The publishing world lost a legend and friend, Sue Grafton, #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal– bestselling author of the ground-breaking Alphabet Mystery series featuring beloved Private Investigator Kinsey Millhone, died on Thursday, December 28 in Santa Barbara after a two-year battle with cancer of the appendiceil. She was 77. Ivan Held, President of G.P. Putnam’s Sons said, “Everyone who worked with Sue admired her, flipped for the books, and were in awe of her 25-book creation, Kinsey Milhone. But on top of that — we also all LOVED her. With her wry, Kentucky accent she inspired a really deep and genuine love from everyone who worked with her in house.” Thirty-five years ago, Grafton launched one of the most acclaimed and celebrated mystery series of all time with A is for Alibi, and with it created the model of the modern female detective with Kinsey Millhone, a feisty, whip-smart woman who is not above breaking the rules to solve a case or save a life. Grafton’s books have sold untold millions and are published in twenty-eight countries and in twenty-six languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian. Her most recent novel, Y is for Yesterday, which published in August 2017, received with tremendous praise and debuted at #1 in the New York Times-bestseller list. News of her passing ran in outlets throughout the country (and world) including in the New York Times, NPR’s Fresh Air, Associated Press, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vanity Fair, Vulture, NPR’s All Things Considered, and CNN. The Washington Post wrote, “[Kinsey Millhone is] one of the most endearing, vivid and memorable characters in modern crime fiction … Ms. Grafton examines human character as deeply as any clues that might solve a crime. Critics noted that the stories often had an undercurrent of tender observation seldom found in the hard-boiled fiction of male writers.” There has been an outpouring of love on social media from fans including former president Bill Clinton who tweeted, “RIP Sue Grafton. Hillary and I loved all your novels from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday. We’ll miss Kinsey and you. Godspeed.” Fellow authors shared their fond remembrances of Sue including Louise Penny who said, “Kinsey was a brilliant creation and a companion for many of us, for years. Thank you, Sue, for leading the way. And for always being so gracious to those of us who followed.” David Baldacci wrote, “To know Sue Grafton was an honor. To call her a friend was a thrill. She was a great writer, one of our absolute best in any genre, but she was an even greater person. 2018 will be far emptier without her.” And James Lee Burke who said, “Everyone liked Sue. She had a great wit and knew how to bring the house down, without ever being grandiose. Her passing is a big loss. Sue was a real trooper, one of those who sets the standard. I think her greatest gift to others is the dignity and composure and confidence and perseverance that characterized her career. I think that’s a pretty good legacy to leave behind. Anyway, here’s to you, Sue. You’re the best.” More remembrances came from the likes of C.J. Box, Robert Crais, Daniel Silva, Eric Jerome Dickey, Harlan Coben, Lisa Scottoline, Ruth Ware. Sandra Brown, Sara Paretsky, Jeff Abbott, Laura Lippman, Faye Kellerman, Debbie Macomber, Alafair Burke, and Meg Gardiner to name a few. Sue and Kinsey will be remembered as international icons (both adored a peanut butter and pickle sandwich and a timeless black wrap dress) and treasured by millions of readers across lines of gender, geography, age, race, and creed. As Grafton’s daughter, Jamie, said in a statement on the author’s Facebook Page, “the alphabet now ends at Y.” Browse more of Sue Grafton’s works here.
