Sue Taylor Grafton (April 24, 1940 – December 28, 2017) was an American author of detective novels. She is best known as the author of the "alphabet series" ("A" Is for Alibi, etc.) featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. The daughter of detective novelist C. W. Grafton, she said the strongest influence on her crime novels was author Ross Macdonald. Before her success with this series, she wrote screenplays for television movies.
Grafton in 2009
Sue Taylor Grafton
April 24, 1940
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
|Died||December 28, 2017 (aged 77)|
|Alma mater||University of Louisville|
|Spouse(s)||Steven F. Humphrey|
|Period||1964–2017 (first published novel: 1967)|
|Notable works||Kinsey Millhone Alphabet series|
Her father was a municipal bond lawyer who also wrote mystery novels and her mother was a former high school chemistry teacher. Her father enlisted in the Army during World War II when she was three and returned when she was five, after which her home life started falling apart. Both parents became alcoholics and Grafton said "From the age of five onward, I was left to raise myself".
Grafton and her older sister Ann grew up in Louisville, where she went to Atherton High School. She attended the University of Louisville (first year) and Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now Western Kentucky University) in her sophomore and junior years before graduating from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and minors in humanities and fine arts. She was a member of Pi Beta Phi.
Grafton's mother killed herself in 1960 after returning home from an operation to remove esophageal cancer brought on by years of drinking and smoking. Her father died in 1982, a few months before "A" Is for Alibi was published.
Grafton's father was enamored of detective fiction and wrote at night. He taught Grafton lessons on the writing and editing process and groomed her to be a writer. Inspired by her father, Grafton began writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel four years later. She continued writing and completed six more novels. Only two of these seven novels (Keziah Dane and The Lolly-Madonna War) were published. Grafton would later destroy the manuscripts for her five early, unpublished novels.
Unable to find success with her novels, Grafton turned to screenplays. Grafton worked for the next 15 years writing screenplays for television movies, including Sex and the Single Parent; Mark, I Love You; and Nurse. Grafton sold the movie rights for The Lolly-Madonna War and co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film. The adaptation, released in 1973 as Lolly-Madonna XXX, starred Rod Steiger and Jeff Bridges. Her screenplay for Walking Through the Fire earned a Christopher Award in 1979. In collaboration with her husband, Steven Humphrey, she also adapted the Agatha Christie novels A Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide for television and co-wrote A Killer in the Family and Love on the Run. She is credited with the story upon which the screenplay for the made for TV movie Svengali (1983) was based.
Her experience as a screenwriter taught her the basics of structuring a story, writing dialogue, and creating action sequences. Grafton then felt ready to return to writing fiction. While going through a "bitter divorce and custody battle that lasted six long years", Grafton imagined ways to kill or maim her ex-husband. Her fantasies were so vivid that she decided to write them down.
Grafton had been fascinated by mysteries series whose titles were related, such as John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series, each of which included a color in the title, and Harry Kemelman's Rabbi Small series, each of which included a day of the week in the title. While reading Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a picture book with an alphabetized list of ways for children to die, Grafton decided to write a series of novels whose titles would follow the alphabet. She immediately sat down and made a list of all of the crime-related words that she knew.
These became the series now known as the "alphabet novels", featuring sleuth and private investigator Kinsey Millhone. The series is set in Santa Teresa, a fictionalized version of Santa Barbara. Grafton followed the lead of Ross Macdonald, who created the fictional version of the city. Grafton described Kinsey Millhone as her alter ego, "the person I might have been had I not married young and had children."
The series begins with "A" Is for Alibi, published and set in 1982. "B" Is for Burglar, followed, then "C" Is for Corpse, each novel's title combining a letter with a word, except X. After the publication of "G" Is for Gumshoe, Grafton was able to quit her screenwriting job and focus on her writing. Since the publication of "A" is for Alibi, a new episode was released each year or so. The name of each book was a source of speculation. In May 2009, Grafton told Media Bistro that she was "just trying to figure out how to get from "U" Is for Undertow to "Z" Is for Zero" and that "just because she knows the endgame title for Z [...] doesn't mean she knows what V, W, X, and Y will be". Grafton said that the series would end with "Z" Is for Zero, but she died before she could begin writing it. Her daughter said Grafton would never allow a ghostwriter to write in her name and "as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y."
