Former CNN Anchor Kitty Pilgrim on Her New Novel ‘The Stolen Chalice’ (Q&A)
She talks about her new “romantic thriller,” making the leap from journalist to novelist and traveling the world for research.
Kitty Pilgrim, the CNN-anchor-turned-novelist, has a new book out, The Stolen Chalice, a follow up to her 2011 debut, The Explorer's Code, which continues the adventures of archeologist John Sinclair and Oceanographer Cordelia.
Pilgrim, who is also a member of New York City’s famed Explorer’s Club and the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations in addition to being a former news anchor, talked with The Hollywood Reporter about her "romantic thriller," making the leap from reporter to novelist and traveling the world for research.
THR: Tell us about your new book.
Kitty Pilgrim: The Stolen Chalice has an Egyptian theme and it's really a blending of the old romance of Howard Carter and Tutankhamen and the old Victorian explorers in Egypt with new modern Egyptology. So there's the new science of how you study mummies with CAT scans and all the new sort of thinking on Egypt and then it blends in some of the political aspects of Egypt, too. So it sort of updates that whole thing. But it still is a sort of fantasy of the Egyptian romance sort of stuff. It starts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a lot of Egyptian artifacts are stolen and that's how my characters get involved.
It's the second in what they're calling the John Sinclair series, but it's actually two characters that are recurring. John Sinclair's an archaeologist and Cordelia Stapleton's an oceanographer. So pretty much between the both of them you can go anywhere in the world. And the series basically does that. It's kind of an around the world thriller that I blended in elements of romance. So it's a romantic thriller, which is kind of a unique genre.
THR: How have the characters evolved since The Explorer's Code?
KP: In the first book they met and tended to circle each other. In the second book they have a relationship, but I've introduced John Sinclair's old girlfriend, Dr. Hollis Graham who is a bombshell. A blonde, and she's an Egyptologist so she's inserted into this book as she creates quite a bit of mayhem in the relationship. Part of this is the romantic development and part of it is this thriller chase thing that goes on.
THR: Are the characters autobiographical at all?
KP: It's kind of funny because I got to all of the places they go to in the book first to explore and do research. So I guess they are a little bit autobiographical because I go there first. I do the things that they do in the book, other than get hit with Bubonic plague. But I went to Egypt and I went to Scotland and all the locations in the book. So I write from direct experience. My friends say Cordelia is quite a lot like me but of course I always say I have to write Sinclair too and he’s a guy. There's a bit of a challenge in putting myself in a male role. I write the book from both people, both male and female. So it’s kind of a challenge.
THR: What made you decide to write novels? Was it scary?
KP: It was a little. I wrote The Explorer's Code after work because it was so stressful. I was working very hard. I was being a reporter and an anchor at the same time. And the news was just...you know the news. It's just horrific sometimes. I was getting a little overly stressed so I tried first to read on my commute home and then I couldn't really find the kind of book I wanted. A book that just sort of took me away. Because every time you pick up a thriller they're like killing someone and it was all stressful.
So I thought you know I think the world needs—It was sort of conceptual—world needs a book where you pick it up and you go away to this really beautiful fun romantic exciting place and travel and glamour and all this high-lifestyle stuff and I was kind of looking for that kind of a book so I decided to try to write one. I hadn't really had any intention of getting it published because, I wouldn't have had the nerve to actually presume that I could do this. But I just wrote it for my own entertainment. I wrote the entire The Explorer's Code after work, commuting home on the train.
When it was done I gave it to an agent I know very well, Mort [Janklow]. I gave it to him on a Friday, and he called me back on a Monday. I really thought he was going to tell me politely that I should stick to my day job. But he said, “You should really think about switching careers and doing this full time.” It was like a bomb was dropped on the table I was so stunned. I said, “Wow I would love to do that.” Twenty-four years as a reporter at CNN is a long time. I was at the height of my career so it was a little bit of a leap. But the whole thing just appealed to me so much I decided to try it.
THR: What’s the hardest part about switching from thinking like a journalist to thinking like a novelist?
KP: It was kind of funny because I felt like I had to report the story [for The Stolen Chalice] first before I could write it. I was going to all these places and at one point my editor told me I’m the only person in our entire stable of writers who goes to the places [in my books]. I was having trouble getting into Egypt at one point because of the revolution happened and they put a state department block on travel.
My editor said I could just write it without going. But it's just not how I do this. I actually put the original ending in Venice and I called her back and I said, ‘”Venice doesn't work. I have to go to Egypt so I'm going to go to Egypt and then I'll write it.” I don't give myself permission to make up a lot.
THR: What’s next for the series?
KP: The next one is on volcanology. It's just a lot of fun to bring in the history and you can do that with volcanoes too because it's going back to the Roman Empire when you had Vesuvius and Pompeii and these major volcanic events that went on in history.
See a copy of the cover below.
The interview has been condensed and edited for publication.