Sue Taylor Grafton (born April 24, 1940) is a contemporary American author of detective novels.
Born in Louisville
, Sue Grafton is the daughter of novelist C. W. Grafton
and Vivian Harnsberger, both of whom were the children of Presbyterian
ministers. Grafton and her sister Ann were raised in Louisville. She attended both the University of Louisville (freshman year) and Western Kentucky State Teachers College (sophomore and junior years) before graduating from the University of Louisville
in 1961 with a bachelors degree in English Literature
and minors in Humanities and the Fine Arts.
During the latter part of her study, her mother, who was wracked with cancer, took her own life on Sue's 20th birthday. Her father later remarried.
After graduating, Grafton held various jobs as a hospital admissions clerk, cashier, and medical secretary in Santa Monica, California and Santa Barbara, California.
Grafton began writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel four years later. She continued writing, and completed six more manuscripts. Two of these seven novels were published. Unable to find success with her novels, Grafton turned to screenplays. She spent the next fifteen years writing screenplays for television movies
, including Sex and the Single Parent
, Mark, I Love You
, and Nurse
. 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, as well as cowriting Killer in the Family
and Love on the Run
Her experience as a screenwriter taught her the basics of structuring a story, writing dialogue, and creating action sequences, and Grafton felt ready to return to writing fiction. While going through a "bitter divorce and custody battle that lasted 6 long years" Grafton would make herself feel better by imagining ways to kill or maim her ex-husband. Her fantasies were so vivid that she decided to write them down.
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, which is 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, which is based on the author's primary city of residence, Santa Barbara, California. (Grafton chose to use the name Santa Teresa as a tribute to the author Ross Macdonald, who had previously used this as an alternative name for Santa Barbara in his own novels.)
All novels of the series are written from the perspective of a female private investigator named Kinsey Millhone who lives in Santa Teresa, California. Grafton's first book of this series is "A" Is for Alibi, written and set in 1982. The series continues with "B" Is for Burglar, "C" Is for Corpse, and so on through the alphabet. After the publication of "G" Is for Gumshoe, Grafton was able to quit her screenwriting job and focus on her novels. The timeline of the series is slower than real-time - "Q" Is for Quarry, for example, is set in 1987, even though it was written in 2002. Her latest book, "T" Is for Trespass, was released in December 2007. Grafton has publicly stated that the final novel in the series will be titled "Z" Is for Zero.
Grafton's novels have been published in 28 countries, in 26 languages including Bulgarian and Indonesian. She has refused to sell the film and television rights to her books, as her time writing screenplays had "cured" her of the desire to work with Hollywood. Grafton has even threatened to haunt her children if they sell the film rights after she is dead.
Grafton's "B" Is for Burglar
and "C" Is for Corpse
won the first two Anthony Awards
, which are selected by the attendees of the annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention
, ever awarded. She has won the Anthony Award once more, and has been the recipient of three Shamus Awards
On June 13, 2000, Sue Grafton was the recipient of the 2000 YWCA of Lexington Smith-Breckinridge Distinguished Woman of Achievement Award.
In 2004, Grafton received the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, 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, honouring a lifetime's achievement in the field.
Grafton, who has been divorced twice, has been married for more than 20 years to Steven F. Humphrey. She has three children from previous marriages and several grandchildren, including a granddaughter named Kinsey. They live in Santa Barbara, California
and Louisville, Kentucky
, as Humphrey teaches at universities in both cities.
- Keziah Dane (1967)
- The Lolly Madonna War (1969) - filmed as Lolly-Madonna XXX
Kinsey Millhone series
For more on Kinsey Millhone see Kinsey Millhone
- Kinsey and Me (1992) - a collection of Kinsey Millhone short stories along with other short stories about Grafton's own mother.
In popular culture
- In the "Mayham" episode of The Sopranos, Carmela sits by Tony's bedside in the hospital, reading Sue Grafton's "G" Is for Gumshoe.
- In the "To Whom It May Concern" episode of Gilmore Girls, Sookie explains to Lorelai how she and Jackson go on skiing-slash-reading weekends. He skis, and she reads.
Sookie: I love to dress up in those cozy clothes, the furry boots, and curl up with a Sue Grafton mystery. I got "R" Is for Ricochet and "S" Is for Silence… If the ski conditions are good, I can get a good 8 hours of Kinsey Millhone in.
- In the "Local Ad" episode of The Office, Phyllis went to the mall to a Sue Grafton book signing to try to get her to be in the Dunder Mifflin Scranton Branch commercial. She was told by Michael Scott to not take "no" for an answer. After waiting in line, Phyllis' turn comes, only to be rebuffed by Sue Grafton. Phyllis continues to ask until being thrown out of the store. Meanwhile Andy and Creed talk about how "crazy hot" the author is.
- A scene in the film Stranger Than Fiction shows Prof. Hilbert, reading a Sue Grafton novel ("I" Is for Innocent).