Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton
Born Sue Taylor Grafton
(1940-04-24) April 24, 1940[1]
Louisville, Kentucky
Occupation Novelist
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Louisville (B.A., English Literature, 1961)
Period 1964–present (first published novel: 1967)
Genre Mystery
Spouse Steven F. Humphrey
Relatives C. W. Grafton

Sue Taylor Grafton (born April 24, 1940) is a contemporary American author of detective novels. She is best known as the author of the 'alphabet series' ("A" Is for Alibi, etc.) featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. The daughter of detective novelist C. W. Grafton, she has said the strongest influence on her crime novels is author Ross Macdonald. Prior to success with this series, she wrote screenplays for television movies.


Early years

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Sue Grafton is the daughter of novelist C. W. Grafton and Vivian Harnsberger, both of whom were the children of Presbyterian ministers. Grafton and her sister Ann were raised in Louisville. The town features in some of her novels.

She attended both the University of Louisville (first year) and Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now Western Kentucky University) in her sophomore and junior years[2] before graduating from the University of Louisville in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in English Literature and minors in humanities and fine arts. She is a member of Pi Beta Phi.[3]

After graduating, Grafton worked as a hospital admissions clerk, a cashier, and a medical secretary in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, California.[3]

Writing career

Grafton began writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel four years later. She continued writing and completed six more manuscripts. Two of these seven novels were published.[2] Unable to find success with her novels, Grafton turned to screenplays.[4][dead link] Grafton worked for the next 15 years writing screenplays for television movies, including Sex and the Single Parent, Mark, I Love You, and Nurse. Her screenplay for Walking Through the Fire earned a Christopher Award in 1979. In collaboration with her husband, Steven Humphrey, she also adapted the Agatha Christie novels A Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide for television and co-wrote A Killer in the Family and Love on the Run.[3][5] She is also credited with the story upon which the screenplay for the made for TV movie Svengali (1983) was based.[6][7]

Her experience as a screenwriter taught her the basics of structuring a story, writing dialogue, and creating action sequences. Grafton then felt ready to return to writing fiction.[5] While going through a "bitter divorce and custody battle that lasted six long years," Grafton imagined ways to kill or maim her ex-husband. Her fantasies were so vivid that she decided to write them down.[8]

She had long been fascinated by mysteries that had related titles, including those by John D. MacDonald, whose titles referenced colors, and Harry Kemelman, who used days of the week. While reading Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabetical picture book of children who die by various means, she had the idea to write a series of novels based on the alphabet. She immediately sat down and made a list of all of the crime-related words that she knew.[5]

This exercise led to her best-known works, a chronological series of mystery novels. Known as "the alphabet novels," the stories are set in and around the fictional town of Santa Teresa, California. It is based on Santa Barbara, outside of which Grafton maintains a home in the suburb of Montecito. (Grafton chose to use the name Santa Teresa as a tribute to the author Ross Macdonald, who had used it as a fictional name for Santa Barbara in his own novels.)[9]

In the series, Grafton writes from the perspective of a female private investigator named Kinsey Millhone, who lives in Santa Teresa.[10] In apparent tribute to Macdonald, Millhone refers to her private investigator license as a "photostat," as did Macdonald's character Archer. Grafton's first book of this series is "A" Is for Alibi, written and set in 1982. The series continues with "B" Is for Burglar, "C" Is for Corpse, and so on through the alphabet, with the exception of the 24th novel, simply titled "X". After the publication of "G" Is for Gumshoe, Grafton was able to quit her screenwriting job and focus on her novels.[8]

The timeline of the series is slower than real time. "Q" Is for Quarry, for example, is set in 1987, even though it was written in 2002. Grafton has publicly stated that the final novel in the series will be titled "Z" Is for Zero.[11]

Grafton's novels have been published in 28 countries and in 26 languages, including Bulgarian and Indonesian.[12] She has refused to sell the film and television rights to her books, as her time writing screenplays had "cured" her of the desire to work with Hollywood.[5] Grafton has also threatened to haunt her children if they sell the film rights after she is dead.[13]


Grafton's "B" Is for Burglar and "C" Is for Corpse won the first two Anthony Awards for Best Novel (1986 & 1987), which are selected by the attendees of the annual Bouchestery Convention, ever awarded.[14][15] She has won the Anthony Best Novel Award once more (1991 for "G" Is for Gumshoe) and has been the recipient of three Shamus Awards.[15][16] Additionally in 1987 Grafton's short story, "The Parker Shotgun", won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.[15]

