miamisburg, who has “read and reread all 48 at least twice. Some I pick up and just start in the middle.”

        Women like Anna Bennett of Dayton, who's working “through the whole body of work, maybe about half way now. These are the eight I read this year,” she says, hefting her canvas bag in front of Ms. Coulter.

        Fans will probably love Riptide as much as the previous 47. It's set in the tiny, isolated coastal town of Riptide, Maine, and focuses on New York speech writer Becca Matlock, who's dodging a stalker. New York cops decide she's a flake and do nothing, even after she tells them the stalker threatened to shoot her boss, the governor of New York.

        He does indeed, and Matlock takes off for Riptide. Enter stalker No. 2.

        Enter the father she thought was dead but who is actually head of a shadowy intelligence group.

        Enter her father's freelance operative, Adam, who may or may not be a good guy but is, well, one heck of a stud.

        Enter the recurring characters of FBI agents Sherlock and Savich (the ties that bind she calls them) to straighten out the mess.

        This is how you know Ms. Coulter's getting better at the suspense thing: She successfully layers one mystery atop another, giving away a teaspoon of information at a time, constantly introducing yet another hideous complication.

        “That's the idea, keep it fast so they don't have time to think,” she says over dinner after the signing. “If they have time to think they'll figure it out, and you don't want that.

        “I think the reason I'm able to keep it fast is because I don't plot a book. I start with a "what if' idea — what if a crazed stalker starts in on a fairly average woman and what if her cry for help goes to yet another stalker? — and let the book write itself.”

        Riptide crashed on to the New York Times bestseller list in the No. 3 position this week.

        Not that she has anything against Harry Potter, but Ms. Coulter is mighty glad J.K. Rowling's children's series has been relocated from the New York Times adult bestseller list to the Times newly created children's list.

        “I love the Potter books, but they were hogging the top four spots. Every author in the country with a new book coming out knew the best they could do would be to break in at No. 5.

        “I figured I'd come in about at 7 or 8. But No. 3, wow.”

        Now it's midway in to the Q&A period and Ms. Coulter's pacing in front of her fans, showing off her new look. “The mean woman from out of town look,” she calls it. “I used to tour in suits with short little skirts and pantyhose and 3-inch heels. Then somebody saw me decked out in tight jeans and leather and said, "You gotta tour like that.' Here I am.”

        It's already 8 p.m. and the signing is supposed to be at an end but she still hasn't signed a book. Too many questions: How do you find time for two books a year? How do you juggle genres as disparate as suspense and historical romance? Are you a sicko, writing this kind of stuff? Are you on Prozac or something? Why are they taking all those pictures?

        Oh, the pictures.

        “Publishers Weekly wants to do pictures of the tour so we've been taking them like crazy. I don't know how they're going to like them, because I fell in love with your pigs (Cincinnati's Big Pig Gig sculptures) and I now have a million pictures of me with my hand wrapped around pig snouts.”


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