Patricia Cornwell: The DEPRAVED HEART Interview
DEPRAVED HEART is a psychological thriller full of suspense. There are two plot lines, one a possible murder Dr. Kay Scarpetta is investigating, and the other has video links of her niece that threaten to destroy her entire world and everyone she loves.
Elise Cooper: Is it hard to write a series for twenty-five years?
Patricia Cornwell: I would say it is very interesting to have a series out this long. You start to create a biography of the character. With each new book you want to tell readers something about Scarpetta that defines her better. You start creating scenes that happened long before you even started the series, such as what happened to her when she was a little girl. Slowly but surely I am flushing her personal side out. With each book we get to know her better.
EC: Did you base Scarpetta on anyone in particular?
PC: No. She is created out of whole cloth. Those I know have inspired me professionally, but in terms of her character she is a blank slate. If I am to keep readers interested I have to show different dimensions of this person or it gets boring.
EC: Have you changed how you write these stories over the 25 years?
PC: When I started out I wanted to describe more of the forensic medicine because nobody knew much about it. The first book in 1990 was before the CSI shows. My guess is that the TV Shows were inspired by the literature. Now that everything has been done in the shows I don’t spend a lot of space describing that stuff. What I do have that no one else does are my characters. I spend the time now trying to make them more compelling and interesting.
EC: Are there a lot of changes in forensics over the 25 years?
PC: Just look at the computers. 25 years ago you needed a dialed up modem and continuous print paper. Today it is all electronic. There have also been behavior changes among those working in the ME’s office. Now there are alarm systems, rules, and protective clothes that did not exist in years past. When I was working there I never had to worry someone was going to walk into the morgue and take pictures with their I-phone of some infamous person on the table. That is why I still circulate in that world so Scarpetta never becomes outdated.
EC: How has Scarpetta changed in the 25 years?
PC: She has matured and is now more comfortable with herself. She was a woman in a man’s world and had to prove herself a lot in the earlier books. Currently, she has more humor and has become more philosophical.
EC: Do you agree with those who say there is the “CSI Effect?”
PC: It is real. I feel a little guilty about that. By making that world as accessible as I did with the advent of the Scarpetta series it opened the door for the CSI Shows that caused the CSI effect. Many times it is harmful to law enforcement. For example, five or six years ago while riding with a Florida crime scene investigator when we got there the victim had already collected and bagged the evidence. This one woman told me, ‘I watched the shows on TV and know fingerprints don’t matter anymore.’ I thought to myself, ‘I hope I am not a little bit to blame.’
EC: You have a quote in your book by Marino, “ I can’t wait to see American Sniper. What happened to Chris Kyle? Unbelievable right?” Why did you put it in?
PC: It was my tipping my hat to him even though I never met him. I read American Sniper and thought what an unbelievable look at what it is really like over there. I marveled over his ability. It was a book I recommend to people. Because I do a lot of my firearm research out in the Austin area I have a lot of friends in Texas, specifically law enforcement. This was a terrible blow to them. It is so tragic and maddening beyond belief that this could happen to someone who was trying to be helpful. I care about those in the military, especially since my brother is retired from the Air Force. They have faced a lot of trauma along with first responders. Both have seen very bad people who have done very wicked things.
EC: Please explain this quote, “Technology made everything better for a while and now it seems life is circling back around to the dark ages… I miss paper and pen. I miss face-to-face conversations.”
PC: Because we all worry about being spied on and watched we are getting more cautious about communication. Eventually we will be back in the ‘dark ages,’ when there were no cell phones or emails. We have created technology that outruns safety, for example drones. When I fly my helicopter and am about to land, someone’s drone can hit my Tailroter and kill me since they have no transponders. With opportunity comes risk. I want my characters to be worried about the same things we are and to understand their observations.
EC: Because Scarpetta deals with death what would she say about it?
PC: We are made up of some kind of intelligent energy. Where did someone’s soul go when they died? How is it possible we all have that same universal experience? She and I do not think it is wishful thinking that we are not really gone. There is more to us than we have ever imagined.
EC: What is up with Lucy, it seems her life is a mystery?
PC: Maybe we really don’t know what her real job is. She is supposedly the forensic computer person at Scarpetta’s office. We know she is a cyber crimes expert. I will be exploring in the next book what she is really doing and whom she is really working for. There is something going on that we have not been told. That includes what Lucy and Jenna are really up to and is Desi really her dead sister’s son. We will find more about what goes on in Lucy’s compound.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
PC: You might not see Carrie for a while. However, the threat caused by her looms large, but in terms of how she was getting up front and personal, as in DEPRAVED HEART, that will be different. It takes place a year later. Scarpetta’s world is almost in ruins and smoldering. The big question, what will she do about this absolute pandemonium?
EC: What do you want readers to get out of this book?
PC: For them to experience some of the adventures I have done, such as flying a helicopter, scuba diving, or shooting a high-powered weapon. I want them to understand there is government overreach that is all about independent ambition, which is at an all time high. I want them to lose themselves for a while in a world I created for them with the characters their good friends.