Grafton's novels have been published in 28 countries and in 26 languages. She refused to sell the film and television rights, because writing screenplays "cured" her of the desire to work with Hollywood. (TV movies in Japan, however, were adapted from "B" is for Burglar and "D" is for Deadbeat.) Grafton told her children her ghost would haunt them if they sold the film rights after her death. The books in the series were on The New York Times Best Seller list for an aggregate of about 400 weeks. F is for Fugitive was the first, entering at number 10 on the paperback list; by 1995 "L" is for Lawless entered the best seller list at number one followed by ten more in the series.
Grafton's style is characteristic of hardboiled detective fiction, according to the authors of 'G' is for Grafton, who describe it as "laconic, breezy, wise-cracking". The novels are framed as reports Kinsey writes in the course of her investigations, which are signed off in the epilogue of each novel. The first-person narrative allows the reader to see through the eyes of Kinsey, who chronicles various descriptions of "eccentric buildings and places", giving depth to the narrative. The repeated descriptions of the Santa Barbara shoreline (chronicled as Kinsey's early morning runs), are "skillful, evocative writing of a caliber that takes Grafton well beyond being categorized as 'merely' a writer of detective fiction and into the so-called mainstream of 'serious' American fiction."
Grafton's "B" Is for Burglar and "C" Is for Corpse won the first two Anthony Awards for Best Novel ever awarded (1986 & 1987). They are selected by attendees of the annual Bouchercon Convention.
She won the Anthony Best Novel Award once more (1991 for "G" Is for Gumshoe) and has been the recipient of three Shamus Awards. Additionally in 1987 Grafton's short story, The Parker Shotgun, won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.
On June 13, 2000, Grafton was the recipient of the 2000 YWCA of Lexington Smith-Breckinridge Distinguished Woman of Achievement Award.
In 2004, she received the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, which is given to "a California writer whose work raises the standard of literary excellence." In 2008, Grafton was awarded the Cartier Dagger by the British Crime Writers' Association, honoring a lifetime's achievement in the field. Grafton received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2009.
In 2013, she was presented Bouchercon's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, she was a Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime. She was nominated for a 2014 Shamus Award in the category of Best Hardcover Novel, which she had won three times previously.
Grafton first married in 1959, aged 18, to James L. Flood, with whom she had a son and a daughter. The two divorced by the time Grafton graduated from college in 1961. Her second marriage was with Al Schmidt in 1962 but it ended with protracted divorce and custody proceedings over their daughter.
She married her third husband, Steven F. Humphrey, in 1978. They divided their time between Santa Barbara, California, and Louisville, Kentucky; Humphrey taught at universities in both cities. In 2000, the couple bought and later restored Lincliff, a 28-acre (11 ha) Louisville estate once owned by hardware baron William Richardson Belknap.
Alphabet Mystery seriesEdit
- "A" Is for Alibi (1982)
- "B" Is for Burglar (1985)
- "C" Is for Corpse (1986)
- "D" Is for Deadbeat (1987)
- "E" Is for Evidence (1988)
- "F" Is for Fugitive (1989)
- "G" Is for Gumshoe (1990)
- "H" Is for Homicide (1991)
- "I" Is for Innocent (1992)
- "J" Is for Judgment (1993)
- "K" Is for Killer (1994)
- "L" Is for Lawless (1995)
- "M" Is for Malice (1996)
- "N" Is for Noose (1998)
- "O" Is for Outlaw (1999)
- "P" Is for Peril (2001)
- "Q" Is for Quarry (2002)
- "R" Is for Ricochet (2004)
- "S" Is for Silence (2005)
- "T" Is for Trespass (2007)
- "U" Is for Undertow (2009)
- "V" Is for Vengeance (2011)
- "W" Is for Wasted (2013)
- "X" (2015)
- "Y" Is for Yesterday (2017)
Essays and short storiesEdit
- "Teaching a Child" (2013) – essay in the anthology Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, published by W. W. Norton & Company.
