Sara Paretsky’s Blog

Book v Kindle
August 7, 2009, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Books, reading

My cousin Barb, in Ukraine with the Peace Corps, took a Kindle with her, and a mighty fine idea that was, too: remote from any English-language bookstores or libraries, she was able to bring a hundred or so texts overseas with her without needing all those boxes we used to lug to foreign parts.  So I will say I am not adamantly opposed to the e-book.

However, I have tried reading on a Kindle and it doesn’t work for me.  Even though I get how convenient it is, and even though I just my second copy of American Pharaoh because I couldn’t find the first in my thousands of books, I don’t find it easy to use. I’m sure I could get used to searching instead of flipping pages, although I like to see where I am physically in a novel–did this event or character appear early or late in the narrative? But the way the text is framed slows down reading.  When you’re used to scanning a page, getting text one page at a time actually makes it harder to stay in the narrative flow.

I also prefer newspapers in print, especially since I live with someone, and we trade sections back and forth (we actually get 3 daily papers, so we often trade papers back and forth, sharing stories that have caught our eye.)

However, Green Apple Books in San Francisco has brought a whole new dimension to the Book v Kindle debate.  I think these little video clips are highly entertaining, and you may enjoy them, too.


Are the Cubs a Giant Boil?
June 3, 2009, 3:38 pm
Filed under: Books, Chicago writers, reading

Chicago’s book fair, which is always the first weekend in June, will take place June 6-7 this year.  I’ll be taking part in a panel on the Chicago Cubs at one p.m. on June 6; a lot of Chicago crime writers will be talking about crime fiction (if you’re going to talk about crimes, just go straight to the Cubs), the endlessly inventive Mary Zimmerman will be present, as will short story virtuoso Jean Thompson.

And if you don’t want to sit through a program, all writers will be signing books after their events.  Mystery writers will be hopping in and out of the Centuries & Sleuths tents.  Dozens of booksellers set up tents where you can actually handle a book and see if you want to read it without downloading it to your e-reader.  Paper, ink, illustrations–it doesn’t get any better than that.

The Chicago Tribune, the book fair’s sponsor, interviewed me this morning about the Cubs.  The interview explains why I compare the Cubs to a giant boil.

May 30, 2009, 9:06 pm
Filed under: Books, Chicago writers, reading

Today I received bound galleys for Hardball, which is always an exciting time in the life of a book.  It’s a strange time, too, because it represents a kind of final separation between you and the work you’ve lived with for a long time–it’s in print, it’s thrilling, but the book no longer belongs to you.  It belongs now to readers, who not only bring their own experience and expectations to the novel, but understand it –complete it– in ways that differ from your own ideas  while you were writing it.

My novels run about 135,000 words.  That’s a lot of text and it takes a long time to write.  I don’t make them that long on purpose, but as a story and characters develop, and they become more complex, it takes that long to work all the threads of the story out.  

It also takes time to work out such dense story lines.  I’ve been urged to write two or even three books a year, but I’d have to think in a different way than I do now, a staccato, ad-copy kind of way that focused only on brief bursts of action, with less time spent on thinking through my characters.  Even if I could reprogram my brain to write like James Patterson’s stable of writers, I’m not sure stories like his would appeal to V I’s readers.writers block

I often write three or more drafts before a novel comes into its correct shape.  I wish it didn’t happen like that–I wish the first draft were the final draft–but that’s happened to me only once in the course of the eighteen books I’ve published–and that was with the fourth novel in the V I series, Bitter Medicine.  More than once, I’ve discarded over two hundred pages, and found I could use only two or three paragraphs of the work I tossed.

Thank you all for staying with me on my writing journey.

