FUNNY LADIES received glowing reviews in The LA Times, Ms. Magazine, Boston Globe, and San Francisco Examiner. WOMEN OF MYSTERY inspired a groundbreaking program in public libraries across the country. Booklist declared it one of 10 “outstanding” videos from the previous five years. A few years later, MYSTERIOUS CALIFORNIA (30 mins) launched a similar public library program for the California Center for the Book. The film is a riveting exploration of the importance of knowing personal and social history, the search for truth and justice, and the power of place to inspire story. Something Like a Sabbatical (2015) is the wise, funny and inspiring story of businesswoman Sue Mitchell's bold decision to give herself one year to answer the question she has asked herself since she was in high school. Could she be an artist? A public park becomes her classroom and 52 Montezuma Cypress trees become her teachers. Pamela's award-winning films have been widely broadcast—including on PBS and international television—and have screened at the Museum of Modern Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Smithsonian Institution; National Archives; and Art Institute of Chicago. Recent short documentaries Life Jackets (2019) and Dead Land/Sara Paretsky: A Reflection (2020) can be accessed for free at TwointheWorld.com/films.
Pamela's articles, personal essays and interviews have been published in The Los Angeles Times, Release Print, International Documentary and American Libraries Magazine. Her personal essay “The Truth About Crickets” appears in the anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit: True Stories of Expat Women in Asia (Signal 8 Press). She is currently writing an historical novel for readers 11-and-up set in California during World War II. The main character is a girl with a camera.
Lessons I Learned While Making WOMEN OF MYSTERY with Sue Grafton (April 24, 1940–December 28, 2017)
by Pamela Beere Briggs
When I learned Sue Grafton, author of the Kinsey Millhone detective novels, had died, I immediately recalled the days she allowed me to disrupt her writing schedule to film my documentary, “Women of Mystery: Three Writers Who Forever Changed Detective Fiction.” I had convinced her that she, along with Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, had committed a revolutionary act that needed to be recorded on film. That revolutionary act changed a genre. It also changed the way many women readers saw themselves. I was one of those readers.
When Kinsey Millhone was born in 1982, she was one of the first professional female detectives to appear on the scene (along with Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone and Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski). With the death of Sue Grafton, the Kinsey Millhone detective novels (A Is For Alibi, B Is For Burgler, etc.) will have taken Kinsey as close to the end of the alphabet as one can get without reaching the end. Y is for Yesterday, published in August, was Kinsey’s 25th investigation.
Due to the rigors of fundraising for independent documentary films, it took seven years to complete WOMEN OF MYSTERY. I was tempted to give up many times, but each time I felt like giving up I’d read another of the authors’ novels to absorb their detectives’ stubborn persistence. Kinsey Millhone’s sense of humor, which she often used to get through hopeless moments, taught me that I could acknowledge the feeling of defeat without giving into it.
While I was making the film, Grafton confessed that at one point she felt her writing was getting flat because she had started to self-censor. “I realized Kinsey was sulking. She was pouting because I was beginning to monitor and modify her behavior. So, in order to get back in touch with her and to beg her forgiveness, I had to walk around my house for two weeks cussing like a sailor. After about two weeks, I felt so much better. Kinsey was going: ‘All right. Now we’re back in business.’”
Lesson I learned: Never let anyone stop me from saying what I want to say or being who I am.
When Sue told me that writing wasn’t easy for her, I was a little surprised. After all, Kinsey’s voice sounded so natural on the page. “The hard thing about writing is that you’re always up against your demons. To sit and look at a computer screen is like looking into a mirror. You’re forced to face all your inadequacies. But writers must always be at risk. To write well is to put yourself out on the absolute edge of your ability. And when you work at that place, you’re always afraid and the fear is what gives you the magic.”
Lesson I learned: Look your fear in the face and then embrace it.
With genuine curiosity, she confided: “Sometimes I think about ‘Z Is For Zero’ and I wonder what will happen to Kinsey then. I’m sure she will tell me. When the time comes she will make her wishes plain and I am there to serve and obey.”
Lesson I learned: It’s not so important to know how everything ends. It’s more important to trust your passion.
And today, upon learning that Sue Grafton has died, I wondered if perhaps Kinsey Millhone had no interest in reaching the end of the alphabet. This way, we could always feel there was one more case she, or we, needed to solve.
Films by Pamela Beere Briggs
WHY are so few women in the comics pages? That question becomes even more provocative as we watch four smart and witty role models — Cathy Guisewite, Nicole Hollander, Lynda Barry and "Brenda Starr's" Dale Messick — share their creative process. Viewers will find themselves looking at the comics, and the world, in a new way.
"What those of us who are writing about women detectives are doing is extremely revolutionary. We're providing speech for those who have long been silent." – Sara Paretsky in Women of Mystery
(Read below about our newly completed 9-minute update on Sara Paretsky, accessible for free on Vimeo. Also see link to one-hour Panel Discussion with Sara Paretsky & filmmakers.)