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 Stephen 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, Sue Grafton.