Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sue Grafton at Malice Domestic

Sandra Parshall

 Accosting a world-famous author in the restroom at a conference is considered the worst kind of behavior. But there was Sue Grafton at the sink, and there I was, and I doubted I’d get another chance. Besides, I didn’t actually accost her – never touched her, in fact. All I did was babble about what a thrill it was to have her at Malice Domestic and to hear her speak in person.

She was most gracious. Something similar probably happens whenever she sets foot in a public place. Each time I saw her or heard her speak over the weekend, I was impressed by her accessibility, her cheerful personality, and her patience with adoring fans. If any author has earned the right to be a prima donna, Sue Grafton has – she was at Malice to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award – but she remains... well, nice.

She’s also very funny. On a panel with other honorees Donna Anderson and Carole Nelson Douglas, she shared some of the gratifying, amusing, and occasionally bewildering letters she receives from readers. (She responds only to real letters sent through regular mail. If she tried to answer all her e-mail, she probably wouldn’t have time to eat and sleep, much less write.) In the bewildering category, one reader accused her of endorsing animal abuse because she wrote about a character who did nasty things to innocent creatures. A lot of readers apparently want to see Kinsey Millhone on TV or in movies. Sue said she would rather roll naked in ground glass than sell the rights to her character. She worked in Hollywood for 15 years before turning to mystery writing, and she doesn’t want Kinsey in the hands of scriptwriters and producers.

A reader once asked whether she is paid for “product placement” in her novels. The answer is no, but she’s received unsolicited gifts from the folks who make Vlasic pickles and Jif peanut butter (ingredients in Kinsey’s favorite sandwich), and the company that makes Saucony athletic shoes. After someone at Saucony saw a photo of Sue wearing that brand, she began receiving a new pair of shoes every few months. After a while she’d accumulated so many that she asked her benefactor to desist. Now she’s sort of regretting that she stopped the flow of free shoes. (She wears size 6, by the way.)

On another panel, Sue told her own aspiring writer story (every writer has one). She worked in Hollywood, hated writing by committee, and was desperate to get back to solo writing. She had seven unpublished novels. An agent had told her she showed no talent for plotting. That assessment made her so mad that she was determined to show the woman just how well she could plot. We probably have a blind-to-talent agent to thank for the Alphabet Mysteries.

What will happen when she reaches the end of the alphabet eight years from now? (And would she like a nickel for every time she’s been asked that question?)  She doesn’t know. Every new book scares her and makes her wonder if she can do it again. She doesn’t even know yet what the W will stand for in that book. “I don’t want to outstay my welcome,” she said, and she isn’t sure whether she’ll continue writing.

She promised her readers one thing: she won’t kill off Kinsey in the last book. But exactly where her character will be and what she’ll be doing when the series ends –  “That’s up to Kinsey.”


Gail M Baugniet said...

Thanks for sharing your chance meeting with Sue Grafton in the restroom at Malice. I enjoyed reading all the little anecdotes. Sounds like you had a great time.

Dru said...

I like how you imagine an author to be and when they turn out to be something different you revel in it. Sue was one funny lady as well as a delight and was very approachable.

caryn said...

I've heard her speak in St.Louis on a bok tour, and you're right-she's funny. What a burden she must feel though now that she's so far into the series. I wonder if long about J or K she would have liked to quit.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Au contraire, Caryn. At her MWA Grand Master interview a couple of years ago, she said that around "I" she realized she'd "lost touch with her inner evil," so with "J" she had a renewed burst of energy. I wish I'd gotten a photo op with her at Malice--my usual chutzpah failed me.

Laurie said...

Thanks for blogging about meeting and hearing Sue Grafton at Malice. I admire her talent and love her character, Kinsey, and I appreciate your sharing your experience with us.

Pauline Alldred said...

Thanks for your blog about Sue Grafton. I met her at Crimebake and she is truly a gracious and interesting woman.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thanks, Sandy! Sue was so terrific, and inspirational..and now she's raising chickens! I lovee how she gets such a kick out of things.

And thanks for your wonderful photos, too, Sandy...

Betty Gordon said...

Thanks for your blog re Sue Grafton. I can only hope she doesn't stop writing at any time. She's one talented lady.

Julie Godfrey Miller said...

I will never forget my first encounter with one of my favorite authors. There I was, a terrified newbie, in the breakfast line at Bouchercon (Madison) and Rhys Bowen said talked ME! (I didn't even have to accost her.)

Julia Buckley said...

I would feel very intimidated meeting Sue Grafton--she is an icon, whether she is ultimately a friendly human or not. :)

But I've read all her books and would call myself a very devoted fan. How cool that you got to chat with her.

Sara said...

Great blog, Sandra. I hate to admit it, but I was in the same bathroom (I think) when Sue came rushing in. She looked around and said, "Maybe I can hide in here for a while." She is a funny lady and I truly enjoyed hearing her stories when she spoke at Malice.

Coco Ihle said...

Sandy, you made me laugh recalling your experiences with Sue Grafton! I was there at Malice, too, and you brought to mind so many wonderful memories of Sue and of that terrific convention. I loved your recounting. Thanks for sharing it with us all.

Judy Alter said...

LOL Sandy. Once when Janet Evanovich visited the TCU campus my job was to bar the door to the ladies restroom so she could have privacy between talking and signing. Someone came up and said "I know you" and i prenned a bit, thinking they knew I was a local author. Instead, she said, "You run the cash register at the Star Cafe." True, I was doing that on Sat. nights at the time. Keeps your ego in place.

Sandra Parshall said...

I spoke to Sue very quickly because I didn't want her to feel like I was cornering her and trying to trap her into a long conversation. She forgot me the second I left the room, I'm sure, but I'll always remember meeting her.

Anonymous said...

How awesome that you got to "meet" her! I LOVE her books & it's nice to know that she's not only still nice, but also wants to stay true to Kinsey. As much as I'd love to see a movie version of some of the books, I'd probably be disappointed at the version that Hollywood would produce.

Very nice post, Sandy!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, Sandy!


Polly said...

Nice to know that someone who's reached that level of popularity still has both Sauconys on the ground.

Marni said...

Wonderful story; thanks for sharing!

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