Q&A with Kate White
You're the author of two highly acclaimed non-fiction books for women
on getting ahead in their careers. Why did you decide to turn to writing murder
I've wanted to be a murder mystery writer ever since I was in my early 20's. I fell in love with Nancy Drew books when I was 12 and later became addicted to reading all kinds of mysteries, from English cozies to hardboiled private eye stuff. I soon began having a fantasy about writing my own. But I also loved women's magazines and over time I worked my way up in that field. A few years ago when I was the editor-in-chief of Redbook, a woman applying to be our astrology expert read my palm and said that there were two aspects to me: the side that wanted to have a job that involved sitting in the corner office and running things, and a side that needed to do something purely creative. I decided right then to make the time to write a murder mystery.
No sooner did I get started with it, however, when I encountered one of those mixed blessings in life, I was offered the Cosmo job. It was a fantastic opportunity, but it required 100 percent of my concentration. I didn't feel I should be channeling my creative energy elsewhere, so I reluctantly put the book aside. About six months after I started at Cosmo, I dug the manuscript out just to take a look. I was startled to see that in the first draft I had the nanny lying dead on a copy of Cosmo and took it as a sign that I was meant to continue writing the book!
As the editor in chief of the world's most successful women's magazines, with all that entails, and with a husband and two children, how do you find the time to write?
I learned some great tricks in my 20's. I used to have a real issue with procrastinating when it came to writing. For instance, I'd swear during the week that I would devote my entire Saturday to trying my hand at fiction, but then I'd always put it off. My full time job was working at a magazine, doing mostly how-to articles, and I devised a strategy to lick my problem. I pitched a few ideas on time management so I could interview the top experts in the country, and I walked away with innovative ideas that cured me. In particular, I learned that I do better writing in small blocks of time, it doesn't seem so overwhelming that way. So I write a little bit every morning, and on Saturdays and Sundays I write more because my kids sleep late on the weekend.
If Looks Could Kill paints the world of women's fashion magazines as extremely cutthroat. Has this been your experience?
Yes and no. Mostly it's been fabulous working in women's magazines. The majority of my closest friends are people I met along the way, and the Cosmo staff is awesome. But there are small pockets of pure nastiness in the industry. Some people can be catty and gossipy and seem to take pleasure in other people's setbacks. And yes, sometimes they can be cutthroat. Once when I was working as a senior editor, my boss resigned and I was up for his job. I was in a colleague's office when she asked me to close the door. I thought she was about to confess that she was having a sex change operation or something of that seriousness. Instead, she announced that she had the top boss wrapped around her little finger and if I played my cards right she'd work for me, not against me. I was so stunned I could barely speak.
Your heroine is a true crime writer at a women's magazine. Where did your own career begin?
I won Glamour Magazine's Top Ten College Woman Contest and appeared on the cover. After I came to New York Glamour offered me a job. I entered the contest in part because I had no idea how to break into magazines. I figured if I won, it would get me to square one. I started as an editorial assistant and moved up from there.
Are any of the characters in the book modeled on real magazine people?
No, they're all made up. I didn't want anyone to kill me.
Who are some of your favorite mystery authors?
I love English mysteries, especially anything by P.D. James, Elizabeth George and the Inspector Wexford series by Ruth Rendell. I also love Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Linda Fairstein, Patricia Cornwall, Mary Willis Walker, Diane Mott Davidson, Lisa Scottoline, Lynn Hightower, Jonathan Kellerman, and so many more. Last but not least, Anne White, my mom, whose first mystery, An Affinity For Murder, A Lake George Mystery, came out last year.
Do you have future plans for Bailey Weggins?
I'm already at work on a second mystery with her. It's called A Body to Die For. And thank goodness it's taking less time to write than the first one.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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