Monthly Author Profile: Sue Grafton

Character Development

Recently at one of our Sisters in Crime meetings I had the opportunity to speak about one of my favorite female mystery authors, Sue Grafton.

First of all, I admire anyone who has written about the same character, like Kinsey Millhone, for as long as Sue Grafton has. W is for Wasted is the latest book in her alphabet series. It is the twenty-third book in this series with three to go. To accomplish sustaining this character throughout the series means Kinsey is a rich character. This didn’t come by accident but was very well thought out. Reading Sue’s series is a study in character development.


Secondly, I also admire the way she weaves her subplots into the story as she reveals her main plot. She does this in such a way that she has an intricate tapestry where every word written affects the next word. She is not afraid to introduce a new subplot wherever it is required to tell her story. In T is for Trespass she introduces a new character shortly before the climax of the main plot.

In the new subplot a young girl, Peggy Klein, helps Kinsey discover information about the villain. The other subplots going on here are Kinsey trying to find information about the villain’s past, working under a restraining order so she cannot approach the villain, while trying to keep her friend, Gus, safe from the villain who is his caretaker. Peggy is also in pursuit of this caretaker who murdered her grandmother and then absconded with the family inheritance. This young girl also tells Kinsey that the police are looking for this caretaker.

All this takes place in one scene towards the end of the book, and it happens so smoothly. The new subplot fits flawlessly into the rest of the story in a masterful manner.


Sue Grafton is one of the most generous writers I’ve come across. As a writer, I know that while I am writing my novel my creativity gets bombarded constantly with other ideas, most of which are distractions. What writers end up doing is putting these interruptions in the margin, on a post-it note, or in a notebook. Sometimes they are ideas for another project or they might affect what the writer is presently working on. What Sue has done is keep a journal of these distractions and questions on five of her novels, and she has published them on her webpage for the world to see. You can find them in the right-hand margin of her home page under Sue’s Journals.

These are some of the reasons I admire Sue Grafton.



I can’t remember a time in my childhood when the stone wasn’t there. It stood proudly in the northwest corner of my grandmother’s yard, standing nearly four feet tall with a width to match. It had a grayish hue.

When I was a preschooler, relatives often placed me on the stone when they talked to me. Doing so put us more at eye level. Even at that age, I was drawn to the warm vibes that enveloped me while I perched on the cool, smooth surface. Even more importantly, the stone made me taller, empowering me by lifting me up.

When I was big enough to climb onto its welcoming expanse, it became my special place—my place to think. Since I was an introspective child, this rock afforded me the perfect environment to contemplate, to analyze, and to make important life decisions. The stone also became a symbol of my dear Irish grandmother. She was a true light in my life—someone who encouraged me and believed in me.

The Thinking Process

It was a natural progression that by the time I was old enough to sit on the stone (without having to climb up) it became the place where I spent many circumspect hours. I felt safe there, wrapped in the serenity of the stone, encircled in the cocoon of my grandmother’s love.

On clear spring or summer days, when the sun warmed my back and the sky was so blue I could see right through it, I sat on my polished gray throne and contemplated life’s choices with all their shades of gray, all their subtle innuendo. Ultimately I pulled out the path that I believed would work best for me.

On dark fall or winter days, the sky heavy with promise and meaning, a crisp breeze stinging my cheeks, I felt alive to the core. Thoughts sprang to mind with great clarity. On such days, I could make the hard choices.

On my thinking stone, I saw the wisdom of breaking up with my high school boyfriend of three years, of going away to college when money was scarce, of pursuing my goals of teaching and writing when family members were dead set against it. I chose my life’s partner on that stone. These are a few of the more significant decisions that came to me in that special place.

Affects on writing

I believe my hours on the thinking stone (over the course of my formative years) are what propelled me into writing novels, rather than short stories or poetry. Considering concepts from all angles with no hurry to judgment creates a resonance, a drawing out of perceptions into what I call a tree-like structure, creating branches (subplots) that emanate from the trunk (the main plot.)

The stone remains

Of course, people have told me that it wasn’t the stone at all, that an inanimate rock couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my considered conclusions, my method of selection. But I know different.

