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00:00:11 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Sue Grafton being conducted by Linda Beattie for the Kentucky Writers Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton discusses her parents, grandparents, siblings.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Louisville (Ky.); Santa Barbara (Calif.)

Subjects: Alcoholism; Ectopic pregnancy; Families.; Genealogy; Grafton, C. W. (Cornelius Warren), 1909-; Grafton, Sue; Louisville (Ky.)

00:07:57 - Alcoholism

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Partial Transcript: I consider it the perfect childhood for a writer, because I learned early on to scan the environment.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton discusses her parents' alcoholism and its relationship to her childhood and writing. She felt isolated from others.

Keywords: Alcoholism; Isolation

Subjects: Alcoholism; Childhood; Families.; Social isolation

00:14:07 - Childhood games

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Partial Transcript: Um, while you were here in Louisville last week, um, you, you said in a talk you gave on Tuesday night, you were talking about childhood games you played.

Segment Synopsis: When Grafton was a child, there was no television. She and her friends played imaginative games and collected and sold comic books. Grafton read as a child.

Keywords: Reading; Television

Subjects: Childhood; Reading; Television

00:19:04 - Alcoholism

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Partial Transcript: My father went off into the army.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton explains that her father was an aide to General Wedemeyer in the war. During this time her mother was becoming more and more ill.

Keywords: Alcoholism; General Wedemeyer

Subjects: Alcoholism; United States. Army; Wedemeyer, Albert C. (Albert Coady), 1896-1989

00:28:09 - Early education

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Partial Transcript: Um, what was your early education like, and where did you go to school?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton describes her early education as a time when she was constantly in fear of making a mistake. Grafton recounts tales of friendships and concerns during elementary school.

Keywords: Elementary education; Kindergarten

Subjects: Childhood; Education, Elementary; Kindergarten

00:34:16 - Junior high school

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Partial Transcript: What were, um, the rest of elementary school and your junior high and high school years like?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton recalls that grade school was a time of melodrama and danger. Later in junior high school and high school, she was conscious of not being popular and pretty. It was not until a high school reunion that she understood that others experienced the same sense of inadequacy.

Keywords: Atherton High School; Highland Junior High School; Michael Dorris

Subjects: Dorris, Michael; Education

00:38:01 - Writing for the school paper

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you remember teachers who particularly influenced you, or were you writing at an early age?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton remembers being supported by her teachers during high school. She wrote for her school newspapers.

Keywords: School newspapers

Subjects: English language--Writing; Newspapers.

00:39:25 - Early writing

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Partial Transcript: Um, when did you start writing on your own, not school assignments, but things that you just wanted to write.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton recalls a poem that she wrote at the age of 7. She memorized long poems from a young age.

Grafton's poem from age 7:

The new moon is on its way.
The stars are shining, bright and gay.
And if I close my sleepy eyes.
I can see my dreams come from the skies.

Keywords: Journalism; Poems

Subjects: Journalism; Poems

00:41:18 - Wanting to be a writer

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember when you first thought you wanted to be a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton's father taught her how to accept professional criticism. Grafton wanted to write, but being a writer was not an option open to girls when she grew up. She thought that girls became teachers, nurses, or secretaries.

Keywords: Jack Kerouac; Spelling; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969; Language and languages--Orthography and spelling

00:44:17 - Death of Grafton's mother

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Partial Transcript: My mother had since died; she died on my twentieth birthday.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton's mother had cancer, and killed herself. During this time Grafton had gotten married, divorced, and had two children.

Keywords: Cancer; Mothers; Suicide; University of Louisville

Subjects: Cancer; University of Louisville

00:49:18 - University of Louisville

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Partial Transcript: And, so you did get divorced in your senior year.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton enjoyed college, finding it less stressful than high school. She credits writing with helping her overcome a difficult childhood.

Keywords: University of Louisville; Writing

Subjects: University of Louisville; Writing

00:51:32 - Graduate school

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Partial Transcript: Uh, when did you s--uh, well, what did you do after college?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton did not enjoy graduate school because the process was too focused on analysis. Grafton did not complete her graduate work.

