Interview with Sara Paretsky

We at TheCrimeHouse are very happy to welcome crime author Sara Paretsky to this interview!

On the photograph to the left you see Paretsky with the Cartier Diamond Dagger she recieved in 2002. The award is given by the Crime Writers´ Association of Great Britain to authors who have made an outstanding lifetime’s contribution to the crime fiction genre.

You’ve described your work process on your homepage and on your blog but where do you write? Is it in an office? In a sofa? Do you write directly on the computer, is it messy or do you keep everything very organized while writing and so on…
I live in an old house, and we turned the attic into my office. It’s a lovely light space, which unfortunately is also very disorganized. I like the comfort of many books around me. Indeed, I like to sleep with them in bed with me.

The character V.I was a totally new type of character in the 80s and as you’ve said in many interviews – women in noir/hard-boiled fiction were always portrayed as either a vamp or a victim before you changed this. Can you name some contemporary authors that you think also have strong and believable female character and write with the same type of agenda as yourself?
I wouldn’t second guess another person’s agenda in writing, but some of the other strong women that I like in contemporary fiction include Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon; the two characters created by Liza Cody, Anna Lee and Eve Wylie; of course, Grafton and Muller’s Milhone and McCone, respectively; Barbaraneely’s Blanche; and Valerie Wilson Wesley’s Tamara Hayle.

Can you tell our readers shortly what Sisters in crime is? Is it available for writers outside of USA?
We started Sisters in Crime in 1986 to try to change discrimination against women writers in the way our books were reviewed and distributed. Sisters continues to advocate for women crime writers, and there are chapters all over the world. For more information, and to see if there is a Swedish chapter, visit the website: Link…

Can you recommend 3 novels you think our readers should read (apart from your own books)
Liza Cody’s Bucket Nut – this book is almost a primer on how to turn an unsympathetic character into someone for whom the reader cares passionately.

I’m having a hard time with this question because in crime fiction there are series of books that I think are well-worth reading – Ian Rankin, Nevada Barr, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Jonathan Coe, Karin Alvtegen – just to name a few, but not individual titles. In general fiction, three books that just jump to the top of the list in my head are:

Wolf Hall by Mantel

Gilead by Robinson

A Blessing on the Moon by Skibbell

V.I is aging. Will she retire? and if so when? And will there then be a new character?
I’m taking the coward’s way out now on V I’s age. She’s going to hover around fifty for awhile. If she retires, she’ll probably end up blowing up the nursing home that she’s incarcerated in. I can imagine creating a new character, but I can’t imagine leaving V I behind.

You told me that you liked Stieg Larssons Lisbeth Salander in general but had a hard time with the graphic description of the sexual abuse. It seems you draw some line there. Do you think books in general today are more graphic when it comes to violence and sex? And if so, do you have any idea why? Is it influences from TV and movies we see or perhaps symptoms of something else?
These are tough questions to answer in a short way. I think sadistic and graphic violence have always been a sub-part of the genre, but were considered pornagraphic and were not widely distributed or read until the last 15 or 20 years. The level and degree of graphic violence seems to get more extreme all the time. I think this is partly due to some writers wanting to create a dramatic presence for themselves in a crowded marketplace. I also think some readers are desensitized to the graphic descriptions of the violence so that the decibals have to be increased to get their attention. I also think that some of the increase in fictional graphic violence against women is a reaction to the women’s movement – some readers and writers perhaps feel so threatened by the greater presence of women in positions of authority that they act out revenge fantasies through these kinds of violent crime novels.

What was the first crime novel you ever read?
Rex Stout’s The Black Mountain

Chicago plays a big role in your books but our readers come from all over the world and have perhaps never been to Chicago. Can you give us a couple of tips of things to do in Chicago as a tourist and crime fiction lover?
Alzina Stone Dale’s Mystery Reader’s Walking Guide: Chicago is a great place for mystery lovers to start, but I would urge any new comer to the city to go to the Chicago Architecture Foundation: Link…

They’re at 224 South Michigan Avenue, right across the street from the Art Institute, and they offer wonderful tours of the city. People should also check out the Chicago Cultural Center’s website: Link…

because they offer bus tours of a number of neighborhoods, and if you email far enough in advance, you can get a tour guide who speaks your language.

Writing is obviously the main thing a writer does, but a big part is also marketing, touring etc. It seems authors ”have” to be more and more available to her/his readers and I can’t help but feel sorry for the sometimes hectic schedule some authors have. On the other hand it helps selling books and some authors likes coming close to their readers. What are your thoughts on this?
I enjoy touring except for the exhaustion of the travel itself. The trouble with touring is you spend one day in a place and move on so that you miss the pleasure of exploring a new country or a new city.

Can you place these ingredients of a novel in the order you think is most important in a novel (feel free to add or remove any word): Characters, story, milieu, message to the audience, thrills, dialogue
Story and characters are intertwined for me. I can’t tell a story until I have characters that I care about, who come to life for me. Dialogue is a way of creating believable characters. As a reader, milieu is always less important to me than good writing. I guess good writing is number one.

What do you think/hope that the readers will think and feel after reading one of your books?
I hope readers will be engaged enough by the story that the story and the characters will stay in their minds.

Do you have a favorite crime movie and do you watch any criminal series on TV or and if, so what?
There are several crime movies that I love:  Myrna Loy and William Powell in the first of the Thin Man movies; Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. Although the ending is a little treacly, the middle part, where he’s hunting the children, is bone chilling; I love Some Like It Hot – the all around great gangster-on-the-lam movie. I love the current series, NCIS, even though in many ways it’s quite predictable. I thought The Wire was brilliant but almost too close to the bone to make for comfortable viewing. I also love the brief-lived series with Paul Gross called Due South.

What are you reading now?
I’ve just come on Collin Cotterill’s Laotian crime novels. They’re gentle, but unflinching, and I love the characters. I’m also reading the Ian Rutledge series written by the mother-son team who write as Charles Todd. The best book I’ve read for some time is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

Thank You Sara Paretsksy!

Comments are closed.