Sunday, November 29, 2009

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell

From The Observer --

This much I know: Patricia Cornwell --
The author, 53, in her own words

By Stuart Husband --
Sunday 29 November 2009 --

My proximity to death – both as a former morgue worker and crime author – hasn't made it any easier to face. We're interested in death and violence because we're afraid of them and want to make sense of them. We never will. But seeing death point-blank has left me less convinced that life is finite. Having spent so much time around the husks of corpses, you ask yourself: where did all the vitality and energy of this person go? Surely it went somewhere? So my spiritual outlook is perhaps more vital than it was before.

My brothers spent a lot of time when I was a little girl telling me how ugly I was. If I'm vain now, it's because I'm still insecure about the way I look.

I've witnessed the moment of death. I saw a murderer executed by lethal injection. The family of his victim asked me to attend with them. It was a bizarre experience. I asked the mother afterwards, do you feel closure? And she didn't. The guy went out screaming abuse; his relatives were all stirred up; the guys in the penitentiary were banging on the walls. It was so violent and ugly and upsetting, and I wondered what purpose any of it served. It convinced me that the death penalty is a very bad idea.

I would never go into politics. I'd be awful. There are too many scandals in my life that would get thrown in my face.

I hate the term "mystery". That's not what I write. I think the Scarpetta novels are much more character-driven than an average puzzle solver. Writing should be like a pane of glass – there's another world on the other side and your vision carries you there, but you're not aware of having passed through a barrier to get there.

I'm not militant about being gay. I live openly because I think it's important to be what you are. I don't politicise it. I leave that to others.

My sensibility isn't morbid as such. I had a fearful imagination as a child – I made up ghost stories and spooked other kids. Halloween was my favourite time of year. I guess I was a little goth, but these days they call me Ms Worst-Case Scenario. I think I'm just being realistic.

I've needed security. I've been stalked. I've had threatening letters. It only takes one person who thinks they have a point to prove… I take steps to limit my vulnerability.

I've never seen the Saw movies – something like that would scare me to death. People should monitor what they're exposing themselves to, and keep a check on their desensitisation levels. Self-censorship is a much undervalued quality.

I'm still having trouble adjusting to the fact that writing has made me rich. The good news is I've never done this for money. I need to write more than I need people to read what I write. The bad news is it brings the predators out. And if you've come from a background like I have, where you shopped at thrift stores and couldn't always pay off your credit cards, it's a huge responsibility. I've actually given away a lot of money.

America is becoming more galvanised in its differences. People seem to be more and more afraid of the things they don't understand; they're running into their own camps and bolting the doors. I think psychologists call it group polarisation. It's very troubling to me.

My biggest fear? Snakes. Me and Indiana Jones both.

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