Sara Paretsky’s Blog

getting further behind
March 13, 2009, 9:38 pm
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March is an over-packed month for me, so I’m not keeping up either with my novel in progress (The Body Project) or my Alchemy story here.  I’m lecturing on March 14 in Peoria, IL, on the Maltese Falcon, did another lecture last week for a conference on women and gender, and have a couple of short writing projects to finish.  

On March 28, I’m running a tour of V I’s Chicago as a fundraiser for a literacy group on whose advisory board I sit.  I drove the route on Monday.  We hope to start in South Chicago, where V I grew up.  She was left for dead in Dead Stick pond in Blood Shot, and almost killed in the city’s garbage landfill in Fire Sale.  



However, we had massive rains in Chicago Sunday and Monday, and the roads were under water.  The tour will visit other highlights of the girl detective’s life, and we’ll drive past Barack’s house.  The secret service won’t let us stop but hopefully people can snap pictures quickly through the bus windows.images-1

Meanwhile, I’ve agreed to read short stories for the 2010 Edgars, so I’m not even reading anything I really like these days, whine, whine whine.  If you’ve read a wonderful gripping novel lately, let me know–I’m desperate for a rich story!

I’ll hope to get back to a better writing schedule in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting factoid I picked up doing research for my gender studies talk:  If you watch movies, you may not ever have noticed, but most of the speaking parts go to men.  In fact, 72 percent of speaking parts go to men.  Women can talk less than a third of the time on screen, but, in fact, this mirrors real-life social experience.

A variety of studies, most recently at the University of San Francisco, show that in mixed groups, whether at work or at play, women can speak about a third of the time.  If we take up more time — more space — than that — we’re labeled as conversation hogs, as aggressive bitches, and social pressures are marshaled to silence us.  Notice for yourself the next time you’re at a dinner party and a woman seems to dominate the conversation:  a wall comes down between her and her neighbors.  Women as well as men stop listening to her. 

From 2008 Report to the Media


It’s New Year’s
December 31, 2008, 6:23 pm
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And a bright sunny day in Chicago.  Cold, but nothing like the -2 F we had a week ago, so we’re happy.  About half a mile from my home, in between us and Lake Michigan, is a small wilderness called “Wooded Isle.”  It’s a bird sanctuary, and it holds a Japanese Garden, a gift of the city of Osaka.  And despite vandals and poor budgets, it continues to look lovely at all seasons.

This is what I look at in winter.


I go there as many mornings as I can with my dog and try to ground myself, try to let go of all the thoughts and anxieties that weigh me down (we are worrying about the health of one son, and have everyone’s usual worries about the world.)

Even though I hear the traffic on both sides of us, and even though the dog rolls in or eats obnoxious stuff, the Osaka Garden has become part of my peace-seeking ritual.

This little map shows you where the garden is, just south of the Museum of Science and Industry.  Lake Michigan lies to the east; the blue around the garden is really brown, the lagoons from the lake that dot the south side’s lakefront.  I see herons there, prairie hawks, and small woodland birds.



 I  hope against all odds that the world itself finds more peace this year than it’s known for a while, that the United States stops its part in creating havoc and death for people far from home, that we all seek justice, in Lincoln’s words, “with a firmness in the right as Gd gives us to see the right.”  May the year be one of health and peace for everyone who reads these words.

South Chicago
December 21, 2008, 7:43 pm
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The map that I’ve put at the top of the blog is a slice of a stylized drawing of South Chicago, the neighborhoodsouthchicago_map2 where V I Warshawski grew up.  I’ve given her a fictitious high school, but Bowen High is where she would have gone.  The Skyway, the elevated highway that cuts the neighborhood in half, is a prominent part of the landscape in Fire Sale: homeless people live underneath, and it’s full, too, of garbage that people throw from their cars.  This little bit of map doesn’t show Deadstick pond, but if you go on down Stony Island Avenue another four miles, you come to Chicago’s landfill, and the last of the marshes.  V I grew up on Houston Street, between 90th and 91st.  That’s one of the little streets not included in the map, but it would lie between Mackinaw and Exchange.  Also in this neighborhood: a surprising monument to the battle of Waterloo, erected by a soldier who fought there and who lived in the swamps that became South Chicago.

Writing Late at night
December 20, 2008, 6:01 pm
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I was imagining a V I kind of story and started it here on the blog, Alchemy, Chapter One–but I didn’t explain that it was a kind of story, or maybe I should say a Beta story. More will take place from time to time, always with the heading of “Alchemy”

Jumping off the High Board
November 19, 2008, 5:39 pm
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My favorite cousin has been visiting me and just took off, which leaves me melancholy.  She’s an amazing woman: she’s a skilled trekker and wilderness guide, she’s a feminist who started two small women’s presses.  The second,  Aunt Lute Books, survives to this day.  She ran the oldest women’s bookstore in America, Amazon Books, (no connection to the behemoth, which it predates by more than two decades) for twenty-two years.  And now she’s on her way to Ukraine with the Peace Corps.

My cousin Barb is a warm and loving woman, a bright presence in the lives of the people who know her.  She’s also a risk-taker: she kayaks around Alaska, making camp wherever she sees a flat bit of rocky shore. But I’m especially in awe of her right now for jumping off the high board and starting something totally new in her life.  She and I are the same age, 61, but here I stay in Chicago doing the same routine over and over.

