The breeze danced across the sails of many boats tied in the Menemsha Sound but it seemed barely to sway the majestic 70-foot frame of the Relemar. Entering the yacht’s living room to shake hands with a tall, poised and enthusiastic brunette, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you have taken a step into Kitty Pilgrim’s debut novel, The Explorer’s Code.
The Explorer’s Code follows a young oceanographer as she escapes assassins and corrupt government officials in her journey to find her great-great-grandfather’s deed to land on which rests the global seed vault; it’s a fictional story pivoting around a real place in Svalbard, Norway, designed to preserve every variety of food for the world, in case of global disaster. Along the way the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientist is falling helplessly in love with a charming, world-renowned archaeologist and wealthy philanthropist, John Sinclair, creating an entirely different sort of intrigue.
This romantic thriller, unlike many of the thrillers available today, features a female protagonist with strength, intelligence and independence.
“I wanted a very strong, female, career-oriented, scientific-minded sort of woman,” says Ms. Pilgrim. She wanted to see “the heroine of a thriller the way that men can be heroes in thrillers.
“So I decided to write my own book, with my own vision of what a thriller should be.”
Ms. Pilgrim, who often visited Martha’s Vineyard as a child, frequently returns to Menemsha on the Relemar with Maurice Templesman. He makes a gracious exit to another cabin as Ms. Pilgrim settles in to talk about The Explorer’s Code.
When questioned about the challenges of writing such an intricately woven story, Ms. Pilgrim furrows her brow in deep thought. “There weren’t too many challenges...” the veteran CNN broadcaster begins slowly, “it was really more like an escape. I would put in a really hard, 10-hour day, and I was commuting from my house upstate and so I had about an hour of downtime.”
Without hesitation, she smiles and adds, “I started to write this and very quickly it became addictive; I just couldn’t wait to get to the train to start writing again because it was really very fun!”
Protagonist Cordelia Stapleton, quite the mirror image of Kitty Pilgrim herself, also was written specifically to inspire and inform the readers who are captivated by her journey. Ms. Pilgrim has been to the places in the book — Monaco, Turkey, the Arctic among them — she’s covered the exotic stories and she loves science.
“I’m trying to inspire my younger readers to follow a career in science because it really is very cool and interesting and I’d like my readers to get that it’s fact-based fiction — so you’ll be highly entertained and taken away to a fantasy land of luxury and travel, but you’ll actually learn something so that when your done with the book you don’t just throw it aside,” she says.
The plot, a mix of archaeological discoveries, national pandemics, international oceanic institutes and more, came quite simply to Ms. Pilgrim, who drew on her many international experiences and interests: “I knew I wanted to do the global seed vault in the book (she has been to the exotic Norwegian vault), I wanted to work in the 1918 pandemic (she reported on SARS and avian flu), I really love the Alvin submersible program (she’s a regular in these waters) and even though all those things seem very different, I tied them together in a plot — and it actually worked because their common link was my interests.”
Her interests also link the printed page with interactive media. Likewise, another aspect that sets The Explorer’s Code apart from other thrillers is its e-book version, a project which has incorporated both of Ms. Pilgrim’s careers.
“Now with the new technology that there is, a capacity for the tablet readers to actually play videos,” she says, clearly excited by and active in the e-book process. “I blend my two careers, that as a writer and that as a television journalist, together to produce an enhanced e-book.”
She has taken many of the photographs and shot much of the video shown in the e-book.
Her interests have prompted her to create outlines for a series of five books, though her contract with New York publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons requires only two. Her second “Sinclair-Cordelia” novel has just been submitted for editing and will be available in a few months, along with another e-book.
Readers will be delighted to know familiar characters such as Cordelia Stapleton, John Sinclair and Jim Gardner will be returning. What’s in store with the next novel?
“If you have any interest in Egyptology and mummies, you’ll learn the cutting-edge science in the next book,” she says with a sparkle.