- Kinsey and Me (2013) – a collection of Kinsey Millhone short stories along with other short stories about Grafton's own mother.
- The Lying Game (2003) – a Kinsey Millhone short story which appeared in the September 2003 special 40th anniversary Lands' End catalogue. It also appeared as a separate pamphlet given to attendees at Malice Domestic 2011 conference, where Grafton was recognized for Lifetime Achievement. It is included in Kinsey and Me.
In popular cultureEdit
Grafton's introduction of a young, no-nonsense female private detective in the Alphabet Mystery series was ground-breaking at the time when A is for Alibi was first released. Until the creation of Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski in Indemnity Only in 1982, private detectives in fiction were almost always male.
- In the "Mayham" episode of The Sopranos, Carmela sits by Tony's bedside in the hospital, reading Sue Grafton's "G" Is for Gumshoe.
- In the "Local Ad" episode of The Office, Phyllis goes to a Sue Grafton book signing at the mall to try to get her to be in the Dunder-Mifflin Scranton branch commercial. She is told by Michael Scott not to take no for an answer. After waiting in line, Phyllis meets Grafton, only to be rebuffed by her. Phyllis continues to ask until she is thrown out of the store. Meanwhile, Andy and Creed talk about how "crazy hot" the author is.
- A scene in the film Stranger Than Fiction shows Prof. Hilbert reading the Sue Grafton novel "I" Is for Innocent while serving as a lifeguard.
- In the Superego podcast Season 3 Episode 14, guest star, actor and comedian, Rob Delaney impersonates Sue Grafton.
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- "'Lolly-Madonna' changed lives". Anchorage Daily News. July 8, 1973. p. 14.
- "A Conversation with Sue Grafton". Sue Grafton Website. 1996. Archived from the original on December 31, 2006. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
- O'Connor, John J. (March 9, 1983). "TV Movie: 'Svengali'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- "More credits for'Svengali'". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
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- Brantingham, Barney (July 1, 2008). "W Is for Writers Conference; Sue Grafton Is Kinsey Millhone". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
- "Bestselling Mystery Writer Sue Grafton To Speak at Annual Literary Voices Event". The Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County. 2007. Archived from the original on July 11, 2007. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
- Hogan, Ron (May 1, 2009). "Conversations with the Grand Masters". GalleyCat. Media Bistro. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Brantingham, Barney (April 29, 2010). "Just Who Is Kinsey Millhone?". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Pitz, Marylynne (October 7, 2013). "Sue Grafton: Writing her way through the alphabet". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Pittsburgh, PA: Block Communications. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Loosemore, Bailey (December 29, 2017). "Sue Grafton, internationally acclaimed mystery author and Louisville native, dies". Louisville Courier-Journal. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Richards, Linda L. (1997). ""G" Is for Grafton: Sue Grafton's Murderous Moments". January Magazine. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
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- "YWCA to honor Grafton". Lexington Herald-Leader. June 4, 2000. p. H5.
- Powell, Steven (2012). 100 American Crime Writers. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 138–41. ISBN 978-0-230-52537-5. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- "History of Guests of Honor". Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Archived from the original on September 13, 2016. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
- Surber, Lucinda. "Left Coast Crime 2014: Calamari Crime".
- "The Private Eye Writers of America". Retrieved December 30, 2017.
- Ward, Logan (2014). "Sue Grafton's Kentucky Garden". Garden & Gun. Archived from the original on December 30, 2017. Retrieved December 30, 2017.
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- Silvis, Steffen (April 11, 2007). "One character in search of an author". The Prague Post.
- "Sue Grafton – The Superego Podcast: Profiles In Self-Obsession". Gosuperego.com. July 1, 2012. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
- "Sue Grafton Obituary". The Guardian. January 3, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2018.
- Blakesley Lindsay, Elizabeth. (2007) Great Women Mystery Writers. "Sue Grafton". pp 95–8. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33428-5
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- Kim, Victoria (December 29, 2017). "Famed Mystery writer Sue Grafton loses battle against cancer". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 16, 2018.