Seems like this is the time to tell the story. Proof, I think, of how the world can work and in so many mysterious ways. It was 1998? Maybe? And part of my work as a reporter at Channel 7 was to do the book interviews for the weekend community affairs program. I’m not quite sure why they asked me to do it, but I counted my blessings. Anyway. As a result I got to interview a lot of authors, and read a lot of books I might not otherwise have been exposed to.

I would, certainly, have read N is for Noose, since I had been a big Sue Grafton fan from moment one. Whenever my moment one was, because I can’t remember the first Kinsey I read. Sue was on book tour, and came to Boston. And I got the interview. She was gracious, and lovely, and hilarious. She was so personable that after our taping, fan-girl me broke through the fourth wall of journalism and admitted to her that I had always wanted to write a mystery. She laughed, (encouragingly, I like to think), and said, well if you ever do, send it to me! I’d love to read it.

Five years went by. And I did write my book. Prime Time came out, and then Face Time, and when I wrote Air Time, in 2009, I thought: maybe it is time. Time to send it to Sue.

Chest clenched, I emailed her, and began my note with “This is when your kind words come back to haunt you.” I reminded her of our interview, and her offer. She emailed back that she would be delighted to read the book with an eye to a blurb, but that if she didn’t like it, I would never hear from her at all, and not to follow up, or inquire.

(Now I’m wondering if I still have that email.)

Anyway, I waited and waited, and heard nothing. And more nothing. And thought, well, I did my best, and she warned me this might happen.

Several days later,  there was a pale gray envelope in my mailbox.  I looked at the return address. A PO Box in Santa Barbara.

And inside, on lovely stationary, (Cranes, gray paper with navy blue type) was a wonderful blurb from Sue Grafton. Signed by Sue. In that iconic signature.

I jumped up and down, applauding, and immediately framed that piece of paper, which still is in my office.

sue grafton and Hank Phillippi Ryan

Sue Grafton and Hank

We became pals, and shared plenty of conversations over the years. Once she came up to me at a conference, and asked me to sign my book to her! Luckily, someone took this photo of that hilarious moment. Among other Sue-ish advice, she told me she’d realized if she was going to be a success, she had to own it. She said: “I had to say it out loud. ‘I want to be a New York Times bestseller.’ If you can’t say it,” she told me, “it won’t happen.”

She gave me a bottle of Chardonnay, which I still have, of course. And we had matching T-shirts with a moth on the front. Long story.

Someone said to me yesterday—now each of us can find our own ending for Kinsey Millhone. And I wonder how Sue would have felt about that. Wonder if she knew what happened to her.

Sue’s alphabet, and Kinsey’s, ends at Y. And ours does, too.

All of this is to say—you never know what the world will bring you, and what is around the next corner, and what friends you might make along the way. And even more, you never know who might help you on the way to a dream.


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