By Christopher Pape
Photos by Carol Seitz
Kitty Pilgrim of CNN fame is now a published novelist. And I’m jealous. I’m jealous of her beauty, talent and wherewithal to sit down and actually conceive of and actualize her two novels, The Explorer’s Code and The Stolen Chalice.
Having invited me to her stunning apartment on the Upper East Side, I knew that I was in for a treat when her French (yes, actually French) housekeeper served me iced tea. From there, Kitty and I had a pleasant and lengthy conversation about her journalism career, her novels and what makes her a New Yorker.
She promises she will write about her travels for the magazine next year (I’m going to hold her to it). Read and enjoy! I know you will like it as much as I liked interviewing her!
Resident (R): What does it mean to be a New Yorker?
KP: Oh I’ve been a New Yorker all my life, actually my family has been here since 1630, spanning 16 generations. I have lived all over the world and New York is always where I want to be; even when I was in Tokyo for example. I have lived on the Upper East Side since 1977, and had to move to Atlanta for the CNN morning show for two years, and every night my sons used to watch Tom Brokaw because they used to have this bump shot at the end of the New York skyline, and then the skyline came up and we used to say ‘there is our beautiful city’. We were there for two years and we used to fly up and stay at The Mark Hotel, it was right in our neighborhood and so the boys used to play with their friends, so we never really left.
R: Tell me how you got into journalism?
KP: I was studying Russian, and was interested in the economy and was at Columbia at the Harriman Institute and at that point the Soviet Union started to dissolve so I was right at the cutting edge of the transformation from communism into market economies, so the confluence of my skills exactly matched the world at that time. So a lot of economies were closing and a lot of closed economies were opening like South Africa’s apartheid, so I ended up doing political economy with CNN for several years.
R: So they hired you as an expert?
KP: No they hired me as a production assistant, CNN had 35 people at the bureau, and it was so new at the time and no one had heard of it. I was production assistant for all of 10 minutes then they made me a producer.
R: And so you kept moving up the ladder.
KP: Well I was very focused on international developments so I would always pitch what’s going on in South Africa; the whole world was moving to an economic based system and I was right at the start of that so I could do economic stories internationally and I was sent on assignments. It was perfect.
R: The transition from being on air to becoming a novelist is huge, was that difficult?
KP: It came naturally. I started this novel after work, I would go upstate to my house in Rhinebeck and I would write this novel on the train. I didn’t think it would get published; it was just for my amusement. Now the second one has just come out. I had this romanticized idea of Harold Carter and the King Tutankhamen discovery and all this Victorian/Egyptian stuff, so I thought I’d bring this all together in a modern context with a terrorism theme and some old school Egyptian lore. I spoke with the Brooklyn Museum about how they examine mummies with CAT scans and DNA testing. All mummy books are all about curses and that nonsense but modern science brings it to new light and makes it relevant. So all my books take an old Victorian theme and update it.
R: Any ideas for the third book?
KP: Yes, it’s about volcanoes. But, I won’t tell you anymore.
R: Are you sure?
KP: Yes (laughs).
R: You must do a lot of research when you write a book.
KP: Yes I do tons. I go everywhere before I write, I usually put five locations in every book, and so I go to these places and shoot videos. Deep research is needed on the theme of 1918 pandemic, for example, for which I studied old army medical records. Its fact based fiction so extensive research is essential.
R: Do you think the video aspect that you add is something different for an author?
KP: Yes we put the video link on the first book on Kindle versions. One of my videos for The Stolen Chalice went viral and got 208,000 hits, so it is working. The last scenes of The Explorer’s Code seemed to trigger interest in the global seed vault.
R: Are there overlapping characters across different titles?
KP: Yes there are two characters that are the benchmarks. John Sinclair, the handsome dashing archaeologist, sort of tall, dark, handsome, and then Cordelia Stapleton is an oceanographer and she is equally as strong as the male protagonist. So there is male and female, earth and water, working together to actually solve the mystery through the thrillers, the resolution. I got irritated by the typical male dominated thrillers where the female takes a very passive role, and the guy just shoots through and saves the world. A lot of smart women like thrillers but they want more female aspects to them, so I write one scene from a masculine point of view and one from a feminine. So in The Stolen Chalice I mix it up and write romantic scenes from a masculine perspective and action from a feminine.
R: What’s your day like writing; do you wake up and start writing immediately?
KP: Yes, I write in my bathrobe. I write, breakfast, shower, write, but I mostly write and that’s what I did at CNN I got up and I wrote all day long so it’s not that different except now I’ll go to the Met to research ancient Greek artifacts.
R: Do you keep everything you write?
KP: I keep everything. I write it cinematically; I don’t write in continuous stream. So each scene has a beginning and a resolution and each scene has a point of view either from Cordelia or John. There is a reason for the scene; whether it is to let my reader relax and enjoy a lunch in or to move action forward. Every scene has a mission. I’m very analytic about it, perhaps overly analytical. I talk to other authors and some write 200 pages then decide it doesn’t work. How could you do that? That would drive me crazy. My book is written for commuters or moms who need to pick up kids so each scene is in a different place and then it goes about three pages. You can put this book down any time and not get lost when you return.