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Archive for Sunday, April 7, 1991

NOVELIST AWAITS FILM BASED ON HER FAVORITE SLEUTH

April 7, 1991

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Sometime this summer Kathleen Turner will stride across the screen as V.I. Warshawski, the fictional Chicago detective with a knack for insurance investigations.

And when she does, Lawrence native Sara Paretsky will be in the audience, watching to see just what Hollywood did to her well-known character.

"We'll see what happens," Paretsky said in a Saturday interview. "Of course no one may see it, and it could be in and out of theaters in a week. But it could work. One can only hope.''

Paretsky, of course, is the author of six Warshawski books, including "Blood Shot" and "Bitter Medicine." A Kansas University graduate, Paretsky earned both a doctorate and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She now lives in the Windy City, where much of the Warshawski movie was shot.

PARETSKY SAID "Warshawski," as the film is tentatively called, came about through a complex string events that began at least a few years ago. After writing three Warshawski novels, she sold the film rights to the character to Tri-Star. That money helped her quit her day job with a huge insurance firm and devote her time to writing.

But Tri-Star changed managers, and the new people in charge had no interest in the independent, feminist sleuth. It finally sold the rights to the Disney studios and Turner, who made the film last fall.

Disney originally planned to release it in July through its Hollywood Pictures division but recently postponed the release until August, Paretsky said.

Since the film rights were sold long ago, Paretsky held little creative power over the production. The screenplay, in fact, was based on one of her early novels but has since lost just about all of Paretsky's plot.

BUT THE author did want to see at least the spirit of her character survive, and she said Turner may have pulled it off. When Paretsky finally met the actress, she found Turner to be both intelligent and energetic.

"I had one evening with her just before shooting," Paretsky said. "We discussed what she wanted to do with the character. I really wanted to stress to her a sense of where the character came from geographically and emotionally.

"The southeast side of Chicago (where Warshawski is from) is a drepressed area at the moment. There are women there whose husbands have been out of work for 10 years because of the death of the steel industry. Reading about V.I. seems to help them in some way cope. So I wanted to make sure she understood V.I. is a blue-collar character, not a high-gloss character. . . .

"I respect all readers' input, but somehow the response of women who work two shifts to support their families really matters to me. The character shouldn't be alien to them.''

THE FILMMAKERS allowed Paretsky to visit the set frequently, and she said she heard rumors Turner threatened to walk off if the character's independence was watered down. But she eventually realized that the character in her books and the character in the film inevitably would be different.

"I handed the character over to someone else," she said. "Of course, they're nice people, but it's their character they're making the movie about. I was on the set one day and Kathleen and one of the male actors were talking about my version and their version of the character, and they were saying their version was better. At that point I felt V.I. was really being taken over, and at that point I stopped going to the set.''

PARETSKY, THE daughter of Mary and David Paretsky of Eudora, has gathered numerous honors, including a nod from Ms. magazine as one of 10 Women of the Year in 1987. She spoke on the issues of women and power Friday night in a speech at the Kansas Union.

She said she developed Warshawski as a way to start writing. She had been writing short fiction for years, but she found the form of crime fiction stimulating. And she found a dearth of real women in crime fiction.

"I began thinking about a specific woman, a professional woman who solves problems," she said. "There are two views of women in detective novels. They're either a sexually active woman, which equals evil, or they're chaste, and so they can't do anything. They're totally ineffectual. I wanted to write a character who was a real person.''

AS FOR the future of Warshawski, Paretsky said she finds no immediate need to kill her off, as Arthur Conan Doyle killed off "Sherlock Holmes," only to bring him back years later for a new series of stories. But for Warshawski, time marches on.

"She ages," Paretsky said. "She was born in 1952 and she's getting older in time, as we all do. I decided she's a point-in-time character and politically based, so I didn't want her to stay artificially at one age.

"I'm under contract with Delacorte for two more books in the series, and after that I may give it a rest for a while. I'm not as fresh as I used to be with the material, and that makes it difficult for me and it's unfair to the readers. . . .

"I'd like to see if I can write something else besides crime fiction, and if I can't I'll bite the bullet and go back to writing V.I. stories.''

WHATEVER success the film might find with critics or audiences, it did produce an unexpected dividend for Paretsky, a devoted Cubs fan.

"So far the highlight of my life came about through the film," she said. "I got to run the bases at Wrigley Field. I never could have done that without the film.''

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