'Y Is For Yesterday': Sue Grafton's Penultimate Mystery Series Novel
DWANE BROWN, HOST:
It all started with "A Is For Alibi," then came "B Is For Burglar," "C Is For Corpse" and on and on through the alphabet for mystery novelist Sue Grafton and her main character, the spunky female detective Kinsey Millhone. And now, Sue Grafton has her latest book out, "Y Is For Yesterday," which, by the way, is out on Tuesday, leaving only one more letter, one more novel to wrap up 35 years, Sue, worth of murder, mayhem and mystery. Sue Grafton joins me from member station WFPL in Louisville, her home town. Thank you for joining us.
SUE GRAFTON: You're welcome. It's fun.
BROWN: Well, I guess my first question is why, Sue, why? Get it, like, you know, the letter Y. Sorry.
GRAFTON: What was I thinking? Well, I got into the alphabet. I don't know if you're aware of this. My father wrote crime fiction. He was an attorney here in town, but he was crazy about detective novels. So he wrote and published two of a projected eight-book series. At any rate, I was reading an Edward Gorey cartoon book called "The Gashlycrumb Tinies." And that's little pen-and-ink drawings of Victorian children being done in in various ways. A is for Amy (ph), who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil (ph), assaulted by bears. C for Claire (ph), who - you know, and on down the alphabet.
I thought, what a keen idea. So I sat down and wrote out as many crime-related words as I could think of. But I wasn't even sure I could sell "A Is For Alibi." And if I sold it, I wasn't sure anybody'd be interested in "B Is For Burglar." So it was a crapshoot, but I'd been working in Hollywood for 15 years. I thought, I've got to get back to solo writing. So the detective novel's the perfect way to launch myself.
BROWN: Yeah, solid writing. You actually stuck with the same character for all these books, a female detective named Kinsey Millhone. Tell us a little bit about her for those who don't know her.
GRAFTON: I will do. So for one thing, it dawned on me early that if she aged one year for every book, it was going to start looking silly. And so she ages one year for every two and a half books. So when I started, she was 32, and I was 42. Now, she is 39, and I am 77. So there's a little bit of injustice there, but she is single. She's been married twice. She has no kids, no pets, no house plants.
She has one dress that she thinks is perfectly suitable for funerals and weddings and trips to the library. So she is very unpretentious. And she's very grounded. She is actually my alter ego. She is the person I might have been had I not married young and had children, except she will always be braver. I am really appalled by violence and avoid it at all costs.
BROWN: Has she changed over the decades?
GRAFTON: Some people claim she has mellowed. I don't have a way to make that judgment because I write from the gut and from the heart. So she's - I think she's pretty consistent, which is to say jaded and sassy and cussing like a sailor.
BROWN: Which, of course, you don't do.
GRAFTON: Oh, no, absolutely not.
BROWN: Well, let's talk about the latest book, "Y Is For Yesterday." Walk us through the plot.
GRAFTON: Well, the origin was a case that happened in Santa Barbara, where a kid was picked up because his brother owed $1,500 to a drug dealer. And eventually, he was shot and killed up in the mountains. Second part of the plot was from a case down in Orange County, where some kids - always kids - assaulted a girl and filmed it and then circulated this bunch of photographs, which she knew nothing about until somebody told her. So they ended up going to court. So I juxtaposed the two.
BROWN: So you've drawn this story, your fictional story, based on true life events?
GRAFTON: Which I don't often do. True life real crime is so stupid. It is without subtlety. It's usually alcohol-fueled and impetuous. And people are not as smart as they think they are, but people get killed anyway.
BROWN: Sue, what is it about these stories, do you think, that grabs readers the most?
GRAFTON: Well, I hope - my intention is never to write the same book twice. I read series. And after book two or three, I can see what the setup is. So that kind of spoils it for me. But if I repeated myself, I would be considered shallow and not very imaginative.
BROWN: Well, we're heading towards the end of the alphabet here, Sue. One more letter to go.
GRAFTON: I know. Please.
BROWN: How do you feel about getting to the end of the alphabet?
GRAFTON: I am looking forward to it, to tell you the truth. Everybody I know is retired, and I'm still plugging along. I think it will be interesting to have a day and a week and a month and a year that isn't already spoken for. The last, actually, 38 years, I've known exactly what I'm doing next. And this is a little moment of freedom if I can come up with a storyline for "Z Is For Zero," which remains to be seen.
BROWN: "Z Is For Zero." So that's supposed to come out - what? - a year and a half or so?
GRAFTON: Yeah. Well, good luck. We'll see if I figure out how to do it. But I'm always in this position. I'm always wracking my brain trying to come up with one more interesting storyline. So having done it 25 times, all I have to do is one more.
BROWN: That's all you keep telling yourself, right? One more.
GRAFTON: Yeah, exactly.
BROWN: It has been a hoot talking with you, Sue Grafton. Her latest is "Y Is For Yesterday," which is out on Tuesday. Sue, thank you so much for taking the time out.
GRAFTON: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE TIME JUMPERS' "STOMPIN' AT THE STATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.