Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marcia Muller & Sue Grafton Tell All

One of my favorite panels at Left Coast Crime was an interview of mystery grand dames Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton by Jan Burke (stay tuned to the end of the post for a special giveaway). I've recapped some of the questions for the panel here separating it from the Left Coast Crime daily recaps so I could give it the proper attention that it deserves.

Both Grafton and Muller talked about when they first started at the mystery writer community was full of people saying you couldn't write a female detective or a strong female character at all. Marcia Muller proved them wrong with Sharon McCone and Sue Grafton with Kinsey Millhone. 

One of the first questions Jan asked was about the biggest mistake the women has ever made.

Marcia said that most of her mistakes had to do with guns. Then cars. It seems that more men write letters to point out mistakes... 

Sue said that in B is for Burglar Kinsey left the keys to her car in the ignition before she goes into a house. The thinking was that she would need to get away quickly. But once she's inside the house she uses her keys to escape the basement and she pulls them from her pocket. Some people called that a mistake but loyal fans claimed there were two sets of keys...

Jan said there is at least one mistake in every book and finding them is like an easter egg hunt. 

What it Used to be Like:

Jan started this topic by telling us all that the female mystery writing community and the multitude of strong female characters wasn't always like this. Back in 1977, it was pretty much just Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller. And it wasn't just how women were depicted in fiction. It was society. 

Marcia told us that there was a resistance at first. People rejected her manuscript because no one would believe a woman would be in the position of female private eye. She responded to an agent who put an ad in Publishers Weekly looking for manuscripts. She rejected it because of Sharon's profession, but loved Sharon McCone. 

Jan asked Marcia if it was a conscious decision to write a female PI and she said yes. She didn't want to write from a man's point of view. She knew she didn't think that way and it wasn't interesting to her. 

Once both Marcia and Sue managed to get published, Sue reached out to Marcia and invited her to dinner. There was only the two of them writing female PIs and Marcia came to dinner and they have been friends ever since.

Both Marcia and Sue said that sometimes men were even rude to them at conferences and panels. 

Sue talked about a movement that started at conferences back then called Hard Boiled Bitches of America. We got T-Shirts that said HBB of America and stripped down to them in a panel. Linda Barnes and Julie Smith were with us that day. 

Sue told us that she and a friend had a business that taught women how to clean their house properly. Back then house wives didn't know how to do it. She met one woman who changed the bed sheets ever single day. Once the women learned how to get the house clean fast they had seven hours left in the day. Sue used that time to write in the beginning.

Sue also told us that one editor wanted Kinsey not to be a PI. The editor suggested that the books to be about the life and loves of Kinsey Millhone. Lucky for us, Sue refused.

Jan's response was that a pioneer is the person with arrows in their back. 

Bad Reviews

Jan asked both Marcia and Sue about reviews. Marcia said that one reviewer said that her books set the woman's movement back 100 years, but didn't bother to say why.

Sue said there was one review for B is for Burglary that called it B is for Boring.

Both of those reviewers were so incredibly wrong. I wonder if they ever think about that now. What a great panel. I am so glad I got the chance to see it. 

All three women: Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and Jan Burke signed this fabulous little zipper bag that we are giving away today. You could use it for anything -- make up, pens and pencils, phone charging cords, etc. All you have to do is comment below to be entered. You can see Sue Grafton below signing the bag. 


  1. I've been reading Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller since their beginnings. Also have read quite a few of Jan Burkes. Love them all.

  2. What a great article and such interesting history. Thanks for sharing this story Debbie!

  3. Loved the interview and big fan of both authors. I look forward to each new book in their series being released as soon as I've read the last. It seems sometimes the wait can go on forever, but I'm rewarded for my patience. Thanks for making this mystery reader happy!

  4. I think B is for Bad Reviewer, poor Sue Grafton. But I think she bounced back nicely. Great blog today.

  5. These were the two ladies who got me hooked on mysteries!

  6. For Suzanne M. Harding who had Google acct problems today:
    Thanks -- my comment was something like after reading my way through the Brits, Marcia Muller opened a whole new reading world for me. Found her first, then Grafton and Burke. Wanted to say, "Thanks, Ladies."

  7. Great writers! Thank you Deb, for a terrific recap.

  8. I was in the audience of this panel and it was delightful, funny, enlightening and very interesting. Thank you for posting the great recap so other can enjoy it. Thank you to the Grand Dames of Mystery for sharing their lives, writing and experiences with us all.

  9. Altho I haven't read all the Kinsey books by Sue Grafton, I've enjoyed every one I have read. And I loved the Sharon McCone books by Marcia Muller. Both these authors were ones I went to when I wanted a mystery. Jan, sorry to say I don't think I've read any of your Irene Kelly stories - but that's something I intend to rectify.
    Thanks to you all for the interview recap

  10. So glad these ladies kept writing.

  11. As a new mystery writer, you ladies are so inspiring. Love your work and it's no mystery why - great stories written very well

  12. I have every one of Marcia's books…and reread them as I work on my first mystery. I also have most of Sue's books, one of them signed. When we downsized and sold our house, those collections are ones I refused to part with…and I hope one day to get a Marcia Muller signed book!

  13. I have not read any of Marcia's books... but I plan to change that today. I love listening to Sue Grafton's books and cannot wait until the next one comes out. Keep it up ladies! Way to break the glass ceiling for female detectives!

  14. I feel very lucky to have found these women very early on, and have read them all! (In order, of course.) I'm hoping Sue will jump to "One is for..." after "Z is for..." And I do wish they could all write just a little faster! I read them as soon as they're published, and then it's a long wait again. Oh, and the little bag should be used to hold my "readers" glasses, which I now need to not miss a letter of their books!

  15. Happily have read all three authors, amazed at how fast the years have gone by with them in my life through their books! Which brings me to mind my bifocals...sigh...but what a treat to have such a wonderful bag to carry glasses in!!!

  16. Thank goodness they kept on writing, despite the negativity!

  17. I would love to have it! Love the books of all three ladies! I met Sue Grafton when came to Charlotte, NC several years ago. Looking forward to seeing Marcia Muller at Boucheron 2015 in Raleigh, NC. Marcia Muller is receiving the Lifetime Acceivement Award! Hope Jan Burke and Sue Grafton and a bunch more of authors and fans come!!

  18. I was at this panel and enjoyed your recap. I have found all three of these authors delightful in person and I admire their work. Karen94066 at aol dot com

  19. Thank you so much! I can't read enough of, or about, these favorite authors. I think my favorite male PI (TV) might be Jim Rockford. Anyone remember the episode where Stefanie Powers played a female PI? You might enjoy it if not.

    1. I don't remember that episode of Rockford, even though I loved that show and I loved Hart to Hart. I am so going to have to look that one up. Thank you for the suggestion.

  20. This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to KarenM!