Author! Kitty Pilgrim

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is oft cited as a source when repeating that old saw that people change careers three to five times during their lifetime. In her 24 years with CNN, she has transitioned from production assistant to correspondent to lead correspondent and lastly broadcast anchor, so her new career as an author places her at the upper edge of this range. Having read her first two books, we can assure you that the skills she honed in earlier occupations very much inform and add a unique and exciting dimension to her written works. Meet author and investigative explorer, Kitty Pilgrim.

I&S: One need only read the description of one of your lead characters then see your website photos to be convinced that you have placed yourself in your novels. Tell us about the adventurous side of you which the folks at CNN never knew/met.

KP: When I was at CNN I spent a lot of time on assignments all over the world. Some of the places I went to were difficult, dangerous and not pleasant. One would imagine that when I had vacation time, I would want to stay home, cook a few lovely meals and chill out. That was not at all the case. When I had even a few days off, I would travel for pleasure. This is a totally different experience than traveling on assignment. There are no deadlines, no stories to file. When I travel for pleasure I take the time to enjoy every second: a beautiful meal, a wonderful swim, a glass of wine at sunset. These are the things I put in my books – the absolute joy of being in a new place, seeing it with fresh eyes, and partaking of the beauty and bounty of the setting

I&S: You say that you began writing as a way of relaxing on the train on the way home. But in truth it probably took many late evenings of revisions and re-writes before you considered submitting your work for review. What were the difficulties when you were just starting out?

KP: When I first started writing my novel The Explorer’s Code I really had no idea how to proceed. So I fell back on the techniques I learned as a reporter. I would go to the locations, take notes (and video) and then use that experience to describe the scenes in the book. This of course is a very labor intensive way to write a book, especially if there are several locations all around the world. However, this is the only way I can do it. If I had to sit in a room and make everything up, I wouldn’t have ten pages.

So although I wrote the book after work on the train, all the experiences were in my head when I began. I actually didn’t revise the manuscript much once it was completed. I wrote it as true to my experience as I could and then just turned in it to my agent and my editor. They seemed to like it. So I guess I avoided a lot of difficulties by not second guessing my technique – just going with what I knew had worked for more than two decades as a reporter.

I&S: One senses that your chapters are written very much like a reporter might file a story… with the locations as the headlines. Comfortable coincidence or old habit?

KP: I choose to set the scene by a location at the top of each chapter. After all, so much of our life experience is based on the setting. A conversation in midtown Manhattan has an entirely different rhythm than one on the porch of a summer house. Traditionally in the news business the “Dateline” is important. It sets the scene for the news event that is about to be described. I do the same for my characters. Journalism asks – Who? What? When? Where? Why? I happen to be partial to the “Where.”

I&S: Can a parallel be drawn between an author crafting a story and a reporter phrasing a story for a particular audience? If so, who is the audience you have in mind when writing your novels?

KP: I love this question. Obviously a news story is written (or broadcast ) for a general audience. It strives to include everyone by not being too complex, yet to inform the viewing public in a simple, direct way of the events that are unfolding on the screen.

Writing for a novel is so much more intimate. I have a very strong vision of the people who are reading my novels. I picture a woman who is incredibly busy, with work or her family, taking a moment at the end of the day, or during her commute to enter into my beautiful world of Sinclair and Cordelia. She is inspired and entertained by the lovely locations. I picture that woman giving that book to her mother, and creating a novel that they can share. I also hope that woman hands the books down to her daughter to broaden her world through the various locations. I hope my books are three-generation books, that will spark a family discussion or perhaps a family trip to one of the places they have read about.

In the past few years I have taken myself around the country on book tours and have spoken to book clubs and women’s groups where I have been able to see and meet my readership. I am delighted to report my vision of my readership is exactly accurate. The only addition is sometimes those women hand over the novel to their husbands or boyfriends. So even though I didn’t anticipate a male readership, many men are also starting to enjoy the series.

I&S: Did breaking the book up into location chapters permit you to write some parts ahead of others then go back and tie the plot together at the junctures? Or did you write certain chapters while you were fresh from a location visit?

