Sara Paretsky's Blog, page 3
June 6, 2015
Brush Back has received four glowing pre-publication reviews, including three starred reviews—not an easy feat. Pre-order and read an excerpt now and to find out for yourself what makes Brush Back V I’s most thrilling installment yet.
Publisher’s Weekly (Starred Boxed Review)
South Chicago provides the setting for MWA Grand Master Paretsky’s electrifying 18th novel featuring PI V.I. “Vic” Warshawski (after 2013’s Critical Mass). Vic thought she had left her old neighborhood—and her former teenage flame, Frank Guzzo—years ago, until he approaches her with a sensitive issue: his mother, Stella, just finished 25 years in prison for murdering Frank’s younger sister, Annie, and she’s now proclaiming her innocence. Reluctant to get involved—Stella always hated the Warshawski family—Vic agrees to look into the matter, but is floored when Stella accuses the detective’s beloved late cousin and Chicago hockey legend Boom-Boom (who was murdered in 1984’s Deadlock) of having a hand in Annie’s murder. Determined to clear Boom-Boom’s name, Vic throws herself into the investigation, which takes her into the murky political waters of her former stomping ground, with its back channels leading to the state’s highest echelons of power. Paretsky never shies from tackling social issues, and in this installment she targets political corruption without ever losing sight of her dogged sleuth’s very personal stake in the story.
Booklist (Starred Review)
In an unlikely moment of sentimentality, Chicago private investigator V. I. Warshawski grudgingly agrees to spend a few hours investigating the possibility that her old friend Frank Guzzo’s mother, Stella, was wrongfully convicted of murdering her daughter, Annie, 25 years ago. Stella, a nasty piece of work known for battering her children and slandering V. I.’s mother at every opportunity, punches V. I. at their first meeting, and Vic resolves to dump the case. But, then, Stella makes public claims that Annie’s long-lost diary implicates V. I.’s beloved hockey-star cousin, Boom Boom Warshawski, in her murder. No way is V. I. going to let those accusations stand, and she’s off fishing for new evidence from those involved in Annie’s case. As intrepid and tenacious as she was in the series’ first novels, V. I. battles the circled wagons of the tight-knit South Side Chicago neighborhood in which she grew up, which ultimately reveals
a satisfyingly complex story of decades-old murder, family loyalties, dirty politics, and gangsters. A certain summer hit, this robust series entry harkens back to the outstanding Fire Sale (2005), which also returned V. I. to her roots. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: V. I. Warshawski remains one of the most-loved characters in crime fiction, and this episode, drawing as it does on Warshawski’s personal history, will be of particular interest to fans looking for backstory.
Library Journal (Starred Review)
Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel (after Critical Mass) finds our intrepid Chicago private investigator doing a favor for old high school boyfriend Frank Guzzo. Back in the South Side neighborhood, the Warshawski clan and the Guzzos have a long-standing and seemingly inexplicable feud, but V.I. reluctantly agrees to look into an unlikely claim that Stella, Frank’s mother, was framed for the bludgeoning death of her daughter Annie 25 years ago. But Stella’s tactics turn on the Warshawski family, and V.I.’s famous cousin, Boom Boom, is implicated in the case on the word of a volatile and still violent 80-year-old woman. Against her better judgment, V.I. pursues the case, raising the hackles of her lawyer, her reporter friend who relies on her tips, and an assortment of friends and family readers have come to know. VERDICT Paretsky’s novels are never boring, but this one is particularly well executed, combining family and city history with local political intrigue and a jaunt into the tunnels under Wrigley Field. The author’s many fans won’t be let down, while readers new to the series will be able to follow the story line without difficulty.
V.I. Warshawski (Critical Mass, 2013, etc.) takes on the most thankless task of her career: reopening a 25-year-old murder case on behalf of a convicted defendant who hates the sight of her. When trucker Frank Guzzo, who was once V.I.’s high school boyfriend, tells her that his mother, Stella, claims she was framed now that she’s been released after doing a quarter-century for beating Frank’s sister, Annie, to death, V.I.’s main reaction is skepticism. Who knows if Annie was really still alive when Stella left her to play bingo? In the end, though, she agrees to ask around, and the first person she questions is Stella. She quickly learns that Stella still blames V.I.’s mother, Gabriella, Annie’s piano teacher, for turning her daughter against her, and V.I.’s late cousin, hockey star Boom-Boom Warshawski, for ruining Frank’s chances of playing with the Cubs. She also learns that Stella swings one mean fist. Clearly this isn’t a client she can work with. But every attempt she makes to extricate herself from this sticky case enmeshes her more closely with all Paretsky’s trademark complications—bullying cops, crooked politicians, long-simmering resentments, buried secrets avid to spring back to murderous life—and she’s haunted by Stella’s contemptuous charge that “you want this to be about my family, but you won’t admit that it’s really about yours.” A healthy dose of present-day murder drives home the urgency of V.I.’s quest. Tension spikes when Boom-Boom’s goddaughter, hockey player Bernadine Fouchard, who’s been staying with V.I., goes missing. Paretsky, who plots more conscientiously than anyone else in the field, digs deep, then deeper, into past and present until all is revealed. The results will be especially appealing to baseball fans, who’ll appreciate the punning chapter titles and learn more than they ever imagined about Wrigley Field.
