Interview by Debs Carr
Former CNN star Kitty Pilgrim's latest novel, The Stolen Chalice, will be reviewed here soon, but in the meantime we thought we would ask Kitty a few questions for our Novelicious readers.
Can you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Because I was working as a journalist for 24 years for CNN, I am used to working long days without a break. I tend to follow the same pattern in my new role as an author. It is not unusual for me to put in 10-12 hours a day working on my book – either interviewing experts, travelling to a location or writing. I feel I have to ‘report’ a scene before I can write it, so I frequently explore the locations in my novels before I write them and this can range from tombs in Egypt to the high arctic near the North Pole.
In terms of daily routine I usually get up in the morning brimming with ideas and want to get them down quickly. So I usually start writing in my robe. As they day progresses I take little breaks to get dressed, eat, or maybe meet with an expert or go to a library or museum for research. Reporters always write while on the move, and I write anywhere, on a plane, boat, and car. I carry a pen and notebook so I can jot down ideas in any environment.
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
My heroes are scientists and explorers, so I use them as models for some of my characters. In The Explorer’s Code, the character of Cordelia is based on a real marine scientist who works at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. When I wrote the book, I consulted with her on how a marine scientist would think and act. I frequently stop by at Woods Hole to meet her and talk to the other scientists. Another character in The Explorer’s Code is Thaddeus Frost, a botanist (who is also a spy). I took a course on botany at the New York Botanical Garden’s graduate school to gain insight into this kind of expert. In writing The Stolen Chalice I met someone who is an Egyptologist at The Brooklyn Museum who inspired my character Carter Wallace. I don’t copy these people in great detail, but they inspire me to create my own characters.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
I must say Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen is my favourite women’s fiction book. A narrative by a strong woman, it creates all the romance and mystery of the early years of the colonization of Africa, with deep sensitivity to the indigenous culture. I also love anything by Edith Wharton and have quite a collection of first editions of many of her novels.
What is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
Because I write international thrillers I tend to pick my theme and locations first. For The Explorer’s Code I knew I wanted an archaeological site, and also a scene in the high arctic with a theme of polar exploration. The Stolen Chalice was inspired by ancient Egyptian culture. So after picking my locations I start to spin a tale of intrigue and dovetail it with a classic romance. The writing process is much like TV writing. I picture each scene in my mind, and then put my vision down on paper. So the words match the pictures in my mind. For that reason many people say my books are very visual – and they are almost like watching a movie. I write without any real plan, just letting the scene flow. At the end of each day, I revise the pages and clean up the spelling and smooth out dialogue. I write one draft and then turn it in to my editor.
What was your journey to being a published author?
I wrote The Explorer’s Code after work to relax. I really had no plan to have it published, but wrote it to amuse myself on a long commute at the end of the workday while I was at CNN. The reason why I wrote The Explorer’s Code is because I was craving a romantic thriller and couldn’t seem to find one that suited me. I wanted glamour, exploration, and romance. There were a lot of elements I thought would be fun to include in a book. After I finished, I gave it to my agent – Mort Janklow and he partnered me with editors at Scribner for a two-book deal. I realized that I wanted to do this full time, so I decided after a 24-year career as a correspondent and anchor for CNN, that I would try a new direction and become a full time author.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
Some people feel you need permission to write a novel. They get tangled up in doing it right, and listening to the advice of instructors who make the whole process very complicated. Then they think they have to clear all kinds of time from their schedule to do it. In reality with a half hour of free time a day you can begin your novel. And who knows where it will take you.
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Find some thing you are passionate about and sit down and write about it a little bit every day. It will become a delicious escape from ordinary chores and you will become addicted to your writing time, as I did. That is the fastest way to get a novel on paper.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing the third in the John Sinclair series with locations in Italy. I am climbing Mount Vesuvius next month as part of that research. The third novel will have all the elements of the first two books in the series - glamour, intrigue, international locations – and of course John Sinclair and Cordelia Stapleton.