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P Is for Perseverance

Stalwart Sue Grafton still spells murder ABC.

Q: A Is for Alibi, starring series sleuth Kinsey Millhone, came out in 1982, so your latest—U Is for Undertow—is your 21st "alphabet novel." Is there a secret to your staying power?

A: I wouldn't call it a secret. I was taught to work hard, and I do that. I try not to take shortcuts; I don't haul out plots I've used before. But I take the time needed to do the job well, and if that's a secret, I'll give it to you.

Q: Did you write other books before the Kinsey Millhone novels?

A: I wrote three novels before I had one published. Not just outlines or treatments—I wrote beginning, middle, and end. The fourth novel, Keziah Dane, was published, and so was the fifth, The Lolly-Madonna War. Numbers six and seven were never published. So A Is for Alibi was my eighth book. It was the first mystery I tried, so that must be what I was born to do.

Q: Time passes more slowly in Kinsey's hometown than for the rest of us.

A: I was 42 when I started, and Kinsey was ten years younger than me. Now I'm 69 and she's 38, and I resent that! Looking back, it was cheeky to imagine doing the entire alphabet—was I smoking something?—but I remember thinking that if Kinsey aged one year for every book, it would start to seem silly. I didn't want her to be postmenopausal, chasing bad guys around. It just seemed…not dignified.

Q: How did you feel when the Mystery Writers of America gave you their "Grand Master" award last year?

A: I had a wonderful time, but I didn't take it very seriously, because it didn't make my job any easier. Nothing makes my job easier. I need to remember what I'm about, and what writing books is about.

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