V I Warshawski is not Nancy Drew. Nor is she Sara Paretsky, it's clear after a warmly-received evening with the author at Wednesday's Novello Festival of Reading event in the Wachovia Playhouse at ImaginOn.
Paretsky began by noting that her groundbreaking character, a tough, hard-drinking female private eye, initially was compared to the spunky girl detective (“dogged by Nancy Drew”) so often that Paretsky was even invited to write a foreword when the Nancy Drew stories were reissued.
But “Nancy Drew wasn't my idea of a heroine,” said Paretsky, who prefers her heroines to suffer a bit before winning through – much as she felt she did growing up in rural Kansas, subject to the strictures of being female in the '50s.
V I was her answer to the standard female characters in detective fiction: “From my first reading of (Raymond) Chandler and other noir writers, I knew I wanted to turn the tables” on their portrayals of women as either vixens or victims.
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Her first attempt was Minerva Daniels, a smoker who drank cheap barroom whiskey. But after an epiphany at the office one day while saying one thing and thinking another in a meeting with a boss, she realized she didn't want “Philip Marlowe in drag,” but just a woman who actually said the things in “the balloon over her head.”
V I Warshawski first appeared in “Indemnity Only” in 1982. After a non-series novel (“Bleeding Kansas”), Paretsky will bring V I back in her next book, “Hardball,” mailed to her agent just this past Saturday.
Although Paretsky noted that “V I, like me, has a perpetual chip on her shoulder,” the author's witty, self-deprecating speech – full of erudite references to Melville, Sappho, Austen, Tolstoy and more – delighted her audience and made it clear there's more to Paretsky than her doughty heroine.
If you'd like to meet Paretsky, she's featured at the final Novello event tonight: “Windy City Clues,” a mystery evening with Chicago food, drinks and music. It's at the main library at 6 p.m. For details, go to www.novellofesti val.org.