May 20, 2015
I was privileged to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters and to address the graduates at the University of Kansas on their May 17 2015 Commencement.
Delivering Commencement Address
Remarks for the University of Kansas 2015 Commencement
Chancellor Gray-Little, Chairman Wilk,Distinguished Guests and Faculty. Above all, members of the Class of 2015 and your happy families: welcome, and thank you, for the honor of this degree and the privilege of speaking here today.
Congratulations to all our graduates. You completed a rigorous course of study, despite times of despair or frustration or confusion. Whatever the next stage on your journey, when you are discouraged and feel like quitting, remind yourself that you stuck with this job, this important job of education, even when the going was rough.
Let’s have a round of applause for our courageous class of 2015.
With Chancellor Gray-Little, Prof Ada Sue Hinshaw and others
While we’re in the clapping mood, let’s also thank the families and friends who made sacrifices so that these graduates could stay the course.
I have been a Jayhawk since I was five years old, when I attended my first KU commencement. My dad had just joined the Kansas faculty and he took part in the procession through the Campanile and down the hill. My mother and brothers and I stood in the stands and cheered when we saw him.
AI grew up around this university and received my BA here. My years on the hill shaped who I have become as an adult. Like most alums, I go insane during March madness, feel a little more depressed when football seasons rolls around.
Reading in a children’s cubbyhole in the Lawrence Public Library
Of course, university education, your education, your life, are about more than cheering for sports teams. As a fan you are on the sidelines, but you are the key players in your own lives. You will spend those lives in your own fields of endeavor—almost always without a cheering section. You will be tested time and again, and you will find yourselves needing to draw on the lessons you learned here.
Although commencement literally means to begin, it is also a time of endings. All endings are hard—they are the hardest part of a novel to write well—so it shouldn’t startle you if you find the end to your KU life difficult. Moving on to the next stage of your journey means taking a leap from the high dive without knowing what kind of water lies below you.
For those of you who do know what you are doing next, whether at work or school, or as a volunteer, my heartiest congratulations. For those who are facing the future with less certainty, you are not alone. If it’s any comfort, after my own graduation I floundered in clerical jobs, sold computers to insurance agents, wrote speeches for corporate executives, and did many other odd jobs for a good number of years before finding my way to my public writing voice.
It is not always given to us to find our passion or our path easily. I can’t promise that your own road will be easy, but I can promise this: if you give up, you will never find the road at all.
You are graduating into a world that will challenge you in many ways. You face financial and job uncertainties tougher than my generation knew. You also face opportunities we didn’t have—those of you born with earbuds implanted in you roam the fast-changing technology landscape more easily than my generation does.
At the same time, you came of age in a world dominated by war, by terrorism and by economic instability. The first years of the 21st century could be called the Age of Fear, starting with fear of terrorism, and moving from there to fears closer to home.
Hand-in-hand with fear goes the extraordinary rage with which people around the globe confront each other. Here at home, we hurl abuse at each other from opposite sides of a deep political divide. We then retreat to the safety of our favorite Internet sites, where we stoke our rage by writing ever more monstrous accounts of what those other folks, those barely human beings, are doing.
Not since the Civil War has our country been such a house divided. Yet it was in the midst of the Civil War, that bloody conflagration, that the University of Kansas was founded. In 1863, two weeks before Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, while war was still raging, the Kansas legislature voted to establish a university in Lawrence, provided the town could supply land and money.
Sara Robinson and her husband Charles, who gave up an affluent life in the east to make sure Kansas came free into the Union—even spending time in prison at the hands of slavery forces–, deeded the land where we stand today. Amos A. Lawrence, a town founder, donated most of the money. In 1866, the first classes met, an equal mix of young men and women—virtually unheard of in that era.