I’m curious to know what risks you may have taken in your own lives, what new directions or challenges.  Let me know.





I can’t believe I lived to see the day
November 5, 2008, 11:57 pm
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From eleven o’clock last night until noon today, November 4, I’ve been getting calls from friends and relations around the world, calling back, hearing the joy, feeling the relief.  I didn’t go to Grant Park–I’d been working for the campaign in Indiana earlier in the day, and didn’t have the stamina for standing in crowds.  Friends who went were thrilled by the presence of people of all ages, races.  This morning it hit me, finally–I lived to see this day.  My journey began forty-two years ago as a community volunteer on Chicago’s south side.  The white kids in my neighborhood program came from families who worked  hard for civil rights and social justice–and from families that went to Marquette Park to throw bombs and bricks at Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights advocates.  I could not have imagined this day back then, when Barack was five years old.

He faces enormous challenges–a disintegration of civil liberties at home, a global economic crisis not seen since the 1930’s, a Justice Department riddled with pro-torture, anti civil liberties ideologues, an Interior Department riddled with anti-environmental ideologues, and on down the list of the ten thousand federal jobs appointed by the president.  Undoing the massive damage of the last eight years won’t happen overnight, but Barack has the brains and the cool to do the heavy lifting.  I’m exhausted–off to bed for me!  Maybe I’ll write something more coherent later.

welcome to my world
October 28, 2008, 8:06 pm
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Why I Support Barack Obama

by Sara Paretsky


I grew up in rural Kansas, with the kind of Norman Rockwell, regular-gal childhood you hear a lot about these days: our two-room school’s baseball diamond was carved from a cornfield.  My dad, who held Army medals for marksmanship, owned two rifles.  I never killed a polar bear, or shot at wolves from a helicopter, but I took care of my share of rats at the garbage dump where we took our trash in those pre-green days.  It’s been a while since I held a rifle, but I used to be able to clean and fire a .25 pretty well.

Our family was typically American in other ways: we were a Heinz 57 mix of religions and ethnicities.  One of my great-grandfathers was a Hasid, an ultra-orthodox Jew in eastern Poland; another studied for the Catholic priesthood before realizing that life wasn’t meant for him.  Other great-great grandfathers were part of the generation of Puritan preachers who settled New England in the seventeenth century.

In my family, as in so many blended American families, our central holiday was the Fourth of July. On the Fourth of July, my father taught us the history of the country.  My mother had my brothers and me memorize sections of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution.  We learned:

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do establish and ordain this Constitution for the United States of America.


We the People.  Not, we the billionaires.  Not, we the believers in Creationism.  Not, we the oil industry lobbyists.  Not even, we the blogging novelists.   Just, we the people.

This is why I support Barack Obama for President of the United States.  He understands this mandate, and he has lived it during fourteen years of public service.

The Founders of this country could not have imagined our health care system when they wrote that they wished to “promote the general welfare.”  But they surely did not confuse “the general welfare” with the wealth and health of the few.  In America today, we taxpayers give the Republican president and his would-be successor free health care of the highest quality in the world.  When Mr. Bush returns to Crawford, and Senator McCain to Sedona, we taxpayers will continue to provide them this gold-plated health care.  Meanwhile, Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain have told us taxpayers to go to the emergency room when we’re sick.

Barack Obama, from the day he entered public life, has understood that we all share the blessings of liberty, and that we all share the costs and the benefits of those blessings.  As a state legislator in one of America’s largest states—with almost twenty times the population of Alaska—he worked with Republicans and Democrats to create affordable health care for Illinois children, so that when they were sick, or born with disabilities, their mothers didn’t have to line up in an emergency room.  He worked for the welfare of our oldest citizens, who  had given a life of service to this country, and did not need to spend their final years in poverty and indignity.  As a United States Senator, Barack Obama has continued that important, bi-partisan work.

When the Founders of our country talked about “establishing justice,” they wanted justice for all Americans without fear or favor.  We’ve lived in a poisonous atmosphere for the last eight years, where if you paid lip service to religion, you could buy and sell our natural resources while having cocaine and sex parties.  You could fire federal prosecutors for not supporting the president.  You could threaten to put librarians in prison for the crime of consulting a lawyer when the Department of Justice came calling at their libraries.

 This is also why I support Barack Obama for President of the United States.  He believes that justice means observing the law impartially for all, not just for the wealthy, not just for people who pay lip service to religious beliefs.

I have spent the last forty years working for women’s rights to be treated as full and equal citizens under the law.  And this is the final reason that I support Barack Obama.

I have a fourteen-year-old granddaughter, and like all grandmothers, my beloved granddaughter is dearer to me than anything else on this earth.  I want her to grow up in a world where she can make the most important decisions about her life in the privacy of her home or doctor’s office: her decisions about whether to become pregnant, whether to be a mother.  She doesn’t need a government telling her what to do. 

Governor Palin has demanded privacy for her teen daughter’s pregnancy, and for the Palin familiy’s decisions about sex education and contraception, but the governor, and Senator McCain, both want my granddaughter’s decisions to be the government’s business.

If Barack Obama is elected president, he will keep the government out of our bedrooms.   He will return our nation to the serious work the Republicans have abandoned for far too many years: providing for the common defence, promoting the general welfare, securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.