Tag: Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton

Writing: From A to Y

It’s early on Saturday. I’m snuggled in bed with a book:Y is for Yesterday, to be exact. I’m still in my pajamas with the covers pulled up over my knees. My first foray out of bed this morning was to the three-foot stack of TBR (“to be read”) books in the corner of my room.  With some difficulty, I managed to pull Sue Grafton’s last book from somewhere in the middle without causing the entire wobbly tower to collapse. I don’t know how I managed to have not read Y is for Yesterday yet, but I’ll admit my failure and begin to remedy the situation. The only reason I put the book down is because it’s my turn to post for Miss Demeanors this week. I hoped I’d have a brilliant idea for a theme by now, but I don’t.  I looked through my calendar, desperate for something to spark an idea.  Nothing. Then I realized that the next time it’s my turn to post, Blessed be the Wicked will be out. I will be “a published author.”  I looked back at the book I didn’t want to put down and decided that was the theme: getting from A to Y in writing. I can’t offer perspective on what it looks like when you’ve written enough books that you’ve nearly run out of the alphabet for your novels’ titles, but I can give one person’s view from A. So this week I’m going to post about what it’s like at the beginning of the alphabet, just before your first book is published.  The good, the bad, and the ugly . . . and then some more good. I would love to hear from others, so please share your own stories from wherever you are in the alphabet.   

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Dorsey's SASSIES AWARDS

 It’s award season, not only for books, but also music, movies, and plays. A lot of the time, I’ve never heard the names of people nominated, although that shouldn’t diminish the recognition that they deserve. But I’ve been thinking, well, maybe I ought to give out a few awards of my own. (DISCLAIMER: The awards made in this blog entry are solely attributable to the blog post writer, me, C. Michele Dorsey. No blame should be placed on the shoulders of my fabulous blog mates, the Miss Demeanors. ) Now that we have that out of the way, I am announcing the SASSIES, Still Awesome Sustainable Series I Enjoy Savoring.             I read a ton of books, lots of them are marvelous, but the SASSIES are about books I wait for, as in I usually know the pub date and anticipate it eagerly. The SASSIES have characters I consider longtime companions if not friends. Their authors are writers whom I admire and frankly have a literary crush on. I write sentences from their books in a notebook reserved for “Sentences I Wish I Had Written.”            Some of these writers have been writing the same series since the 1980’s. While I confess I may find an occasional entry in the series a little less perfect than the others, the character evolution and plot development always are at a level I seek to emulate. The writing never fails. Never.             And so please roll out the red carpet for Dorsey’s SASSIES:  1.        Elizabeth George for her Inspector Lynley series. George combines intricacy of plot, fallible characters, and bucolic settings in England to deliver time after time. Her vocabulary has challenged me more than once in each book to head for the dictionary, a trip I thoroughly enjoy. The books can be a tad long, but when they are this good, who cares? The best in the series was“Playing for the Ashes.” 2.        Peter Robinson for his Inspector Banks series. Alan Banks and I are growing old together, but I haven’t minded because Robinson is able to humanize his police procedurals, also set in England. Like in George’s series, the reoccurring cast of characters live lives almost as messy as those of the criminals they pursue, but Robinson never lets that get in the way of the story. My favorite in the series was “In A Dry Season.’ I do wish Inspector Banks hadn’t changed his taste from opera and classical music to rock.  3.        Tana French for the Dublin Murder Squad series. Stunning writing, brutal storytelling, and characters that stay with you make this newer series one of my favorites. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite, but I can tell you “Broken Harbor” was spellbinding and haunts me to this day. French’s books keep me up at night and often have me switching from audio to print versions so I don’t have to put them down.   4        Louise Penny for the Inspector Gamache series. I came late to this party, reading the tenth book, “The Long Way Home” first.  By the third chapter, I wanted to move to Three Pines where Penny has created a village of imperfect characters who all care about each other even as bodies fall around them. I was so taken with Penny’s writing and ability to create characters you truly feel you know, that I vowed to read the all in order. A year ago I ventured back to Three Pines and read each book in the series in succession. When I was done, I felt a void. I tried the if-you-like-Louise-Penny-try this author without success, which is a true tribute to the cast of characters she has brought alive for readers. My favorite is “The Beautiful Mystery” set in a cloister of monks in the wilderness of Quebec, a brave endeavor skillfully executed.  5.        Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling’s pseudonym) for the Cormoran Srike series. I hadn’t followed the Harry Potter series closely, so was surprised at how well the characters captured me and had me waiting for the next in the series.  Strike is former military police and an amputee who has begun his own private investigation business. The tension between Strike and his assistant, Robin, rivals Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting.  6.        Sue Grafton for her Kinsey Milhone series. I went through the alphabet with this series, never imagining it would be cut short at “Y” by Grafton’s recent death. Kinsey’s quirkiness coupled with a truly sad childhood not born of cliché made me bond with her early. Grafton’s ability to use small details to flesh out her characters inspired me to write. My favorite was “M is for Malice,” in which she portrayed the murder victim with such melancholy, I felt the need to mourn him, much as I do now this gifted author. I will miss Kinsey Milhone.  7        William Tapply for his Brady Coyne series. Tapply died nine years ago, but I gave him a SASSIES award because every year, I miss having a new Brady Coyne mystery to ready. A wonderful writer, Tapply created an irreverent lawyer who preferred to be fishing on a river than in a courtroom. All of his books are good, so if you’re looking for a series to devour, consider this one.So there you have it. The 2018 SASSIES are now history. I am grateful to each of these authors for consistently giving me something to look forward to each year. Keep on writing!Who would you give a SASSIES award to?

