By Roz Rogoff
G is for GraftonUploaded: Dec 22, 2013
After the drubbing I took on my last blog for my boring description of driving to the Chocolate party, without describing much about the party itself, I went back and looked at an old Sue Grafton mystery to see how a good writer creates a mise-en-scene placing the reader into the environment along with the characters in the story.
Twenty-two years ago I wrote a mystery novel. It was going to be the first in a series of "Rosen and Rojas" mysteries. Rosen, was Lucy Rosen, a Tech Writer for a big aerospace corporation in El Segundo. I was working as a Supervisor of a Training section at Hughes Aircraft at the time.
Lucy, of course, was my alter ego for the book. She was 20 years younger and about 50 lbs lighter, and maybe a couple of inches taller than me, but still me. Alejandro Rojas was based on the actor Henry Darrow, an older, suave, Hispanic gentleman who was secretly in love with Lucy.
I showed my manuscript to a friend of mine from Santa Barbara and she said I should read Sue Grafton's books. Grafton lived in Santa Barbara and wrote a series of books about a female detective named Kinsey Millhone who lives in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, which is a lot like Santa Barbara.
The series is referred to as "The Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mysteries." Each book is titled alphabetically, with the next book using the next letter of the alphabet. By the time I discovered Grafton, she was up to G, "G is for Gumshoe."
Grafton was listed in the Santa Barbara phone book under her married name. I don't remember what it was anymore, but I actually had the nerve to call her and ask for help getting my book published.
She was surprisingly nice to me and gave me very good advice, which of I course resisted. She said to put the book aside for a few months and then go back to it. I said "No, it's really good." She patiently said I should wait and review it after a few months.
I didn't follow her advice and sent out copies and treatments (summaries) of the story to publishers. I mostly got simple rejection letters, but in a few cases the Reader (usually a graduate student paid to read unsolicited manuscripts) sent me a critique with useful advice, but I was in no mood to take it.
I still have a copy of Grafton's "G for Gumshoe" in a box in my garage with my old books. I didn't want to look for it so I looked it up on Amazon and read the few sections provided under "Look inside this book." I was impressed. It's well-written and paced to keep moving, not draggy not ". . . very long-winded with too much personal information." Sorry about that.
Grafton is up to W now. Her latest is "W is for Wasted." So she has three more letters left, X, Y, and Z. I'm not sure if she will wrap up the series in three years and take a well-earned retirement or start over again with A.
I didn't want to accept Sue Grafton's advice 20 years ago but she was right. I might dig out my old manuscript and read it again now that it has been on the shelf for a while and I'm distant from it. Poor Lucy, she's 20 years older and 50 lbs heavier now. She's more like Miss Marple than Kinsey Millhone.