Patricia Cornwell (BSS #257)

Patricia Cornwell is most recently the author of Scarpetta. This interview serves as a companion piece to Sarah Weinman’s Los Angeles Times profile.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Checked in for narcissistic personality disorder.

Author: Patricia Cornwell

Subjects Discussed: The genesis of Kay Scarpetta after three unpublished novels, Sara Ann Freed’s input into Cornwell’s early career, on being rejected by the Mysterious Press, Susanne Kirk, the unexpected success of Postmortem, how Charles Champlin’s Los Angeles Times review changed the publisher’s perception, writing a Scarpetta book before the last one was published, switching from first-person to third-person midway through the series, tinkering around in the movie business, being unable to write anymore in the first-person perspective, on later books lacking the warm element of character interaction, trying to get better through experimentation, listening to fans and readers, bringing back Benton Wesley from the dead, the differences between Cornwell and Scarpetta, writing sex scenes, privacy and reluctant fame, reporters who have the temerity to follow Cornwell into the bathroom, cops and submachine guns, Ab Fab, Judd Apatow’s films, Cornwell’s continued involvement with forensic science, taking out full-page ads to correct being misquoted by a journalist, pursuing the Jack the Ripper case, making various investments, surviving in the dour economy, and Cornwell’s political involvement.


Correspondent: What’s interesting too is that your career essentially started at the behest of very legendary people in the mystery world.

Cornwell: Right. That’s right.

Correspondent: And then Susanne Kirk found it at Scribner and picked it up from there.

Cornwell: And she was quite a champion for it. Because the publishing house, from my understanding back then, was very dubious about it. This was so different. Nobody wrote books like this back then really. First of all, you had a serial killer who was a stranger to the victims and a stranger to everybody. And the tradition of “mysteries” is that it was someone in your midst. And there were so many traditions that were shattered. Because real crime shatters those traditions. And I was writing about what I saw, and really taking a journalistic point of view. Although I was weaving it into fiction. And some of the rejection letters were “Nobody wants to read about morgues or laboratories.” And certainly not a woman who works in an environment like this and sees what she does. It seems silly now. But back then, that just wasn’t done.

Susanne though had the futuristic vision to think, “This is new and different. And this is pretty cool. And I want to publish this book.” But she had to have yet another opinion. She had to have another person read it. And they deliberated. And they just barely decided. In fact, the telephone call I got — the famous telephone call that changes your life — it was iffy. It was “We think we’re going to publish Postmortem, but we want to get one more person to read it.”

Correspondent: So it had to go to the editorial board in other words.

Cornwell: It was actually an outside consultant they had. Someone they considered an expert. A man, whose name I don’t remember. And they needed one more person to look at it to see if they really were going to do this. And that was my great turning point. My telephone call was a maybe. And then they did decide to take it on. But it was a very small printing. 6,000 copies. $6,000 is what I got paid. No advertising. No marketing. No nothing. And by the time people discovered it, it was out of print in hardcover.

Categories: Fiction

Allison Amend (BSS #256)

Allison Amend is the author of Things That Pass for Love.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering the troubling things that pass for love.

Author: Allison Amend

Subjects Discussed: Dealings with the Atlantic Monthly, what constitutes a proper golf story, miniature golf, how Jewishness and faith relates to sustaining a narrative, speaking multiple languages, Pig Latin, the connotations of “molested,” small animals in short stories, whether an author should be concerned about manipulating the reader, grabbing the interviewer by the beard, discovering stories through subconscious intent, stories that “need more gerbil,” writing stories that run counter to an innate perspective, verisimilitude, magical realism, whether multifarious themes and motifs disguise the primary premise of a story, the narrative complexities of romantic intimacy, avoiding the “chick lit” label, Curtis Sittenfeld, the Glimmer Train essay, Amend’s two unpublished novels, dealing with potential editors who issue demands to include a love story, how much one should compromise for art, authenticity vs. marketability, frequent appearances of Zima within Amend’s stories, authors who include brand names in fiction, experimenting with lists and found documents, planning the endings of stories, selecting stories for the collection, and thematic unity.


