In Like a Sister (Mulholland, Mar.), grad student Lena Scott investigates the death of her half sister, Desiree Pierce.

Lena Scott is often underestimated because she’s a young Black woman. How does racism infuse your plot?

This isn’t a book focused on racism, but it is a book about a Black woman—so of course race is going to play some factor. Black women get treated differently in the U.S. It’s just a fact. Lena wouldn’t be an authentic character if she didn’t look at the world from that lens. She’s going to deal with microaggressions like people being surprised she’s getting her master’s from an Ivy League school. She’s going to react differently when she’s stopped by the police. She’s going to grapple with the idea of the “Strong Black Woman” who always saves the day.

Only a few years separate the half sisters, yet they have little in common. Why?

Their choices are part personality, part how they grew up. Lena was raised by a single mother in the suburbs and didn’t have a great relationship with her father, Mel. She feels like Mel abandoned her when he left her mother for Desiree’s mom. Now he’s back in her life because she’s an adult and doesn’t “need” a father anymore. She grew up far away from the glamorous life that Desiree lived in Manhattan. Lena’s always trying to prove herself worthy by doing things like pursuing an education. Desiree on the surface is very much a celebrity’s daughter and the stereotypes you bring to that. She lived a life of excess.

Reality TV and pop culture play major parts in the plot. Are you a fan?

I’m unashamedly pop culture obsessed. My Detective by Day series is about entertainment as well, and I think media and pop culture will always play a huge part in all my books. Sometimes I just have to sit on the couch and watch a TV show where I don’t have to think. I can just admire the outfits and shake my head at the shenanigans.

Why are the bonds among the families we create important?

I think all Black people in America have play cousins and play brothers and sisters, aka folks who aren’t blood relatives but are still family. Sometimes your blood relatives aren’t that supportive and understanding. And even if they are both those things, you can never have too many good people around you. I was very blessed in that I had three grandfathers because my grandmother got remarried when my dad was in college. My Grandpa Bill is actually the basis for the Aunt E character. I’m sure he played a major part in how I know family isn’t just blood.