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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 4, 2002

Fashion fodder finds way to fiction

By Samantha Critchell
Associated Press

Kate White, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan and author of "If Looks Could Kill," says "you write about what you know."

Associated Press

Cosmopolitan's Kate White knows a lot about killer looks.

And not just the kind of looks a woman gets from admirers when she's all decked out in a super-sexy dress; nor the looks the same woman gets from all the jealous, catty females around her.

As editor in chief of the racy fashion and beauty magazine, White is more than a little familiar with these things but she also fancies herself an armchair detective who can hold her own in a conversation about murder and mayhem.

White is living out this part of her personality on the pages of her first novel, a mystery called "If Looks Could Kill" (Warner Books), picked by TV show host Kelly Ripa for her new book club. The story centers around a clever, fairly levelheaded free-lance writer and an over-the-top editor of a glossy fashion magazine.

"You write about what you know," White says with a laugh.

During a recent interview at her corner Cosmopolitan office, White, 50, says she initially saw herself as the writer-turned-sleuth, but upon reflection — and a quick survey of her surroundings — she also understands that she's more than a bit like hard-edged editor Cat Jones, who is saddled with a dead nanny.

"I thought Cat was a composite of other editors ... but Kate White versus Cat Jones is close," White says.

She adds: "I hope I'm not like her as a boss. She's a meanie."

White says she turned to a fiction book, which has since blossomed into a series, because her work as an editor limits her actual writing time.

White started out as a writer, gaining entree into the world of magazines through a Glamour magazine contest she entered while still a student at Union College in upstate New York. She then took a position at that publication.

It didn't take long to see that writers hit a ceiling in the magazine world and the only way to break through is as an editor, she explains. Before landing the Cosmopolitan position four years ago, she was the top editor at Redbook and she had worked at Child and Working Woman, among others.

She says she loves covering fashion because she appreciates beautiful clothes, she gets to wear animal-print T-shirts to the office and she helps advise women on using clothes to define themselves and their goals.

White's other passion is the whodunit.

She's been a fan of the mystery genre since reading the Nancy Drew tale "The Secret of Red Gate Farm" when she was a kid. (White's heroine, Bailey Weggins, could easily pass as an older version of the teenage detective.)

When White and her newscaster husband Brad Holbrook took the family to London, they skipped the castles and went on a Jack the Ripper tour of famous murder sites. Her favorite TV show is "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

White spent many lunch hours interviewing medical professionals and police officers as research for "If Looks Could Kill," and she did the bulk of her writing in the early morning.

And, she adds, with a 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son in her house, Saturday mornings are quiet until at least 10 a.m. White also says she found herself "writing" the next chapter of the book while she was in the shower or trying to fall asleep at night — "until I scared myself silly."

Working in the fashion world and writing about it posed a unique challenge, White says, because sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction and she was concerned the rest of America wouldn't believe what they were reading.

She recalls an experience with a celebrity cover model who at first refused to wear leather because of her animal-rights work, which seemed reasonable to White. Then the star wouldn't wear silk because she was concerned that silkworms were being mistreated.

Even the fashion lingo sometimes is silly, she says.

An example: a go-see, which is essentially a model's audition, gets its name from a model going to a magazine's office and an editor seeing her. "You'd think they'd come up with something more clever," White says.

But while her experiences at Cosmopolitan gave her considerable fodder for the book, the book is fiction.

"I hope that people will see it as a mystery, that it isn't so much a tell-all about this (fashion) world," she says.

"What I hope Bailey is for people is a realization that there are two sides of everything. ... In this world, as in other high-pressure worlds, there is a dark side. And there are moments when people will be bitchy and nasty and gossipy, but all my friends come from this world and I hope that people will like Bailey and think that she's in that world, too, so there must be some people who don't take it too seriously."

So where will Bailey Weggins do her investigating for the second book? A spa.

"When I knew I had to come up with a proposal for another book, I made an appointment for a massage and facial — and I saw a potential weapon."