Attica Locke is the author of the new novel Pleasantville. She also has written Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season, and she is a coproducer and writer for the hit television show Empire. A Houston native, she lives in Los Angeles.
Q: Why did you decide to bring back your character Jay Porter in your new book, and why did you set it in the mid-1990s?
A: It was never my intent to bring Jay back. But when my father ran for mayor [of Houston] in 2009, and I got involved in the campaign, I had the strangest sensation of being back inside the world of Black Water Rising, only three decades later. I knew kind of immediately that it was a book, but I was terrified of writing Jay again.
But when I knew Pleasantville was going to further the exploration of race and politics on the other side of the civil rights movement (which I'd started with the first book), I knew Jay was the person through which to tell this story.
I set the book in 1996 because it was one year after the Houston Post folded, making Houston the first major American city to go down to one newspaper. As a vibrant press is major part of what makes any democracy work, I was curious what that first election with one newspaper looked like.
Q: Can you say more about how your father’s campaign influenced your decision to write about a mayoral race in Pleasantville?
A: I would never have written the book if I hadn't gotten such a behind the scenes look at the bloodthirsty sport of campaigning. A lot of the dirty tricks in the book I witnessed first hand in 2009.
And I only discovered the neighborhood of Pleasantville and its stories history because of my dad's campaign, because no one in Houston gets elected without Pleasantville. The history of the neighborhood is featured all throughout the book.
Q: Which authors have influenced you?
A: J. California Cooper, Pete Dexter, Larry Brown, Toni Morrison, Harper Lee.
Q: How do you see your work on Empire complementing your writing of novels?
A: I don't yet. I had already written Pleasantville when I started work on season one of the show. I won't know how Cookie and Lucious and the rest of the Lyons might influence my novel-writing until I write the next one.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: Not right now. The show takes up all of my time at the moment.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm proud of all of my books for different reasons, but Pleasantville is the most ambitious book I've written, and it means a lot to me.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb