Monday, May 16, 2011


A dream come true

Recently I had a dream come true even though I wasn’t really conscious of having that dream. Let me explain. Many years ago I discovered the Kinsey Milhone books by Sue Grafton. I love the tone and Kinsey’s spirit. She wasn’t one to get bogged down in undue domesticity, a lesson to us all. She did what had to be done and kept on going. A modern woman PI.

Then, not long after I started to try my hands at mystery writing, I had the pleasure to hear Sue Grafton (herself!) as a keynote speaker at The Palm Springs Writers Conference and was struck by her graciousness, humour and generosity of spirit. I took away some excellent tips.

A few years later, when I had a few books in the drawer and was beginning to feel the despair of the not-yet-and-maybe-never-to-be published, Sue Grafton gave a session for unpublished writers at Bouchercon in Toronto. I took away reams of notes this time, but the most important things I appreciated were her optimism and strategies. She told us all to get our stamped, addressed envelope ready (with the SASE) for the next submission before our manuscript came back rejected. She told us if it came back, to put it in the new envelope and send it out again. Then we could have a good cry. She told us that it often takes seven years to sell that first book and not to give up. It took her several books and several years to break in. She didn’t say that she never had to look back after that first sale, but, of course, we all knew she’d been hitting the New York Times Bestseller list for many years even then. I took her advice, bought the envelopes, stocked up on stamps, stiffened my spine.

Sue Grafton’s real gift to writers was that positive outlook. Just because someone hasn’t bought your book yet doesn’t mean that you have to quit or give in to despair. You just have to hang in there.

It took seven years for my first Camilla MacPhee book to sell and Sue was right. I’ve found a market for all the books that came afterward and even the ones that came before.

Sue told us to get working on the second book because when the first book sells the second book needs to be ready. I really wish I had taken that advice because if you don’t do this, you will be forever scrambling to keep up. Ahem.

So my point (and I do have one) is that after all these years, at this latest Malice Domestic Conference, I found myself sitting on a panel with Sue Grafton, and not just with her, but next to her. She is as charming and pleasant in person as she is in front of a large audience. I loved meeting her, loved shaking her hand and loved being on that panel with her. This should not come as a surprise.

She’s still entertaining and very funny. She had the audience and the panelists eating out of her hand! She still loves what she does. And she still looks like a million dollars. What a role model! I am glad to have met her after I was published and to have had her advice before. I’m grateful she told me to hang in there or I would have missed that excellent panel. And thirteen books!

Mary Jane Maffini rides herd on three (soon to be three and a half) mystery series and a couple of dozen short stories. Her thirteenth mystery novel, The Busy Woman’s Guide to Murder, which hit the bookshelves last month, is brimming with names, no two the same.


  1. Oh boy. I wish I could have seen the two of you on that panel. I'll bet you had them rolling in the aisles.
    I'm a fan of you both.