Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Day in Literary History

Bestselling mystery novelist Sue Grafton, creator of tough, divorced private eye Kinsey Millhone, was born on this day in 1940. Starting with A Is for Alibi in 1982, Grafton reached U Is for Undertown, the 21st book featuring Millhone, in 2009.

Grafton was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father, a Louisville attorney, wrote three critically acclaimed mystery novels between 1943 and 1951, and her mother was a passionate reader. Grafton grew up surrounded by books. She wrote three novels by the time she was 27, but all remained unpublished. She entered a novel in a British book contest and landed a contract for her first published novel, Kezia Dane (1967), which was not a mystery. Neither was her second book, The Lolly-Madonna War (1969), which was made into a movie in 1973. Grafton worked on the screenplay, which led to a scriptwriting career for television in the mid-1970s, a job she hated.

She came up with the idea for a mystery series featuring a modern female detective while locked in a bitter custody dispute in 1977 with her second husband. At the time, mystery novels featured few female detectives besides Nancy Drew and Miss Marple. Coincidentally, Sara Paretsky's first mystery featuring V.I. Warshawski, another modern female detective, was published in 1982, the same year as A Is for Alibi. Grafton has three children and several grandchildren (including one named Kinsey). She and her third husband divide their time between California and Kentucky.

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