This Q & A conversation was not conducted by Two Women and a Book Review. It was provided and given to us by the Publisher and so we wanted to share it with all of you and we encourage you to go get her book. Pre-order now, set to release April 21st!
Attica Locke is also a Screenwriter for hit series on FOX called Empire.
Q: PLEASANTVILLE is a sequel to your first novel, Black Water Rising, in that you return to Houston and your morally conflicted character Jay Porter. Why did you want to explore his storyline further, and what was it like to pick up the thread fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising?
A: I actually strongly resisted the idea of doing a sequel. In fact, I was often shocked when readers would tell me they felt Jay's story at the end of Black Water Rising wasn't over. It wasn't so much that another Jay Porter story came to me as another story about Houston and its dirty politics came to me. And even then I resisted telling " another Jay Porter story." I was afraid that readers would expect it to be just like the first book. But the more I sat with the story, the more I knew that Jay Porter was the character to guide the reader through this thorny political drama because of its themes around race and politics and where those two collide.
It was actually quite moving about Jay as an older man, When we meet him in Pleasantville there have been huge changes in his personal life. The more life he's lived, the more he seems like a real person to me. It was also interesting to write about a city that had changed a lot in fifteen years, but was fundamentally still its same barbecue-and-big-hair self.
Q: People outside of the Houston area may not have heard of Pleasantville or know its significance. What can you tell us about he town, and why did you focus your story there?
A: I didn't know about Pleasantville. During my father's mayoral run, I went to a candidate forum in Pleasantville, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Houston. At the it was a little worse-for-the-wear, a middle class neighborhood that had seen better days and so I couldn't understand why all of the candidates for mayor and for the other offices as well were going out there to drink punch in a community center and woo voters, Then I learned about the history of the neighborhood. In 1949, two Jewish developers came up with the idea to build a planned community for Negroes with money. It was one of the first kind in the nation. Doctors, teachers, and engineers moved in, many of them buying homes for the first time. The neighborhood also inadvertently changed political landscape of the city and state. Though they had to fight for it, Pleasantville residents eventually got a new elementary school built in their neighborhood in the early 1950's, which gave them a place to vote and their own voting precinct. Pleasantville has always had a culture of high civic engagement. They have swung many a local race. Folks out there vote. And the candidates always come a'courtin'. The quote that opens the novel is from the Houston Chronicle: "Any politician worth his salt knows the road to elected offices goes through Pleasantville."
Q: Your father ran for Houston mayor, and you worked on his campaign. What about Houston politics do you find unusual or surprising?
A: I don't know that Houston politics are so unusual. I think what I found most surprising abohe whole experience of seeing politics up close is how dirty it is. And the smaller the race, the dirtier it is. I will say that because Houston is such a "small" big town, there's A LOT of backstage drama going om. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody owes someone a favor. There's the political race you see on the news or read in the paper, but there's a whole other soap opera playing out that people don't see.
Q: Your protagonist Jay Porter is an average guy, working hard enough to get by and take care of his family. In PLEASANTVILLE, as in Black Water Rising, he has to rise to the occasion when thrust into an extraordinary situation with circumstances beyond his control. How did you get into the head of your character? What does he mean to you?
A: When i wrote Black Water Rising, I more personally identified with Jay. So I never saw him as a make character. He was just like me. But I feel more distance with this book, like he's a dear, dear friend whom I love and want everyone else to understand. I love him like family.
Q: Your novels, while thrillers that are meant to entertain, are exploring complex and thorny issues of race and politics in America. Can you elaborate on your aspirations with your fiction?
A: I am highly interested in chronicling the complications and contradictions of race in America on either side of the civil rights movement, which is the era in which I was born and am living, and highlighting pockets of history that to me are not "black" but simply Americans.
Q: You are a screenwriter turned novelist who now is back in the writers' room on the hit drama Empire. What is that experience like? How has novel writing influenced how you write for the screen? And is there any scoop you can share with what's next for the Lyon family?
A: I can safely say there will be more drama.
Q: Do you have any plans for your next book? Will we see Jay Porter again?
A: I don't immediately have plans for another book at this moment. Though I'm always floating a handful of ideas in my head. And I'm sure Jay will come around again.