The university’s founders had a bedrock belief, bred in their very bones, that education was essential for good government and good citizenship. The first thing the Puritans did when they reached Massachusetts was to set up public schools, because they knew that their future depended on an educated citizenry.
Sara Robinson, 1827-1911
The men and women who came from New England to settle Kansas two centuries later didn’t know how or when the Civil War would end, but they, too, knew they needed to educate the next generation of citizens if the Republic had any hope of surviving. Charles and Sara Robinson took a great leap from that high board when they gave the university the land we stand on today, even though only a few months earlier, terrorists from Missouri had massacred most of the men in Lawrence.
Our founders chose as the motto for our school the verse from Exodus, when Moses says: I must turn aside to see that great sight, why the bush burns but is not consumed.
The ability to look at the unknown, the startling, the terrifying, and to ask fundamental questions about it, lies at the heart of our Kansas education.
If you take nothing else away with you, take this: an abiding spirit of inquiry.
Questioning, listening, learning are the true antidotes for fear. FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but I believe the biggest thing we have to fear is willful ignorance. Willful ignorance, and a desire to give way to unthinking rage lie behind today’s terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, who bomb schools and whose name translates as “Down with western education.”
Willful ignorance also catches up with us here at home. Every time a state government slashes education budgets—and states all across the Union are making deep cuts to education–I weep: governments are sacrificing the long term health of the Republic for very minor fiscal savings.
The spirit of open-minded inquiry is how change happens for good, in our individual lives and in the larger world. The book of Exodus would tell a different story if Moses had seen the bush and said, “oops, scary fire, think I’ll take my sheep a different way,” or even worse, if he’d been texting and hadn’t seen the bush at all.
The inquiring mind, the open mind, lies behind every discovery that changes lives for the better, from Arthur Fleming noticing the mold in his petri dish and turning it into penicillin, to Rosalind Franklin noticing the double helix in X-rays of DNA, which opened the field of modern genetics.
Learning to question, rather than to fear, isn’t something you get from Google. You definitely don’t get it by building walls of pre-judgment and anger around you. You learn by digging deep—by understanding the minds of the people you work with, understanding the deeper issues underneath the surface tweet.
We humans all live both alone, and in community. If this age could be called the Age of Fear, it could equally be called the Age of the Selfie.
We live in isolation inside our earbuds, but we inhabit shared space, and it is space we hold in trust for those who follow us. The founders of the United States didn’t pledge to live “me first, me only”: in the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
This university exists because the Robinsons and Amos A Lawrence shared that sense of obligation to community. Like others here today, I owe my own education to the generosity of Elizabeth M Watkins. I feel a duty to my writing gift to let my spirit soar. I feel an equal duty to the community that educated me to make that education possible for others.
A questing spirit, and a generous heart offer a cure for the narcissistic rage that threatens to consume our nation today. When we are seeking, and when we are sharing, we can overcome the furies and willful ignorance that blind all of us at times. We also become free to take risks, to jump off the high dive.
May all of you dare mighty things in the years to come. May you find strength for the next step on your journey. May you find joy along the path. Take chances. Don’t settle for the easy thing, insist on the good thing. Take nothing for granted. Share your discoveries. Above all, stop to ask the hard question: why does the bush burn, and yet is not consumed.
May 12, 2015
Sara published an essay in the May 1 Booklist on issues around missing voices in contemporary crime fiction
Sara’s new novel Brush Back, about troubled families, Chicago sports, and Illinois politics, will be in bookstores everywhere on July 28
February 24, 2015
After a week of totally unscientific polling, in which visitors to my Facebook page listed their favorite crime/thriller/mystery writers, we came up with a list of 276 beloved writers. They’re listed here in a ranked order–and I’m vain enough to be relieved that visitors to my page like my books! With 276 writers, there are bound to be ones you never encountered, so here’s to some happy reading days ahead–a way to avoid thinking about the endless cold or endless drought–whichever your particular affliction may be.
January 3, 2015
by Sara Paretsky
Abigail made her tour of the cages, adding water to all the drinking bowls. The food was more complicated, because not all the mice got the same meal. She was ten years old and this was her first job; she took her responsibilities seriously. She read the labels on the cages and carefully measured out feed from the different bags. All the animals had numbers written in black ink on their backs; she checked these against the list Bob Pharris had given her with the feeding instructions.
“That’s like being a slave,” Abigail said, when Bob showed her how to match the numbers on the mice to the food directives. “It’s not fair to call them by numbers instead of by name, and it’s mean to write on their beautiful fur.”
Bob just laughed. “It’s the only way we can tell them apart, Abby.”
