Archive for Sunday, October 29, 2000

Defining women

Documentary profiles leading female mystery writers

October 29, 2000


A Lawrence native is among a trio of female mystery writers who are profiled in a documentary that will be shown Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library.

"Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction," by Pamela Beere Briggs and William McDonald, takes a look at the lives and careers of Lawrence High School graduate-turned-detective writer Sara Paretsky and fellow mystery writers Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller.

Oddly enough, the idea for the documentary originated in a politician's office in Washington, D.C.

"In 1989, I had a fellowship with (Rep.) Pat Schroeder's office in Washington, D.C., and I mentioned I liked mysteries but hadn't found any interesting ones with strong female detectives," Briggs said, adding that she has read nearly every Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie book on the market.

"One of the interns said haven't you heard of Sara Paretsky. 'Killing Orders' (one of Paretsky's books) was waiting for me the next morning. I remember taking 'Killing Orders' home and I thought I would read the first 10 pages, but I couldn't put it down."

Briggs then met Paretsky at a screening in Chicago for "Funny Ladies: A Portrait of Women Cartoonists," another documentary by Briggs and McDonald, which eventually aired on PBS and The Learning Channel.

"We had thought about making a visual documentary about writing. I'm not interested in films that involve a lot of interviews," she said. "It took me about a year to feel comfortable (with the idea for the film), and Sara was there from the beginning."

Briggs and McDonald began shooting "Women of Mystery" in the summer of 1993. But before any cameras rolled, they did extensive research and a series of pre-interviews with the three writers. They realized that the writers, while quite different, had one thing in common: the realization that writing literature has the power to change people's lives and the way they see the world.

"Sara is finding her voice through the characters she creates, and in turn, gives the readers the inspiration to find their own voice in terms of who they are and what they can do," Briggs said.

What: "Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction," a documentary about Lawrence native-writer Sara Paretsky and writers Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. Paretsky and filmmakers Pamela Beere Briggs and William McDonald will be in attendance.When: Screenings at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, with a reception for Paretsky, Briggs and McDonald at 5 p.m.Where: Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.Admission: The event is free but reservations must be made. Call 843-1178, voice mail 118.

"Muller's writing is about the past and place, and the connection between the two and how they influence the present.

"(In Sue's books), the irony is that by opening ourselves up to intimacy we open ourselves up to either enriched relationships or terrible pain."

Briggs said the reason she had "to do this film was because women artists' and writers' contributions are easily forgotten." A case in point: Anna Katherine Green, who wrote best-selling novels in the 1800s.

"She created a series of detective (books) 10 years before Sherlock Holmes, but she's fairly forgotten," she said.

In conjunction with the screening in Lawrence, a three-part book discussion group will be offered at the library. Participants will read Paretsky's "Tunnel Vision," Grafton's "F in for Fugitive" and Muller's "Shape of Dread." For more information, call 843-1178.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.