KP: Generally I visit all the locations first before I write a book. In fact I am traveling to some places now that will be in book six or seven. I just take lots of pictures and video to review before I write, in order to refresh my memory. Sometimes before I write a scene I will meditate on the country or city where it is taking place, recalling actual sense-memories of the place.

My novels are unabashedly escapist. They are meant for a rainy afternoon, a cup of tea and a box of chocolates. That said, I also strive to inform my readers – and call my particular approach to writing novels “fact-based fiction”. I research my subjects assiduously for the highest possible accuracy. I travel to the locations in the books in order to describe them with vivid detail. I also interview experts and scientists for the latest information on topics in the books. So for example when I wrote about the decoding of the genome for the 1918 pandemic, I talked to eminent virologists about this subject. When I included the CAT scan of an ancient mummy in The Stolen Chalice, I went along with a team of Egyptologists to a hospital to view the procedure. At the end of the day I would like my readers to feel like they have had these experiences, and come away from the book with new, accurate knowledge. Novels should inform as well as entertain.

I tend to write chronologically because I want to take the reader on a journey, with many twists and turns. It helps me to organize the experience if I do this in a logical sequence. Sometimes when writing, I will sit down and read the entire manuscript before starting a scene, so that I have the right tone and momentum for the scene I am about to write. It is very labor intensive but I want to build suspense and create the feeling that the reader is living in the scene.

I&S: With regard to the romance in your books, is the author telling us something personal about herself and her preferences or is this simply more of the fiction component? Is one of the hallmarks of a good writer giving the impression of openness with the reader?

KP: I often get a question about the romance in the book, and if it is personal. In one respect, my vision of the romantic love in my book is deeply personal. I am a real romantic at heart. I think that finding the right partner is so important in life. And there is no exact formula for getting it right. Even though Sinclair is a very intelligent, logical man, he still struggles with his personal life. And Cordelia, as a scientist, is terribly handicapped when it comes to letting her heart lead the way instead of her brain. They stumble through the aches of love the same way we all do, trying so hard to get it right. That process is something we can all relate to.

In addition, I notice that some recent novels focus on the seamy side of sex, yet are wildly popular. This is not for me. I like my books to celebrate the absolute magic of falling in love, when the world shimmers with new beauty, and the man or woman becomes the ultimate object of desire. A look or a smile can be so utterly romantic in the right context. A simple gesture, such as tucking a hand into the crook of someone’s arm as you cross the street, can convey so much.

I love candlelit dinners, and roses and cocktails at sunset. I try to create incredibly romantic situations so my reader falls in love with my characters and feels the glow of romance. Everyone wants to find a great love, why not in a book?

I&S: Now that you have proved to yourself that you can write and readers like your stories, how has your outlook changed? Has becoming an author been an adventure in and of itself?

KP: It is very interesting, this process of becoming an author. I honestly feel that I would continue to write these stories, even if I had a readership of a handful of people. I like meeting my readers and hearing what they think of the books, how they were affected by the stories. For me this process of writing is about connecting with new people and hearing their personal side of the story. In this respect a new world has opened up for me. I have traveled around the country meeting with many readers and inevitably they will tell me about their lives and hopes and dreams. It’s a special way of communicating – for me to send out my fantasy world and then hear how they relate to it on a personal level. In this respect it is totally different from being a reporter on television. There never was any feedback to me after the broadcast. My reports were a monologue. Now I enter into a dialogue with my readers, and I find that richly rewarding.

I&S: What are you working on currently? Any upcoming events?

KP: I continue to travel and write. At present I am in the Bahamas on my boat sketching out the fourth novel in the Sinclair / Cordelia series. I concluded my research in England last fall for this novel. I continue to book events so that I can speak to my readers and continue the dialogue. My website has an “Events” page which I keep up to date on my personal appearances around the country.

We share Ms. Pilgrim’s outlook on romance and deeply appreciate her respect for the intelligence of her readers in this regard. These are books you should recommend to friends – especially the young women in your life. The effort she puts into her research yields rich visual descriptions which cannot help but draw you into the story. We at Image & Style Magazine thank Ms. Pilgrim for sharing her thoughts and look forward to her upcoming releases and her character’s continuing adventures