When Sue Grafton created her character Kinsey Millhone in 1982, there weren’t a lot of other female private investigators out there in the world of fiction (Nancy Drew and Miss Marple notwithstanding). Grafton boldly titled that first book “A Is for Alibi,” thus dooming herself — or at least committing herself — to writing 25 sequels.
Now, 31 years later, we are up to “W Is for Wasted,” which is being published this week by Putnam. Over the years, Kinsey Millhone has gotten older, gotten married and divorced more than a few times, solved murder after murder after murder, and continues to cut her own hair (with nail scissors).
Grafton will be at Barnes & Noble Galleria on Sept. 17 to sign books; admission is free with a wristband (now available with purchase of book). Here, she talks about why she doesn’t have a picture of her son on her writing desk, why she re-reads her own books, and — the big question we all want to know — what will “X” be for?
Q: Twenty-six books? Really?
A: Hey, don’t blame me. I didn’t think it would work! Looking back, I can see what a cheeky undertaking it was. I am blessed.
Q: Any clue what X might be?
A: Almost has to be Xenophobe or Xenophobia. I’ve checked the penal codes in most states and xylophone isn’t a crime, so I’m stuck.
Q: How did you get your start writing mysteries?
A: I wrote seven full-length novels when I was in my 20s and 30s. Of those, novels No. 4 and 5 were published. The rest are in the trash. That was the process by which I taught myself to write. I also did a 15-year stint in Hollywood, which is where I learned that I prefer solo writing. The eighth novel I wrote was “A Is for Alibi,” which was my ticket out of Hollywood. Ask me if I’d ever sell the film or TV rights to these books. No, I would not. I would never let those clowns get their hands on my work. They’d ruin it for everyone, me more than most!
Q: Do you ever get tired of dreaming up ways that people can be killed?
Q: Describe your writing room.
A: I actually have two offices — one in Kentucky and a second in California. Both are spacious and, in the main, tidy and well-organized. The California office is butter yellow and the light is great. That’s where I keep the majority of my research texts and my files — all 525 of them.
In Kentucky, I’m on the third floor looking down at an expanse of lawn with hundred-year-old trees. The room has eaves and the wallpaper is an all-over pattern of leaves, pale green on green. Both offices have the same computer and good office chairs, and each has a comfortable reading chair and a good reading light.
Q: What is your writing strategy — do you have rituals that you maintain?
A: My prime writing strategy is to work some five to six hours every day, come hell or high water. I’m a slow writer, but persistent. Often I do a brief stint of self-hypnosis before I begin, in hopes of quieting the chatter in my head.
Q: How do you get past writers’ block (or the distraction of the Internet)?
A: I believe that writers’ block is Shadow’s way of telling me I’m off track. My Shadow is where all the creative energy comes from, so I listen to what she says. If I’m “blocked,” I go back through the work a page at a time until I figure out where I went wrong.
Q: Do you have a favorite book from childhood?
A: “Twig,” by Elizabeth Orton Jones.
Q: What books do you re-read?
A: “A Is for Alibi” through “W Is for Wasted,” by Sue Grafton. That’s in order to remember what I said and what roads I’ve traveled along the way.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: “The Fault in Our Stars,” by John Green.
Q: Which authors have inspired you?
A: Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, C.W. Grafton, Stephen King, Malcolm Gladwell …
Q: What’s on your desk?
A: My “sippy cup” of ice water, a research book, Kleenex, a photograph of me and my two daughters (my son hates to have his picture taken), a stack of 5-by-7 yellow-lined scratch pads, computer, telephone, printer and about 10 files in an upright organizer.
Q: Where are you right now? Describe what you see.
A: My “sippy cup” of ice water, a research book, Kleenex, a photograph of me and my two daughters (my son hates to have his picture taken), a stack of 5-by-7 yellow-lined scratch pads, computer, telephone, printer, and about 10 files in an upright organizer.