Keywords: Bridge; English literature; Graduate school

Subjects: Bridge (Game.); English literature; Women graduate students

00:54:32 - Second marriage

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Partial Transcript: Then by then I had met and fallen in love with a fellow named Al Schmidt.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton recalls being introduced to her second husband, who was a stabilizing influence on her life.

Keywords: Husbands; United States Army

Subjects: Marriage; United States. Army

GPS: Fort Knox (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.8928, -85.9747
00:56:35 - Working as a file clerk

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Partial Transcript: Um, and, what--were you working during that time?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton describes her clerical jobs in the 1960s. These settings appear in her writing.

Keywords: Jobs; San Francisco (Calif.)

Subjects: Employment; San Francisco (Calif.)

00:59:37 - Writing as a self-taught job

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Partial Transcript: I heard that, uh, in a class to U of L--at U of L, you advised students to, uh--beginning writers to, uh, write mainstream fiction first and then specialize.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton believes that would-be writers of novels should start out by writing a novel, and use this as on-the-job training. In terms of paid work, it is not necessary to hold a writing job.

Keywords: Novels; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Novels

01:02:21 - Writing career

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me about your writing career?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton wrote several novels, entered writing contests, got an agent, and a publisher. Her eighth book was "A is for Alibi." Earlier books, some unpublished, include:
"The Monkey Room"
"Sparrow's Field"
"The Seventh Day of Keziah Dane", published as "Keziah Dane" by MacMillan
"The Lolly-Madonna War"
"The End of All Mourning"
"Diminished Capacity"

Keywords: Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; L.A. Times

Subjects: Authors; Los Angeles Times (Firm)

01:08:48 - "Rhoda" episode

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Partial Transcript: You were talking the other night about a brief stint writing for television.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton sent a script to the Rhoda show, and was turned down but brought in for a meeting, and sent a second script for the Rhoda show. Grafton was then hired to write a script for the show, which was used. She then wrote a number of screenplays.

Keywords: CBS; Rhoda Show; Television writers

Subjects: Columbia Broadcasting System, inc.

01:17:06 - Writing many novels

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Partial Transcript: Um, you've committed, I understand, to getting to the end of the alphabet.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton explains her concern about maintaining her reputation. Writing is getting more difficult the more novels she writes.

[Quote at 1:19:14]
"It's very easy when you first start, but as you progress, when you've used up all those quick images, and you've used up all the ready insights, the only way to keep at it is to keep digging deeper and deeper into yourself. And that is not only painful, but it's very frightening, because I think we all worry that at heart we're shallow and trivial people. And you think, well, we can all write one book. But it's book twelve, and fifteen, and book twenty-six that, in fact, are the test of your skills."

Keywords: Critics; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Critics; Writing

01:19:54 - Kinsey Millhone

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about Kinsey Millhone.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton describes the differences between herself and her character, Kinsey Millhone. Grafton had to learn about things she would not otherwise do, such as how to shoot a gun or self-defense. Through her writing she gets to delve into her "own neuroses."

Keywords: Critics; Kinsey Millhone; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Critics; Writing

01:23:12 - Fan mail

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Partial Transcript: Do you get letters from people referring to Kinsey Millhone as a real person?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton describes some of the fan-mail she has gotten.

Keywords: Critics; Fan mail; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Writing

Subjects: Critics; Fan mail; Writing

01:26:00 - Comparisons between Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Kinsey Millhone, another likeness is being married a couple of times, and being divorced by the age you were.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton discusses the similarities and differences between herself and the character she created, Kinsey Millhone, from the Alphabet Series.

Keywords: Critics; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Sue Grafton; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Critics; Grafton, Sue; Writing

01:33:09 - Grafton analyzes her work / literary influences

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Partial Transcript: Um, Newsweek Magazine has called you one of the three top mystery writers in the country.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton does not feel her work has any relevance to others' work, nor their work to hers. She explains some of what she has accomplished in some of her books.

Keywords: Critics; Elmore Leonard; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; L. A. Stark; Linda Barnes; Lynn Dayton; Sara Paretsky,Patricia Cornwell; Writing

Subjects: Barnes, Linda; Cornwell, Patricia Daniels; Critics; Leonard, Elmore, 1925-2013; Paretsky, Sara; Writing

01:42:47 - First reader

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Partial Transcript: Um, speaking of other people's opinions, you've, you've talked about not belonging to writers' groups or anything like that...

