Sue Grafton Remembered

The Alphabet Stops at Y.

Y is for Yesterday. Thank you, lovely lady for all of the yesterdays you influenced and all of the tomorrows you will inspire.
Sue Grafton has died. I’m not sure I can even process this news. I am definitely typing through tears. The lady has a singular place in this Mystery Fan’s heart. I am not alone. Millions of her books have sold to very loyal readers for 35 years now. It’s hard to believe A is for Alibi was first published in 1982. Harder still to know I almost missed it. But I didn’t. And I’m grateful.

The following is not meant to be an “obituary” but the touchstones of my life, fandom and mystery community involvement that Ms. Grafton is responsible for. And, really, she gets all of the cred for anything I’ve ever done in the mystery community.
We were acquaintances. I am sad that my awe prevented us from becoming friends. Sue Grafton is surely one of the folks responsible for the platinum age of Mystery through her writing. Kinsey Millhone is one of Crime Fiction’s most revered, loved and important characters. Sue Grafton was, is and will always be an inspiration.

In 1985 I was girl far from home, living in Arizona. Mom and Dad would call every other week and we’d chat. During one of those phone calls I complained about having no time to read and the lack of good fiction at the Tempe Library when I’d even think, “hey, maybe I’ll read a book this week.”
I was working three jobs and as a result I pretty much lived out of my car. My daily commute was often north of 100 miles, sometimes in my Celica and sometimes on the back of my roommate’s Harley. But it was Arizona …. So, gym time was a priority. I did free weights and cardio, nautilus and dance class. And most days I ate at MacDonald’s or Flakey Jakes, Jack in the Box if I was tight on time.

A package comes in the mail. A paperback copy of A is for Alibi with a note from my Dad, “Try mystery again, this protagonist reminds me of you!” I read it in an evening. I was hooked, and I’ve never looked back. I “discovered” mystery through Grafton “blurbs”. If she recommended a book I picked up, that book went home with me.

The wonders I found! Thank you, Sue.

Fast Forward to 1992: there’s this new thing called the world wide web. I’m living in Sheboygan Wisconsin, again. I get the “free disk” from A.O.L. and become hooked by their book chatrooms. Before you know it, I’m having conversations with all of these great writers and so I find an e-mail for Sue and ask her to join the conversation. Two weeks later I get a note in the mail. Suffice to say it was lovely. And here’s the thing about Sue Grafton, the thing that I most admire about her. She says no with the best of us. Because I wrote her a note saying why she was important to me and I wanted my fellow readers to know her and I was denied. I was also put on her Christmas list, which was a lovely list to be on. And the return address? It was real! So, once a year for every year since that time I get to thank her for re-introducing me to mystery.

The next? Spring Sue Grafton/Johnny Carson. J is for Judgement was the book. This lovely Southern Lady telling Johnny “I was just trying to think of the easiest way to kill my husband..” “And there was a screwdriver.”.

All of the memories, come hurling right now: D.C. Bouchercon, when I had a limo and Sue Grafton took the shuttle. She winked and told me to take care of Grandmother. Vegas, where Sue Grafton, lifetime PWA recipient, fixed the ladies’ toilet during the ceremonies so we could pee. That time in Owensboro when we actually talked and she said how happy she was. The last time I saw her when she gave me a great big hug and thanked me (as Mrs. Crimespree) for helping “All of my friends more than you’ll ever know.”

Here’s to Kinsey, a protagonist that inspired a generation of female writers to write. Here’s to Kinsey: poor, relationship challenged, Kinsey who never met a murderer she didn’t fall in love with. Here’s to the leather jackets, dumpsters dived into, peep-holes handled, roads navigated, mischief managed. Here’s to the quarter pounders with cheese, the goulash, the crossword puzzles, paying your bills and always having your eye on the prize.

Here’s to Sue Grafton, a woman who always gave back to the crime fiction community. Promoting other writers was her jam. But one of the things I admire most about the lady is that she stood stoically while Hollywood tried to buy her character. She was adamant that Kinsey always belong to herself and her readers.

And Sue, if you’re hearing this…. My very last “fan” panel at Bouchercon? You are now known to an entire community as “the Alphabet Lady”. I’m thinking you’d be cool with this.
Let’s all toast together one last time! Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches, anyone?