Sue Grafton, April 24, 1940 – December 28, 2017
On December 28, 2017, the mystery community lost a legend in the genre with the passing of Sue Grafton, author of 25 Kinsey Millhone “Alphabet” mysteries. Grafton’s first Millhone novel, A is for Alibi, was published in 1982. Her final novel, Y is for Yesterday, was released in 2017. According to Grafton’s daughter, Jamie, “Sue was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”
I first discovered Sue Grafton in the early ’90s, when I found a hardcover copy of G is for Gumshoe at a flea market in Collingwood, Ontario. Mike and I had rented a chalet there for a week’s fishing/hiking vacation but the weather wasn’t cooperating. What better way to pass the time than with a good book by the fire?
And G is for Gumshoe was a very good book. I made my way to the local bookstore and purchased A through C. It didn’t take me long to make my way through the alphabet, at which point I impatiently waited for the next letter. You’d think with 25 books in a series where the protagonist barely ages the stories would get stale, but in fact the reverse was true. With every book, Grafton became more accomplished, the plots more layered, more intricate. When I was teaching creative writing, I would often suggest that my students read A is for Alibi, and Grafton’s latest book at the time, to compare how much she had matured as a writer. In short, Grafton inspired me, made me believe I’d become a better writer, if I just kept writing. Without Grafton, I’m not sure I would have ever tried to write a novel.
At the Bloody Words Mystery Conference held in Toronto in 2014, we were asked to dress up as our favorite character for the banquet. As you’d expect, there were a few Sherlock Holmes, Poirot’s and even a Trixie Belden. As for me, I opted for Kinsey Millhone, wearing the “all purpose black dress.”
Sue Grafton in the original all purpose black dress.
When I read that Sue Grafton was scheduled to be the Lifetime Achievement Honouree at Left Coast Crime Vancouver 2019, I knew I had to attend, and started counting the days to when I’d meet her in person, to tell her that she changed my life, that I loved her books.
And now I’ll close with some of my favorite Sue Grafton quotes:
Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.
If you’re unhappy, change something.
I write letters to my right brain all the time. They’re just little notes. And right brain, who likes to get little notes from me, will often come through within a day or two.
If high heels were so wonderful, men would be wearing them.
I focus on the writing and let the rest of the process take care of itself. I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and I’ve also learned to take risks.
RIP Sue Grafton. You will be missed.