Correspondent: Golf figures prominently into a number of these stories. In “How Much Greater the Miracle,” you write, “The soul and golf are interrelated. I try not to wax too philosophical, but the soul is like a golf ball.” Now is this particular statement one of the reasons you frequently return to golf in your writing? Do you feel that golf gets a bad rap? Is this your way of essentially taking it, or absconding it, from the upper-class country club associations? Are you trying to counter the John Updike/Richard Ford/Kevin Costner kind of approach to golf? I think this is a very important question!

Amend: Sure, sure. I think that your answer is much better than the one I’m going to give you.

Correspondent: No, I’m sure your answer is going to be fantastic.

Amend: Which is that back when I was in grad school, Michael Curtis, who edits the fiction for the Atlantic Monthly, requested some golf stories. He was editing the fiction section of Golf Digest.

Correspondent: Oh wow.

Amend: And he needed some golf stories. So I was like, “I can write a golf story.” And he said, “Oh, it’s very good. I don’t want it. But it’s a good story.” And I said, “Thank you. I’ll write another one.” So I wrote another golf story.

Correspondent: Aha!

Amend: He said, “I don’t want this either. But I like your writing.” So I wrote one more just to see. But actually I do really like golf as a literary theme. Because, first of all, it’s something for your characters to do without really having to have them do a lot of business. So everyone knows how you play. I mean, everyone sort of knows the theory of golf. You hit a ball towards a hole. And so your characters can talk a lot and can think about things without — it’s not like it’s basketball, where you have to describe the reaction all the time. So I really like golf that way. But also it’s this really absurd game. I played a lot when I was younger and don’t play so much now. But if you told me that you can’t see there’s a hole about the size of your palm and you can’t see it from here. But if you hit the ball three times, you will hit it in the hole. I would never have believed it.

Correspondent: Now you say that you had had golf experience before when you had been asked to do these stories. Or did you have to go into golf again and do a refresher course so to speak? Or a refresher run?

Amend: Well, I was at Iowa. We had a lot of free time.

Correspondent: Okay. They have golf in Iowa.

Amend: They do have golf in Iowa. And it’s actually pretty accessible. There’s a great municipal golf course. A nine hole golf course. And so I actually played a decent round of golf. But mostly I just asked my parents. They are very into golf. And so when I needed some golf details to make the story seem more authentic, I just asked them. I said, “What do you do if the ball’s on the side of a hill?” And my dad’s like, “Well, you hit down on it obviously.” I’m like, “Oh, of course.” And I’m taking notes as I’m talking to them. So that was my golf experience.

Correspondent: But this is an interesting notion of what a golf story is.

Amend: Right.

Correspondent: Because if one plays golf, it’s automatically a golf story? Or golf happens to be a motif? I mean, how golf-intensive does a golf story have to be?

Amend: You know, I don’t know. I don’t think that the golf story is going to be the next hot genre. Although there is the golf novel that does pretty well — apparently every year. But for me, it’s just a story where I have to ask my parents a lot of questions about golf to write it. So to me, that’s a golf story.

Correspondent: I’m just wondering if there’s any golf criteria for a golf story. I’ve never been asked to write a golf story. And I’ve never actually considered, until we just talked about this subject, about what a golf story entails. And so I’m wondering. Maybe it’s like a Christmas story.

Amend: It just has to be some Christmas.

Correspondent: Yeah, I don’t know.

Amend: Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure that I’m the best person to ask, since none of my stories were accepted for Golf Digest.

Correspondent: But they’re in here! There’s like three golf stories in here.

Amend: But they’re in there. In which case, golf is sort of a theme.

Correspondent: Yeah! So you are a golf story person.

Amend: Apparently, I’m a golf story person.

Correspondent: Among many other things. Well, okay.

Amend: Well, I could be. I’ve been called worse.

Categories: Fiction

Paul Schrader (BSS #255)

Paul Schrader is a filmmaker who is most recently the director of Adam Resurrected. The film opens in limited release on December 12th.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Waiting for Deborah Harry to call him.

