Baby Boomer and veteran CNN correspondent Kitty Pilgrim traded in her TV gig to become a novelist. And she’s done quite well; her newest novel is The Stolen Chalice. We asked Kitty to write yet another story … for us, answering the question, how did you come to embrace A Writer’s Life?
There are writers who tell tales of wanting to be the next Laura Ignalls Wilder, the woman who wrote the Little House series of children’s books, since they were in First Grade. Aspiring Jane Austin successors come out of the woodwork in the teen years. Even moms who hope to become kitchen-table romance writers seem ubiquitous these days. But I did not start my career that way, with burning passion to be a writer. In fact I never thought about becoming a novelist until recently. Little did I know that my skills were building slowly and surely.
My forte has always been description. When I was young, my sister had a condition from birth that rendered her legally blind. So I went through my life describing things to her. I could verbally sketch out a scene so she could “see” it as we walked through the woods, or rode our bikes. (Yes, my sister rode bikes, horses, and even learned to ski). By being her “eyes,” I am convinced that my own seeds for writing novels were planted.
Later in life, after graduate school, I hoped for a career with travel and adventure. I learned languages, I traveled widely. That of course led me to journalism. And despite what they say about TV journalists, we do write our own copy, quickly, and on deadline — day after day, year after year. This ability to meet daily deadlines instilled in me a writing discipline that helps nowadays as I sketch out a novel.
The life of a journalist is one of waiting. During those interminable flights, a paperback is the necessary accessory. During a 24-year career as a correspondent for CNN, I read stacks and stacks of paperbacks, and covered the globe.
And that is how I became a writer. My propensity for description, world travel, daily deadline, and the informal study of the structure of a mass-market paperback, came to me slowly and steadily, almost by osmosis.
My approach to writing does not come from an academic technique. I never learned about points of view, plot outlines, or first, second or third person. I approach writing a novel the way I approach writing a news report: first I visit the spot, and then I write the story. The first half of the writing process is research and travel. I go to exotic places, gathering impressions, photos, and videos. The second phase of the process is telling the story. I sit down and write.
My novels are romantic thrillers. I start from a factual base, such as the 1918 pandemic, or the curatorial work of Egyptologists in the Brooklyn Museum. I interview people in the field, just as I would as a journalist. For example in The Stolen Chalice, I went to the Naval Medical Research facility in Cairo to talk to doctors about infectious diseases. For The Explorer’s Code, I went to Arctic Norway to talk to the man who founded the Global Seed Vault. I base much of my novel on interviews and factual information. That’s why I characterize my thrillers as “fact based fiction.”
As a journalist and as a novelist, I believe I have the same mission: to inform as well as to entertain. I don’t like to spend my time reading something without learning, and I believe most people have the samekind of natural curiosity. As ajournalist, the news “story” has to be told with drama and style. Hopefully my romantic thrillers are equally informative and interesting.
Please visit Kitty Pilgrim’s website.