Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Sue Grafton Told Me*

*And hundreds of other attendees at Malice

Last weekend I attended the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention in Bethesda, MD, commonly known as “Malice.” I had a fabulous time. Readers, writers, authors—and fans, all—of mysteries were there, happily talking to each other in the audience of panels, in the hallways, in the hospitality room. It was pretty much a mystery lovefest. Whether one was a writer or not, published or not, famous or not didn’t matter. We all chatted with each other.

Even Sue.

You see, Sue Grafton was the recipient of the lifetime achievement award at Malice, and for all her celebrity (at least in our world; if any readers of this don’t know who she is … well, for shame, and go look her up), she attended panels and events right along with us. She also smiled at us, chatted in the elevators, didn’t mind us praising her writing when we ran into her in the restroom (I’m lookin’ at you, Sandy!), told us about her chickens, and generally acted like a mere mortal, instead of a mystery-writing goddess.

Because she is … both of those. A mystery-writing goddess because, well, hey, 22 books. Mortal, because in a lot of ways, she’s just like me. Or I’m just like her (without the chickens).

Here’s why. She told us, “Fear is my constant companion,” and “I’m always scared to death. I never take anything for granted.” Holy smokes … but, 22 books, Sue? “Just because I’ve written 22 books, doesn’t mean I can write 23.”

On one hand, I think … you mean this fear will never end, will be my constant companion? On the other hand … hell, if she can do it and she’s scared, so can I. Potentially.

To be honest, we writers all know every writer is pretty much afraid at all times (AT ALL TIMES) that he/she/me will never write anything good, ever again. We know this. We joke about it to each other. But it still helps to hear it from someone successful. It’s not just the beginners like me who are terrified. If Sue Grafton occasionally burst into tears and thought she’d throw up on her computer during the writing of T is for Trespass (she started at A is for Alibi, people, that was a lot of books later!), then I am validated. Being scared does not imply I am or will be a failure. There is hope.

Not only is there hope, but there is also a feeling that maybe we writers are very brave. Sue also told us, “You have to be willing to fail. Every book you go into, you have to be working out on the edge of your talent.” I’m guessing that’s without a net. And that takes guts.

One last note. She referred to her latest pets as “a nice balance to the agony of sitting at my computer.” I’m thinking I might have to get me some chickens.


  1. I met Sue years ago at a mystery writers conference with only about 20 people in attendance. She shared her wisdom while we all sat on couches or armchairs including her. And yes, she is a wonderfully likeable person.


  2. LOL! Good post Tammy. It reveals the paranoia of this business and how rejection sets up that paranoia. I guess it is kin to stage fright for performers. Everyone has deep-seated fear, which serves to challenge us to do our best and not get sloppy and egotistical about our work. And that's why writers are some of the best people I know. No assumptions, no taking anything for as granted.

  3. Enjoyed your post, Tammy, as well as meeting you at Malice. Sometimes I think I must be crazy to continue typing away at my computer when I'm filled with self-doubt. It's nice to know I'm in good company.

  4. Good post, Tammy, and oh so true! Writing is terrifying and fun, too. Sue is truly an inspiration to us all. Her encouragement means a great deal. Now I don't mind being afraid so much.

  5. Oh, it's so nice to now recognize and have met some of you! It's true, we need to learn to live with and channel our fear, don't we?! Thanks all, for commenting.

  6. I have been in the same room with Sue on several occasions. One time I mailed her a limerick I had written (she doesn't respond to emails), and she sent me a letter telling me how much trouble she was having with T.

    The story of Grafton, sweet Sue,
    Is one of an alphabet stew,
    From A through to Z;
    She’s done B, G and P.
    She’s doing it all just for U.


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