My beloved grandmother is gone now, her property sold, the stone removed—I know not where. Yet it is still with me, just as she is still with me. When I need to think something through, even now, I can close my eyes, feel the stone beneath me, and feel my grandmother’s love around me. I know that I am empowered by both, know that I can still find my way.

Who or what sustains you?


Available on Amazon






In my debut novel, Mystery Ink.: Murder By Text, a young man with a bright future is involved in a fatal accident that may have been caused by texting and driving. According to studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of Transportation, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent—at 55 mph—of driving the entire length of a football field, blind.

We’ve all been behind a car at a green light that won’t go because the driver is too busy texting.  I usually wait a few seconds and tap my horn.  When the car still doesn’t move, I honk again.  Finally, the driver looks up from the phone and zooms through the light right before it turns red again. Worse yet is the car in front of you swerving from lane to lane because the driver is texting or looking at a text.

Pavlov’s Dog

Our society has this need for instant communication. Many of us grew up with land lines so we had to wait until we were home to talk on the phone. Nothing in life was that urgent.

Now the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP calls to us.  We hear it and know a new text is waiting.  Can it wait? The pull to read it immediately is almost unbearable.  We’re like Pavlov’s dog—our heads turn when we hear that text notification. We have to find out who sent it.  It could be important—we’d better check.  For everyone’s safety, we need to take a step back and think—is a text more important than our lives?

Texting Requires Attention

There are a lot of potential distractions when driving–adjusting the temperature, finding a song, kids fighting, taking a bite of a sandwich, putting on mascara.  Texting is worse than any of these—like driving blind.  Texts require our full attention and concentration on reading the text or preparing a response.  Even if we dictate a response, we still check to make sure it’s what we wanted to say and not some bizarre message resulting from auto correct.  Texting and driving is dangerous.  As adults, we need to set a good example for our children by not using cell phones while driving, especially texting while driving.  If our children see it, they’ll think it’s okay.  This is not the message we want to send.


We can avoid the temptation to text. Turn our phones off or put them in the trunk when driving. If it isn’t right next to us, the compulsion is gone.  If it is in the car, turn off the text notification sound.  Technology is available to block texting while driving. We need to use these apps for ourselves and our teenagers.  If we decide we must see that text or respond to a text, have a passenger read it and respond for you. Cars are coming out that will read texts to us. Many states have passed laws to make texting while driving illegal. The key is to be safe.

Don’t risk getting into an accident like Jorge Casa did in Murder By Text.  No text is worth someone’s life.

Available on Amazon


Small Town Imprints


smalll town

I believe the circumstances of childhood affect a person throughout life. The elements of small town life, for example, imprint forever.

I was born and raised in a small town where life moved forward at a crawl. Each day seemed unending, each breath I took slow, steady.  My world consisted of dirt yards (no grass) that lined narrow dirt roads that led to nowhere. The perimeters of my existence, the boundaries of my environment, included the three blocks I walked to elementary school, and beyond the school an additional landscape through a forest, equivalent to three more blocks, which I meandered through to get to the small neighborhood store where I picked up groceries for my mother. (Yes, the forest was a shortcut, but to use the roads would have added miles and made my frequent journey impossible.)

Small Town Imagination

As I wandered through those trees and underbrush, which were within the city limits, I became a cowgirl, Tarzan (yes, I know he was a male) and sometimes a gorilla, and full-blown stories sprang to mind. I can still visualize clearly every step I took in that enchanted place, the ground under my feet either giving way when the soil was damp or crunching if I stepped on brittle twigs or leaves.  If as Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” my imagination was nurtured by my surroundings—the quiet, the slow pace, the time to dream. That reality shaped the person I became. It never leaves me.

Literary Effects

My two equally favorite books are To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. The first, of course, was set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, and I can see my small town life within the limits of Scout and Jem’s world. That’s not to overlook the exceptional writing style or the compelling story, but just to focus on how I am drawn to stories with similar circumstances to those of my early development. The power of that situation.

(What my small town didn’t do for me was broaden my horizons, help me understand the components of the larger, outside world. That’s where my other favorite novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, comes in, but that’s a subject for another post.)

So in the eight novels I have had published by various publishers, the setting is always a small town. And, of course, the Mystery, Ink. novels are set in a small town. Each of those novels create the tone of the town. It’s part of the mystique.

What is the landscape of your heart?