Dressed like an airline hostess and speaking with the confidence and sincerity of an inspirational speaker, romance writer Catherine Coulter descended on Davis last week to tell the audience how successful she has been.
In less than 10 years, she's had 22 books on the New York Times best-seller list. That's successful. She's written 30 historical romances and four contemporary suspense novels. The young student who introduced Coulter at UC Davis on Wednesday night also complimented Coulter on her witty dialog, masterful use of suspense and her romantic plots.
Coulter was born in Texas and earned her master's degree at Boston College in 19th century European history. She lives in Mill Valley with her husband, a physician.
Her career began in New York. One day in the late '70s, Coulter was relaxing at home with her husband. She was reading a book, which apparently wasn't very good.
"I picked up the book and threw it across the room and said, 'I can do better than this!' " she said.
But at that time, the publishing world was a closed and mysterious place, according to Coulter. No one could tell her how to break in to the romance field. Undaunted, she and her husband plotted out a novel in a weekend and she wrote it. A freelance editor read her first effort and sold it.
"I was immediately offered a three-book contract," she said. "You can never discount luck," she added modestly.
Her first novel came out in 1978.
"You'll never forget that moment, holding your first book in your hand," she said. Other notable moments include getting a New York Times book review and getting on the New York Times best-seller list. Coulter is still hoping for one more golden moment - the moment one of her books is turned into a movie.
But her early success did enable her to quit her day job. She began writing full-time in 1982 after working as a speech writer for an insurance-related Wall Street business.
Coulter also might have added: You can never discount a killer agent. She described her agent as just such a driven, committed person and told several stories about mixing with celebrities in the New York publishing world.
The publishing world, she said, has turned into the entertainment world. "Anything is possible," she said. "You can go from mopping floors to (earning) $35 million a year."
She spoke about some instant best-sellers like Tom Clancy and Amy Tan.
"Usually, you hope just to have a comfortable life and keep going up (in sales and earnings). But my definition of success is: You get to quit your day job and make enough to feed the cat. Few people make $5 million a year."
Coulter also was free with advice. "The most important thing for new or beginning writers is, don't procrastinate. Don't whine. Sit you butt in a chair and write. And if you're not sure of yourself no one else will be. You have to be utterly disciplined but it can happen."
Think of it this way: If you write 500 words a day or less, say one page per day, you will have a novel done in a year.
And as you enter the cutthroat world of publishing, Coulter said, please, do this one thing. "Keep your word. Keep your word."
Coulter didn't talk much about writing but she did describe an irritating writing question that she frequently is asked.
"Are you still writing?" is the question.
"Yes, are you still a biochemist?" she replies, depending on whomever is asking.
Coulter said novels offer readers an escape so they can come back to reality refreshed. Her own favorite period in history, an era she returns to again and again, is the English Regency period of 1811-1821. "I know it cold," she said.
Her current novels include "The Cove," a straight suspense novel, and "Rosehaven," a medieval novel. Other recent works are "The Valentine Legacy" and "The Hellion Bride."
"The romance genre has evolved tremendously over the past 20 years," she said, "and my writing has, too, but at the center of every romance is the relationship. You can do whatever else you want. And I will promise you a good ending. If you want real life, you can watch the 6 p.m. news."
Coulter says a great variety of romance novels has emerged through the years including a gay Gothic novel about a young innocent governess...who just happened to be a guy.
"It was wonderful," she said.