Q&A with Catherine Coulter and J.T. Ellison

The Lost Key, by Catherine Coulter and J. T. Ellison, features freshly minted FBI agent Nicholas Drummond, who is barely out of his Quantico training. He and his partner, Mike Caine, investigate a stabbing on Wall Street that is related to a deadly madman and lead to terrorist implications.


Elise Cooper: Rumor has it you will be participating in the Military Book Fair

on November 8th in San Diego on the USS Midway?

Catherine Coulter: When I first heard about this wonderful idea, I was very excited. It’s a perfect way to use our book sales to help veterans and their families. I hope everyone in southern California shows up (although that could sink the ship).

J.T. Ellison: I am very excited since I come from a military and aerospace family. I am glad we can honor those who have served.

EC: Why did you decide to have a co-writer?

CC: I can’t believe it’s been two and a half years already. I believe it was in January 2012, I realized I was getting antsy, I needed something new to keep my brain unconstipated. I already had A BRIT in the FBI clear in my head, the hero, his family, down to the English butler, but I knew I couldn’t write two big books a year. And so — I thought about a co-writer. What did I know about that? Not a thing, so I asked Clive Cussler, an expert in this. He told me all about the fun things, the legal things, the obstacles. So I went on the hunt to find my perfect fit. My husband was reading thrillers as well and — are you ready to believe this? — independent of each other, we came up with J. T. Ellison, a brilliant writer I’d never met, never read.

EC: Who came up with the idea for the story?

CC: I had a skinny plot and the idea for the theft of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, but J.T. and I together filled it out. J.T. did brilliantly. Since Savich and Sherlock are front and center in THE FINAL CUT, I wrote those scenes. J.T. has the ability to write in my style so my readers won’t freak out. Now that we’ve written two thrillers, I realize what I’ve been missing — talk about a partner in crime —

J. T.: These are Catherine Coulter books. If ever there is a tie she wins, actually she always wins. We are in constant conversation and communication. We do a large synopsis. We get an idea for the first half, which I write. Then she edits the living hell out of it and we repeat the process for the second half.

EC: What is the challenging part of writing together?

Catherine Coulter

CC: Our biggest challenge is that both of us are pantsers rather than plotsers. This mean neither of us are used to outlining. We sit down and write. WRONG. We’ve really had to pull out the ideas and chew on them and make a really healthy skeleton to build on.

J.T.: My process and style is very different from Catherine’s. She is the funny one and knows how to write straight out humor while mine is more subtle and sarcastic. I’m an ‘introspective navel gazer.’ My writing is more about what the characters are thinking and feeling internally, while she writes more dialogue. Regarding our process, with THE FINAL CUT, she wanted fifty polished pages and I don’t write like that, but instead write the entire book and then go back and make it pretty. With the first book I gave her the draft and she said, OMG what is this? We had to learn how to communicate and become teammates. It is now very hands on and has morphed into a collaborative effort. The second book went much smoother.

EC: How would you describe this writing partnership?

CC: Since we are both Type A personalities, both very disciplined, there’s been no question of murdering one another. J.T.’s bright, talented, kind, funny, and I would kill for her. I knew she would be important in my life but I had not imagined how wonderful a friend she would become. I even have her Christmas present wrapped already.

J. T.: She is definitely a mentor to me. I have learned so much since she challenges the way I look at things. We have a lot of respect for each other. The opportunity to work with one of my all-time favorite writers was impossible to pass up. And as it happens, it’s bigger and better than I could have ever hoped.

EC: Explain the photo of Nicholas Drummond I saw on your Facebook page.

CC: At the beginning, J.T. and I didn’t see the characters the same way, understandable. I happened to see a photo of a male model in a store window and said, “Hello, Nicholas!” This solved the problem. If you want to see Nicholas, as well as other characters in the series, go to this link : (http://www.pinterest.com/jtellison/the-lost-key-nicholas-drummond-2/).

J.T.: Nicholas is all Catherine while Mike is one of the characters we worked on together. In fact, I found the picture of Mike. Since every author has different views of the world we were going back and forth about these two characters. Once she sent me the picture of Nick and I sent her the picture of Mike, from that moment, everything came together.

EC: Is there a difference between your female heroines, Mike and Sherlock?

CC: That’s like asking me if there’s any difference between a pineapple and a peach. Sherlock is bound to her husband and her son. As Savich has told her, ‘you have the best job in the world. You chase bad guys and your boss is your best friend.’ She is committed, as bright as the sun, and plays well with others. On the other hand Mike is unmarried, completely independent. She’s a cowboy, free and roaming the range. She is a study of contrasts. She looks like a librarian with her glasses, yet wears biker boots. I based her on the Federal Marshall character in BACKFIRE, Eve Barbieri. So, who’s the peach? Who’s the pineapple? You decide.

J.T.: Mike is becoming Nick’s equal even though Nick is more of a smart aleck. She is smart, sassy, a hard worker, and currently her job is her life.

EC: Why Marie Curie?

CC: She came up with polonium. J. T. thought she would enhance the plot since she had such an incredible life and was such a female heroine. Do you know she came up with having x ray machines on the battlefield during WWI? Can you image going out there with all that Mustard Gas? In the book we quoted Einstein about her: “Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whose fame has not corrupted.”

J.T.: I just thought of her as a woman way ahead of her time, with her role as a woman in a man’s world.

EC: What do you want readers to get out of THE LOST KEY?

J.T. Ellison

CC: Is all this terrifying stuff that happens in the book possible, or does it already exist? Think about what could happen — tomorrow.

J.T.: Exciting, thrilling, fun.

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?

CC: The working title is The Last Hour. At its core, it’s about fathers and sons. Our main bad guy is patterned after Carlos the Jackal. If you recall, he was one scary dude. My next FBI thriller is titled NEMESIS, and will be out in July 2015.

J.T.: My next solo book is What Lies Behind featuring Dr. Samantha Owens. Since I was an international relations major I am very interested in world politics. The book’s main premise is that there is an attack on a woman and man in an apartment near where Sam lives. He is a medical school student and she is a free lance FBI operative. At the time of her killing she was working on a pharmaceutical espionage case. Sam is trying to figure out why this couple was targeted. The plot involves viruses’ and is Ebolaesque.