Grafton and X
Interviewer: Elise Cooper
by prolific novelist Sue Grafton has three stories rolled
into one book. One storyline has codes based on both
numbers and letters that have the commonality with “X”
since it is both a Roman numeral and a letter. The encryption
proves that Millhone was wrong about her late partner’s
morals and ethics and alerts her that he was on the
track of a serial killer. Another storyline has Teddy
Xanakis, wanting revenge on her divorced husband, attempting
to steal a priceless painting from him. The third plotline
has landlord, Henry Pitts, taking drastic action to
lower his water use during the 1989 California drought.
Cooper: You broke with tradition in titling this book.
Sue Grafton: Somewhat, since I used the alphabet
but did not put what it stood for. Because I made the
rules I figured I could be the one to break them. I
thought I would write about xenophobia, a hatred of
foreigners. After I stated writing the story there was
not a foreigner to be had. I did not want to just stick
one in there so I could get a title out of it since
it seemed like cheating. I never figured out how I could
get out of this dilemma so I just called it X and weaved
X traits into the story.
How did you come up with the idea of having alphabet
Grafton: There was an author who titled his
books by days of the weeks and another one that used
colors. Then there was Edward Gorey who wrote the book
The Gashlycrumb Tinies, about the untimely death of
26 Victorian children, each representing a letter of
the alphabet. I thought what a great way to link the
What will happen when you get finished with the alphabet?
Grafton: After I get done with Z I will see
what shape I am to continue writing. I do promise readers
that I will never put linking titles because it has
put such a burden on me. I will see if I have any juice
left. I have watched writers go beyond the point when
they should have stopped. I am leaving my options open.
You also limit the years of your novels to the 1980s
Grafton: A is for Alibi, my first book, was
published in 1982. As it happened the next couple of
books took place in June and August of that year. Without
meaning to I painted myself into a corner. The other
issue was the aging process. I did not want my main
character to age one year for every book so I slowed
the whole process down. This way I could get through
all 26 letters of the alphabet without making her 109
years old in 2015. I might end the series in either
1990 or on New Years Eve 1989.
Cooper: How much is you in your main character
Grafton: She is my alter ego. I always think
we are one soul in two bodies and she got the better
one. I think of her as the person I might have been
had I not married young and had children. She is my
unlived life, all the adventures I never embarked on.
I am not as shy and a loner as Kinsey and much more
domesticated. When I started the series I was 42 and
she was 32. Now almost 35 years later she is 38 years
old and I am 75. Often I feel she's peering over my
shoulder, whispering, nudging me and making bawdy remarks.
It amuses me that I invented someone who has gone on
to support me. It amuses her, I'm sure, that she will
live in this world long after I'm gone.
Why did you make Kinsey a private investigator?
Grafton: My father taught me to love detective
fiction writers such as Raymond Chandler. When I decided
to have a hard-boiled detective series I did a lot of
studying before I wrote the first book. I learned police
procedure, the California criminal law, and many areas
outside my expertise.
How do you get the ideas for the plots?
Grafton: I read the paper every day. There
are certain subjects that will catch my attention. I
have an entire file of articles. Of course I make up
the story, especially since most criminals are not very
smart and fictional crime must be clever. I have to
make sure the story I am telling is interesting and
realistic. In this book I went on line and found out
the manners of codes. I thought it interesting to use
them as a jumping off point.
You have a quote about surveillance work. Please explain.
Grafton: I have talked to a lot of private
investigators. They talked about having to sit around
for several hours and that half the job is trying to
figure out finding excuses as to why you are somewhere
for long periods of time.
You changed your writing style in this book compared
to the last few. Why?
Grafton: For books S – W I used multiple
points of view. A reader casually said to me I should
write a book from Kinsey’s point of view. I did
that, but it was one of the hardest works I ever have
done. A lot of the action takes place off camera, which
makes it more inhibiting. I am not sure what I will
do with the next book considering writing with multiple
points of view is like writing in three dimensions.
Looking from various points of view allows the reader
to move around through the book’s reality, creating
a complex narrative.
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