Abigail hated the name Abby. “That’s because you’re not looking at their faces. They’re all different. I’m going to start calling you Number Three because you’re Dr. Kiel’s third student. How would you like that?”
“Number Nineteen,” Bob corrected her. “I’m his nineteenth student, but the other sixteen have all gotten their PhD’s and moved on to glory. Don’t give the mice names, Abby: you’ll get too attached to them and they don’t live very long.”
In fact, the next week, when Abigail began feeding the animals on her own, some of the mice had disappeared. Others had been moved into the contamination room, where she wasn’t supposed to go. The mice in there had bad diseases that might kill her if she touched them. Only the graduate students or the professors went in there, wearing gloves and masks.
Abigail began naming some of the mice under her breath. Her favorite, number 139, she called “Miss Bianca,” after the white mouse in the book The Rescuers. Miss Bianca always sat next to the cage door when Abigail appeared, grooming her exquisite whiskers with her little pink paws. She would cock her head and stare at Abigail with bright black eyes.
In the book, Miss Bianca ran a prisoner’s rescue group, so Abigail felt it was only fair that she should rescue Miss Bianca in turn, or at least let her have some time outside the cage. This afternoon, she looked around to make sure no one was watching, then scooped Miss Bianca out of her cage and into the pocket of her dress.
“You can listen to me practice, Miss Bianca,” Abigail told her. She moved into the alcove behind the cages where the big sinks were.
Dr. Kiel thought Abigail’s violin added class to the lab, at least that’s what he said to Abigail’s mother, but Abigail’s mother said it was hard enough to be a single mom without getting fired in the bargain, so Abigail should practice where she wouldn’t disturb the classes in the lecture rooms or annoy the other professors.
Abigail had to come to the lab straight from school. She did her homework on a side table near her mother’s desk, and then she fed the animals and practiced her violin in the alcove.
“Today Miss Abigail Sherwood will play Bach for you,” she announced grandly to Miss Bianca.
She tuned the violin as best she could and began a simplified version of the first sonata for violin. Miss Bianca stuck her head out of the pocket and looked inquiringly at the violin. Abigail wondered what the mouse would do if she put her inside. Miss Bianca could probably squeeze in through the F hole, but getting her out would be difficult. The thought of Mother’s rage, not to mention Dr. Kiel or even Bob Pharris’s, made her decide against it.
She picked up her bow again, but heard voices out by the cages. When she peered out, she saw Bob talking to a stranger, a small woman with dark hair.
Bob smiled at her. “This is Abby; her mother is Dr. Kiel’s secretary. Abby helps us by feeding the animals.”
“It’s Abigail,” Abigail said primly.
“And one of the mouses, Abigail, she is living in your—your—” the woman pointed at Miss Bianca.
“Abby, put the mouse back in the cage,” Bob said. “If you play with them, we can’t let you feed them.”
Abigail scowled at the woman and at Bob, but she put Miss Bianca back in her cage. “I’m sorry, Miss Bianca. Mamelouk is watching me.”
“Mamelouk?” the woman said. “I am thinking your name ‘Bob?’”
Mamelouk the Iron-Tummed was the evil cat who worked for the jailor in The Rescuers, but Abigail didn’t say that, just stared stonily at the woman, who was too stupid to know that the plural of “mouse” was mice, not “mouses.”
“This is Elena,” Bob told Abigail. “She’s Dr. Kiel’s new dishwasher. You can give her a hand, when you’re not practicing your violin or learning geometry.”
“Is allowed for children working in the lab?” Elena asked. “In my country, government is not allowing children work.”
Abigail’s scowl deepened: Bob had been looking at her homework while she was down here with the mice. “We have slavery in America,” she announced. “The mice are slaves, too.”
“Abigail, I thought you liked feeding the animals.” Dr. Kiel had come into the animal room without the three of them noticing.
He wore crepe-soled shoes which let him move soundlessly through the lab. A short stocky man with brown eyes, he could look at you with a warmth that made you want to tell him your secrets, but just when you thought you could trust him, he would become furious over nothing that Abigail could figure out. She had heard him yelling at Bob Pharris in a way that frightened her. Besides, Dr. Kiel was her mother’s boss, which meant she must never EVER be saucy to him.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Kiel,” she said, her face red. “I only was telling Bob I don’t like the mice being branded, they’re all different, you can tell them apart by looking.”
“You can tell them apart because you like them and know them,” Dr. Kiel said. “The rest of us aren’t as perceptive as you are.”
“Dolan,” he added to a man passing in the hall. “Come and meet my new dishwasher—Elena Mirova.”
