Sue Grafton

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Sue Grafton
SueGrafton.jpg
Grafton in 2009
Born
Sue Taylor Grafton

(1940-04-24)April 24, 1940
DiedDecember 28, 2017(2017-12-28) (aged 77)
NationalityAmerican
Alma mater University of Louisville
OccupationNovelist
Spouse(s)Steven F. Humphrey
Parent(s)
Writing career
Period1964–2017 (first published novel: 1967)
Genre Mystery
Notable worksKinsey Millhone Alphabet series

Signature Sue-Grafton-signature.jpg
Website suegrafton.com

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.

Contents

Early life

Sue Grafton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to C. W. Grafton (1909–1982) and Vivian Harnsberger, both of whom were the children of Presbyterian missionaries. [2]

Her father was a municipal bond lawyer who also wrote mystery novels and her mother was a former high school chemistry teacher. [3] 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". [4] [5]

Grafton and her older sister Ann grew up in Louisville, where she went to Atherton High School. [5] [6] She attended the University of Louisville (first year) and Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now Western Kentucky University) in her sophomore and junior years [7] 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. [8]

After graduating, Grafton worked as a hospital admissions clerk, a cashier, and a medical secretary in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, California. [8]

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. [9]

Writing career

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. [5] [10] Grafton would later destroy the manuscripts for her five early, unpublished novels. [11]

Unable to find success with her novels, Grafton turned to screenplays. [12] 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. [8] [13] She is credited with the story upon which the screenplay for the made for TV movie Svengali (1983) was based. [14] [15]

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. [13] 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. [16]

Alphabet series

Sue Grafton Sue Grafton.jpg
Sue Grafton

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. [13]

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. [17] Grafton followed the lead of Ross Macdonald, who created the fictional version of the city. [18] Grafton described Kinsey Millhone as her alter ego, "the person I might have been had I not married young and had children." [9]

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. [16] Since the publication of "A" is for Alibi, a new episode was released each year or so. [19] The name of each book was a source of speculation. [20] 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" [21] and that "just because she knows the endgame title for Z [...] doesn't mean she knows what V, W, X, and Y will be". [19] 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." [22]

Grafton's novels have been published in 28 countries and in 26 languages. [22] She refused to sell the film and television rights, because writing screenplays "cured" her of the desire to work with Hollywood. [13] (TV movies in Japan, however, were adapted from "B" is for Burglar and "D" is for Deadbeat.) [11] Grafton told her children her ghost would haunt them if they sold the film rights after her death. [23] 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. [24]

Writing style

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". [25] 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. [26] 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." [27]

Awards

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. [28] [29]

She won the Anthony Best Novel Award once more (1991 for "G" Is for Gumshoe) and has been the recipient of three Shamus Awards. [29] [30] Additionally in 1987 Grafton's short story, The Parker Shotgun, won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story. [29]

On June 13, 2000, Grafton was the recipient of the 2000 YWCA of Lexington Smith-Breckinridge Distinguished Woman of Achievement Award. [31]

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. [32]

In 2013, she was presented Bouchercon's Lifetime Achievement Award. [33] In 2014, she was a Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime. [34] She was nominated for a 2014 Shamus Award in the category of Best Hardcover Novel, which she had won three times previously. [35]

Personal life

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. [32]

She married her third husband, Steven F. Humphrey, in 1978. [10] They divided their time between Santa Barbara, California, and Louisville, Kentucky; [5] Humphrey taught at universities in both cities. [16] In 2000, the couple bought and later restored Lincliff, a 28-acre (11 ha) Louisville estate once owned by hardware baron William Richardson Belknap. [5] [36]

Grafton died at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara on December 28, 2017, after a two-year battle with cancer of the appendix. [1] [22] [37] [10]

Works

Alphabet Mystery series

Essays and short stories

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. [38]

Related Research Articles

<i>"A" Is for Alibi</i>

"A" Is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1982, is the first mystery novel in the author's "Alphabet" series. Featuring sleuth Kinsey Millhone, it is set in the southern California city of Santa Teresa, the nom de plume for Santa Barbara. She wrote the book during a divorce and admits about her husband that she "would lie in bed at night thinking of ways to kill him". The New York Times gave the book a lukewarm review.

<i>The Moving Target</i>

The Moving Target is a 1949 mystery novel by American writer Ross Macdonald, who at this point used the name "John Macdonald".

Kinsey Millhone is a fictional character who was created by American author Sue Grafton (1940–2017) for her "alphabet mysteries" series of best-selling novels which debuted in 1982 and feature 25 volumes. Millhone, a former police officer turned private investigator, also appears in a number of short stories written by Grafton.

Santa Teresa has been used by several authors as the name of an invented city.

<i>"G" Is for Gumshoe</i>

"G" Is for Gumshoe (1990) is the seventh novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"B" Is for Burglar</i>

"B" Is for Burglar is the second novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"C" Is for Corpse</i>

"C" Is for Corpse is the third novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"D" Is for Deadbeat</i>

"D" Is for Deadbeat is the fourth novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California. The novel follows the development of Kinsey's relationship with Jonah Robb, the police officer she met in B is for Burglar.

<i>"E" Is for Evidence</i> Novel

"E" Is for Evidence is the fifth novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California. The novel's plot develops Kinsey's personal back-story, as it features her second ex-husband, jazz musician and drug-user, Daniel Wade, previously mentioned briefly in C is for Corpse.

<i>"F" Is for Fugitive</i>

"F" Is for Fugitive is the sixth novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"I" Is for Innocent</i>

"I" Is for Innocent is the ninth novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"L" Is for Lawless</i>

"L" Is for Lawless is the 12th novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"O" Is for Outlaw</i>

"O" Is for Outlaw is the 15th novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"Q" Is for Quarry</i>

"Q" Is for Quarry is the 17th novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"S" Is for Silence</i>

"S" Is for Silence is the 19th novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"T" Is for Trespass</i>

"T" Is for Trespass is the 20th novel in Sue Grafton's "Alphabet" series of mystery novels and features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in the fictional Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"U" Is for Undertow</i>

"U" Is for Undertow is the 21st novel in the "Alphabet" series of mystery novels by Sue Grafton. It features Kinsey Millhone, a private eye based in Santa Teresa, California.

<i>"W" Is for Wasted</i>

"W" Is for Wasted is the twenty-third novel in the "Alphabet" series of mystery novels by Sue Grafton. It features Kinsey Millhone, a private detective based in Santa Teresa, California, a fictional version of Santa Barbara, California.

<i>X</i> (novel)

"X" is the twenty-fourth novel in the "Alphabet" series of mystery novels by Sue Grafton. It features Kinsey Millhone, a private detective based in Santa Teresa, California, a fictional version of Santa Barbara, California.

<i>"Y" Is for Yesterday</i>

"Y" Is for Yesterday is the twenty-fifth and final novel in the "Alphabet" series of mystery novels by Sue Grafton. Grafton intended to write a Z novel, but she died before she was able to do so. It features Kinsey Millhone, a private detective based in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California.

References

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Sources

Further reading