Patricia Cornwell is a contemporary American crime writer. She is widely known for writing a popular series of novels featuring the heroine Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a medical examiner. Her books have sold more than 100 million copies.
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For more about me and my books please visit
and what's new is I'm writing a pilot called Angie Steele for CBS. AMA!
Thank you for such great fun and for being so interesting and kind!
I will never forget the day my mom came home with Postmortem from the library and said, “My coworker said she’s the best and thought you would like this since you like that forensic stuff.” I was completely blown away by how relatable I found Kay Scarpetta. I even pursed forensic psychology (and found I don’t have the stomach for it, but I digress). [I’ve even got a signed copy of Dust] (http://i.imgur.com/aWs7Rwp.jpg) and I can not wait to get my mitts on Flesh and Blood in the very near future.
I can not thank you enough for writing such an amazing, strong, inspirational female lead at a time when the field was rather barren.
I have 3 questions, if I may be so bold.
How relatable do you find Kay Scarpetta?
Who do you day dream about playing the roles of your characters? Here is my (completely unfulfillable) wishlist of characters. RIP James Gandolfini - he would’ve made THE best Marino. David Zayas or Alec Baldwin are my replacements.
Will you have dinner with me at Rao’s? The only problem is that you’ll have to make the reservation since I can NEVER get one! ;)
I think a lot of people relate to Scarpetta and would enjoy having dinner with her.
I agree about Marino and love all of your suggestions for casting. Will pass them on to the studio.
See you at Rao's at course -- if you can get a reservation. Hard to get in.
I recently finished Portrait of a Killer and was left with a few questions.
Based on that publication do you believe the evidence you brought forward would have been enough to lead to a conviction if Sickert was tried today?
In the book you said, "Sickert never painted something he did not see" This was a huge piece of information but I don't remember it being explained...how did you come to that conclusion?
Nothing we could ever find now would be enough for court in contemporary times. But what I have discovered is enough to get him questioned and possibly in trouble for -- at the very least -- writing confessional and threatening letters to the police and the press.
I know from studying Sickert that he either sketched what he saw and then later painted it, or in later life he painted from photographs. That was his method.
Hi Patricia! I have been interested in your research on Jack the Ripper. How do you feel about Russell Edwards's recent claim that DNA evidence proves Aaron Kosminski's role in the ripper killings? Personally, I'm quite skeptical, but I was also curious if you are still confident that Walter Sickert is the most likely candidate.
Sickert is absolutely my first candidate -- more now than ever.
Who is your favorite author?
Hemingway and I also really love Dan Brown (including as a person--nice guy).
Hi Patricia. Tell us a secret?
I put butter on pizza. Please don't tell anyone.
Hi, Patricia! HUGE fan! What is your opinion about Jack the Ripper being identified as Aaron Kominski?
I do not agree with those findings and believe there are questions about the science and the alleged evidence. I maintain that Walter Sickert was JTR.
If you could take only one book from the Scarpetta series with you to a deserted island which one would it be and why?
Flesh and Blood. Because it would keep me guessing about the ending -- as you will see.
What is your writing process?
Writing is relationship and I keep the thoughts -- at the very least -- on the forefront of my existence at all times. Even if I have only a spare half hour, I write.
How much research goes into your writing?
Research is my steady diet. Without it I could not write what I do. It would starve.
Thanks for answering. Got one more, maybe a bit personal but anyway: what are you most afraid of?
Being poor. For one very good reason. I am able to help people and animals -- and if I ever lost that ability, it would break my heart. I grew up with very little, and I think I will always worry I might wake up one day and be that same rather powerless little girl.
I love your books, love the strong women you write, and got lots of looks when I was a teen for telling people I wanted to be a forensic pathologist. I didn't end up pursuing that field, but still am always happy to pick up a new title of yours knowing full well it will make my commute race by.
Since I doubt you commute to work for an hour a day like I do, where do you do most of your reading?
Thanks! Have a great day!
Believe it or not, I too travel quite a lot and end up reading on my phone! I just read a biography of Dickens on a flight from Boston to LA -- totally on my phone.
Patricia, I just wanted to thank you for keeping me company out in the woods while I'm deer hunting every year. Your books are awesome and help me endure the cold Wisconsin temps while I'm in my deer stand!
Where do you get your inspiration?
Deer hunting! I'll tweet them to be on the lookout for you. Actually, my whole family hunts (except me). Be careful out there please. And like you, I get my inspiration from going out and doing real things in real places so you can feel it, see it, smell it, taste it.
On a scale of 1-10, 1 being no way 10 being absolutely certain do you think that Sickert's first wife knew he was the ripper? Do you think it is perhaps something he might have confessed to her, do you think that fits his character?? Or something she found upon her own devices....
That is a brilliant question. You'll see in my rewrite that I'm now suspicious she suspected something. Can't prove it though. I seriously doubted he confessed to her, though.
Hi Patricia, my girlfriend is a big fan of yours. Her name is Aye, can you give her a shout out?
