Writer’s Block With Attica Locke

SOPHIE GRENHAM talks to American author Attica Locke about ESCAPING TO EAST TEXAS, American issues and fitting writing in around the SCHOOL RUN


Attica Locke is an American author with an outstanding background in screenwriting. Her credits to date include contributions to Paramount, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, HBO and Dreamworks. She has been a co-producer and co-writer on the major Emmy-winning television show Empire.

Attica’s hit debut novel, Black Water Rising (2009), was short-listed for an array of prestigious awards including the Orange Prize, an Edgar Award, a NAACP Image Award and an LA Times Book Prize, as well as earning wide praise from the literary community. Her more recent title, Pleasantville (2015), received impressive critical acclaim from the Independent, Irish Times and the Financial Times.

Attica’s new book Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in an exciting detective series. We follow Texas Ranger Darren Matthews in his first case; two bodies wash up in quick succession – one white victim followed by one black. Locke’s work is completely on the pulse regarding the issue of race relations in the United States, raising important questions about the future. The story is based around Highway 59, the motorway that connects the area’s backwoods towns, near where Attica’s own extended family originates.  

Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone has said, “Attica Locke brings freshness and vitality to a beloved form…a powerful and dramatic look at contemporary black life in rural America.”  

Attica Locke lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. She is currently writing her next novel.

Bluebird, Bluebird (€20.99) is published by Serpent’s Tail and available nationwide.

On home

I live on the east side of Los Angeles, nearer to the mountains than the ocean. I like to hike the hills where I live. I can see snow-capped mountains in one direction and downtown Los Angeles in the other. My neighbourhood is in a part of town that’s being heavily gentrified, about which I have terribly mixed feelings. Right now I love the mix of older Latino-owned storefronts and the new hipster bars and shops. I wrote part of my first book, Black Water Rising, at a bar in Highland Park—when the neighbourhood was just starting to change.

Daily life means taking care of my daughter Clara, who’s ten: ferrying her to and from school and soccer practice and squeezing in writing where I can. I basically work all the time. There is no 9-to-5 in the writing life. I write while she’s at school, but I also write in the car while she’s at soccer practice. And I work weekends.

On roots

I grew up in Houston, so I’m a city girl. But both my mother’s and father’s sides of my family come from small towns along Highway 59 in East Texas. When I think of the time I spent in rural East Texas as a child, I think of the red clay dirt roads and the sharp smell of pine trees in the surrounding woods. My dad recently rebuilt a home on the family land that has been in his family for over 100 years. I go to Houston several times a year, and I never miss a chance to go out to the country to stand on the land where my ancestors come from. It’s the most magical feeling.

On creating

I work all the time, which also means I work everywhere. The only thing I really require is a window and music. I make a playlist for every book or project I work on. That helps take me into a mental space when it’s time to work, and it means that I don’t have to be in any particular location to write. My preference is to write a home, curled up in a chair. Or in bed. I rarely write at a desk. Except when I’m at a library, which is another one of my favorite writing places.

On bookshops

I’ve just come from one of my favourite stores, Vroman’s in Pasadena. I love it because it’s big, but feels intimate, and the staff are so well-read. I also love how deeply connected to its community the store is. They actually hold civics classes, to help people better understand how their government works. Plus, I just think the world of their buyers. There are always unexpected gems on their shelves.

On her nightstand

The ones I just bought today: Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng, because everyone is raving about this one. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, because I love her work. And Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, because it’s Margaret Atwood!

On favourite escapes

Rural East Texas because it’s physically beautiful, with tall pines and little bayous and creeks and cypress trees covered in moss. It always connects me to god’s grace. The beauty of the natural world is always a calming influence on me. I’d recommend everyone visit East Texas at some point in their lifetime—if they can handle the mosquitoes.

On Ireland

I would love to come to Ireland. I think the mistake I’ve made in the past is thinking I could just tack on a trip to Ireland while I’m in the UK—but I think it has to be its own trip. The history is so rich, and just from pictures alone, it seems like one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

On career moments

Dennis Lehane was a mentor to me before we even met. I deeply admired his work and thought he and his career were just incredibly cool. So how wonderful to meet him years later (he published my second book, The Cutting Season, on his own imprint) and find out he’s just as interesting and thoughtful as I thought he would be. He’s such a massive talent that it’s easy to forget he’s just a regular person, but I really appreciate his willingness to share his own neuroses and insecurities with burgeoning writers. He’s incredibly down to earth. And don’t tell him I said so, but I also think he’s really cute.

On American issues

I have to believe that these issues will be resolved, or else I’d lie down right now and never get up. Plus, I have a child, so I have eye toward the future. And I also have hope. I see the way things are different for her generation. Prejudice is not part of her everyday life. Not when it comes to race or religion or sexual orientation. Some of that is to do with living in California, I know. But I also truly believe that there are more people in America who want to see equality than there are people who voted for Trump. It’s an actual fact. He did not win the popular vote here. And I take that as a reminder that his beliefs are not the most popular in the States.

In terms of what needs to change, it starts simply with people calling out racism every time they see it. White folks in particular need to be less squeamish about telling their friends, neighbours and relatives when they’re being racist. You can’t treat a sickness you can’t name. We’ve all got to stop being so damn polite. It’s okay to call someone a racist, or better yet to call their political policies racist—if they indeed are.

On what’s next

For me? For America? For planet Earth? I hope nothing but grace and love for all three. In my little corner of the globe, I’m working on book two in the Highway 59 series and flirting with other Hollywood projects.


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