G is for Grafton

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If you’ve ever wondered whether the plucky private eye Kinsey Millhone could possibly have any more adventures, be sure to make a note on your calendar: from 2 to 3:30 p.m. July 26 at The Broadmoor, New York Times bestselling author Sue Grafton will give a short talk and sign copies of “R is for Ricochet,” which hit stores Tuesday.

If you’ve ever wondered if she’ll get all the way to “Z”, what “S” will stand for-or who Kinsey Millhone is really based on-so does she.

“Honestly, she is an alter ego. She has all the adventures I do not have,” said Grafton, in a gentle Southern accent courtesy of her Louisville, Ky., roots. “As a writer, I sit on my butt all day; because of Kinsey, I have all manner of adventures-I go to jails, I meet lawyers and cops. It’s very entertaining. I do it all, because of her.”

Grafton uses the same adjectives to describe herself as she uses for Kinsey-smart, funny and down-to-earth-but there the similarities end, in a way.

“She’s strictly blue collar; I think she’s had two semesters of junior college,” said Grafton, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Louisville.

“She’s embarrassed about that sometimes, although she’s such a rebellious person I doubt she would stop to get a degree of any kind. She flies by the seat of her pants.”

This creation from a creator who “plods” through carefully structured days of getting up at 6 a.m., going for a four-mile walk, writing with breaks only for meals, a cardiovascular workout followed by lifting weights in the late afternoon.

She ends her day with dinner and a quiet evening reading or watching a movie with her husband of 25 years, Steven Humphrey.

And the differences continue-Grafton loves to cook, while Kinsey is a fast-food junkie; Grafton tries to watch her mouth, but Kinsey seems as if she’s got Turette’s Syndrome. “I get to live her life vicariously, eating junk food in absentia. I often feel she is hovering over my shoulder, encouraging me to curse-she cusses like a sailor.

Grafton speaks of Kinsey Millhone with familiarity, as she might of an old friend. And maybe she is. After all, Grafton has been recounting Kinsey’s adventures as a California private eye for 22 years.

“I think Kinsey reminds people of their own college roommate. It’s like getting a letter from an old friend. You get yourself a cup of tea, and open it, thinking, ‘I can’t wait to find out what she’s up to now.'”

The book is following previous novels in the serial, and takes place in 1987.

Laughing, she confesses: “Kinsey is currently 37. I’m 64. She’s getting younger and I’m getting older. Because it takes so long to write a book, the gap between our ages is getting wider and wider. By the time I’ve finished I’ll be 103 and she’ll be 40.”

Grafton’s talk is scheduled to take place for about 20 minutes starting at 2 p.m. in the Lake Terrace Dining Room in Broadmoor Main. Then she will sign copies of her latest novel, along with one free back copy per person, for the remainder of the time. The event is free and open to the public.

“We’re delighted that Ms. Grafton has chosen The Broadmoor for her Colorado Springs debut of ‘R is for Ricochet,’ ” said Allison Scott, director of communications for The Broadmoor. “We’ve had many distinguished guests and distinguished authors over the years; we are pleased to count Ms. Grafton among them.”

Hardcover copies of “R is for Ricochet” will be brought by the Briargate Barnes & Noble; management there would not release the number of copies that will be available for purchase. $26.95 is the retail price.

“My excitement level is extremely high,” said Richard Lovell, community relations manager for the Briargate Barnes & Noble. “I love her books.”

“Q is for Quarry,” the last release in the “alphabet” serial, after one week topped the New York Times bestselling list on Nov. 3.

Although the self-confessed introvert said she often finds book tours exhausting, Grafton happily dons a public persona for her adoring fans.

“I feel quite fortunate that my readers are just wonderful people,” she said, and one can almost hear her grin. “Though usually I’m in the middle of a book, I will get on the Web site (Suegrafton.com) when I can, and we get into long chats.”

Interestingly, despite her love for her readers, she has a common sense cultivated from experience and, perhaps, a level-headed Southern upbringing.

“What I have noticed is that my public life does not help me write better. In a curious way, I stay very disconnected from my public life. When I’m on the road, I’m fine. But when I sit down to do my work, it is the introvert I call for. What I love about writing is I get to be by myself for hours.

“I think the hard thing about writing is you have to take so much punishment. You fail and fail and fail.

“Most people don’t enjoy failing and being criticized, walking through the fire. [But] you have to do that to get where you want to be.”

And does she read her reviews?

“I’ve known too many writers who take their press clippings seriously, and it’s their undoing.”

Despite Grafton’s easy way with words and genuine, sensible nature, she admits to her share of neuroses.

“I suffer from writer’s block once daily. I get myself backed into corners, and I’m convinced I will never solve a problem. I whine, wring my hands and complain to everybody. They always say, ‘You had that problem with the last book,’ but I say, ‘I mean it this time.’ I live in mortal terror that a book will come along and I’ll write myself into a dead end.

“I feel like one day out of 30, I’m so smart I make myself sick; the other days I’m a goofball. Some days going to the desk takes all the strength I have. I’m a plodding writer. I pick and pick and carry on, and whine, beg and cry. I’m trying to lay in to the work, even if it seems uninspired, because that’s what you have to do to get to the good stuff. It takes incredible patience.”

She would know. “A is for Alibi,” published in 1982, was actually Grafton’s eighth book, and just the third that was published. (Her early novels include “Keziah Dane” (1967) and “The Lolly-Madonna War” (1969), both out of print.) Twenty-two years after the success of her first mystery, what advice does she offer to fledgling writers?

“Learning to write takes a very long time. Many people who write don’t want to do the hard work-they want to do the easy part and get rich and famous. It took me four books to learn my craft. [Books] six and seven were never published. I was teaching myself how to write by writing badly and getting better.”

She shakes her head at the budding trend of “self-publishing,” in which writers pay the printer out-of-pocket to publish their book. “Somebody is just taking your money,” she admonishes. “All of those copies end up in their garages.”

Grafton said she is looking forward to this book tour, and her stay in Colorado Springs, which she remembers fondly from “three or four” books ago.

“What I try to do is cover new turf. I beg and whine and plead to have my publisher send me some place I wasn’t the day before yesterday … I’ll be happy to be there-and then I’ll be happy to start the next book. I’m doing my best to stay healthy and productive so I can get my way to ‘Z’.”

And when will we find out what “S” is for?

“I was hoping you’d tell me,” Grafton said with a self-deprecating laugh. “I’m sure I’ll figure it out. After I sit here for 29 days, on Day 30 I’ll be smart again.”

- Editorial@csbj.com