She grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, the daughter of a municipal bond attorney, C.W. Grafton, who was passionate about mystery fiction.
Her father published three novels but writing didn’t pay the bills. Nevertheless, he taught his daughter, Sue, the value of hard work.
“He instilled in me a real respect of the written word and of reading,” she said. “So I feel I came by my inheritance legitimately.”
Sue Grafton, the author of numerous best-selling mystery novels, including the so-called alphabet series (“A is for Alibi,” “B is for Burglar,” etc.), will be one of the guest speakers at The Post and Courier’s sold out Spring Book & Author Luncheon on Friday.
Grafton will be joined by fellow writers Lisa Gardner, Brad Taylor and Jennifer Wright.
Grafton said she was thrilled to leave Louisville after college. “I knew I needed to be somewhere else to have a little freedom and figure out who I was.”
She went to California and tried her hand at writing novels. It was a bumpy start, and Grafton ended up with a consistent paycheck by writing Hollywood screenplays instead.
That experience taught her valuable lessons about plotting and dialogue. After a while, she was ready to give novels another go.
“I’m not constitutionally suited for committee work,” she said. “I reached a point where I was angry all the time, and I don’t think that’s good for the soul.”
Two things happened that would dictate her professional fate: a bad divorce and the eventual independence that resulted, and a children’s picture book by Edward Gorey called “The Gashlycrumb Tinies,” which presented its contents alphabetically.
Grafton would spend the next three decades writing her alphabet series of mysteries. She just published “X” last year and now is working on the penultimate book of the series.
In 1993, she returned to Louisville for an event and attended dinner parties at which “people do not discuss their nutritionist or high colonics.” She found she liked it in her hometown. A lot. So she went looking for property to buy.
Since then, she has split her time between Louisville and Montecito.
Grafton has no background in law enforcement, so each project demands research. She talks to lawyers, police officers and criminals.
“It’s always interesting to pick up the jargon,” she said. “People who’ve spent time in jail have a whole different point of view. It‘s nice to see how other people live.”
For a while, she produced a novel every year, but then she fell into a more humane rhythm, publishing a new mystery every two years or so. You might think her books are ripe for Hollywood adaptations.
“I won’t ever sell the rights to Hollywood,” she insisted. “And I made my children swear they wouldn’t either.” Grafton won’t tolerate the manipulation that movie-making requires, she said.
If all goes as planned, Grafton will complete her alphabet series in 2019. She’ll be 79 years old. Perhaps she’ll take a break. Travel. Relax a little. Or not.
“I can’t imagine not writing,” she said. “My life has been about these books.”
Reach Adam Parker at 843-937-5902. Follow him at facebook.com/aparkerwriter.