Sara Paretsky Q&A

You asked, she answered! We collected all your questions from last week's virtual event with Sara Paretsky and she was kind enough to answer them ALL for us! Read on to find out Sara's advice for budding writers, some of her favorite TV investigators, and more. 

Question: Do you ever get tongue-tied when you read? Did you always want to be a writer? - Lisa on Zoom

Sara Paretsky: I don't think it's happened, but now that you've raised the specter, I will probably start getting self-conscious. 

SP: I always wrote, but it wasn't until I was close to 30 that I imagined writing for publication.

Q: Sara, do you write to please yourself? Or do you have a specific reader (imaginary or otherwise) in mind when you’re writing? - Carol via email

SP: It's a mix of both. I can't write anything that doesn't engage me, but I'm also mindful of the aspects of my books that bring readers the most enjoyment. I think and write about intense feelings and events, but I also love it when I can make people laugh; I try to keep a balance between humor and intensity.

Q: Is there anything you miss about living in Kansas? - Sherri on Zoom

SP: In Chicago, traffic is so dense that getting around drives me insane. The open roads of Kansas make me long to move back there, and in fact, in Dead Land, VI celebrates getting to use her muscle car the way Ford intended it to be driven. I also miss the landscape. Contrary to popular belief, Kansas is not flat. I miss the rolling hills, the open skies, and the prairies. I also miss the sunshine: nine out of eleven days in Kansas are sunny and I believe nine out of eleven days are cloudy.

Q: Another question from Dublin Sara- how long was VI in your mind before you wrote the first book, did she evolve in terms of her traits before you wrote her down - Mary Clare on Zoom

SP: I had wanted to create a woman detective for a number of years but the character I came up with never came to life for me. She was a cardboard cutout figure, a kind of Sam Spade in drag. VI came to me in the middle of a meeting with a pestilential boss on a dreary October afternoon. It took several books for me to flesh out her character and history in detail but who she was cane to me as a complete idea in the middle of that meeting.

Q: How much personal knowledge does Sara have about the Kansas locales featured in Dead Land? - Allyson on Zoom

SP: I grew up in the country between Eudora and Lawrence, KS, which feature in Dead Land. I know the countryside and the town of Lawrence pretty well. I visited Kanopolis State Park and Horsethief Canyon as well as Ellsworth and Salina but I wouldn’t pretend to know them.

Q: How do you think VI would handle a stay at home order?  She doesn't seem like at stay at home type even during a pandemic! - Janice on Zoom

SP: She’d wear a full hazmat suit and keep on trucking!

Q: Do any of the V.I. books have as themes drastic changes in American life, atmosphere, and perspective after 9/11?  Would a story be in the works that includes a pandemic a theme? - Jonathan on Zoom

SP: I wrote Blacklist in the wake of 9/11 and the anti-immigrant furor of that era and Bleeding Kansas imagines the effect of the subsequent invasion of Iraq on three Kansas farming families. I can’t imagine writing a book on the pandemic while we’re in the middle of both of the epidemic and of quarantining.

Q: How do you recommend budding writers approach getting a first work published? - Jonathan on Zoom

SP: You can find support groups or seminars in some MWA and Sisters in Crime chapters. There are many avenues to publication in the online universe. While the big five publishers dominate the landscape, there are also many fine smaller presses. MWA vets several hundred publishers to see which ones are legitimate and which are not. If you join MWA you have access to that service. You can see more on my website at

Q: How long does it take you as a rule to write a book? Do you write every day for a certain amount of time - or do a set number of pages? - Terri on Zoom

SP: I aspire to write every day but I don’t. However, when I’m actively engaged on a project, I do work on it every day. This often is thinking tie as opposed to writing time as I try to work out plot lines. In general, it takes me 15-18 months to write a book.

Q: Were you thinking of Land Institute by setting novel near Salina? - Mary on FB

SP: I set the novel near Salina because I wanted to use Horsethief Canyon, which is in Kanopolis State Park. I learned about the Kansas Land Trust and the park from the photographer Terry Evans and I’m grateful to the people at the Kansas Land Trust. I’m interested in the work that the Kansas Land Institute does but I haven’t had the opportunity to meet them.

Q: Who are your favorite female PIs on television or in the movies? - Shirley on FB

SP: I love Daniela Ruah and Linda Hunt on NCIS: Los Angeles. I love them even though they are federal agents and not private investigators. I love the character Alexa Crowe in the series My Life is Murder and I also love the three aunts in Queens of Mystery.

Q: Do you have a favorite VI book? This has been the highlight of my quarantine!  - Jenny on FB

SP: All the books have different strengths and weakness but some are more personal to me. Killing Orders gave me the chance to tell a version of my immigrant grandmother’s story; the backstory in Hardball is taken from the summer I spent as a volunteer in the Civil Rights movement in Chicago, those experiences changed my life in many ways and so it is probably my most personal.