Terris McMahan Grimes of Sacramento has published her second mystery novel, "Blood Will Tell," in the continuing saga of African-American state worker Theresa Galloway.
And of course there would be no Theresa, or "T" as she is called, without her indomitable mother and this time around mother manages once again to be the catalyst for T's latest escapade, which involves a young man posing as her long-lost half-brother.
As with any good character-driven mystery series, it doesn't so much matter what the plot is, it matters what the characters do. Grimes is up to the challenge, and this book delivers.
In a recent interview, Grimes talked about her new part-time career as a mystery writer (she does, in fact, work for the state in Sacramento), the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime, and her plans for the future.
She also described how her parents - sharecroppers from Arkansas - moved to California to take advantage of a good education for their seven children.
"We lived in a cabin with no running water and no electricity, but we had books," she recalled. "My mother had a dream of me becoming a teacher. She wanted me to go to school year-round, not just in the winter time when it was raining and there were no crops to pick. So we moved to California."
Grimes grew up in Oakland, attended Coe College in Iowa for one year, and graduated from Chico State. One of her favorite writers is Mark Twain. "I love him," she said.
"I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school, the first to graduate from college. I really wanted to write screenplays and direct movies but my horizons just didn't stretch that far.
"My first job out of college was as a feature writer for the Sacramento Observer, a weekly black newspaper. Then I went to work for the state a year later and I've been there ever since - 20 some odd years. I grew up very poor so a good job was always very important.
"But I always knew I wanted to write. When I turned 40 and still hadn't done it - that frightened me because I knew if I didn't I'd be a bitter old lady."
Grimes says she sacrificed her creativity in order to raise her two children in a stable atmosphere provided by a steady paycheck.
But now that her children are nearly grown, she's claiming her own time for writing. Or trying to. And why mysteries?
"Because a mystery is essentially a morality story," she said. "Something evil is done, usually a murder, and chaos reigns. But someone sorts it all out, restores order, and the bad guy gets his or her comeuppance. Unlike real life. I had read so many that I knew the conventions of the genre, I knew I could do it."
Grimes joined a writers' group in Sacramento. One of the members was a woman who had just formed her own literary agency. Grimes had three chapters of her first novel, "Somebody Else's Child," written.
"I can sell that," the agent told Grimes.
"Then I had to go home and write the rest," said Grimes, laughing.
The third novel in her three-book series is called "Other Duties as Required" and it will be out soon but Grimes cheerfully admits she's already missed the first deadline.
"I write when I can," said Grimes. "I'm a thief, I steal time. I write in the mornings, I write in the evenings if I can. It's becoming quite a bit of a challenge. I try to write on the run and I'm not producing as much as I'd like. Mysteries are highly structured and I usually do an outline first of five or six chapters."
Grimes also was a founding member and the first president of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime, an organization founded nationally about 15 years ago by Sara Paretsky to lobby for women mystery writers.
Grimes says the Sacramento area media and the mystery writing community here and nationally have been very supportive.
Black mystery writers are becoming a force in the publishing world, too, Grimes said. Check these writers out: Grace Edwards ("If I Should Die"), Eleanor Taylor Bland ("Keep Still"), Gary Phillips ("Perdition U.S.A."), Valerie Wilson Wesley ("Where Evil Sleeps"), Paula L. Woods, editor ("Spooks, Spies and Private Eyes: Mystery, Crime and Suspense Fiction of the 20th Century"), Chasie West ("The Loss of Innocence"), Gar Anthony Haywood ("It's Not a Pretty Sight"), and Mike Phillips, a black mystery writer from England.
"And, of course, there's Walter. Walter Mosley ("A Little Yellow Dog"), everyone knows him," said Grimes.
And, soon, everyone will know Grimes, too.
[ To Visit Terris McMahan Grimes' website go to: http://www.vme.net/dvm/sister-sleuth/ ]
"Blood Will Tell"