June 10, 2013 Updated: June 10, 2013 at 10:55 am
Imagine an exotic setting and the ideal you - the hair, figure and pedigree with which you wish you'd been born. Now, weave a story. Say, a tale of lost pirate treasure and swashbuckling on the high seas ...
Thus Wendy Wilkinson began sketching the skull-and-crossbones outline of "Pirate's Plunder," a new adventure novel and the first work of fiction by the New York Times best-selling writer, who lives in Manitou Springs.
The novel follows Adele Bonny, the fictional niece - many generations removed - of real pirate Anne Bonny, who with her eventual husband, "Calico" Jack Rackham, plundered vessels in the waters around Jamaica in the early 1700s. Adele, the inheritor of some of her great aunt's treasures, as well as a strange psychic connection to the long-dead lady pirate, embarks on a high seas quest after her seemingly perfect life in Nassau falls apart.
"She (Anne Bonny) was every bit as much a pirate as her husband," Wilkinson said. "Even though I'm nothing like Adele - I always wanted to be tall, with a dancer's body, and these are characteristics that Adele has - there is a lot of me in her. I always wanted to be a pirate."
Before moving into the "dream house" she and her husband built on a hill overlooking Manitou, Wilkinson was a Hollywood publicist. She worked with TV and film stars such as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Jane Fonda and twice attended the Academy Awards.
"Being a publicist got me connections," Wilkinson said. "But I got really tired of walking ungrateful celebrities down the red carpet. As a publicist I did good work, but I did it for someone else. The thing I loved the best about being a publicist was the writing."
So write, she did.
Wilkinson's first book, "Parents at Last: Celebrating Adoption and the New Pathways to Parenthood," published in 1998, was inspired by her own experiences adopting her daughter from China. The book provided an intimate look, through interviews and photos, of people who had pursued non-traditional paths to complete their families.
Her 2004 book, "People We Know, Horses They Love," co-written with "Today Show"correspondent Jill Rappaport, featured profiles and photos of celebrities and their horses. The coffee-table book was on the New York Times best-seller list for 10 weeks.
Wilkinson, who has a master's degree in journalism, regularly contributes to "Cowboys & Indians" magazine, for which she has profiled Jeff Bridges, Christie Brinkley and Josh Brolin, among others. Whenever possible, she interviews celebrities at home on their ranches, relaxed and interacting with their horses.
"My life has been a series of writing about what I care about," said Wilkinson, who grew up in the saddle and now owns two quarter horses, Roxanne and Red Rock, which the family boards nearby.
So, how does a passion for pirates and lost treasure find a writer landlocked in the mountains of Colorado?
Morgan Freeman had a little something to do with it.
Wilkinson grew up on the beaches of Southern California, and it was that early-formed love of the sea that later drew her to the Bahamas, where after repeated visits she and her husband purchased a second home in 2007, in Marsh Harbor.
A few years before, Wilkinson collaborated with Freeman on a celebrity cookbook to benefit Freeman's Grenada Relief Fund project, aiding the victims of Hurricane Ivan, which devastated the island in 2004. Research for that 2006 book, "Morgan Freeman and Friends: Caribbean Cooking for a Cause," required Wilkinson to become intimate with the exotic spices and culinary traditions of her soon-to-be second home. That research, in turn, provided the germ that eventually would become her first novel.
"I had explored different potential story lines. I explored time travel," said Wilkinson, who knew she wanted to write fiction but that she didn't have it in her to churn out a massive high fantasy or painstakingly-researched tome of historical fiction. "I'm a lighter, more humorous writer."
In researching "Plunder," Wilkinson studied pirate history and took ferries to remote coves around the Bahamas, searching for locales to recast for scenes in the book. She gave her husband and daughter notebooks and dispatched them to record local color details, such as interesting street names and scenes.
Getting inside the imagined head of her heroine, Adele, required seasoned journalist Wilkinson to flex her writing muscles in a new direction, though.
"It was exciting, but really hard. I had to create a different voice," she said. As a non-fiction writer, "when I tell someone's story, I try to tell it in their voice. I try to become them."
The character outline helped, too.
Pirate genre fiction this might be, but you'll find no heaving bosoms, helpless heroines and seductively unlaced corsets here, said Wilkinson.
"This is a story about the survival of two women," she said. "These are not wenches, these are female pirates."
There's more pirating to come; Wilkinson envisions a trilogy based on the characters introduced in "Plunder."
For the second installment, "I think they're going to go in search of the Fountain of Youth," Wilkinson said. "The research for that one's going to be fun."