Farewell, Sue Grafton

Version 2

One morning years ago, long before I ever wrote a novel, I was driving along the freeway in Santa Barbara with my three small kids in carseats. A car passed mine. The license plate, as I recall, read THNXKNZ.

It took me a few seconds. Thanks, Kinsey.

I gasped. That car could only belong to Sue Grafton.

Sue Grafton had singlehandedly ignited my love for mysteries. I read her books voraciously. Thanks to her, I had started to dream of writing mysteries myself. Later, when Crimespree magazine asked me for 5 Books that Changed My Writing Life, I said that one of those books was A Is for Alibi.

My sister gave me this book when my daughter was born. I would tell my family that I needed quiet time to put the baby to bed—then I’d close her bedroom door, wait two minutes for her to fall asleep, and secretly read for an hour. I couldn’t get enough of the book’s twisting mystery or its feisty protagonist. With every page, I wished: Kinsey Millhone, be my friend. Beyond that, this novel showed me how a female series heroine could work. When I finished it, I thought: Yes. Give me more. And let me learn to write fiction that aspires to be as good.

And now Sue Grafton’s car was pulling past mine. Without hesitation I jammed my foot on the accelerator and followed it.

I gunned past the exit to my house. I don’t know what I thought I would do when I drew alongside — honk, or give thumbs up, or shout, “I love you!” I somehow thought that this would be my only chance to glimpse my favorite Santa Barbara author.

Finally, breathlessly, I pulled even with the car. At the wheel was Sue’s husband, Steven Humphrey.

I backed off. I don’t know if he saw the crazy woman in the Honda with three squirming kids and the embarrassed look on her face.

And I didn’t know how things would change over the coming years.

That morning on the freeway, I didn’t know I would be privileged to meet both Steven and Sue in London, when Sue was awarded the Diamond Dagger by the Crime Writers’ Association. Or that I would write an essay on A is for Alibi for the anthology Books to Die For. Or that when Sue came to Austin on tour for X, we’d take the photo above. Or how unfailingly kind she would be, to me and every other author I know. That day on the 101, all I knew was that I had the chance to catch magic, and draw near to my heroine — the imagination that had brought Kinsey Millhone to life.

Thanks, Kinsey.

Thanks, Sue Grafton.

12 responses to “Farewell, Sue Grafton

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Meg. It’s heartwarming to hear that aside from her incredible skill and talent, her legacy is that she inspired others. I can’t imagine any other accomplishment that means more.

  2. Great piece of memory. I’m sure Sue is smiling!

  3. Thanks for sharing your memories. The trailblazers have now created new trailblazers and women have come into their own.

  4. And now my little reading heart is broken again. I discovered Kinsey back in the summer of 1999 when I spent my summer in a cabin while my new husband of only a couple of months was working. There were no cell phones and no television, just CBC Radio. On weekends when we went into town I went to the local library for some reading material. That is where I rediscovered my love of the alphabet. I have read all of these books (except Y) and some more than once, but have slowly been collecting hardcovers of the books over the years. I ordered V, W, X and Kinsey and Me from the USA (I live in Canada) in various book stores that had autographed copies n hand. I was lucky enough to preorder X and have it personally signed. I asked her to say: To Shelly, Kinsey Forever. I thought it was silly at the time but now it feels like treasure. Yesterday I received four hardcover books to add to my collection and I was happy and so excited. Then I saw the sad news on Facebook; the alphabet will end at Y.

  5. So well written. As she inspired you, you inspire other writers. It’s a stone dropped in a pond – the ripples of magic from Sue Grafton will flow forever.

  6. I purchased A is for Alibi to read on a plane trip from Hartford, CT to Ventura, CA. My rental car and I made a pass through Santa Barbara. I had a moment of awe when I realized I was driving in the setting of the book I just read! Later met Sue at Mohegan Sun. She had these note cards with her most frequently asked questions that she randomly pulled and started her talk with to “get them out of the way”. Smart cookie.

  7. Love this, especially the stalker bit….

  8. Thanks for all your kind comments, everyone. Sue was one of a kind. I can’t tell you how much I’m going to miss her.

  9. Love her books too, didn’t know the sad news. From an Austin bicycle blogger dude.

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