Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson: Author One-on-One
In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together blockbuster authors Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson and asked them to interview each other. Find out what two of the top authors of their genres have to say about their characters, writing process, and more.
James Patterson is one of the bestselling writers of all time, with more than 170 million copies of his books sold worldwide. He is the author of two of the most popular detective series of the past decade, featuring Alex Cross and the Women's Murder Club, and he also writes nonfiction and The Maximum Ride series for young readers. Read on to see James Patterson's questions for Patricia Cornwell, or turn the tables to see what Cornwell asked Patterson.
Patterson: Here's a chance to say all the great things the critics would about The Scarpetta Factor, if there were any newspapers left that still reviewed books. Or, as they say in the TV interviews: Tell us about this one, Patricia.
Cornwell: As was true in the last book (Scarpetta), the new one is set in New York City, and it begins with Kay Scarpetta working on the autopsy of a young woman who presumably was murdered the night before in Central Park. While the apparent circumstances of the violent crime say one thing, the body is telling Scarpetta a very different and incredibly disturbing story that causes the prosecutor, the police, other officials, and even Scarpetta's friends and colleagues, to wonder if she's making mistakes or has begun to believe her own legend. While others are questioning and criticizing her, she begins to doubt herself and her decision to be the senior forensic analyst for CNN—an exposure that possibly leads to her BlackBerry disappearing and a suspicious package being left for her at her apartment building. As the intrigue unfolds, the past is no longer past, and she is soon faced with an old nemesis who threatens to be her final undoing.
Patterson: This book is set in New York again—what do you like about the Big City? What don't you like?
Cornwell: Certainly New York City is the ultimate Big City. By placing Scarpetta in the midst of NYC within its medical examiner's office, I've positioned her on an international stage where anything can and does happen. The machinery is huge (NYPD and the FBI field office, for example), yet the private lives of the characters remain intimate and small. Not only is this a big story about a big-city case that captivates the world, it's also a very close look at the characters and who and what they are to one another in contemporary times. In terms of what I like and don't like about NYC? The only thing I don't like about it is driving there.
Patterson: I often get asked what I have in common with Alex Cross. What would you say you have in common with Kay Scarpetta?
Cornwell: Scarpetta and I share the same values and sensibilities. We approach cases the same way (which should be rather obvious, since I work the cases by taking on her persona). Beyond that, there are many differences. I'm not Catholic or Italian or married to Benton Wesley. I'm not a forensic pathologist with a law degree. I don't have her emotional discipline or inhibitions, nor do I have her professional dazzle. (I always remind people I was an English major who started working at age eleven, first as a babysitter, then in food service!) I don't have Scarpetta's pedigree. But then, she isn't a writer, unless she's writing professional journal articles or autopsy reports.
Patterson: What's your routine like when it comes to writing? Do you do write every day? On the road? Do you need vacations from your writing?
Cornwell: I wish I had more of a routine. I begin each book with research that continues up to the very end of the process. But gradually, as I approach the deadline, I sink deeper into seclusion until eventually I don’t even answer e-mails or the phone anymore (unless it's my partner, Staci). I just write morning, noon, and night. The pulling together and completion of a novel is so intense, I'm almost living out of body by the time I'm done. It's the most wonderful and miserable experience imaginable. I would love a vacation but never seem to have time, and I doubt I'd know what to do if you made me "do nothing." In fact, Staci and I have a strange habit of going to foreign lands and visiting their police departments and morgues instead of just hanging out at the beach. I don't write every day because I do so much research, and currently, I have many other responsibilities that keep me busier than ever (filming, involvement with forensic institutes—just the business of life, for example).
Patterson: What's the best feedback you've had from a reader? Or—what was the best piece of writing advice you've had?
Cornwell: Frankly, the best feedback was when a reader complained some years ago that he wasn’t sure I liked my characters anymore. And I thought about this and realized I wasn’t sure I did, either. A horrible thing to realize. It was because the series had gone on for so long that it was time to reinvent the characters and their relationships with one another and the world they inhabit. I think this remake is most apparent in the last book, Scarpetta, and I am on a wonderful and invigorating new course that is even more evident in the new one, The Scarpetta Factor.
Patterson: Bonus question: How do you feel about the Hollywood adaptations of your work? Don't be afraid—let it all hang out.
Cornwell: In the past, very disappointed, because the projects went nowhere. Now, so far so good. The first films ( Lifetime movies of At Risk and The Front, which are non-Scarpetta novellas) air this spring. I had a magnificent experience from beginning to end with the producers, actors—everyone. It's way too early to talk about the 20th Century Fox project with Angelina Jolie, although who wouldn't be excited about her?