My mom has a few questions she’d like to ask you.
Per my mom
I devour your Kay Scarpetta novels as soon as they come out. Will we be seeing more of Lucy in the next one?
Read your nonfiction work about Jack the Ripper. How long did you research the material and are you still convinced of your findings?
You will see a lot of Lucy in Flesh and Blood. She's not going anywhere because she's much too important.
As for the Ripper, I'm still working on it and will release the remake of my book next year. In addition, in a few weeks you will be able to download Chasing the Ripper (Amazon) and read an essay about what I've been doing in the case and what my current conclusions are.
What was your favourite novel you wrote?
The new one, Flesh and Blood. And I mean it.
Hi, if you could change one thing in this world forever, what would it be?
That people would stop abusing power.
What are a scarpetta?
Welll it can be a wonderful way of dragging your bread through a plate of sauce. Or it could be a little shoe or a brilliant forensic pathologist. Your choice.
Who do you have in mind to star as Angie?
I would love YOUR opinion, but Angie Steele needs to be a really great actress. She's sort of a Scarpetta and a Lucy rolled into one, and yet very different too.
What do you do when Scarpetta doesn't do what you want her to?
I try to have a little chat. So far she hasn't responded.
What's your favorite recipe and can you provide it here? Please and thank you!
Bloody or virgin Mary: Spicy V8, a lot of fresh squeezed limes or lemons, hot sauce, horseradish, favorite vodka (or not) and the big clue is keep everything cold. Do not use ice. When it begins to melt in the glass it looks like... Well, never mind.
I used to love reading your books in highschool!
Can I ask what your top two must read books are? Thanks.
If you mean the must read books that are mine? (And of course you mean that :) ) then I would suggest DUST and FLESH AND BLOOD.
My mom has bought and given me Cause of Death a half dozen times. She read it years ago and liked it enough to want to share it with me over and over again. Can you recommend another book of yours to buy me multiple copies of?
FLESH AND BLOOD. It's a fast fun read and the ending is shocking. Also, if you've never read a Scarpetta book, this one gets you completely up to speed.
Which letters do you own from Jack The Ripper?
Where did you buy them?
Just the ones he wrote me.
From your first novel Postmortem Benton and Kay have a professional relationship. They work togheter. She describes him as an handsome fascinating man. He worries about her safety. Re-reading the books its easy to catch those subtle feelings they have.
Did you know from the beginning that their relation should evolve from professional to a personal one?
When you let Benton die i felt the same pain as Kay was feeling and that lasts during all the books where she was alone. I hated you!
Then you made him come back and i loved you again!
Did you know from the beginnig that Benton should come back?
I would have read about the way they resume their relationship after Benton's came back.
Why didnt you write about?
I did not know that Benton wasn't really dead until several years later. Readers continued asking me if he was REALLY dead -- because we didn't see it happen. And I thought, "Whoa. Maybe he isn't." And he wasn't.
Is it true that the recent 'reveal' stating that Aaron Kominski was in fact JTR did not take into account potential confounds from so many people having access to the shawl?
The recent "reveal" has begun to take in a lot of details that make the conclusion extremely questionable.
How old were you when you started flying helicopters?
I start flying choppers in the late nineties -- when I was six. Just kidding...
Did you utilize Casebook.org at all during your Ripper research?
No. But I know a few Ripper/British history experts who have helped me over the past decade. Keith Skinner and Paul Begg, for example.
Flesh and Blood is your best book in YEARS. Thank you! The ending holds so many possibilities. Are you currently working on the next Scarpetta novel?
I am working on the next one -- but you will have to guess who is in it and why. The ending in Flesh And Blood should leave much open to speculation.
Most fans of your work know that you spend a lot of researching your character's tools, resources and hobbies so that you have everything you need to represent those tangibles or skills accurately in your work. How much does your own curiosity of the world intertwine with your characters'? Do the story arcs give you a freedom or boldness to experience things you may not try otherwise? In other words - would you be flying helos without Lucy? =)
Thanks for taking time to AMA and thanks for creating Scarpetta's world.
I would not have thought about flying helicopters had it not been for Lucy. I have created the characters and in turn they have created me.
I am so excited to see you on here! Thanks for doing this.
Growing up, I loved to write short stories, but none never made it to novel length. Now I work so much and have life distractions that I don't have time to sit and get any of the bazillion ideas out of my head. Do you have any advice for someone who is in a similar situation, but wants to write?
Writing is a relationship. You find time for what you love, even if in small doses. Don't let anything get in the way of what you want to create. No matter what, it's not a waste of your time.
How did you find your literary agent?
On the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. Esther "Lobster" Newberg, wanted for just about anything... Anyway, she was recommended to me many years ago.
Have you ever played tennis with Jean Balukas? I think you and she would get along quite well.
I haven't. But I have played with Billie Jean King (doubles) and made the mistake of poaching on her. I looked back as my ball died in the net and said. "Are you out of your mind? You just poached on Billie Jean King!) Of course, she laughed.