Their Eyes Were Watching God
May 16, 2009, 6:11 pm
Filed under: Books, Libraries, reading

A friend of mine is a librarian in the Chicago system.  She’s actually second-in-command at my favorite branch, the Bee branch in Bronzeville

Overton Hygienic Building in the 1920's, hq of the Chicago Bee newspaper, now the Bee branch of the CPL

Overton Hygienic Building in the 1920's, hq of the Chicago Bee newspaper, now the Bee branch of the CPL

Recently, the librarians made a retreat.  In one of their workshops, they were each asked to speak for ten minutes on a book that had changed their lives.  My friend chose Their Eyes Were Watching God.  She can’t remember when she first read it, but she’s read it many many times, and it electrifies her life now as it has for many years before.

Oddly, most of her fellow  librarians chose non-fiction, in fact, most chose “how to” books.  She couldn’t think of one other work of fiction.  I was surprised, because it’s fiction that almost always touches me in that way that makes me feel as though someone were pulling me up by the roots of my hair.  In my teens, Portrait of the Artist affected me with so much intensity that I could hardly sleep for the need to plunge into it over and over. Although I’ve lost some of my adolescent intensity, there are novels like Gilead or A Blessing on the Moon where I reach the end and have to start over again at the beginning at once.

What books have changed your life?

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.

Judy Krug
April 15, 2009, 2:56 am
Filed under: Books, Education, reading

Judy Krug died on Saturday, April 11.  As a fierce advocate of the 1st Amendment, she began the Freedom to Read Foundation, which supports U.S. libraries in their ongoing struggle with censorship.  I didn’t know Judy well at all, but I took part each year in Banned Books Week, another of her brainchildren, where we read from and celebrated books that have been challenged or banned at libraries in the United States.  My favorite of the banned or challenged books I learned about through Judy was And Tango Makes Three.  Tango relates the true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park zoo, who became lovers, hatched an abandoned egg, and raised the chick.  


Judy Krug was a hero and a model for me, someone who was not afraid to speak up, not afraid to take abuse in defense of our most fundamental freedom.  All of us who cherish the written word are lessened by her death.

The family would like donations made to the Freedom to Read Foundation, at 50 East Huron Street, Chicago, IL  60611.

Alchemy, Chap 3 (beginning)
January 25, 2009, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Books




“You have five minutes to explain why you didn’t tell me that Cardozo is dead.  Because that’s how long I’m going to wait before I call the cops.  And they’ll be with you five minutes after they find Cardozo.”

“I didn’t know,” Ernesto said.

“Yeah, and I’m the rightful Queen of France. Four minutes ten seconds.” I had bought a disposable phone to use in calling the don or Ernesto.  And I hoped the FBI’s surveillance of Cardozo’s place was limited to intermittent drive-bys, that they didn’t have a camera installed somewhere that would have recorded my license plate.

“I didn’t know.  You think I haven’t been questioned before?  I didn’t know, and nothing you say can change that.”

“That’s it, then: we’re done, and don’t come around again, because I don’t want a federal entourage bird-dogging me.”

“Don’t get your undies in a bundle,” Ernesto grumbled.  I heard him muttering in the background, and the don’s lighter, higher baritone.

It was Don Pasquale who came back on the phone.  “Did you see anyone else?”

“You mean, like the female occupant of the house, whose existence you didn’t bother to mention?  No.  And neither of them left as much as an ATM card behind, let alone a passport.  Who was she?”

I thought I heard a faint sigh of relief.  Qualcuna di nessun’importanza.  Molto bene, molto bene e mille grazie.”

Someone of no importance—Pasquale always spoke Italian to me.  He added, as a murmured after-thought, that I could call the police.

Peppy and I had waited until we reached the toll-road before calling the don.  Even though, he, too, had given me the number of a disposable phone to use in calling him, I didn’t think I could be too careful.  Now, driving with one hand on the wheel and the other on the keypad, I did that most reckless act—dialed with one eye on the road and one on the phone.  I got directory assistance to connect me to the Glen Ellyn police department, and, speaking in my falsetto register, reported a dead body in unincorporated Glen Ellyn.  “I don’t know the exact address—it’s one of those mansions off St. Charles Road with a pond out back.”


I turned the phone off and flipped it out the window, where the traffic behind me quickly reduced it to rubble.