Friday, December 29, 2017

Sue Grafton: R.I.P.

This is such sad news -- a terrible way to end the year. Sue Grafton passed away last night from cancer at the age of 77. She was such a gracious and talented woman.

Sue Grafton has been published in 28 countries and 26 languages — including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. Books in her Kinsey Milhone Alphabet series, beginning with A is for Alibi in 1982 and ending this year with Y is for Yesterday, are international bestsellers with readership in the millions.

Named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, Sue also received many other honors and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award from Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Left Coast Crime, the Anthony Award given by Bouchercon, the Macavity, the Barry, and three Shamus Awards.

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. We all remember 'The Jerk" and the stories she told about him.

She had long been fascinated by mysteries that had related titles, including those by John D. MacDonald, whose titles referenced colors, and Harry Kemelman, who used days of the week. While reading Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabetical picture book of children who die by various means, she had the idea to write a series of novels based on the alphabet. She immediately sat down and made a list of all of the crime-related words that she knew.

This exercise led to her best-known works, a chronological series of mystery novels. Known as "the alphabet novels," the stories are set in and around the fictional town of Santa Teresa, California. It is based on Santa Barbara, outside of which Grafton maintained a home in the suburb of Montecito. (Grafton chose to use the name Santa Teresa as a tribute to the author Ross Macdonald, who had used it as a fictional name for Santa Barbara in his own novels.)

Sue was one of my heroes... one of those people you admire, respect, and emulate. I've read all of her books--from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday. In 1986 when she published C is for Corpse, I invited her to speak at our fledgling Mystery Readers Literary Salon. Not surprisingly, she was a big hit. At the 1990 Bouchercon in London, she replaced the 'little black dress' with a black beaded jacket and pants, just as versatile. I don't remember Kinsey wearing that, but it was perfect! I emulated her fashion prowess!

I got to spend time with Sue in 2011 at Malice Domestic where we shared top billing...well, as if.. I received the Poirot Award, and she, the Lifetime Achievement Award, so we were thrown together at various functions and talks. I mention this because we both received Malice teapots which we shipped back to our respective homes. Several weeks later, I noticed my teapot read "Sue Grafton: Lifetime Achievement"... After a short time considering the ethical thing to do, I emailed Sue and let her know. Yes, our teapots had been switched by the shippers. For a brief moment I had a very special souvenir.  In 2014, I asked Sue to be the Lifetime Achievement Guest at Left Coast Crime in Monterey. There I got to spend more time with her and her husband Steve discussing travel and gardening and the Kentucky Derby. She was so gracious and the perfect guest. Sue was also very supportive of new and veteran writers. I ran into her at several conventions, and I was always amazed to see her sitting alone in panel sessions, taking notes. She was a good friend to everyone in the mystery community. She will be missed.

Sorry, I'm still reeling from this news.

Her daughter posted this today on Sue's Facebook Page:

Hello Dear Readers. This is Sue's daughter, Jamie. I am sorry to tell you all that Sue passed away last night after a two year battle with cancer. She was surrounded by family, including her devoted and adoring husband Steve. Although we knew this was coming, it was unexpected and fast. She had been fine up until just a few days ago, and then things moved quickly. 

Sue always said that she would continue writing as long as she had the juice. Many of you also know that she 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.

Sue leaves behind her legacy of wonderful books, her husband, three children, and several grandchildren. She was a remarkable woman, and the world won't be the same without her. R.I.P., Sue.

For a fun article about Sue Grafton that you may have missed, check out Garden and Gun, February/March 2014 "Sue Grafton's Kentucky Garden"

And, an excellent interview from The Armchair Detective, Volume 22, Issue 1, Winter 1989, G is for (Sue) Grafton,  reprinted on Murder and Mayhem


Susan Bernhardt said...

This is such sad news. She was one of my favorite authors and I don't have that many favorite authors. I wanted to write like Sue Grafton. I loved Kinsey Millhone. It's so hard to believe.

Sue Trowbridge said...

Sue often spoke about how she'd tour for "Z is for Zero" in a pink ambulance. I'm sorry her fans will never get the chance to read the final book in her series, but I'll forever be grateful for A-Y, and she was an exceedingly kind and gracious person. I treasure the time I spent with her at LCC in Monterey.

Cynthia said...

thank you for this beautiful tribute.

Jacqueline Fiedler said...

The reminiscences of the mystery community about Sue are especially poignant. Thank you for sharing yours. I still haven't processed her passing. She was an inspiration to every woman who ever wanted to write a mystery.

Susan Oleksiw said...

It's hard to believe there will be no more books from Sue Grafton, nor those casual and gracious encounters at conferences or writing groups. She was a remarkable woman and writer, and our world of mysteries won't be the same without her.

Meredith Phillips said...

Janet, thanks for bringing us this devastating news in your typical caring, gentle way. I feel as if I've lost a friend, though I knew Sue only slightly from mystery events.

When I was recuperating from surgery two years ago, I found that all I wanted to read was her books. So I reread R–W and they were great comfort reads. I love Kinsey, and Henry, and being back in the 1980s, before life got so complicated.

Diane Hendricksen said...

What a sad end to the year. She will be missed.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thank you. And love you— this is very difficult, and I have loved reading this.