There are Career Authors, and then there’s Sara Paretsky, the New York Times bestselling author and creator of one of the most iconic characters in crime fiction: VI Warshawski. Warshawski (played by Kathleen Turner in the movie) is the female private eye who changed the PI genre forever, and remains the gold standard. In 1986 Sara Paretsky created Sisters in Crime, a worldwide organization to support women crime writers, which earned her Ms. Magazine’s 1987 Woman of the Year award. The British Crime Writers awarded her the Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement; and she won the Gold Dagger from the British Crime Writers. Today her books are published in 30 countries. We’re thrilled she’s taking us Behind the Pages of Overboard (William Morrow, May 10, 2022), the twenty-second entry in her groundbreaking series—and we’re reassured to know that even this Queen of Crime faces some of the same challenges the rest of us do.
1. What’s the title of your book—and was that always the title?
The book is called Overboard. It started life as Double Dirty, but we changed that when we realized that title was taking people to porn sites. There has always been a roving craps game in the viaducts under Chicago’s bridges. The regulars who fleeced wannabes refer this as “the double dirty.” The rolling craps game makes a brief appearance in the novel.
2. Who’s the main character of your book—and was that always their name?
The main character is VI Warshawski, and that has always been her name. When I was imagining my detective, I wanted V I to reflect the ferocity with which Chicagoans cling to their ethnic identities; I chose Polish because I knew I couldn’t write convincingly about Latina or African-American experience, and one of my grandfathers had come from Poland. I can’t tell what language what last names belong to, so I thought, “Warsaw, that’s in Poland, Warshawski must be a Polish name.” The initials just seemed to go with Warshawski. I wrote about V.I. for 6 months before I found the names that went with the initials, which is why I always call her V.I.
3. At the start of the book, what’s the character’s goal?
VI wants to help a teenager whom she’s found hiding in the rocks on Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Her mission expands when the girl disappears and VI finds that a number of Chicago powerbrokers are also looking for this young woman.
4. What was the core idea for this novel—a plot point? a theme?—and where did it come from?
I started with the way big hospital chains exploit opioid addicts, but it proved hard to work that into the story of the characters I was creating. My runaway teen in the previous question lives with her grandmother. The grandmother has a house on land that some big land developers are coveting and much of the plot revolves around their efforts to get this land by fair mean or foul, mostly foul.
5. At what point did you come up with the final version of the first line?
Although I rewrote the book many times, from many viewpoints, I had the first line from the very first day I sat down to write it.
6. Did you know the ending of the book when you started?
No. I had a general idea of where I was going but no idea of what the actual ending would look like. I had written the first fifty-three chapters and then I came to a stop. It took me about two months to figure out how to end the book. It would be a spoiler if I explained the process that got me to the ending.
7. What’s something in this book that you’ve never done before?
As I was working on the book, my dog needed surgery. I was walking the streets around the clinic – COVID meant I couldn’t be inside – and I came to the Chicago River. I saw the river up close in a way that I never had in my 50 plus years in the city and it changed the way I shaped the story. The island in the middle of the Chicago River has a large empty space on it that used to be a printing plant and when I saw that, I had the grandmother’s property (see question 4), which allowed me to pull many of the book’s pieces together.
8. What part of your tour (or launch week) are you most excited about?
This is my first chance to be with readers in person since before the pandemic. I’m very much looking forward to that, especially being part of the American Writers Museum’s American Writers Festival that weekend.
9. Who in your #writing community deserves a special shout-out for supporting you in writing this story?
Margaret Kinsman, Lorraine Brochu, and Marzena Mardej.
10. How do you want readers to feel when they close the book?
I want VI to bring readers a measure of comfort in these harsh times.
11. What did you learn from this book?
There is never an easy way to write a novel, no matter how many times you’ve done it.