Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Interview with Sara Paretsky

From Scarborough Evening News --

Pioneer in world of crime writing --

By Martin Herron --
19 February 2010 --

ONE of the world's top crime writers will walk Scarborough's mean streets on Sunday.

These days crime fiction by women dominates the bestseller charts, with novels by the likes of Patricia Cornwall and Minette Walters, selling in their millions.

But when Sara Paretsky created her character VI Warshawski in the early 80s there were very few female private eyes following in the footsteps of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Lew Archer.

"Marcia Muller had written a couple of books at that time, but really VI was the first female character to take up a space that, until then, had been totally taken by men," Sara told the Evening News.

"And I wanted her to compete with them directly, on her own terms. That's why I made sure she came from a part of Chicago where girls grow up pretty quickly and pretty tough! I didn't want her to be a fantasy character like Modesty Blaise with all those slick karate moves. I wanted her to be a street fighter – and I sort of constructed her whole character around that."

Paretsky's latest book, Hardball, is the 13th novel to feature Warshawski – played on the big screen by Kathleen Turner in a frankly disappointing movie – and her creator says it can be a struggle to keep such a long-running series fresh.

"It can be difficult to come up with new ideas, though I think VI's managed to evolve quite realistically over the past 25 years. But it's not just a problem with VI – it's with the crime novel as a whole, which can be quite formulaic.

"It's important to keep up the momentum with action and physical engagement but, at the same time, you don't want to take that too far. I'm not a huge fan of the psychological crime novel where everything's internalised. As a reader there's just not enough going on there for me and I think a lot of other readers feel the same."

Hardball is a very personal work, taking a trip back in time to Chicago in the 60s, when Paretsky first arrived in Chicago, the city she is synonymous with. It follows old skeletons from the city's racially charged history, as well as haunting family secrets through four decades to the present.

"It's not just personal – you could even say it's self indulgent!" she said. "I arrived in Chicago in '66 and I was researching that time for a memoir and the more research I did, the more I realised how important that time of my life was.

"It was a very turbulent and very exciting time and it was when I came of age. I was doing community work there and we were involved in every aspect of the city from the very top right down to the streets, and the city and its story just became part of who I was.

“I guess if I’d gone to Paris at that age the same thing would have happened there.”

Both Chicago and Paris suffered rioting in 1968 – stateside in August at that year’s Democratic convention, and in France during May when protests by students and trade unionist came close to bring down the government.

“Oh that wouldn’t have bothered me, wherever I go riots follow!” said Sara.

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