A Talk with Sue Grafton

The Los Angeles Times runs my profile with Sue Grafton today, based on a fairly wide-ranging conversation about her writing methods, why she’s never content to rest on her laurels, and why “Z is for Zero” – the title of the last book in the series, with a presumed publication date of about a decade from now – isn’t necessarily inevitable. Here’s how it opens:

In 1982, reviewing Sue Grafton’s first private detective novel, “A Is

for Alibi,” the pseudonymous New York Times crime fiction critic

Newgate Callendar wondered, “Will the series take hold? This first book

is competent enough, but not particularly original.” Twenty-seven years

on, Callendar’s dismissive attitude toward the book — and its

tough-minded thirtysomething heroine Kinsey Millhone — demonstrates

the dangers of prognostication and how instantaneous judgments don’t

age well.


alphabet-titled series not only took hold, but the books are also

available in 28 countries (and 26 languages) in abundant quantities,

well into the millions of copies. In the last two years, Grafton has

won lifetime achievement awards on both sides of the Atlantic. Without

her and crime-writing colleagues Sara Paretsky and Marcia Muller, the

female private detective subgenre would simply not exist. And with the

end of the alphabet in sight, no author is more closely identified with

reader expectations — especially when “Z Is for Zero” shepherds Kinsey

and her hometown of Santa Teresa to a fictional end.

Grafton has

certainly reaped the rewards of this bigger picture: But what’s been

lost in the collective race toward the finish line is that Grafton,

interviewed on the first day of her book tour for “U Is for Undertow”

(Putnam: 404 pp., $27.95), has produced a better book each time out,

and “U” is her most structurally complex, psychologically potent book

to date….

Naturally, there was a lot of material that didn’t make it into the piece, so stay tuned for another excerpt coming later on.