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Sue Grafton

When I heard that Sue Grafton died, my first thought, beyond intense sadness, was to go to my bookshelves and pick up “A” is for Alibi. Since the day I first read it, back in 1982, I’ve kept that book nearby. I never met Sue Grafton, yet I can say that she and Kinsey Millhone were my close friends.  Reading through the book today, 36 years after the first time, I’m struck by how vivid Kinsey still is. She’s a living, breathing and very funny person. Some of my favorite lines: “The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind. I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends.” While making coffee: “The gurgling sound was comforting, like the pump in an aquarium.” Of her VW Beetle: “I like my cars cramped and this one was filled with law books, a briefcase where I keep my little automatic, cardboard boxes , and a case of motor oil given to me by a client.” “In addition to the junk, I keep a packed overnight case back there, too, for God knows what emergency. I wouldn’t work for anyone who wanted me that fast.” And my favorite: “The basic characteristics of any good investigator are a plodding nature and infinite patience. Society has inadvertently been grooming women to this end for years.” 

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Meeting heroes

I can date the moment I became interested in Tudor history. It was back in the 1990s, when I was a young mother and happened to pick up Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Enthralled is not too strong a word to use to describe my reaction. Since then I’ve read all her books, and for the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to spend time with her as I traveled around England as part of her Tudor tour. I’m happy to report that she’s just as lovely and smart as I would have hoped, but that led me to ask my fellow Miss Demeanors: Have you ever met any of your heroes? How did that go? And this is what they said: Tracee: I can’t say that I’ve met one of my heroes – perhaps I don’t have a concrete fix on who they would be! I’ve certainly met people I admire and I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, I’ve always been amazed that they are in fact nice ordinary people despite their ‘day jobs’ or worldwide fame. In particularly I had this experience when I met Juan Carlos of Spain. I was struck by how difficult it must be to live your life entirely in the public eye, yet remain gracious and quite frankly normal. I had quite a different experience when I met Viktor Yushchenko at the papal funeral. I only knew that he was president of Ukraine and married to an American. When he shook my hand I confess that half of my brain thought, oh my gosh this is what they meant by horribly disfigured by the failed assassination attempt with dioxin. (This was only months afterward.) At the exact same time, emphasis on exact, the other half of my brain thought, I have never met such a handsome charismatic person. Which is a little insight into what real charisma can do for a person. While not a hero of mine, he was memorable and charming, and certainly I won’t forget meeting him. Robin: I’ve gotten to meet not one but two of my heroes (so far), Dean Koontz and Joseph Finder. I met Mr. Koontz at a book signing (his, not mine, darn it). I met Joe Finder at a conference and went full fan girl on him before I could stop myself. He handled it with good grace and humor. A cool aspect of that encounter is that Hank Phillipi Ryan is the one who introduced us. She’s also fabulous. Alexia: I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak but there were about a gazillion people attending the lecture so I didn’t get anywhere near him. I’ve heard Walter Mosley speak at conferences twice but I confess I never worked up the courage to actually meet him. I felt kind of like Dorothy in the courtyard of the Great and Powerful Oz. Jonathan Kellerman wasn’t my hero until I met him at Left Coast Crime. He turned out to be so normal instead of a Big Name Author who couldn’t be bothered with the hoi polloi. He even came over to me and congratulated me on my Lefty win. So now he’s my hero. Michele: I’ve always been politically active so I’ve had the opportunity to meet many political figures that I admire, although few qualify as heroes. My real heroes are writers. In 1988, I bought a debut novel in hardcover for one of my early trips to St. John, taking a chance on a new author. The writing and plot in A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George blew me away. I’ve read every book written by her since then, loving that she still sends me to the dictionary almost thirty years later. In 2015, I got to meet Elizabeth at the New England Crime Bake and to take a class with her. She is a gifted and generous writing teacher. At an earlier Crime Bake, I had breakfast with Sue Grafton whom I’ve traveled almost the entire alphabet with for twenty years. She was more interested in what writer Ang Pompano (on her other side) and I had to say, than in regaling us with tales about her. She shares a wry sense of humor with her protagonist, Kinsey Milhone. I have to include Hank Phillippi Ryan as another hero. She is a very talented writer, but also is the most generous and inclusive author I know. She gladly encourages, supports, and launches new and veteran writers. Hank epitomizes how sharing a writing community can and should be. Paula: I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of my heroes, all of whom are writers. Starting with Alice Hoffman. I collect first editions of her work, and so I go to her signings, where I’ve met her several times. She’s as wonderful as her books. I made her laugh once, and that was a very good day. I’ve also met Lee Child, the loveliest man ever. And Elizabeth George and John Updike and Stephen King and Elizabeth Berg and William Kent Krueger and Judy Blume and Julia Cameron and, well, I could go on forever, because I’ve been going to writer’s conferences and books signings forever. On my list to meet next are Louise Penny and Mark Nepo and Abigail Thomas. And if I ever make it to that big writer’s retreat in the sky, I hope to meet Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Nora Ephron and Agatha Christie and….  

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