Author Martha Grimes admires her heroine’s imagination
By David Martindale / Special Contributor
February 4, 2011

When Martha Grimes takes time away from her best-selling series of Richard Jury mysteries to write about a precocious 12-year-old sleuth and aspiring journalist, she mixes autobiographical self-portrait with a helping of wish-fulfillment.

The characters in Fadeaway Girl (Viking, $26.95) are based on people the 79-year-old author knew as a young girl. And young Emma Graham’s life at the Hotel Paradise, where there are plenty of puzzles to solve, is essentially the childhood she remembers, minus the murders.

But Emma, alas, isn’t Grimes. She’s the girl Grimes wishes she had been.

“I don’t really remember much of what I was like,” says Grimes, who will be in Dallas on Tuesday. “But I don’t think I was as plucky, or as imaginative, as Emma is.”

Fadeaway Girl is Grimes’ fourth book featuring Emma. In it, the young heroine investigates a two-decade-old cold case involving a missing 4-month-old.

Grimes discussed her writing life last month by phone from her home in Washington, D.C.:

Is it true that readers and critics used to give you a hard time when you would write about Emma, because that meant you weren’t satisfying their need for another Richard Jury book?

Yes, and I was terribly annoyed about that. One could argue that it was a compliment of sorts, that it was their way of saying they liked the Jury series, but I’ve never been one to look at the glass as half-full. The way I saw it, those who complained were guilty of having very narrow interests. But I’m happy to say that they seem more accepting of these “other” books now.

There’s a character in the book who has the eccentric habit of not finishing the mysteries she reads. She quits with 20 pages left and thus never finds out whodunit. Where did that anecdote come from?

Actually, I’m the one who does that. I’ve had one book around here by Stuart Kaminsky that I’ve not finished for about three years. He died in 2009, and this is the last book in my favorite of the many series he wrote. And unlike Stieg Larsson, who I suspect has about 15 more books squirreled away somewhere, I don’t think there will be any more from Stuart Kaminsky. So I haven’t finished it, because I don’t want my enjoyment of that book and that series to end.

Given that you’re doing this book signing in Dallas in a brick-and-mortar building, what do you think about the changes technology has brought to publishing?

I’ll tell you one thing that really annoys me. I have nothing against the Kindle. I have one. But when I see a book on Amazon, I want to know if it is from a publisher I have heard of. It bothers me that it’s getting easier and easier for people to be published now, especially with electronic books. The result, I fear, is that we are going to be drowning in a slush pile of badly written stuff, and I don’t like it.

At this point in your career, which has included 22 Richard Jury books, most of them best-sellers, you have nothing left to prove as an author. So what keeps you writing?

I like the characters and I like to tell stories. But I also have this idea in my head that you’re not really a writer unless you’re actually writing. So that’s why I continue to do it: because I want to continue to think of myself as a writer.

David Martindale is an Arlington freelance writer.

Plan your life

Martha Grimes will sign Fadeaway Girl at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble, 7700 W. Northwest Highway, Dallas