Dr. Dolan and Dr. Kiel didn’t like each other. Dr. Kiel was always loud and hearty when he talked to Dr. Dolan, trying too hard not to show his dislike. Dr. Dolan snooped around the lab looking for mistakes that Dr. Kiel’s students made. He’d report them with a phony jokiness, as if he thought leaving pipettes unwashed in the sink was funny when really it made him angry.
Dr. Dolan had a face like a giant baby’s, the nose little and squashed upward, his cheeks round and rosy; when Bob Pharris had taken two beakers out of Dr. Dolan’s lab, he’d come into Dr. Kiel’s lab, saying, “Sorry to hear you broke both your arms, Pharris, and couldn’t wash your own equipment.”
He came into the animal room now and smiled in a way that made his eyes close into slits. Just like a cat’s. He said hello to Elena, but added to Dr. Kiel, “I thought your new girl was starting last week, Nate.”
“She arrived a week ago, but she was under the weather; you would never have let me forget it if she’d contaminated your ham sandwiches—I mean your petri dishes.”
Dr. Dolan scowled, but said to Elena, “The rumors have been flying around the building all day. Is it true you’re from eastern Europe?”
Dolan’s voice was soft, forcing everyone to lean toward him if they wanted to hear him. Abigail had trouble understanding him, and she saw Elena did, too, but Abigail knew it would be a mistake to try to ask Dr. Dolan to speak more slowly or more loudly.
Elena’s face was sad. “Is true. I am refugee, from Czechoslovakia.”
“How’d you get here?” Dolan asked.
“Just like your ancestors did, Pat,” Dr. Kiel said. “Yours came steerage in a ship. Elena flew steerage in a plane. We lift the lamp beside the golden door for Czechs just as we did for the Irish.”
“And for the Russians?” Dolan said. “Isn’t that where your people are from, Nate?”
“The Russians would like to think so,” Kiel said. “It was Poland when my father left.”
“But you speak the lingo, don’t you?” Dolan persisted.
There was a brief silence. Abigail could see the vein in Dr. Kiel’s right temple pulsing. Dolan saw it also and gave a satisfied smirk.
He turned back to Elena. “How did you end up in Kansas? It’s a long way from Prague to here.”
“I am meeting Dr. Kiel in Bratislava,” Elena said.
“I was there in ’66, you know,” Dr. Kiel said. “Elena’s husband edited the Czech Journal of Virology and Bacteriology and the Soviets didn’t like their editorial policies—the journal decided they would only take articles written in English, French or Czech, not in Russian.”
Bob laughed. “Audacious. That took some guts.”
Abigail was memorizing words under her breath to ask her mother over dinner: perceptive, editorial policies, audacious.
“Perhaps not so good idea. When Russian tanks coming last year, they putting husband in prison,” Elena said.
“Well, welcome aboard,” Dr. Dolan said, holding out his soft white hand to Elena.
She’d been holding her hands close to her side, but when she shook hands Abigail saw a huge bruise on the inside of her arm, green, purple, yellow, spreading in a large oval up and down from the elbow.
”They beat you before you left?” Dr. Dolan asked.
Elena’s eyes opened wide; Abigail thought she was scared. “Is me, only,” she said, “me being—not know in English.”
“What’s on today’s program?” Dr. Kiel asked Abigail abruptly, pointing at her violin.
“You need to drop that old stuffed shirt. Beethoven. I keep telling you, start playing those Beethoven sonatas, they’ll bring you to life.” He ruffled her hair. “I think I saw your mother putting the cover over her typewriter when I came down.”
That meant Abigail was supposed to leave. She looked at Miss Bianca, who was hiding in the shavings at the back of her cage. It’s good you’re afraid, Abigail told her silently. Don’t let them catch you, they’ll hurt you or make you sick with a bad disease.
November 18, 2014
Remarks to open the session on “Voices on the Margins,” Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach
We live in a society that is contemptuous of the written word. Many, perhaps most, cities and states in America have cut budgets for schools and libraries repeatedly in the last several years. We easily find money for sports arenas, we subsidize members of Congress who own cotton farms, but we make no pretense of putting money into supporting the written word. In that sense, every person at this convention, readers and writers, live on the margin of American society.
Eddie embraces Clare O’Donoghue, Jamie Freveletti, Charlaine Harris, and me at the Voices event
As lovers of crime fiction, we are further marginalized by writing genre fiction. We aren’t writers, we are crime writers. Every now and then a carrot bobs up in the stew and is proclaimed as having “transcended the genre.” Kate Atkinson, for instance, regularly “transcends the genre.” The rest of us are hacks.