Will you ever go back to writing in the third person? We miss the insight that gives the readers.
Not with Scarpetta. While I agree that it gives me more range of motion with the other characters, it seems that most of my readers prefer being inside her head. If nothing else, it's a safe place to be. She's a very nice person to spend that much time with.
Patricia, if you could change one thing about any of your books or your characters, what would it be?
I would make Scarpetta a helicopter pilot too -- have it be why Lucy got into it. I'd love to describe her flying. And in BOOK OF THE DEAD I would have handled Marino differently. I regret the bad thing he did to Scarpetta -- even if she forgives him.
Do you see medical examiners on TV, and based on what you've learned in researching your books, had to resist the urge to scream: "What? That would NEVER happen!"
No, I don't really worry about it. I realize entertainment is the goal and not going to court.
Favorite place to vacation?
Any place that includes Staci and our bulldog Tram. But I love the ocean.
Ever hear of Reddit's subreddit [Unresolved Mysteries] (http://www.reddit.com/r/UnresolvedMysteries/top/?sort=top&t=all) ?
What unresolved mystery intrigues you the most?
I have indeed. And I am intrigued by what really happened in both the JFK and Princess Diana cases.
Some authors, writers, etc do not like the idea of fan fiction. (I don't know why, I think it is a compliment) What are your views on the subject? In your opinion, is it flattering or plagiarism?
I love it if the fans take Scarpetta and clan and make them their own. The only thing I wouldn't want is people rewriting my actually books. But if Scarpetta visits you in a scene in a romance you're writing? Cool. Just let me know what she does as she usually locks me out of the bedroom.
Thanks for doing an AMA! I loved Portrait of a Killer and read it twice. It was a fascinating application of modern forensic science to one of the most famous unsolved murders in history. Have there been any new developments on your research regarding Walter Sickert as Jack the Ripper? Thanks again.
There are new developments as you soon will see -- including forensic image processing of the scene and "dead house" photos of victims that show features you've never seen before. Not a smoking gun but very interesting. Plus I have more historical info from documents searches that make the case even more compelling. I try to work his case the same way Scarpetta and Lucy would.
I really enjoyed your work on Jack the Ripper. What made you decide to write about the Ripper murders? Do you plan to return to that era in your writing?
I'm still working on Ripper. Wasn't my idea but a suggestion in 2001 that caused me to start looking into it. Then there was (and is) no going back. You will have the rewrite next years, and in a few weeks a single on Amazon that gives you my latest thoughts on the case.
When you have more fun: doing research for a book or writing that book?
Truth? Having written the book is my favorite thing. But the research is exciting when it gives me ideas, and there are days when the writing is electric. Other days, I'd rather eat pizza and watch TV.
Hello ma'am and thanks for coming to Reddit.
Who would win in a street fight, Scully or Scarpetta?
Also, my dear friend Lanette loves your work. Could you take just a moment to say hi? It would make her entire year. Again, thanks!
Scarpetta would win because she wouldn't show up and then SWAT would.
And hello Lanette!!!
What are you thoughts on your fans? Devoted? Crazy? Eccentric? Delusional? Boring? ;-) Current user excluded of course....
My fans are amazing, supportive, fun and very kind. I thoroughly enjoy meeting them when the occasion arises and hope they never forget how much I appreciate them.
You mentioned pizza and tv - what are some of your current favorites (shows or characters)?
I love House of Cards, The Good Wife, Orange is the New Black to name a few. And I'm a binge watcher.
When not writing or researching, what do you like to do in your downtime to relax?
Tweet nice people like you.
How has Lucy aged 20 years but Dr Scarpetta hardly aged at all? Is Kay a vampire? Should I reread your books looking for subtle hints about her vampirism?
Seriously you need to tell us if she's a vampire.
She is a vampire but you can't tell anyone.
Hey Patricia! Thanks for the AMA. Two questions: What's your all time favorite movie, and what is your favorite book?
Blades of Glory. I have a whacky sense of humor. I love Silence of the Lambs. Best crime novel I've ever read.
Hi I love all your books, just re-read whole series and finished Flesh and Blood -fantastic, re-read ending so many times was too stunned to take it in!
Would you like Lucy as a niece/daughter?
Scarpetta is soooo patient with her, would you be the same?
Thank you and yes I'd like Lucy as a daughter. But she'd be tough. Scarpetta is probably better with her than anyone else would be.
Hi Missis Cornwell,
Thanks for the ama session
What s ur writing time?
How do you proceed to write a book? Idea by idea? Or all ideas in a raw?
Where do you get ur inspiration?
How would you describe ur litterary style?
What was tr ebdt advice u received in ur life?by who?
Did uou know since ur childhood that u wanna to be a writer?
Which characters of ur books is the closest to you?
I didn't know as a child that I wanted to be a writer. I simply was one who wanted to be an archaeologist and then later a pro tennis player. Finally I gave in to writing because I wasn't all that great at anything else. My advice to anyone is do what you love. It might just love you back.