Patricia Cornwell December 2010 Author of the Month
Born in Miami, but growing up in North Carolina, Patricia Cornwell has experienced many things one might consider a grooming of some sort for what was to come in her literary career. Among many other things, following graduation from Davidson College, Cornwell began working at the Charlotte Observer, quickly moving from listing television programs to writing feature articles to covering the police beat. She won an investigative reporting award from the North Carolina Press Association for a series of articles on prostitution and crime in downtown Charlotte. Not something your everyday civilian gets to experience, we dare say. Her award winning biography of Ruth Bell Graham, “A Time for Remembering” was published in 1983. From 1984 to 1990 she worked as a technical writer and a computer analyst at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia. Talk about having your thumb on the pulse of something quite useful for a writer! In 1990, her first crime novel, “Postmortem” was published. Initially rejected by seven major, publishing houses, it became the first novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony and Macavity awards as well as the French Prix du Roman d’ Aventure in a single year. Cornwell introduced the bold, Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Kay Scarpetta in “Postmortem”. In 1999, Dr. Scarpetta herself won the Sherlock Award for best detective created by an American author. Now there was a huge clue about what was to come for Cornwell. Following the success of her first novel, Cornwell wrote a series of bestsellers featuring Dr. Scarpetta that highlight her detective sidekick, Pete Marino and her brilliant, capricious niece, Lucy Farinelli. From “Body of Evidence” (1991), to “All That Remains” (1992) to “The Scarpetta Factor” (2009) and “Post Mortuary” (Release date: 11/30/10), Cornwell has written thirteen other Scarpetta books in between, keeping us entertained and captivated for hours at a time. In addition to the Scarpetta novels, she has written several other books, all of which have something for everyone, including, but not limited to “Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed” (2002) where Cornwell herself narrates her detection of persuasive evidence to prosecute the famous artist Walter Sickert as the Ripper. With so many accolades, Suspense Magazine couldn’t resist infringing on her time so we could all have a chance to get to know this fascinating, talented writer just a little bit better. Enjoy!
Suspense Magazine (S. MAG.): Have you found it very difficult in keeping Kay Scarpetta so fresh with each book?
Patricia Cornwell (P.C.): No. She is such a complex character that I learn something new about her all the time. Of course it helps that I’m constantly doing research and trying to keep myself intimately familiar with her ever-changing world.
S. MAG.: How have you evolved as a writer from the start of your career until now?
P.C.: I think I’m a better writer, to be honest. Hopefully one learns with practice and I pay close attention to what I like and don’t like in other writings and art forms, what works and doesn’t. I think by writing in the third person point of view for a decade I was able to become more limber as a writer and that experience will bring more range and texture to the first person point of view now that I’ve switched back to it.
S. MAG.: Which Kay Scarpetta novel was most difficult to write, maybe because of a personal connection with the story?
P.C.: “Postmortem” by far. It was my break-through book and scared me badly for a lot of reasons—especially since we’d just had similar serial murders in Richmond.
S. MAG.: What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
P.C.: Winning the Gold Dagger for “Cruel and Unusual” was wonderful, especially since it was presented by Agatha Christie’s grandson. I was awed by that alone. I’ve had so many magical things it is hard to sort through it all! For example, how can I ever get over the enthusiasm of the fans? I never cease to be amazed my readers.
S. MAG.: If you could meet one person, dead or alive and talk with them for one hour, who would it be?
P.C.: Abraham Lincoln. I’d want his perspective on just about everything you can think of. Most of all, I’d ask him if humankind has improved much. Of course, we’ d discuss what he’s been up to since people saw him last.
S. MAG.: Is there something in your writing career that you have not done yet, but is still on your bucket list?
P.C.: Successful screenwriting—‘successful’ being the operative word. But I’ve also always wanted to play the drums. And act. And be a professional tennis player…
S. MAG.: What book changed your life?
P.C.: “Postmortem” (I’m probably supposed to say some other author’s book, but this is the truth.)
S. MAG.: If you could solve one historical mystery for yourself, what would it be?
P.C.: I still have a lot of questions about the Jack the Ripper case, even though I wrote about it. There is so much that will always be missing or never existed, including evidence from the crime scenes. I wish I could go back in time and walk through the only indoor scene we know of from those brutal murders—Mary Kelly’s room. Something in there would have clinched the case.
S. MAG.: Do you find shows like CSI a good or bad thing for fans to learn about forensic science? Where do they get it wrong?
P.C.: Anything that gets the public interested is a good thing! However, it’s not such a good thing if these same fans sit on a jury and think what they just saw on TV is true.
S. MAG.: Have you already worked out exactly how you are going to “retire” Kay Scarpetta?
P.C.: No plans for her retirement. She’ll probably retire me first.
Suspense Magazine is completely honored that we got to speak to Patricia Cornwell. Along with the books still to come, we can see her building a separate room just for her awards. This is obviously a woman with many opportunities, talents and dreams, which we can clearly see carrying her and her love of writing deep into the future where she will continue to entertain and delight fans everywhere. If you’d like to learn more about Cornwell, visit her website at www. patriciacornwell.com.