|August 10, 2004|
Kate White On Magazines, Motherhood, and Murder
Guts and Gusto a Winning Combo for Cosmo Editor Kate White
Kate White '72 majored in English, but she turns to physics to express her professional philosophy.
"Motion begets motion," says the Cosmopolitan editor-in-chief whose 2002 mystery, If Looks Could Kill, launched her career as a best-selling novelist.
"It's nutty doing both at the same time, but it's been helpful to play one thing off another. Being editor of Cosmo helped me get attention, but that alone isn't enough," she says, citing praise from the New York Times, People, Publishers Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.
Set in the aggressive world of women's magazines she knows so well, If Looks Could Kill features a crime writer's search for the killer of a high-powered New York City editor's nanny. The paperback version was released in May. The second book in the series, A Body to Die For, debuted recently, and a third is in the works.
A 'Glamourous' Beginning
A good sign - Kate White autographs her book, If Looks Could Kill, for Union students and alumnae at a gathering of Union Women Connect
Kate M. White, who grew up in Glens Falls, N.Y., was destined for the writing cosmos. She fell for Nancy Drew at 12, at about the same time her mother (Anne White, also a mystery writer) gave her a typewriter. "Nancy Drew changed my life," White says. "She showed how strong and successful a female could be."
Since then, magazines and murder stories have been keys to her star-studded success in publishing.
At Union, White was picked to enter Glamour magazine's Top 10 College Women contest. Winning earned her a trip to Europe, landed her face on the cover of Glamour and jumpstarted her career. She credits then-Dean of Students Edward J. Malloy Jr. and then-Coordinator of Student Activities Lorraine Marra for singling her out for her passion for life and learning.
"They used to call me 'Katydid,'" she says, fondly recounting a sobriquet from those Union days.
White also felt a particular kinship with three faculty members: English professors Frank Gado and the late Hans Freund, and Jan Ludwig, who taught philosophy. "When I think of all the times I sat in Hans Freund's office looking out the window on winter days," she muses.
THE UNION SPIRIT
"One of the great values of attending a college like Union is that the teachers are there to talk to you. I loved Union passionately. For me, it was a fabulous experience."
White relishes the opportunity to reminisce about the school's first coed class, where she was the first woman on the All College Senate and played a Mouseketeer in the musical, Disnetia.
She recalls spirited, into-the-wee-hours book discussions with her male classmates, and she remembers annoying her parents her first day on campus when she was followed by a Channel 10 camera crew while wearing against her mother's advice a miniskirt made even shorter with a big red belt.
"I was the lead story on the news. If you'd watched Channel 10, you'd have heard, 'Union College goes coed,' and there I was, wearing what my mother warned me not to."
White also was prose editor of The Idol, where one of her first pieces focused on beautiful, popular and allegedly haunted Jackson's Garden a fitting early precursor to her mystery writing.
THE REAL WORLD
Latest accolade - Named one of "eight women who changed the world" by New York Women in Communications Inc., Cosmo Editor Kate White was honored at the 2003 Matrix Awards at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York
White began her career as an editorial assistant at Glamour and continued her ascent with editor-in-chief positions at Child, Working Woman, McCall's and Redbook. In 1998, she was named editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, the top-selling newsstand magazine in the United States. The Hearst executive also is the author of two popular career how-to's, including Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do (1995).
Though the Cosmo sales record is impressive and the book reviews stellar, White says her greatest accomplishment is achieving that delicate and often elusive balance between motherhood and work. She and her husband, TV journalist Brad Holbrook, are raising two teens.
"The greatest thing for me was discovering that I could work and not feel it was a bad thing for my kids," she affirms. "In the beginning, there was some angst, but now I see my kids at 15 and 13, and they have thrived with me being a working parent."
White notes that she's always been ruthless about "not letting anyone else dictate my time." In her well-balanced world, efficiency not workaholism rules.
What did she do when one boss, a top editor, said after the birth of her first child, "I hope you're not planning to leave by five?"
"I got a new job," White says.
What does it take to get to the top of the masthead?
One of the biggest mistakes women make on a job interview is they're afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves," Kate White says. "They come across as subdued and a little too cool. People on the other end want to feel that you love what this is about."
Success also comes from "bumping into things in the world, being out there, exposed to newness and freshness and constantly filling the well." For White, it may be as simple as stopping by a new little Manhattan café or taking a day off to see an art film with her husband. "In the process, I get great ideas," she says.