On June 13, 2000, Sue Grafton was the recipient of the 2000 YWCA of Lexington Smith-Breckinridge Distinguished Woman of Achievement Award.[17]

In 2004, she received the Ross Macdonald Literary Award, which is given to "a California writer whose work raises the standard of literary excellence." In 2008 Grafton was awarded the Cartier Dagger by the British Crime Writers' Association, honoring a lifetime's achievement in the field. Grafton received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2009. In 2013, she was presented Bouchercon's Lifetime Achievement Award.[18]

In 2014, she was a Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime.[19] She has also been nominated for a 2014 Shamus Award in the category of Best Hardcover Novel, which she has won three times previously.[20]


Grafton, who has been divorced twice,[8] has been married for more than 20 years to Steven F. Humphrey. She has three children from previous marriages and several grandchildren, including granddaughters named Erin and Kinsey.[3] Grafton and her husband live in Montecito, California, and Louisville, Kentucky, as Humphrey teaches at universities in both cities.[8]


Early novels

Kinsey Millhone series

  1. "A" Is for Alibi (1982)
  2. "B" Is for Burglar (1985)
  3. "C" Is for Corpse (1986)
  4. "D" Is for Deadbeat (1987)
  5. "E" Is for Evidence (1988)
  6. "F" Is for Fugitive (1989)
  7. "G" Is for Gumshoe (1990)
  8. "H" Is for Homicide (1991)
  9. "I" Is for Innocent (1992)
  10. "J" Is for Judgment (1993)
  11. "K" Is for Killer (1994)
  12. "L" Is for Lawless (1995)
  13. "M" Is for Malice (1996)
  14. "N" Is for Noose (1998)
  15. "O" Is for Outlaw (1999)
  16. "P" Is for Peril (2001)
  17. "Q" Is for Quarry (2002)
  18. "R" Is for Ricochet (2004)
  19. "S" Is for Silence (2005)
  20. "T" Is for Trespass (2007)
  21. "U" Is for Undertow (2009)
  22. "V" Is for Vengeance (2011)
  23. "W" Is for Wasted (2013)
  24. "X" (2015)

For more, see Kinsey Millhone

Also published

See also



  1. "Sue Grafton". Retrieved June 23, 2008.
  2. 1 2 "Questions and Answers". Sue Grafton Website. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "The Kinsey Report". Sue Grafton Website. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  4. "'Lolly-Madonna' changed lives". Anchorage Daily News. July 8, 1973. p. 14.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "A Conversation with Sue Grafton". Sue Grafton Website. 1996. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  6. O'Connor, John J. (March 9, 1983). "TV Movie: 'Svengali'". New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  7. "More credits for'Svengali'". New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 4 White, Claire E. "A Conversation with Sue Grafton". Writers Write. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  9. "Bestselling Mystery Writer Sue Grafton To Speak at Annual Literary Voices Event". The Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County. 2007. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  10. Brantingham, Barney (July 1, 2008). "W Is for Writers Conference; Sue Grafton Is Kinsey Millhone". Santa Barbara Independent. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  11. Gulbransen, Susan (September 1, 2002). "Racing Time: Alphabet author Sue Grafton counts down to Zero". Book. Retrieved December 19, 2011.
  12. "Sue Grafton". Sue Grafton Website. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  13. Richards, Linda L. (1997). ""G" Is for Grafton: Sue Grafton's Murderous Moments". January Magazine. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  14. "Anthony Awards". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  15. 1 2 3 "Bouchercon World Mystery Convention : Anthony Awards and History". Retrieved March 5, 2012.
  16. "Sue Grafton". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  17. "YWCA to honor Grafton". Lexington Herald-Leader. June 4, 2000. p. H5.
  18. "History of Guests of Honor". Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Retrieved July 5, 2014.
  21. Lolly-Madonna XXX at the Internet Movie Database
  22. Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 13, 2007). "The Coma-Back Kid". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  23. 1 2 Fenno, Christine (October 28, 2007). "The Office: See Spot Not Run". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  24. Crust, Kevin (November 10, 2006). "He's hearing things". Los Angeles Times. p. E1.
  25. Silvis, Steffen (April 11, 2007). "One character in search of an author". The Prague Post.
  26. "Sue Grafton – The Superego Podcast: Profiles In Self-Obsession". July 1, 2012. Retrieved October 17, 2012.
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