Sue Grafton

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Sue Taylor Grafton was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 24, 1940, to Cornelius Warren “Chip” Grafton, an attorney, and Vivian (Harnsberger) Grafton, a former high school teacher. Her father published several mystery novels, and both parents were avid readers. Although her parents were alcoholics and her family was dysfunctional, Grafton says her childhood was happy as her parents gave her a great deal of freedom and intellectual stimulation.

Grafton’s first attempts at writing were poems and articles for her high school newspaper. She began to write short stories at the age of eighteen and majored in English at the University of Louisville, graduating in 1961. While still in college, Grafton married, had a daughter, and was divorced while pregnant with a son. Her first daughter was raised by her father. Grafton studied creative writing through an extension course offered by the University of California at Los Angeles, and instructor Robert Kirsh, the book editor at the Los Angeles Times, encouraged her to try her hand at writing a novel. However, Grafton did not seriously consider a career as a writer. She married again, at the age of twenty-two, to Al Schmidt, with whom she would have another daughter. She worked at various jobs in the medical field: secretary, cashier, and admissions clerk.

The stability that Grafton sought through marriage did not make her happy, however, and she kept writing. She published several short stories; then her first novel, Keziah Dane, about a woman in Appalachia, was published in 1967. Her second novel, The Lolly-Madonna War, was published in 1969, and when she sold the film rights, Grafton left for Los Angeles with her son and younger daughter. She began writing screenplays and teleplays and doing secretarial work to support herself. She became involved in a bitter custody battle with her former husband, and in her anger, she began to imagine ways to kill him, including poisoning him with oleander. Rather than acting on these thoughts, she began writing “A” Is for Alibi (1982), the first novel in the Kinsey Millhone series.

During the five years it took to write her first mystery, Grafton met Stephen F. Humphrey, whom she married in 1978. She continued to write for television series and to adapt novels written by others for television films, sometimes collaborating with her husband. However, despite winning a Christopher Award for Walking Through the Fire (1979), Grafton became dissatisfied with Hollywood and the screenwriting process, which required her to work closely with others and be a team player.

Grafton turned to mystery writing, which she could do independently and which had been her father’s choice of genre. She decided to use letters of the alphabet to link her series and created the Kinsey Millhone series. Reviewers were favorably impressed with “A” Is for Alibi, which earned the Mysterious Stranger Award. Her second book, “B” Is for Burglar, published three years later, won two prestigious mystery awards. Grafton soon became a best-selling, award-winning author, producing installments in a popular series projected out to “Z” Is for Zero and possibly beyond. Grafton once half jokingly suggested that after reaching the letter Z, she could resume the series using numbers. Her sustained popularity attests to her ability to achieve her goal of keeping the series fresh by never telling the same story twice.

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