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Crime, chocolate and Chicago: Author Sara Paretsky coming to Lisle
By Joan Broz | Daily Herald Columnist

When author Sara Paretsky is not writing she is fun-loving, even if that means riding a camel at the Bronx Park Zoo in New York City.


Courtesy of Maia Isabella Wright

A Kansas native, author Sara Paretsky loves her adopted home of Chicago and uses the city as a backdrop to her V.I. Warshawski novels. Pictured with her granddaughter, Maia Isabella Wright, in Willis Tower, Paretsky calls the city "gallant" and "family-oriented."


Courtesy of Sara Paretsky

Author Sara Paretsky will discuss her V.I. Warshawski detective novels April 18 in the Lisle Library's Goldstein Memorial Lecture Series.


Courtesy of Sara Paretsky

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Published: 4/12/2010 12:04 AM

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No investigative skills are needed to enjoy the next presentation of the Lisle Library's Irv and Kay Goldstein Memorial Lecture Series. Think of female sleuth V.I. Warshawski. The clue naturally will lead you to suspense writer Sara Paretsky.

Paretsky is the author of 15 novels, including 13 starring her bright, intuitive detective Warshawski. The award-winning novelist is the recipient of the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement from the British Crime Writers' Association.

The popular author will speak at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 18, at the Lisle High School Arts Center. The Goldstein Lectures honor the memory of a dedicated couple who were instrumental in beginning and running the Friends of the Lisle Library for many years.

The first speaker in the lecture series was the late, great Studs Terkel, a prizewinning author and popular radio personality. Terkel was an advocate for the common man and social causes. Sara Paretsky reflects similar principles in addition to women's issues and individual freedoms. Both share a devoted fondness to their adopted city of Chicago.

In a delightful phone interview, Paretsky revealed that she lives for chocolate, recently took a fraud investigation class led by a member of the Secret Service, is "dying" to use Wrigley Field in a plot for a future book, and actually followed her 15-year-old granddaughter out into the glass box at the top of Willis Tower in Chicago.

Paretsky grew up in Lawrence, Kan., and graduated from the University of Kansas. Her Jayhawk spirit includes endowing a scholarship given at her alma mater for exceptional creative work in science, the arts or writing.

Paretsky always found pleasure in reading mysteries and suspenseful stories, so it is natural for her to write in the genre. She projects into her main character, V.I. Warshawski, qualities she wishes she shared, such as courage or a willingness to take risks.

Some of her plot lines come from reading the daily newspaper and then asking herself, "What if?" and "Why?" to allow her thoughts to spread their wings.

"I think I see V.I. not as much as a story of a friend, (but) as a way to work out my own ambivalences about what should a moral person do in the world," Paretsky said. "How much should you act upon; how much stay silent; how much should you speak out?"

Paretsky admits to giving V.I. her own weakness for handbags and shoes. It's clear the two also share determination, self-reliance and resourcefulness.

Paretsky grew up in a difficult family situation with four brothers. The oldest is a priest today.

"His (religious) order is so sweet to me," she said. "When I have a new book out, they put a note up in their library, 'Jeremy's little sister has a new book out.' I'm so very touched by them."

Readers will not find her brothers or her friends as characters in her books.

"I tried once, early on, to put some people I knew while working downtown for CNA insurance into the book, but I couldn't do it," Paretsky said. "I didn't know how to bring them to life and make them believable, so I had to abandon the idea. They were too much a part of my life."

One summer while in college, Paretsky came to work at a mission on the south side of Chicago. She did not realize then that she had seeded a lasting love for a city she found "gallant," "so family-oriented" and having a "real hometown, small town feeling."

Paretsky credits the people in the Chicago area with tremendous support for hometown writers, artists and performers.

"One of my favorite things is that Chicagoans just love their city," Paretsky said. "They will write that 'I grew up on this street and you have it wrong.' Not in a mean-spirited way, but with it they give me a page of their wonderful feelings for their city. I feel it is such a privilege to write something that evokes people' memories and I have been given this gift of Chicagoans who share their life stories with me."

For accuracy, Paretsky drives the roads and confers with her maps of Chicago. The city she uses as a backdrop to her plots, she now calls home.

Over her long and illustrious career, Paretsky has had many memorable occasions. Among them was an incident roughly 20-years-ago when her book "Blood Shot," set in South Chicago, came out.

"A group of women came to one of my readings and introduced themselves as married to out-of-work steelworkers," Paretsky said. "They admitted to not reading a book since high school, but said someone told them my book was set in their neighborhood. They were such gallant women, working two jobs because their husbands had been out of work so long. They said V.I. gave them the courage to deal with the hard hand life dealt them. I thought this was the biggest honor I could have received."

Readers will gather bits of the real Sara Paretsky by reading her books, or perhaps from reading this column, but those are only hunches. Plan to meet Paretsky at the Goldstein Memorial Lecture and be impressed with her spirited activism, fun-loving personality and creative storytelling. She'll win you over.

Paretsky's newest book, "Body Works," comes out Aug. 31.

Brain Snacks, a bookstore in Downers Grove, will sell a selection of Paretsky novels at the lecture. The author will sign books attendees bring or purchase.

It is no mystery that tickets are free and go to the first 400 requests. Tickets are available at the Lisle Library, 777 Front St., and limited two per person. Call (630) 971-1675 for details or stop by the library - today.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle. E-mail her at