Every word used to pinpoint our identity pushes further to the edge of the page, away from the center: I am a woman, white, heterosexual, WEEJ, progressive, feminist, grandmother crime writer. Never simply a writer. All those labels make up part of my identity, and my identity informs my writing, but I try to transcend my identity, to write about people from many backgrounds, many viewpoints. I try to be faithful to my voice, to my gift, to that incredible magic, the word made visible.
Every person at this convention takes part in many identities. We have Tea Party activists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, Lesbians, Gay, Trans-gendered, African-American, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Christian, Asian-American men, women who like serial killers or cozies or true crime or espionage or PI’s or or or…
The one thing we share is that we are passionate about the written word, whether we are writers, readers, librarians, editors, agents. We cannot let ourselves be splintered by identity politics. We must find ways of coming together around our shared passion in a world that devalues literacy and the literate.
(by the way, a WEEJ is a white Eastern-European Jew)
October 28, 2014
October 15, 2014
The story of 35000 walruses crowded together on an Alaska beach because of the disappearance of Arctic ice distressed me as I’m sure it did you. I don’t know if my Climate Change Ballad really helps the situation, but it was the only response I could come up with in the moment.
In the western U.S.
On the Puget Coast Sound
The walruses play
Where the oysters abound
They dive to the bottom
Then swim on their backs
Where they float into shore
To eat their small snacks
Of oysters, and mussels
Or plankton and snails
Which their friend, Captain Tony,
Sets out in large pails.
For Tony loves oysters
And mussels and such
He eats what he catches
And doesn’t take much.
In April one year,
Maybe two-oh twenty-four
The walrus Queen, Olga,
Swam up to the shore.
She slapped on the sand
And gave a great shout.
“Tony! Why are there no
Tasty oysters about?”
Walruses crowded together on beach
“I know,” Tony wept.
“I know all too well.
The acidic ocean
Destroyed all their shells.”
“The ocean’s acidic?”
Olga wept bitter tears.
“How did this happen?
How soon will it clear?”
“Carbon,” Tony sighed.
“We burned too much fuel
In coal and in wood
But above all in oil.
“Carbon in air
Falls down to the ground
It pours down in rain
Right into the Sound.”
“A continent floats
Out in the south seas
The size of two Texas’
And full of disease.
“It’s where bottles and diapers
And plastic decay
Into one giant island
That grows every day.
“This island, Plastarctica,
Almost all life rejects:
No birds, no more fishes
Just lots of insects
“Are all that can live
In the tar and the waste
Those birds that land there
Die in pain and in haste.
“Oh, no,” Olga wailed
And gave a loud cry.
“No fishes, no oysters,
My babies will die.
“You must clean the ocean
There’s much work to do
Get rid of that carbon
We’re all counting on you.”
So Tony got cracking.
He called all his friends.
They studied the oceans;
They published the trends.
They wrote to the Congress
Explaining the science:
“We’re killing the planet
Due to carbon reliance!
“We see every day
It’s getting much hotter
Is turning to water.”
Was the answer he got.
“There’s no climate change;
That’s all tommy-rot!”
The priests shouted loudly
“You all are effete!
You’re part of the atheist
Captain Tony tried harder.
“You can still drive your Lexus.
Just pay more for gas
And pay higher taxes.
“Don’t subsidize oil
Use solar and wind.
Ride buses and trains.
Go by bike when you can.”
“Higher taxes, you mad man!”
The CEO’s shouted.
“We need bigger profits!
It’s what we’re entitled.”
“Pay more for bottles?”
The public all screamed.
“Buy cheap and discard—
It’s America’s dream.”
Next year Himalayan
Ice came barreling down.
A billion Chinese
And Indians drowned.
The Florida waters
Rose up ten feet high.
The people fled inland
So they could stay dry.
There was less food to eat,
Less water to drink.
No place to stay cool,
Birds and trees grew extinct.
“God’s punishing us
For believing in science.
Only the Bible
Is there for reliance,”
The ministers said
From every old creed.
“Turn to prayer, turn to Scripture,
But don’t give up greed.”
Meanwhile the armies
Gathered for battle.
With less food to eat
Their sabres all rattled.
Who knows which country
First dropped the big bomb,
But soon they all followed
And a great giga-ton
Of nuclear ash
Fell to the ground.
People burned, children died
And in Puget Sound
Queen Olga floated
Not to play; she was dead.
Her body grew bloated;
On her children she bled.
Captain Tony sat quietly
Out by the ocean.
