Sue Grafton on the same lesson she learns every book (plus, a Thanksgiving prompt)

When you write, it’s easy to lose the plot—forget what drew you in about writing in the first place, what kept you around, why you do this strange thing you do. Even for Sue Grafton. And I find that strangely liberating.

Here’s the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series (the quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows. Have a great holiday week.

No. 13: Shadowplay

WD: What have you learned in writing the [Alphabet] series?
I’m learning the same lesson every single time. I’m learning to trust the process. I’m trying to remember that writing should be a form of play. I keep saying the fate of the free world does not hang in the balance. Even if I write a book that fails, nothing will happen. I’ll be mortified and embarrassed, but lives will not be lost over this. I take writing terribly seriously, and sometimes that just gets in my way. Writing is about the Shadow, which is about play. I just have to learn that again.”
—Sue Grafton, The WD Interview, by Diana Page Jordan, February 2010 (click here to check the rest of the issue out)

And, one more interesting tidbit from the interview:

I don’t think of myself as an author. I think of myself as a writer, because writing is what I do. I’m always taken aback when others refer to me as ‘famous’ or a ‘celebrity.’ What a weird idea. The concept has no real application. It doesn’t serve a writer to start thinking of herself in those terms because it interferes with the work. Writing is an internal process. Success is external and not something we can control in any event. I foster that disconnect because it keeps me grounded.”

(Image: Via)

* * *

WRITING PROMPT: The Bird Isn’t the Word
Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

You’re at Thanksgiving dinner, and discover that there’s no turkey this year. Instead, there’s something else on the table.

* * *

Also, if you’re not planning to spend the wee hours of Nov. 26 standing outside a Wal-Mart at 4 a.m. and are on the hunt for writerly gifts, I’m told we’re going to have some deals on the WD sites. On Thanksgiving day, there’s free shipping at, and on Black Friday (through Sunday) most things in the shop will have a 20 percent off discount (use coupon code WDS192).

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4 thoughts on “Sue Grafton on the same lesson she learns every book (plus, a Thanksgiving prompt)

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  2. Reggie Manning


    It’s typical for supervisors to invite the young airman to their homes for holiday functions, being that the majority are dislocated from their own families. So when Sergeant Conner extended an invitation my way for Thanksgiving it was expected. I had been stationed in Great Falls Montana for about three weeks, so I didn’t really have any other plans, or excuses to use. So I figured I’d attend and get some free food, and possibly score some brownie points.
    When I arrived I immediately felt out of place like a turban in first class, but it was too late to back out now. It wasn’t that I was black, but this family was extremely country, and most of their warm hearted family traditions were foreign to me. I felt like an exchange student from a third world country.
    All the women scrambled around the kitchen making last minute adjustments to the feast, while the men sat on the couch in the living room debating over sports highlights. The kids were in their room, doing whatever it is that kids do in imagination development. I sat quietly in a fold up chair near the door, just in case things got too weird, and I had to bolt out.
    The ladies summoned the men into the dining room and wrestled the kids out of their play room. I was starving, but I didn’t want to be the first one to get up. After an exceptionally long grace the turkey was revealed… only it wasn’t a turkey, it was a moose head.
    My jaw dropped like wet groceries in a paper bag. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but everyone behaved as if this was a normal tradition. Even one of the children had his hand popped for trying to sneak a sample. The head lady of the house sliced everyone a few pieces and slide a plate my way. I didn’t want to be rude so I attempted to fix my facial expression. But it was too late; Sergeant Conner had caught on to it.
    "Is everything ok Airman Manning? You are hungry right?" I had to think quickly, but my mind was blank, it was impotent. My eyes glanced over the dishes trying to come up with an excuse, but none emerged, until I saw the potatoes. The idea hit me like the caliber of bullet that evidently slaughtered this moose.
    "Yes sir, I’m hungry. But…. I’m a vegetarian." I smiled at this escape lie, and the fact that it was so easily accepted. I went home full of potatoes and rice, but at least I was able to keep it down.
    Happy Thanksgiving.

  3. Mark James

    When Lawrence said he’d go home with Vick for Thanksgiving, he expected to find dead meat on the table. What he didn’t expect was that none of it would be cooked.

    His fingers curled around the balled up linen napkin in his hands, Lawrence said, “I didn’t know vampires ate that much meat.” There was a small mountain of stew meat piled in the middle of the table. Nicely seasoned, but absolutely raw. “I thought it was pretty much a blood thing.”

    “We don’t eat meat often, but Victor tells us it’s tradition for the family to gather at table and celebrate on this day,” Dessaler, Vick’s father said, “and we thought we’d make your visit comfortable.”

