Tuesday, January 7, 2014



I used to eagerly await each new release by Patricia Cornwell. But her most recent books all seem to follow the same formula: Marino drives Scarpetta crazy although she is very dependent on him, her niece becomes more like a comic book heroine with every novel, Scarpetta loves Benton but their marriage is always competing with his job. And worst,  in Dust, like the last , the entire story takes place (with the exception of the last chapter) within a twenty-four hour time period. And also as usual, the killer and the main plot are tied to Lucy and to one of the other main characters.  
The formula is getting old. When will Cornwell come up with fresh material?
Points for the new writer:
1.     Beware of repetition. Only authors with immense followings can get away with a hackneyed formula book after book. If you’re writing a series built on one character, keep it fresh. Cornwell’s  current ratings reflect an unhappy following. Give your audience what it wants!
2.     Cornwell’s claim to fame is in the technical, forensic details. However, many of her readers feel like these details are now being overdone. Your readers will be aware of your expertise. Don’t drown them in too much of a good thing whether it is too much forensic detail, historic background, or setting descriptions.
3.     Many of Dust’s readers complained about Cornwell’s use of flashback scenes in order to educate new readers about her characters. This may work for new readers, but is a total turnoff to her ardent followers. Crafting your series’ characters to satisfy both new and loyal readers is a difficult job. Don’t get lazy and employ long flashback scenes; it may lose you loyal fans.

Dear Readers,
I keep threatening to quit reading Cornwell. Like many of her fans, I so loved her earlier books that I continue reading her new releases, hoping she’ll return to her former writing style.
Her overuse of technical detail reminds me of a common compliant by Simon Cowell on American Idol regarding contestants’ song choice. “Your choice was self-indulgent.”  Often contestants would sing something they enjoyed, or their mother loved, rather than a song they knew would appeal to their fans and it ended up costing them votes.
As in music, a writer needs to satisfy his audience. Attempting to make sure your readers know the extent of your vast knowledge or extensive research is not the way to do it.
Hope you had a wonderful holiday season! Stay warm,


  1. Hi Marla,
    I'm a fan of Ian Rankin and even though he is returning to Rebus stories, I stay a fan.
    The character is so interesting and the stories are varied.
    I try to keep my book subjects varied. And my blog readers know I talk about all kinds of subjects. Research is the key to making up stories with variety!
    Writer Dave

  2. Good thoughts and warnings for writer to heed. Never take the reader for granted.

    1. Hi Patricia,
      Often we forget to reap the valuable lessons we can glean from other authors as we read. (I always find time to read!) And most of us WERE readers long before we became writers.
      Have a great week,

  3. Hi Marla,

    I gave up on Scarpetta years ago; a few books after "The Body Farm". I just wasn't into her anymore and even her clinical and forensic descriptions had ceased to hold my attention. Maybe she is just not interesting enough as a character. Unlike Nelson DeMille's John Corey and his wife Kate Mayfield who always amuse, make me think and seem real flesh and blood, Scarpetta held no interest. Anna Pigeon is fascinating, but a bit angststy for me sometimes. I love you blog and I''m glad you wrote about this today. It gives me much to think about for my own book. Mary

    1. Hi Viola,
      Nice to hear from you. Yes, not sure if I'll keep reading Cornwell. Her last few books have a rather boring sameness, unlike her earlier ones.
      So happy to hear my blog helped you out! Some of my favorite suspense writers are Jonathan Kellerman, Jeffrey Deaver, Tami Hoag and Tess Gerritsen. I read them and many more established writers but try to always find time for new authors who write suspense.
      Hope you had a nice weekend,


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