Guest Blogger Terry Ambrose with Elizabeth George and Sue Grafton

Two veteran powerhouses of the crime fiction genre were the keynote speakers at the 2013 California Crime Writers Conference ( in Pasadena, CA. The keynote speaker on Saturday was Sue Grafton (, author of the international bestselling Kinsey Millhone mystery series. Sunday’s keynote was given by another international bestselling author, Elizabeth George ( Each of the speakers spent time talking to those attending the conference as well as giving inspiring talks.

During her talk on Saturday, Grafton explained she’s a strong believer that every writer has two sides, one she calls “Shadow,” the other, “Ego.” Ego is the organized side of the writer’s mind and deals with keeping things in order, accomplishing list tasks, etc. Shadow, on the other hand, is the creative side. She said, “When you meet someone and don’t like them, that’s Shadow.”

 Ryan-Grafton at CCWC photo courtesy of Robin Templeton

Grafton’s keynote speech was followed by a discussion between her and bestselling mystery author Hank Phillippi Ryan ( Ryan is a news reporter for a Boston TV station and treated the audience to the equivalent of a live TV interview. Even though Ryan was the interviewer, she came away from the discussion inspired and said, “Sue Grafton is an icon and an inspiration and each book gets better and better. That’s a tough interview, and I did a lot of homework! But she’s charming, interested, and it was a real joy.  It’s so rewarding to interview someone who is so generous, and so honest, and so genuinely interested in answering.”


When she was asked to further describe the difference between Shadow and Ego, Grafton said, “Shadow wants to play with story lines, Ego wants to improve them.” She also described how she wrote full-length fiction early in her career, got  sidetracked by a marriage and a job, then returned to writing to help alleviate the pain when her marriage ended. She used her personal experience to urge writers to be persistent and resourceful.

 ElizabethGeorge author photo from

Elizabeth George talked about writers and their fears and posed the question “when you enjoy writing, how do you honor the gift?”


Of the many parts involved in being a writer, George considers the desire to be an “author” one of the least important parts. “Having a facility for language is an important part of being a writer,” she said. She also thinks that having a “passion for the written word” is a critical factor. She added that it is only when a writer loves the process of writing that “the story can take flight and live.”

In order to be successful, George thinks that writers must have a “love of language” and love the “artistry of language.” For her, the process of becoming a successful writer is about learning the craft and practicing that craft. “It’s not about sitting in front of the computer screen and hoping.”

She also discussed the challenges faced by writers, which include a lack of time, learning to deal with the “voices from your past” that are critical, and facing the fear of failure. She said that she learned a valuable lesson from fellow author T. Jefferson Parker ( many years ago about what to do when having trouble with a story. That lesson is, “when your story stalls out, you played your hand too soon.”

She closed by saying, “What we are is what we were always meant to be, and that’s writers.”

What are you doing to be persistent in your writing? And, what are you doing to honor the gift of being a writer?

Terry Ambrose writes both mysteries and suspense novels. In addition to his two different series, he also writes a column for about real-life scams and cons. Learn more about him on his website at


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