December 29th, 2017

171229 sue grafton kinsey millhone

I have commented that I thought Sue Grafton was living a writer’s dream and nightmare. A dream because she had 26 books locked in and all she had to do was write them and cash the checks. A nightmare because she had to write all 26 books about Kinsey Millhone. Most writers couldn’t bear the thought. Arthur Conan Doyle killed of Sherlock Holmes and J.K. Rowling sent Harry and crew off into boring adulthood.

Grafton, or maybe it was Kinsey, was different. According to one obituary, she “liked to refer to Millhone, who investigates murders and disappearances in coastal Santa Teresa, as the thinner, younger, braver version of herself, living a life she may have led had she not married and had children at a young age.”

Writing your own fictionalized biography, now that’s a golden ticket.

In 1994,, Grafton wrote an introduction to a collection of essays by Lawrence Block. Telling Lies For Fun & Profit, A Manual For Fiction Writers is one of the core go-to books on my writing shelf. It was also, at least in her early years, one of Grafton’s. (The emphasis below is from my own well-worn copy which I just plucked from my shelf.) She wrote:

So, here’s how this went. I was struggling with the storyline for K is for Killer, which had just about wrestled me to as standstill. I knew it was time to launch into the first chapter, by my psyche was reacting. I’d spent the day half-sick, staggering from my bed to the word processor and back. Nothing seemed to work. I knew the illness was stress-induced, but the symptoms were sufficient to muddy my thinking. I tried an opening or two, but I couldn’t hit a vein. Naturally, I did what any sensible writer in my position would do. I went out to the mailbox. There, among fascinating personal messages addressed to OR CURRENT RESIDENT, was a letter from Lawrence Block indicating that Morrow would be publishing a new edition of Telling Lies for Fun and Profit and asking if I would write an introduction. Thrilled at so legitimate a reason to avoid my work, I went back to my office and plucked my well-worn copy from the shelf. I began to leaf through the pages, purely with an eye to preparing this foreword. Soon, I was sprawled in a comfy chair reading every chapter in sequence. Midway, I sat up, amazed to find that in the chapter called “Opening Remarks,” Lawrence Block had written about the very frustration I was experiencing with K. Furthermore his advice was about openings was right on the money. I set the book aside and went back to my word processor, looking at my problem with renewed interest and a tiny flicker of hope. I began to pick my way through the rubble, and suddenly I found myself in business again.

Other writers have signaled their ambitions in titles—Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small novels come to mind—but none were as ambitious as Grafton’s. Robert Browning wrote: Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?

I think that fits.

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