Writing To Your Favorite Author ~ My Experience Of Writing To Sue Grafton
Imagine My Surprise When, On A Whim, I Wrote A Letter To Sue Grafton ~ And I Got A Reply!
I've known for a long time that I love writing. I love reading, too, and one of my favorite author's has always been Sue Grafton. I love her Kinsey Millhone alphabet mystery series of books. Her most recent book was released on September 10th of 2013, as a part of the alphabet line of books, and it is called "W Is For Wasted."
Imagine my surprise when, in 1994, I had read her book called "F Is For Fugitive," and in this book, plain as day, was my mother-in-law's name. I'm not just talking about her first name, it was her first and last name! I was SO surprised.
It isn't like she had a common name, either. So, in my excitement, I wrote a letter to Sue Grafton and told her about this coincidence! One of my questions to her was "how do you come up with the names of characters for your books?"
One surprise just seemed to follow another when I actually got a reply back, dated September 23, 1994, from Sue Grafton. I had always envisioned authors as being these unreachable people, not very approachable, or maybe because of their acquired celebrity status, not wanting to be seen too often in public. This couldn't be further from the truth with some authors, and Sue Grafton is certainly one of those.
Her letter began by saying that she had received my note, forwarded to her by her publisher in New York. Then she proceeded to tell me she had been on the road, touring and promoting the book "K Is For Killer."
She had returned and it had taken her two weeks to go through all the mail and telephone messages that had been piling up. She also said that, at the time, she was working on "L" and that it didn't even have a formal title yet.
Her reply was very sweet, personable, even chatty in a way, and she answered my question the best that she could. I was (and still am) incredibly thrilled that I actually got a letter from a hero. Or maybe "mentor" is a better word.
I think if you ask any aspiring writer, they will have someone that they inevitably look up to and admire for their writing skill and finesse. Sue Grafton is definitely one of those people for me.
If You've Really Enjoyed An Author's Work, Write To Them, It Can't Hurt!
To answer the question that I had posed to Sue about how she comes up with names of characters for her books, here is what she wrote:
"One of the hardest parts of my job is coming up with fictional names that don't sound made up. Maybe in the case of "F" I got too close for comfort. The way I look at it, there's probably someone with every name somewhere in the United States. If I write long enough, at least to "Z," I'll probably hit just about all the names available. Kathy H..... hmmm."
She then went on to tell me that I had been added to her mailing list and that I would get periodic information about what was going on in her life and that I may even get Christmas cards from her, which I did. For several years at least, I received Kinsey Millhone Christmas cards in the mail, which I was also thrilled to get!
Part Two Of A Six Part Interview Series With Sue Grafton
Part Three Of A Six Part Interview With Sue Grafton
Very Wise Insights And Advice From A Storytelling Master ~
In the letter I received from Sue Grafton, she told me that the book she was writing at that time, "L" in the alphabet series, was moving at a "slow, inevitable pace." She said that it would normally take her ten months to write a novel. She felt it was important to take the time she needed to do the best work she could on her books. And she definitely did NOT want to write so fast that she ended up repeating herself.
If you have read through Sue Grafton's alphabet series of mysteries, every book is different. She then said "I haven't managed to write a perfect book yet, it's not for want of trying." Sage and insightful words for sure.
I had read an interview with Sue a while back in which the interviewer asked her if fans would really have to wait for almost two years in some cases for a Kinsey book to be published. Sue's reply was that she takes things very slowly when she writes. She is a tortoise when writing, as opposed to being like a hare. She said that she does work every day on her writing, but that she uses a trial and error method to come up with her story lines.
What she said is that many times, she will end up feeling like she is going down a dead end road in writing. Something will not be working, so she will backtrack and re-write again, or "try another approach" was her quote. She has learned, through many years of being a writer, what exactly works for her. She also said that she "wastes more time than you'd imagine."
I did this once. I actually started writing a book and was doing exactly the same thing. I would go down a certain path, decide I didn't like it, and then I would back up and re-write some things. I honestly thought I was the only person who wrote like this! I loved hearing that this is also the way that a fantastic and engaging writer like Sue Grafton also writes.
It was a relief, in a way, to read that. She also went on to say that "you discover something whichever direction you take." I think she's right about that. I know that my first foray into writing a novel was definitely a self-discovery process!
I also loved finding out that Sue Grafton did not have a "hit" the first time out. In fact, she had written eight novels, I believe, before beginning to write "A Is For Alibi." Some were never published, and if I remember right, only three of them were published.
She tells a story in this six part series of interviews about her first Kinsey Millhone novel, "A Is For Alibi." She said that the original draft was only 65 pages long. What was even more inspiring is that the book was originally turned down...several times, by several different publishers... before she found the right publisher who was willing to take the chance on the series.
She was with the same publisher, Henry Holt since the beginning, and with the same editor, Marian Wood. When Marian went to Putnam, Sue went as well. She has also had the same agent since the second book, "B Is For Burglar." That is almost unprecedented in the literary world with today's lack of loyalty. This is true not only in the literary world, but in employment in general. There is a lack of loyalty among both employers and employees.
I learned a lot about writing in general and writing mystery novels in particular through watching and listening to this six part interview series with Sue Grafton. Anyone reading this who is a writer or who is interested in writing, if you have an hour or so of free time, I highly advise watching and listening to this six part series. It provides some very valuable insights into the process of writing, and some wonderful lessons and advice as well.
I know that I am looking forward to the eventual publishing of the rest of the Kinsey Millhone books. I think Sue Grafton has created a brilliant series and it will be a wonderful legacy someday. People will be reading these books for generations to come. I know I plan to share them with my grandchildren. I hope they like to read, because they will be in for a real treat!