Guest: Paul Schrader

Subjects Discussed: Being asked to direct vs. originating a film project, Jeff Goldblum working against his natural tics, Goldblum’s considerable preparation for the role, balancing the element of play with too much preparation, making a film from Yoram Kaniuk’s untranslatable novel, initial efforts to adapt Adam Resurrected, defying the fixed notion of a Holocaust film, adapting books into films, working with cinematographer Sebastian Edschmid, mimicking the memory of specific historical times, making a film without the prospect of financial returns, why the present time is the worst for independent film, clarifying the details about Extreme City, recent events in Mumbai, the opening scene in Lolita, allowing for a minimum of verisimilitude within a magical realist narrative, actors barking like dogs, clearing up some of the information in Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, keeping a loaded gun, Sam Peckinpah, the importance of being crazy, and whether or not Schrader has exorcised all of his demons.


Correspondent: Did you have any of the actors study dog movement at all?

Schrader: Jeff did. He hung out with this guy. The dog whisperer guy. And the boy who plays the dog….

Correspondent: Tudor [Rapiteanu]?

Schrader: Tudor. He spent a fair amount of time with dogs. And the dog in the film, Sam, he was with us quite a while. Jeff spent quite a lot of time with Sam. The two of them.

Correspondent: Tudor is hiding under the blanket. At least, that is what we are led to believe. I don’t think that he hid under the blanket the entire time. Or did he? Was there at any point somebody else? Did he have a dog double? Was there a Tudor double? Was there an actual dog there?

Schrader: Oh, no, no. That’s always Tudor.

Correspondent: Really?

Schrader: Yeah. He’s a rather exceptional kid. He was twelve at the time. Smart as a whip. He had just placed fourth in the Romanian Academic Olympics. But he was totally into that whole dog. He would play a dog even when we weren’t shooting.

Correspondent: And the actors were perfectly okay and happy? They felt fairly safe being dogs like this? Because you’re working on all fours. I don’t think I’ve done that for longer than an hour, I suppose, in my life. And so I’m wondering, what did you do to ensure that their performances would be safe? To perform and have this, I guess, canine verisimilitude.

Schrader: Well, you have to sort of watch out for their knees. You can hurt your knees trying to go around down on all fours.

Categories: Film

Nacho Vigalondo (BSS #254)

Nacho Vigalondo is a filmmaker who is most recently the writer and director of Timecrimes, a film that opens in New York and Los Angeles on December 12.



Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for future Bats.

Guest: Nacho Vigalondo

Subjects Discussed: What to expect when attending one’s first press day in New York, being isolated from the Hollywood scene by making films in Spain, unexpected attention, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, the current speed in adapting comic books, Mark Millar, the Timecrimes remake, the pink bandaged head as an old Universal Horror motif, finding the monster within the movie, writing a script out of sequence, Steven Zaillian, trying not to bore the audience, showing the ridiculous side of the situation, using the best bits of Karra Elejalde’s cinematic career for the different Hectors, the influence of fashion choices upon performance, making a movie work in a natural way, the criticism of “improvisation,” criticizing the reasons behind Chica’s nudity, not explaining everything within a movie, the tendency for music to blare throughout every environment, learning from Hitchcock, practical locations vs. planned sets, and making a timeless movie.


Vigalondo: When you’re writing a script, sometimes the script is put into a nightmare. Sometimes, it’s giving you some gift. And in this case, when I was writing Timecrimes, I found a monster inside the story. But the story itself gave me the monster. I needed someone with a hidden face, with a scissors on the hand. So I found out that the story was building a monster. A monster that had these classical resonances, as you are telling. So I feel so fortunate. Because when you have a monster in your movie, the movie gets better most of the time. Every movie with a monster is better than the same story without the monster. You can apply this to all the other — to every example. I don’t know. If Million Dollar Baby had a monster, it would be a better film.

Once you find a monster inside your film, well, in my case, it’s something you have to celebrate. For two reasons. It’s a monster that sounds like a Universal classic film monster. And at the same time, it’s a pretty cheap Halloween costume. If the people like your film, they can disguise as the big mummy with little money on the bandages and the scissors. So if you want to dress like Freddy Krueger, it’s more expensive than my monster in my film. So it’s like giving something to the people. In depression times, giving cheap monsters to the people is something I really appreciate. (laughs)

Categories: Film