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Novel Idea: Creating a hard boiled heroine

V.I. Warshawski's creator -- Sara Paretsky tells us how she came up with the character

With her quiet manner and shock of prematurely gray hair, novelist Sara Paretsky doesn't seem much like her streetwise protagonist, a cop's daughter with a smart mouth and a bad attitude. But it takes only a few minutes' conversation to realize that V.I. Warshawski's appealing intensity comes straight from her creator, a 44-year-old writer who sees plenty wrong with the world and has said so in six increasingly complex and skillful books. (Blood Shot and Burn Marks are her most recent.)

For the screen debut of Paretsky's heroine, the filmmakers pulled plot elements from several of the novels, but they basically ''made up their own story,'' says the writer. ''My input was not sought, and I decided I was better off staying clear of the process. The movie does not, perhaps, have the tone of my writing, but that's okay.''

What it does have, Paretsky feels, is a performance by Kathleen Turner that captures Warshawski's essence. ''Of course, she doesn't look like V.I. — that's no secret — but she's really committed to the character. My own sense was that Kathleen's taken a lot of shit over the years, and this was her chance to dish it out for a change. She plays V.I. tough, she plays her funny, and she plays her sexy, and I think that's a good way to see the character.''

Turner has said she'd like to make more Warshawski movies, and Paretsky thinks she might get the chance. ''I've been amazed by the enthusiasm at screenings, especially among women,'' she says. ''When women read my books, what they seem to come away with is this sense of empowerment, and this is what women are saying as they're walking out of the movie.''

Asked if she worries that a successful film series would change the way people see V.I. in her books, Paretsky replies, ''I worry a lot more about keeping my own vision and integrity intact. I don't know,'' she muses, pondering possible solutions to the problems a movie series might raise. ''I might have to kill V.I., you know?''

Originally posted Aug 02, 1991 Published in issue #77 Aug 02, 1991 Order article reprints
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