Sara Paretsky has an amazing body of work and, yes, that is an intentional play on words on her latest novel titled Body Work, featuring her recurring, fascinating, protagonist V.I. Warshawski. This is the third of my three interviews with great female crime writers, the other two being Laura Lippman and Karin Slaughter.
But Paretsky was writing mysteries long before Lippman and Slaughter got started and an argument could be made that she paved the way for them, having written her first mystery, Indemnity Only, back in 1982. She has a funny frequently asked questions page here in which she answers some trivia about her life.
Parestsky, in 1986, created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to support women crime writers. This earned her Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. I am very excited to be able to interview Mrs. Paretsky. Body Work is a great read and well worth checking out. And with that let's get to the interview:
How did the idea for this book develop? In the promotional material for the book you talk about how you wanted to tackle the topic of bodies, be it as works of art or as veterans damaged from serving in war. Was it difficult tying those topics together into a cohesive story? I think you pulled it off.
I'm glad it seemed to work well — it was hard to try to pull it all together in a storyline. I was thinking about the way we exist in the body, how hard it is to see beneath the skin, and how much bodies are deified, in ads, in sports, in film — the woman in the Hooters billboard that you see as you leave the airport isn't a person with feelings or thoughts — she's just a body. And then I began thinking, too, about the way we exploit men's bodies — not as obviously, perhaps, but just as invidiously. And nowhere is that more troubling than in the bodies of our young men (and women, but they're mostly men) that we throw into a war machine. I started imagining a woman who had so little regard for her own body that she turned it into a canvas for other people's fantasies, and the kind of history such a person might have. And then the other characters began coming to life around her.
You've noted in interviews that you began writing detective fiction because that's what you enjoyed reading but you didn't like that writers like Raymond Chandler so often presented women in a negative light, either as causing problems or "solving" problems with their bodies. Why do you think male writers did that? Is it gratifying that there are other female mystery and detective writers now also having women be the heroes, forces for good instead of bad?