Friday, June 20, 2014

The Mystery of the Mean Spirited Girls: Guest Post by Kate White

Today I welcome Kate White,  author of nine works of fiction—six Bailey Weggins mysteries and three suspense novels, including, Eyes on You (June 2014). For fourteen years she was the Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, and though she loved the job (and the Cosmo beauty closet!), she decided to leave in late 2013 to concentrate full time on being an author. Her first Bailey Weggins mystery, If Looks Could Kill, was named as the premier Reading with Rippa selection and soon shot to number one on Amazon. (And it’s now being made into an opera!). Kate is currently editing the Mystery Writers of America cookbook, a selection of recipes from many of the top-selling authors.
Kate is also the author of several very popular career books, including I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: How to Ask for the Money, Snag the Promotion, and Create the Career You Deserve, and Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead but Gutsy Girls Do. 

Twitter: @katemwhite

The Mystery of the Mean-Spirited Girls

Some people might consider this crazy, but two years ago I left my position as the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine in order to work full time as a mystery author.

Editing Cosmo was a delicious, exhilarating, fabulous job (and one of the perks was a key to the Cosmo beauty closet!), but I’d been writing suspense novels through most of my fourteen years at the magazine, and I wanted to have the experience of being a full-time author while I still had the chance.

My life as a writer today bears little resemblance to the Cosmo years. At Cosmo a typical day for me included everything from writing those wild cover lines to watching hunky male models roam the halls without their shirts on to having celebs like Pharrell Williams drop by to share what they were up to. Now I spend my days in a small home office and the only shirtless man I see is my husband (I love the guy but it’s not quite the same).

But though the jobs couldn’t be more different, there was actually a day at Cosmo that might as well have been ripped from the pages of one of my mysteries. Someone did something bad and I had no idea who it was. But I was determined to find out.

Here’s the story: Not long after I took over the reigns at Cosmo, I started a monthly speaker series for my staff, giving them a chance to hear from a variety of interesting people. Nice, right? Except a nasty person on staff decided to leak a tidbit about one of the first speakers, a well-known fashion designer, to Page Six, the popular gossip column in the New York Post. The item mocked the designer, saying she’d given her talk while displaying an ugly case of “visible panty line.” Another item followed the next day claiming I was annoyed about the leak. They titled that one “White Fury.”

Neither item was terrible (and the second one actually amused me), but it bugged me that someone on the staff I’d inherited was so mean-spirited and conniving. I didn’t want people like that working for me. I asked our PR person to use any contacts at the newspaper to find out who the culprit was, but she called back explaining that, as expected, the gossip columnist would not reveal his sources. EVER.

I was so frustrated. In my books, the truth always comes out in the end, but it looked like that wasn’t going to happen in real life.     

So soon after, I sat down and asked myself: If this were a mystery novel, what would the protagonist do? Well, she’d start by making a list of suspects.

I got out a staff list—about sixty people reported to me—and I crossed out everyone who my gut told me wouldn’t have done something so underhanded. Because I’d only recently started at the magazine, I didn't know everybody well, but I trusted the people I’d brought with me, and also a handful of people I’d been working closely with for weeks. At least it was a start.

Then I got my assistant to snoop around, trying to figure out if there were people on staff who felt disgruntled about all the changes that had been going on (that always happens when one editor-in-chief leaves and another arrives). She came back with a few names, including two young women who were all palsy-walsy and seemed to have major chips on their shoulders.

And then I ended up with an intriguing clue. According to my PR person, the  gossip columnist said that the panty line story had been corroborated by someone else on my staff. That seemed to indicate that there were two people in cahoots.

Ah ha! My mind immediately flew back to those two disgruntled young women. I was pretty sure I now knew who’d done it.

But how to prove it? There was no evidence whatsoever. But I was so certain at this point that I tried a strategy: Each time I passed each of these women in the hallway, I looked right at her and held her eyes without any expression on my face. It was my way of saying, “I know it was you.” Both women resigned within a month.

Case closed. No more meanies on the staff!

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