Website from Sue Grafton


1) When did you find out you wanted to write?

My father, G.W. Grafton, was a municipal bond attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was born and raised. He was also a writer and published three mysteries in the course of his career: THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE, THE ROPE BEGAN TO HAND THE BUTCHER and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. His first mystery novel, THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE, won the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award of 1943. He was probably the greatest influence in my decision to write mystery novels because he was always so passionate about the genre himself.

2) Did your studies prepare you for a career as a writer?

In both junior high school and high school, I worked on the school paper. I attended the University of Louisville, where I majored in English. I started writing short stories when I was eighteen and completed my first novel when I was twenty-two years old.

3) Was it difficult to find a publisher for your first book?

It took me four completed full-length manuscripts before I had a book accepted for publication. I was twenty-five at the time. From the age of twenty-two on, I wrote at night, every night, while I was working full time as a medical secretary and raising a family. ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI… which took me five years to finish… was the eighth book I wrote but only the third to be published.

4) Your books are a major success. Do you enjoy it?

I’m amazed at the success of the books and I work very hard to make sure each book I write is done with the same dedication I felt for my first. I’m an optimist by nature and from my perspective, my life is perfect. I have a wonderful husband, three terrific kids, three granddaughters, five cats, numerous friends, two beautiful houses, my health, physical fitness, and lots of good books to read. Also, most of my hair and my own teeth. What else could anyone want?

5) Did you know anything about police or detective work when you started writing?

When I started work on ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI, I wasn’t even sure what a private investigator did. In the process of writing that first book in the series, I began the long (and continuing) task of educating myself. I’ve studied police procedures, forensics, toxicology, books on burglary and theft, homicide, arson, anatomy, poisonous plants. I elected to write about a female protagonist because I’m female myself and I figured it was my one area of expertise.

6) What brought you to use the alphabet to title your books?

When I first came up with the idea of using letters on the alphabet to title my books, I sat and sketched out a list of possible titles, many of which I’ve gone on to use. My unspoken rule is that each word needs to be crime related… hence, BURGLAR, CORPSE, DEADBEAT, etc. Often, I begin a book with only the vaguest of ideas. For instance, with ‘C’ IS FOR CORPSE all I knew in the beginning was that I wanted Kinsey to work for a dead man. With ‘D’, I thought it would be interesting if Kinsey did some work for a man who then paid her with a check that bounces. She has to track the guy down to get the check made good and by the time she finds him, he’s dead. She gets involved in the case because she’s out the bucks. The process of plotting was, in part, simply trying to figure out how.

7) How do you work out a manuscript?

Usually I start with the title and then I try to come up with a story I haven’t told before, which means an interesting client or an unusual way for Kinsey to get involved in a case. I do tons of research before I start writing, including visits to any location or setting I think might be different. I usually decide who gets killed and why, then decide who else might appear to be guilty of the crime. Then I have to figure out how Kinsey would figure it out. Often I know the beginning and the end. It’s the middle that drives me crazy. The cases I write about are invented, though some of the side stories and the back stories I collect from the newspaper. I like looking at the dark side of human nature, trying to understand what makes people kill each other. I’m a real law-and-order type and I don’t want people to get away with murder. In a mystery novel there is justice and I like that a lot.

8) Does Kinsey Millhone resemble you in any way?

Kinsey Millhone is my alter-ego…the person I might have been had I not married young and had children. I think of us as one soul in two bodies and she got the good one. The ’68 VW she drove (until ‘G’ IS FOR GUMSHOE) was a car I owned some years ago. In ‘H’ IS FOR HOMICIDE, she acquires the 1974 VW that was sitting behind my house until I donated it to a local charity that raffled it off. That car was pale blue with only one minor ding in the left rear fender. I own both handguns she talks about and in fact, I learned to shoot so that I would know what it felt like. I own the all-purpose dress she refers to. I’ve also been married and divorced twice, though I’m now married to husband number three and intend to remain so for life.
What’s interesting about Kinsey’s presence in my life is that since she can only know what I know, I have to do a great deal of research and this allows me, in essence, to lead two lives… hers and mine. Because of that, I’ve taken a women’s self-defence class and a class in criminal law. I’ve also made the acquaintance of doctors, lawyers, P.I.s, cops, coroners, all manner of experts. I’ve toured jails and prisons. I’ve also talked to a number of criminals and I’m happy to report they cuss even more than I do.

9) Do you handle criticism well?

I don’t handle criticism well, but I’ve learned to be polite to complaining readers unless they’re rude to me first. I get many letters pointing out typos, factual errors, and inconsistencies. I put on a brave front and respond as graciously as I can, though often I find it tiresome. Sometimes I wonder if people don’t have anything better to do. If you look at the big picture…. hunger, war, racial hatreds, poverty, incurable disease… why is it important to chide an author or a typo? It makes no sense to me.

10) Will you stop writing after reaching ‘Z’?

I won’t finish ‘Z’ IS FOR ZERO until approximately 2015 and I have no idea what I’ll do at that point. I’ll always write, but I can assure you that I’ll never do linking titles again! As for Kinsey, we’ll see if she still has adventures to share when we reach the end of the alphabet.

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© 2005 Nickie Fleming/Jansan