Segment Synopsis: Grafton's husband is her first reader. She does not allow others to read the work before she submits it.

Keywords: Critics; Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Steve Humphrey; Writing

Subjects: Critics; Writing

01:46:53 - Kentucky writers

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Partial Transcript: Um, are there Kentucky writers whom you particularly admire?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton names some of the other writers from Kentucky whom she particularly admires.

Keywords: Barbara Kingsolver; Bobbie Ann Mason; Writing

Subjects: Critics; Kingsolver, Barbara.; Mason, Bobbie Ann; Writing

01:47:53 - Creativity

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Partial Transcript: Um, I've, I've asked everybody I've interviewed this question...

Segment Synopsis: Grafton believes that creativity comes from within. Art is a way to analyze our purpose. Beattie and Grafton discuss some other authors' definitions of creativity.

Keywords: Creativity; Gurney Norman; Jim Baker Hall; Leon Driskell; Writing

Subjects: Creative ability; Driskell, Leon V., 1932-; Hall, James Baker, 1935-2009; Norman, Gurney, 1937-; Writing

01:53:47 - Teaching writing

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I understand you've lectured on writing at colleges and conferences in Southern California and the Midwest.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton says that writers should read, write, and put their writing in a drawer for six months and then reread it. Write without looking for somebody else's approval or reaction. Grafton believes that young writers need to work through the process.

Keywords: Critiques; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Critique; Writing

02:02:34 - Awards

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Partial Transcript: Um, your alphabet books have won numerous awards including the Anthony and Seamus awards for best novel of 1985, and another Anthony for the best novel of '86, and you also received an Anthony for, um, short story in '86.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton discusses some of the awards she has received and how she feels about them.

Keywords: Anthony Awards; Seamus Awards; University of Louisville; Writing

Subjects: University of Louisville; Writing

Hyperlink: Anthony awards
02:07:09 - The writing process

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Partial Transcript: Um, will you talk a bit about your writing habits, where and when you work and what you use to write with?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton discusses her daily routine, writing, exercise, and meals. Once a week, Grafton hosts a women's group.

Keywords: Exercise; WordPerfect; Writing

Subjects: Exercise; WordPerfect (Computer file); Writing

02:14:06 - Future projects

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Partial Transcript: Um, are there future projects, writing projects, you have in mind in addition to completing your alphabet series?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton is focused on the present, and staying healthy and sane. She plans to finish the series in 2008, but will not sacrifice good writing in order to keep to a schedule.

Keywords: Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Writing

02:17:16 - Saying no to engagements

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Partial Transcript: Um, uh, you mentioned the other night that for projects that you are, or speaking engagements, or whatever, that you are asked to do that you decline, that you give yourself a, sort of a, free day.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton is learning how to say "no" to requests for speaking engagements.

Keywords: Appearances; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Writing

02:21:27 - Keeping her work off film

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Partial Transcript: Um, I understand you don't want any of your mysteries to become television shows or films.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton does not want her mysteries to become television shows or films. Part of the reason for this relates to her experience working in Hollywood.

Keywords: Film; Hollywood; Media; Television; Writing

Subjects: Hollywood; Writing

02:23:48 - Professional associations

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Partial Transcript: Uh, you've uh, even though you don't belong to writing groups or clubs, you do belong to a mystery writers' organization, don't you?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton belongs to some writers' organizations.

Keywords: Cats; Mystery Writers of America; Private Eye Writers of America; Writers Guild; Writing

Subjects: Cats; Writers Guild of America; Writing

02:26:08 - Plans to move

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I understand, uh, you and your husband are, uh, planning to buy a house in the Louisville area.

Segment Synopsis: Grafton and her husband are considering moving back to Louisville, in order to vary the scenery.

Keywords: Bobbie Ann Mason; Louisville (Ky.); Writing

Subjects: Louisville (Ky.); Mason, Bobbie Ann

02:29:37 - Wrapping up the interview

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Partial Transcript: Um, what that we haven't discussed is important to know as a person or as a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Grafton and Beattie wrap up the interview discussing Grafton's Volkswagen, the process of editing the interview, and plans for future meetings.

Keywords: Volkswagen; Writing

Subjects: Volkswagen automobiles