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.

Jacquie 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 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.

KarMic Spirits said...

This is just sort of a "I miss you tribute" to Sue Grafton. Not meant to replace her Z is for Zero.

Z is for
Eternal Sleep

By Ed, the Cat

I remember the day that Kinsey died. I had gotten up early and snuck out the window that Henry so lovingly opens for me in the early hours before dawn. The morning air was chilly and smelled a lot like cinnamon rolls baking in the oven at Henry’s loving hands.

I hunted for hours to no avail, ending up only startling a few birds. There is no doubt my hunting efforts were impeded by the neighbor dog’s incessant screeching and jumping up and down at the front window. Why his parents allowed such inappropriate behavior is far beyond my imagination. I did at last catch a tiny little mouse and pranced myself right up to Kinsey’s front door, dropping my prize on the step so she could partake in the joy of my prowess. Then I slid under the bushes and waited for her to pop out in her running shoes, knowing she would scream with delight the instant she opened the door. I waited; and waited. I then found myself a little ray of sunlight to bask in while drifting off for a quick mid-morning nap.

I awoke when I heard the scream - but it was Henry’s voice rather than Kinsey’s. At first I thought I was still dreaming. My beloved Henry fell to his knees while making mournful cries and his face was totally wet with tears. Then I looked past Henry and saw Kinsey. She, too, was on the floor, but she was a very unusual shade of blue. No tears. No sound. No expression. In fact, she had that same peaceful look on her face as did the little mouse at her front doorstep. It made me feel sad as she certainly did not appear to miss me; or Henry.

There was a big difference in Henry after that day. He would still sit quietly and stroke my head, but his touch was apathetic. I often pondered the meaning of life during that period of dismay. It seemed to me that life was just a big lie; an overwhelming tale that grownups told little children to give them hope of something better until they grew up and had to face reality. I call this grownup lie the “Santa Claus Syndrome.”

Adult people know full well there’s no Santa Claus, no Cinderella, no glass slipper. They know that kids don’t grow up, fall in love, and live happily ever after. They know that people are going to have financial difficulties, gain weight, get scars, lose their fur, but they don’t tell you any of that. From the very second you are born, they know you’re going to die. But you don’t know it. It takes quite a while to figure that out because it takes quite a while for little brains to grow big enough to hold all that immense information. Somebody needs to write a book that is required reading when you’re very young so that you don’t grow up believing all this bullshit. Bullshit like our government is without fault for anything bad, and that politicians really do like babies. Bullshit like you should eat all your vegetables, and you should never play with your food.

I think all my pondering made me realize a lot about Kinsey. She didn’t waste money on clothes or makeup. She treated people fairly although she really didn’t like people in general. She wasn’t fond of kids and kept all animals at arm’s length except for a very few times when she would let me rub against her legs, or sit quietly with me, staring unblinking for what seemed like hours. But the thing I realized most of all was that she knew one day she would be gone. No tears. No sound. No expression. I don’t think she had any idea, however, that I was so fond of her or that I would miss her so much. I know I didn’t.

Diane said...

What a lovely post from KarMick Spirits.