Sue Grafton (b. April 24): “Ideas are easy. It’s their execution that separates the sheep from the goats.”

24 Apr

Sue Grafton, born 24th April 1940, is an American crime writer. She is best known as the author of the ‘alphabet series’, starting with “A” Is for Alibi. The books feature private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. Grafton is the daughter of detective novelist C. W. Grafton. She wrote screenplays for television movies before she became a novelist.

Quotes on writing:

  1. Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.
  2. I focus on the writing and let the rest of the process take care of itself. I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and I’ve also learned to take risks.
  3. I write letters to my right brain all the time. They’re just little notes. And right brain, who likes to get little notes from me, will often come through within a day or two.
  4. We all need to look into the dark side of our nature – that’s where the energy is, the passion. People are afraid of that because it holds pieces of us we’re busy denying.
  5. I started writing seriously when I was 18, wrote my first novel when I was 22, and I’ve never stopped writing since. Of the first seven novels I wrote, numbers four and five were published. Numbers one, two, three, six, and seven, have never seen the light of day…and rightly so. The eighth novel I wrote was ‘A’ IS FOR ALIBI.
  6. I’m a writer by default. I think it is in my blood and in my bones. As I was growing up, women could be secretaries, nurses, ballerinas or airline stewardesses and I’m squeamish so there went my nursing career. I started writing early in my life as a way of surviving and my way of processing rage, grief and confusion. Now it is just what I do because I love it.
  7. I think with the mystery novel you have to know where you’re going, but not in any great detailed sense. I generally know whodunit, who died, and what the motive for the crime was. Then I have to figure out what I call the angle of attack. In other words, how do you cut into the story? Where does the story begin? What’s relevant in that first line or paragraph from the reader’s point of view? And I have to figure out who hires Kinsey Millhone, and what she’s hired to do.
  8. For one thing the mystery novel is a very elegant, delicate, highly structured form. You need to know how to plot, how to structure a story, you need to understand how to make a character work. People who start writing and think they can start with the mystery novel are often defeated before they put that first word on the page. So my advice is to learn your craft with mainstream fiction, where you’re not as stringently challenged and then come to the mystery when you’ve acquired some of the proficiencies that you need.
  9. I’m usually at my desk by 8:30 or 9:00. I like a tidy office because I find messes distracting. Being disorganized wastes time. I keep journals for every novel I write, and I start my workday by logging in, talking to myself about where I am in a novel and how I feel. I focus on the scene or story moves coming up. I worry about pacing and suspense. I revise. I stop sometimes and consult my research library, which is packed with books about crime and law enforcement. If I’m stuck, I call on the small army of experts who assist with each book. I break for a brief lunch and then work another couple of hours. Most days, I walk three to five miles when I’ve finished writing. I need the stress relief and fresh air.

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