His friends gathered round him
To find a solution
To nuclear winter.
There was little to do,
But wait ‘til it lifted
Say in Thirty-oh Two.
But in Texas and Egypt
In Chile and Britain
In their various pulpits
The clerics all threatened:
“Who caused this disaster
If not folk in science?
This shows that they
Treated our God with defiance!”
The people responded
As if in one voice,
“Kill Captain Tony!
He’s left us no choice!”
They created big fires
Out of wood chips and oil
And soon Captain Tony
Was brought to the boil.
Cap’n Tony burned at the stake
“Now that he’s gone
With his atheist elite
God will reward us
With more food to eat!”
But the Divine Justice
Gave no quick answer
To famine, pollution
And fast-growing cancer.
For thousands of years
The planet seemed dead
Humans fought rats and roaches
Over rare bits of food.
Now and again
In the midst of the sludge
A poet would reach out
To learn ancient knowledge
But the Kochs and their ilk
Were still hoarding wealth
They bought off the rulers
They did it by stealth
And roused up the rabble
Whatever the creed
To hunt and stone poets
And cheer while they bled.
Slowly but surely
A few walruses played
Out in the waters
Near old Puget Sound
Where occasionally now
A new oyster was found.
And more slowly still,
Despite threats of violence
Brave women and men
Re-committed to science.
Captain Tony’s nth grandchild
A bright kid called LuAnn
Studied protons and neutrons,
And even the muon.
While off on the tundra
Her cousin Guilffoyle
Was shooting the wolves
While drilling for oil.
September 8, 2014
I went to Dorothy’s home town in Sneden’s Landing for her interment and memorial. Although she had a long and rich life, it’s still very hard to know that this is the end. Among the people who spoke were Peggy Friedman, publisher of New Directions, two neighbors, and a man from a program in Harlem for which Dorothy had organized great support.
With Dorothy in 1994
Some people wanted a copy of my remarks, so I include them here:
This is the first time I’ve come to this town and to this church without Dorothy, and it is hard.
I first met Dorothy Salisbury Davis in 1986, when we both were taking part in the first national conference on women in the crime fiction world. Earnest young feminist that I was, I talked about how women smile as a sign of subservience: see me grin, you don’t have to take me seriously.
Dorothy responded with a wry tweak at me, but then gave me her own incandescent smile. I fell in love and never fell out of it. Over the years, she often remembered that first meeting, that smile. She told me that when her parents came to the orphanage where she’d been placed, looking for a boy who might grow up to help on the farm, her mother looked down at Dorothy’s cot. Dorothy smiled up at her and both parents forgot about wanting a boy, although Dorothy grew up doing her share of farmwork.
Once when she’d made lobsters for dinner, I watched in awe as she carried the pot of hot water, weighing about 40 pounds, to the back door to toss it into the yard. She said, “You never lose the muscles you get from milking cows as a child.
Dorothy said her first writing came when she was about four, standing on tiptoe to write as high up on the wall over her head as she could. Her mother, who had a fierce passion for her daughter, might not have relished the wall scribbles, but she did everything else in her power to move Dorothy from life as a housemaid or tenant farmer into the world of writing and the arts.
Dorothy’s mother died while she was still at college, but her influence on Dorothy’s life was deep and abiding. Her mother was an Irish immigrant; her brogue can be heard in at least one character’s voice in almost every book. More than that, her mordant tongue—“You can get used to anything, even hanging, if you hang long enough—“ lives on in the biting words of many of Dorothy’s characters, likeDetective Bassett In Black Sheep, White Lamb, who says of a woman that “she pecked over her obsessions like a crow at a corpse.”
Our friendship deepened during long walks along the Hudson and in late night conversations over whisky—until a few years ago Dorothy could easily outdrink me so I never tried catching up. We’d stay up until one or two and vow the next morning that we wouldn’t do that again—not until the next time.
We didn’t agree on everything—for reasons I never understood, this wise, insightful woman was a Mets fan. Still, I loved her enough to give her a Mets warm-up jacket for her 80th birthday.
I could write a book on what I learned from Dorothy about life in this world, the comic and the tragic and the valuable daily in-between. She introduced me to Flannery O’Conner, a writer she prized over most others. O’Connor said “Fiction is about everything human, and we are made out of dust: if you scorn getting yourself dusty, you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”
Dorothy was like O’Connor, with a tragi-comic sense of life as well as an awareness that villains and heroes are neither wholly one nor the other. Like O’Connor, Dorothy was willing to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dusty in the business of exploring and writing about human frailty and strength.