    Vick reached into Lawrence’s lap and tried to unclench his trembling fists. “I should have told you,” he said. “My family is a little more traditional than me. They don’t cook their meat.”

    Ashlyn was Vick’s little sister. She seemed to be about ten, but she was probably a hundred and ten. She piped up. “I don’t like meat, but dad says I can go hunt after dinner.” She gave Lawrence a speculative smile. “Unless you’d like to donate to a poor starving little girl?” Her eyes went round and innocent.

    “Ashlyn, you will watch your manners, young one.” That was Ellyn, her mom. “Or you shall be excused from table and confined to your room for a night and a day.”

    The little girl vampire was crestfallen. “No hunting?”

    Lawrence found himself feeling sorry for her. He’d known about Vick’s family before they came. He knew that for a vampire, even if she was a hundred and ten, Ashlyn was still a little girl. And she’d probably not seen many humans she didn’t feed off. “I could be talked into a few drops,” he said.

    Ellyn beamed at him. “That’s a very kind offer, Lawrence.”

    “Very generous of you,” Dessaler said. “It’s so good to know Victor has someone in his life who makes him happy. It’s been centuries.”

    “No it hasn’t,” Ashlyn said. “ There was – -”

    “Ash,” Victor said in a low warning voice, “I’ll hide all your dolls and bury the dollhouse again.”

    “You shouldn’t threaten your little sister at the dinner table, Victor.” Ellyn smoothed back a bit of blonde hair. “Really, anyone would think I had raised little bloodsuckers with no manners.”

    “How was the drive?” Dessaler said.

    Lawrence kept his eyes away from the bloody plates passing back and forth. “Not much traffic up into the mountains this time of year.” That was an understatement. There had been no cars once they hit the two lane blacktop that wound up to the top of the mountain locally known as Murder Hill.

    The doorbell rang. Ashlyn jumped up. “I’ll go.”

    Ellyn moved to her daughter’s side with the preternatural speed of her kind. “You will do no such thing. The man is delivering, he isn’t the meal.”

    “It’s your dinner.” Ashlyn wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I can smell it. Cooked meat.” She ran into the kitchen, then appeared at Lawrence’s side moments later with a plate of sliced turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes. Setting it carefully on the table, she said, “You’ll taste really good after that.”

    Lawrence smiled at the hand Vick ran down the back of his neck, then tucked into his plate. The gravy was just right.

  4. Dare Gaither

    The crisp white tablecloth was completely bare of anything edible.
    Each seat had a plastic place setting before it.
    At the center of the table where the turkey should be,
    there was a large green envelope with the letters “Read Me”
    scrawled on the outside.
    There was no smell of turkey cooking.
    There was no clatter of pots and pans from the kitchen.
    There was nothing but plastic and paper.

    “What’s going on? Where’s Mom?”

    Sandy was always the first, and last, to speak.

    “I think we’ve entered Wonderland,” Brian said with a shrug.

    “Well, Mom’s name is Alice!”

    Forced chuckles greeted Sandy’s comment.
    She reached for the paper labeled “Read Me.”
    With dramatic fluorish she read the mysterious document aloud.

    “Whereas Grandma and Grandpa are spending
    Thanksgiving in Jamaica this year and whereas
    last year everyone complained about eating too much
    and being bored all day, the following changes to the
    traditional Thanksgiving Day agenda will be made:

    Whereas the mall is open on Thanksgiving Day this year,
    Sandy and Kim are free to shop til they drop.

    Whereas Brian spent all his time texting during dinner last year,
    he is free to text and play video games til his thumbs get sore.

    Whereas Charles is only interested in “the game” whatever it may be,
    he is free to watch tv and drink beer for the rest of the day.

    There is sliced turkey from the deli in the fridge
    There is also a ready-to-eat Mrs. Smith’s pumpkin pie.
    Cool Whip and ice cream are in the freezer.
    The coffee maker is set to go, just push the red button.
    The pantry is loaded with snacks.

    Tippy and I have gone hiking up on the parkway.
    We’ll be back before dark.

    Have fun.
    Stay safe.
    Happy Thanksgiving.


    There was a moment of stunned silence.
    A tear trickled down Sandy’s cheek.

    “If I’d known this I’d have left 2 hours ago,
    I’ve already missed the best deals!”

    She grabbed the car keys and headed for the door.
    Kim followed with their pocketbooks.
    Charles cracked open a beer and plopped
    on the couch with the remote in hand.
    Brian updated his facebook page with the good news.

    Thanksgiving had changed forever.


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