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Book Talk: I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This by Kate White (retired Cosmo editor-in-chief)

I Shouldn't Be Telling You This coverLexicon Lovers, this interview was first published on, and I’m happy to share it here!


Kate White, the editor-in-chief of the ever-daring and sassy Cosmopolitan magazine, wears many hats including wife, mother, bestselling author, irreverent editor and all around go-getter. A publishing veteran who’s been the editor-in-chief of five magazines (from Redbook to Cosmo) and the author of eight novels (including the Bailey Wiggins Mysteries), Kate has figured out what it takes to have your cake and eat it too. This month, with one hand she turns over the Cosmo keys to Joanna Coles and with the other she serves up the “success secrets that every gutsy girl should know” with the publication of a new book. After sharing some of those secrets in the 1990s career bible Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead… But Gutsy Girls Do, she’s back with more insights in I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This on shelves September 18. Kate’s website is a font of information and inspiration; let her know if you like it and love it —, @katemwhite.    

Now, without further delay, we ask Kate a few questions.

Who named you Kate and why?

My friend Dee. It says Kathleen on my birth certificate and I was called Kathy for years—as were about six other girls in my grade at school. When I was 14, Dee announced that I was destined to do cool things in life and I needed a more distinctive name, like Kate Hepburn. He started calling me Kate from that day on, which made me feel very special. Before long so did my family, though I couldn’t convince anyone else to make the switch. I started to despair that the name wasn’t going to stick. Then, on my first day at college, a girl from my floor walked by my room and noticed the sign that said Kathy White on my door and said, “Oh, there’s another Kathy on the floor, too. We’ll have to figure out a way to tell you apart.” I blurted out, “That’s easy. Because I’m actually called Kate.” It was such a thrilling moment for me. I half expected her to say, “No, you’re not, you little liar.” But she just smiled and shook my hand. And that’s when it really began. Before long the people who knew me as Kate outnumbered the ones who called me Kathy.

Though I sometimes feel a little sad about abandoning Kathy—I mean, it was the name my wonderful parents chose for me—I do love being a Kate. It’s a name that manages to be both fun and fearless at the same time. I also love that my husband, family and closest friends call me Kater.

How did you become an author?

I wanted to become an author for as long as I can remember. I wrote stories and plays and poems all the time I was growing up. I’ve just always felt the urge to write. It’s not something I can stop doing. I just feel wired to want to create stories. As the career path of editor opened up for me, the opportunity of being an author started to recede a bit, making me panic. I just resolved to somehow make the time. I gave up goals like learning tennis or a second language or ever having a killer body in order to make the time to write.

What was the muse for your first completed/published book?

The muse for my first published book was the TV show Law and Order.  Re-runs of the series used to be on every night at 11 and that’s when I wrote—after my kids and husband were in bed. The sound helped keep me from passing out from sheer fatigue, and since I’d seen every episode a zillion times, it wasn’t a distraction. I probably should have dedicated that book to Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy. For fiction, though, I can’t write at night. I’ve tried but it’s hopeless. I’ve written all my mysteries and thrillers in the morning. When my kids were little I had to get up very early so it didn’t infringe on their time with me, but now that they’re in their twenties I can write for hours on Saturday and Sundays. My muse is always an enclosed space with the same operas playing over and over and a scented candle burning. I think the secret to finally writing is to figure out the perfect set-up for yourself.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on my first novel that’s not a thriller or mystery—it’s a story that focuses on love, friendship, and choices. I’m also plotting the seventh Bailey Weggins mystery.

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

My greatest accomplishment is that I seem to have navigated having a career (as an author as well as the editor-in-chief of five magazines, including—for 14 years—Cosmopolitan) with being a wife for 26 years and mother of two kids. I say “seem” because I never take anything for granted.

What’s your favorite word?


What’s your least favorite word?


Who’s your favorite literary character?

Nancy Drew

What’s your favorite quote?

“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune” (from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar)

If you weren’t an author, what profession would you like to try?

Magazine editor. Oh, wait, I got to try that too!

If you could do one thing in your life over, what would it be?

Not meet my first husband.

Now you know what time it is… reading time. From  the Introduction of Kate White’s upcoming book I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This: Success Secrets that Every Gutsy Girl Should Know:

There’s something fairly ironic about the fact that I ended up running Cosmo. When I was seventeen, my mother handed me a copy of Sex and the Single Girl, the classic 1962 best seller by Helen Gurley Brown, and encouraged me to read it. I felt briefly flustered by the idea that my mother was giving me a book of sex tips (at that age you’re still not convinced your parents have ever had sex), but it was soon clear that she had another motive: she wanted me to use Helen Gurley Brown as a role model.

My fabulous mother knew, you see, that I yearned to be a writer and maybe a magazine editor one day, and I think she assumed that Helen’s career could be a kind of blueprint for me. After writing her best seller, Helen, as many women know, went on to brilliantly reinvent Cosmopolitan magazine, starting in 1965. Of course, I don’t think my mom ever expected that I’d take her advice quite so literally and one day become the editor in chief of Cosmo myself.

It would be nice if I could tell you that from reading the book I absorbed a bunch of helpful strategies, and then, following college, strode boldly into Manhattan and shot up the ladder of success. Not.

So how did Kate White make her path? Be sure to check out the next meeting, Book Clubbers, where we will get more of the skinny on I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This hot off the press. Stay tuned for more!

Kate’s Book Club is a column on featuring interviews with authors named Kate, as well as reviews of books starring Kate characters. It runs on every other Wednesday at 10:30am, and is written by the self-admitted bibliophile Kate E. Stephenson, who you should follow on Twitter here. Oh, and write to Kate to suggest authors and books we should read for future columns.


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