Interview with Patricia Cornwell


Out author Patricia Cornwell is one of the major international best-selling crime writers. Her recent book, The Scarpetta Factor, continues her highly respected series featuring forensic pathologist, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Cornwell has won numerous awards for her work, including the Sherlock Award for best detective created by an American author and a Galaxy British Book Award.

Her work is known for featuring the latest in forensic medicine, compelling characters and intricate plots.

Cornwell come out publically in an interview with The Daily Telegraph after she was, as the Advocate puts it, “unceremoniously shoved out” of the closet when her brief relationship with married FBI agent Margo Bennett was revealed. Cornwell has since married her partner, Staci Gruber, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Cornwell recently spoke with about her new book, why she believes it is important for her to be out, and whether or not Scarpetta herself ever had a lesbian fling.

Patricia Cornwell

Photo credit: Debra Gingrich Can you talk about what inspired The Scarpetta Factor?

Patricia Cornwell:  First of all, I wanted to do the follow up to Scarpetta, which came out last year at Christmas time and was set in New York. The first book [in the series] is set in New York and that was a deliberate decision. All of my career I’ve halfway joked that the inevitability for Scarpetta is that she will end up in New York someday because that’s the ultimate. There is no bigger stage.

I never did it for one very good reason: It is a daunting world. Even with all of the experience that I’ve had in forensic science and medicine and police work, to try and comprehend [New York] in terms of how they work crimes and run their agencies and departments is like starting all over again. You might as well assume you don’t know anything because the way that New York does stuff is unlike any other place here or abroad. So when I decided to do this, it was a big decision.

But I wanted that challenge. When you’ve been doing something for a long, long time it’s smart to rattle your own cage and to make yourself uneasy and insecure so that you keep the material fresh. If things are new and exciting for me, they will be new and exciting for you. By giving her New York City, I’m really saying that the world is in her lap. She can do whatever she wants, any kind of case.

But what really changed the entire complexion of it for me was when I was here last Christmas on book tour. I hung around after and I was walking about the city and what I hadn’t anticipated was that a very dominant character in the new book was going to be the economy itself.

Everywhere I went I saw the painful signs of the times and that’s described through Scarpetta’s eyes. I thought, I cannot write this new book and ignore what is happening all around us. How do these same political and economic difficulties and the uncertainty that all of us are facing affect [the characters]? Because they are not immune to it. They’re supposed to be in the same world we are.

So that added an interesting texture to The Scarpetta Factor and it gave life to a huge subplot in the book, which is Lucy.

We’ve always known that Lucy is very rich. She earned a ton of money off the computer industry going back to her teenage years, but I’ve never discussed her finances or how she got her money or how she even managed it. Then we started hearing about all the Ponzi schemes and I thought maybe she has a financial thing happen to her and this can somehow become part of the story and may even be related to what’s going on.

That became a rather accidental subplot. And that came from walking around and looking at how the world had changed and realizing I had to deal with that with my characters.

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