On the occasion of Marian Wood Books’ publication of X, Sue Grafton’s 24th Kinsey Millhone Mystery, we are pleased to present Vice President and Publisher Marian Wood. As Grafton’s longtime editor, she agreed to answer three questions involving her work with Grafton. Marian admits, “These questions brought sort of a walk down memory lane: 34 years of memories, to be exact. Foolishly, I went to my bookshelves and picked up A is for Alibi and began reading, and couldn’t stop.” What initially attracted you to Sue Grafton’s writing style and her approach to the mystery novel form? Well, although Sue never writes the same novel twice and her books consistently surprise me, rereading “A” brought back that incredible rush I had on my first reading. Here was an original voice: tough, funny, smart, without an ounce of self-pity but also without any superhero ego. From the first I knew she was a serious stylist, that her characters were fully formed and she was using genre the way earlier mystery writers (the men who gave us noir) had: to make telling points about the (largely corrupt) world their characters moved in. Be it Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald, their protagonists were loners, honest but flawed (and usually, unlike Kinsey, very heavy drinkers), who took on cases the way a knight errant might take on causes. The world Kinsey navigates is not as corrupt as theirs, but it is often just as twisted and dangerous. In “A,” Kinsey tells us she is 32, twice divorced, no kids, no pets, no houseplants. In short, she is independent and alone. What we learn as the series progresses is that she is also nobody’s sidekick. Unlike so many female characters in the mysteries that preceded her appearance, she is not a loyal helpmate or willing employee or second banana. Now, how refreshing is that? And when she finds herself in serious danger, she is tough enough to fight her way out—even when it means killing or maiming her attacker. But it bothers her that she has to. So in addition to being tough and honest, she has a conscience. Mayhem for mayhem’s sake is not on her resume. Her novels also do not depend on technology or gadgets for their denouements. Brains and determination are what matter. There are no James Bond gimmicks, and no saviors in white hats to come to Kinsey’s rescue. Through Kinsey, Sue is able to wrestle with some very current social ills. She doesn’t preach, but she does observe. And her intelligence in these matters raises the books to another level. You won’t find her giving facile answers to homelessness, but you will find her pointing out all sides of the problem. How you take this is your call as a reader. Sue is not here to convert you—but she wants readers to understand the human toll such problems take. And she is not here to solve our social problems. She can’t tell us how to stop the abuse of elders, for example. But she can, in horrible detail, show you how it happens. Perhaps this makes the books sound “heavy.” They are hardly that. One of the very great attractions of Sue Grafton’s writing is just how clever (both witty and funny) Kinsey is and how tellingly Sue leads her characters into crazy (but all too real) human interactions. And a large part of her success in doing this is that she has such a terrific grasp of the human condition, which is another reason her characters resonate long after you’ve finished the book. How would you describe the nature of your editor/author process when working with Sue Grafton and how has it evolved over the years? Our relationship is based on trust and mutual respect. Sounds corny, but it’s true. There may have been a few bumps early on because Sue bore some real scars from her years of working with Hollywood know-it-alls (“They all seemed to be barely out of high school,” she has said). Books, however, are not movies, and editing is a matter of supporting the writer not taking over her book. (Some of you may know of instances of editors taking credit for the quality of their writer’s book. Personally, if the writing was that bad to begin with, I’d want no part of it.) With Sue, as the years and books progressed, our working relationship, never problematic to begin with, became a sheer delight. Sue is a professional and a dedicated craftswoman. I like to think the same applies to her editor. There have been a few occasions during the writing when the plot line seems temporarily to stall out. Sue says dreaming often resolves a knotty plot line, and I say that what cannot be resolved in dreams is usually a relatively easy fix that a trusted reader can suggest. Mostly that first reader is her husband, Steve Humphrey. As someone who was long-married to a writer, I know the pitfalls that can happen when a spouse is called upon to read, but in the 34 years I’ve known them, their working relationship has been nothing short of miraculous. What has contributed to the popularity of the Kinsey Millhone character and the series, and what elements in the new novel, X, do you feel will resonate most strongly with readers? Sue never runs in place. I have read many writers who begin a series wonderfully and then, at about book 4 or 5, stall out. The books become padded, the plots are listless, the characters repeat themselves. Not so Sue. In fact, Sue brings a freshness and originality to each new book. Even those instances in which she needs to reintroduce a character from an earlier book or reprise some earlier plot line–so that a reader coming new to the series need not begin with “A”—are deftly handled and, for the veteran reader, often contain welcome new information. I think the reason the series continues to appeal so strongly is that Sue takes her writing very seriously. To turn in a listless effort would be to cheat her readers—and herself. The second part of your question is harder to answer because it would give away much of the plot of X. Let me just say this: There are three extraordinary plot lines in X. The reader will initially be hard pressed to know which is the prime plot, which secondary. But all are supremely interesting. One is outrageous—but many of us will be familiar with the neighbors from hell and, in its own way, it is very comic. Another is a complex scam that has grown out of the broken marriage of two hot-tempered people who should have taken the time to cool down. And the third? It is the harrowing story of a vicious sociopathic serial killer who has left a trail of dead women going back nearly thirty years. The victims have either been declared suicides or they have simply vanished. The killer is at large, and Kinsey is in his sight lines. Dark, chilling, and clever, X is also infinitely wise in the matter of human misbehavior—or why we are often our own worst enemy. Read more about X here.