At the end of the dock in Menemsha Harbor sits a stately white yacht. At 75 feet, it can’t fit anywhere closer in the harbor. Inside the yacht, a woman often sits cross-legged in a bright sitting room, imagining far-off worlds full of romance and historical intrigue. She’s Kitty Pilgrim, CNN correspondent-turned-novelist, and she’s been hard at work writing her third book, while promoting, by boat, her latest release, The Stolen Chalice.
Ms. Pilgrim’s book tour has taken her to Chatham, Sandwich and Nantucket in the last week, as well as Martha’s Vineyard. She writes, reads and gets interviewed on diamond merchant Maurice Tempelsman’s yacht, Relemar, during much of the summer months. The book contains many references to the Cape and Islands.
“It seeps into the writing,” Ms. Pilgrim said in an interview that took place on Relemar.
The character of Metropolitan Museum director, Ted VerPlank, docks his boat in Buzzards Bay. Mr. VerPlank also wonders if the last time he saw Charlie Hannifin, a member of the board of directors at the museum, was at the Chilmark book festival.
Ms. Pilgrim worked as a journalist for CNN for 24 years, as an international correspondent and as an anchor. When she signed a two-book contract with Scribner, she decided to switch careers completely.
“I put myself on assignment,” she said. “Instead of waiting for something to happen.”
The Stolen Chalice, released earlier this month, is the second in a series of five books she’s outlined for Scribner Publishing. Ms. Pilgrim’s first book, Explorer’s Code, was released in July of 2011. In it, readers were first introduced to oceanographic scientist Cordelia Stapleton, and her partner in crime (and love) John Sinclair, archeologist and philanthropist.
Ms. Pilgrim finds it difficult to stay in one place after covering news all over the world for CNN.
“I learned to write on a reporter’s notepad. I was always moving through time and place,” she said.
She’s chosen a hybrid genre — romantic thriller fiction — for her latest career.
“As a reporter I was always running through an airport, always grabbing a paperback. I always got to the rack, and I’d think, ‘do I want a romance or a thriller?’ I always picked the thriller, but there weren’t any strong women [characters], and it wasn’t written from a female sensibility. . . . I wanted to write the book that I was craving.”
In The Stolen Chalice, she’s effectively combined the themes of romance and crime, and gives an insider’s view into the world of art collecting.
“One woman said it was the only thriller she had read with a china pattern named in it.”
While most thrillers are written from a male point of view, Ms. Pilgrim’s rely more on the female voice.
“A lot of times women in thrillers are victims or window dressing,” she said. “But Cordelia [the heroine] is no accessory.” In The Stolen Chalice, the female viewpoint is vital to the problem-solving process, she said. “[Mr. Sinclair and Ms. Stapleton] are helping each other, inching their way forward with their individual strengths.”
Some romance scenes are written from the male point of view — portions for which she was forced to consult with the men in her life, including her two sons.
The Stolen Chalice’s plot hinges on an art heist performed during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Ancient Civilizations Ball. Highly valuable items go missing from the Egyptian Wing, and, concurrently, from Ted VerPlank’s penthouse on Fifth Avenue. Then readers are swept into the world of black market art criminals, who skip town on a huge yacht owned by British socialite, Lady Xandra Sommerset.
The characters travel through five separate locations over the course of the two books and to research the books, Ms. Pilgrim visited each one. She took scuba diving lessons to familiarize herself with the gear involved. She also took aviation lessons. Along the way, she jotted down locations, latitude by longitude — 15 knots there, 48 degrees longitude there — as well as a host of historical information about ancient Egypt. She even applied for, and was given, clearance to visit the US Naval Medical Research Unit in Cairo, a high security facility.
“I’m really a reporter at heart,” she said. “I’m not really a novelist. Everything [my characters] do, I do. It’s a CNN international correspondent’s approach to writing novels.”
But she’s relieved to find that writers are friendlier, and less competitive than journalists.
“They are so supportive,” she said. “Everybody is rooting for you.”