Dorothy often said that she identified more with her villains than her heroes, because she understood their motivations better. As I reread her novels, I think what she meant is that she understood what lies behind villainy.
Her novel Where the Dark Streets Go tells the story of a priest who is summoned to the side of a man dying from a knife wound. Most crime writers would have pursued the murder inquiry, but Dorothy treated that as a backdrop to the struggle by the priest to understand himself, his passions, his calling. Through Father Joseph, Dorothy laid bare her own struggles in a naked and highly courageous way—getting herself dusty with a vengeance.
Dorothy sometimes played a writing game with me that I think of as, “Whose Voice Are You?” If we were at a restaurant, for instance, observing a waiter deal with a demanding patron, she’d say, if you were writing that story, who would you be? She herself chose the waiter, vibrating between an angry diner and a furious chef.
“Whose Voice Are You” helped deepen my sense of empathy for the people around me and by extension for the characters I create in my own fiction. Dorothy saw—widely and deeply—but she didn’t judge. That’s a lesson I still haven’t mastered.
The last time I saw Dorothy, near her 98th birthday, she told me she’d decided what saint she wanted to greet her when she died. I expected her to say Francis of Assisi, since she had a special devotion for him.
“Teresa of Avila,” she told me. “If God could welcome someone of her rebellious and questioning spirit, I know he can welcome me.”
Teresa, your patron child has come home. I hope you were there to greet her and lead her across the river.
If I were going to write that story, I would do it in Teresa’s voice. I would have her see that incandescent smile, and fall in love forever.
August 28, 2014
And I’m home, as well. Time goes too quickly these days, so I want to write a little about my recent trip to the UK (soon to be only a K?) before I forget everything. I traveled with my husband, who hasn’t felt like making a trip for a number of years now, and we spent our first week in Edinborough, partly to stay with very beloved friends, and partly so I could take part in the Edinborough Book Festival. I was on a panel with Tom Rob Smith, a young but very deep-thinking writer, best known for his book Child 44, (soon to be a major motion picture.) The ever-witty journalist Jackie McGlone moderated.
Photo taken by the Guardian Newspaper’s Murdo MacLeod at the Book Fair
I love Edinborough and I love the Fringe. I walked in the Botanics, and while my husband played pool most afternoons, friends and I went to plays, concerts, one-woman shows, a Georgian production of Animal Farm. and a very strong production of David Mamet’s Race by a South African troupe.
Before coming home, we spent four days in London. Courtenay had a chance to meet with the son of one of the men who served with him on the Apollo during the Normandy Invasion. For some reason, the Royal Navy let Mr. Jackson take photos on board both the warship where he did most of his duty and during the Murmansk run, when Allied ships underwent great risks from both weather and German assault to keep the blockaded Russians in food and materiel. I have a picture of Courtenay and Peter Jackson going through some of those photos in the lobby of our hotel.
Courtenay Wright and Peter Jackson looking at Peter’s father’s WW II photos
Sara, Courtenay, Pippa and Peter Jackson talking over WW II
I also got to catch up with old friends in London whom I don’t often see. Liza Cody and I went to the National Portrait Gallery where there’s a special exhibit on about Virginia Woolf. I’m always intrigued by her, envious of the intellectual life she and her sister shared with their extraordinary circle of writers and artists, and troubled by her illness and death. No easy answers there.
I had breakfast with the fourteen-year-old daughter of another beloved friend. Like her mother, this young woman is a gifted reader, and treated me to formidable insights on fiction, television and film. Can’t wait to see what her journey will be like in adulthood.
Treating myself to these beautiful earrings at the Scottish Gallery in Edinborough
Wearing a WW I helmet at the Imperial War Museum
Finding the perfect cappuccino at Coffee Angel in Edinborough
A harpsichord that Mozart played on, used in a live concert by John Kitchen in Edinborough
Enjoying the sunshine in Hyde Park, London
We flew home on the 26th–8 1/2 hours to cover the 3000 miles from London to O’Hare, 1 1/2 hours to cover the 27 miles from O’Hare to our house. Today I walked to Lake Michigan, feel happy, lucky to live in such a beautiful city but am extraordinarily glad I got to be in Edinborough and London. It was Robert Louis Stevenson, an Edinborough writer, who wrote “Home is the sailor.” (Under the wide and starry sky/Dig a grave and let me lie//Gladly I lived, and gladly died/And I laid me down with a will. /This be the verse you ‘grave for me:/Here he lies where he longed to be/Home is the sailor, home from the sea/And the hunter, home from the hill.)