Sara Paretsky’s Blog

New York: Hardball and Dorothy
May 8, 2009, 11:56 pm
Filed under: Books, Chicago writers, reading

I’m back from New York, where I spent an energizing morning with my publishers, talking about plans for the publication of Hardball, the next book in my V I series.  It will be on sale on September 22, and, given how whole years seem to go by while I’m blinking, that’s pretty much just around the corner.  Putnam has done a great jacket–it says “Chicago” in a bold, PI kind of way.IS4063RF-00009313-001


Before going into the city, I spent a day upstate with a beloved old friend, Dorothy Salisbury Davis.  Dorothy is 93 now, frail, but still with a tough, insightful mind.  I leave  her always with new insights into life, living, and writing.  I leave her always with a painful wrench–parting is so hard that it’s sometimes hard to bring myself to visit in the first place.  Dorothy was one of the great masters of crime fiction in the fifties, sixties and seventies.  Unfortunately, her books are no longer in print, although Christina Pickles just read from one of them on Selected Shorts.  Look for Dorothy’s books in your used bookstore or your library–she’s so insightful, such an economical storyteller.

I could write for days about Dorothy and not exhaust what I know about her, or my love for her, but I’ll just tell you two of the many suggestions she’s given me: if you’re stuck in a book, if the story isn’t working, stand it on its head.  If you like the basic story, turning it upside down, in structure, or in whose narrative viewpoint you’re embracing, can sometimes shake things loose.

The second insight is that you are your best source of material.  What you’ve lived, how you’ve lived.  Of course, Dorothy’s life holds richer physical material than most: she was the daughter of a poor immigrant mother and tenant-farming father, and her first job out of school was as a magician’s assistant in the middle of the Depression; after she married and moved to New York with her actor husband, Harry, she landed in an exciting milieu of writers and artists– she knew Elia Kazan, Paul Robeson, Joanne Woodward, Hortense Calisher, Carson McCullers and a host of other names we conjure with.  

She’s written about her childhood, and her magician boss, often.  But she really means, your emotional life is your goldmine.  Understanding yourself, being prepared to perform surgery on your emotions in public–that is, on the page–is the only way to write in an authentic voice.


6 Comments so far
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Oh, Sara, you should do a book on her! Wouldn’t that be good?

Comment by Cheryl K

Dorothy sounds like a fabulous woman! And to have survived to 93 with her mind intact is an accomplishment in itself. You should count yourself lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with her.

The book cover looks marvelous. I’m looking forward to another adventure with Vic. Loved “Bleeding Kansas”, but reading the V.I. books is like catching up with an old friend.

Comment by Bag Lady

Yes, I’m very fortunate, indeed. And, Cheryl, I wish I could write about her–would have to get her permission to go through her journals, & she’s very private about those.

Comment by saraparetsky

Very much looking forward to September and the new V.I.! Any further news re Bleeding Kansas and turning it into a film, Sara? It is such a wonderful story and has interesting characters.

Comment by corkhead

GREAT cover. Looking forward to the book.

I agree with the others; Dorothy sounds very interesting. Maybe you could ‘just’ blog a bit more about her, to begin with.

Comment by bookwitch

Hallo from England!

Thank you for this sketch of a wonderful writer. I have enjoyed Dorothy Salisbury Davis’s stories, but knew nothing about her as an individual.

The cover for “Hardball” is great, very Chicago and very VI. I remember visiting the “Windy City” for the first time and conducting my own tour based on your brilliant books, prompted by various fellow fans to go and check out particular locations…

Comment by Anna

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