Reading Recap: Attica Locke, “Black Water Rising”

black_water_risingAlmost as thrilling as getting your own book published (I can imagine) is seeing the publication of a friend’s. Last night I got to experience what every writers group participant hopes to one day—seeing the same words that had been developed and honed in a workshop finally appear between hard covers.

Years ago I participated in a writers group with Attica Locke. She was working on a thriller set in 1981 about a struggling Houston lawyer whose rescue of a drowning woman ensnares him in a murder investigation that reaches the highest echelons of the city’s corporate society. I’ve often recalled that manuscript over the years, admiring its melding of literary and genre elements. Today, I hold Black Water Rising in my hands.

Locke wasn’t always a fiction writer. She’s worked in both film and television for more than a decade, writing scripts for most of the major studios. None of those projects, though, ever got made, and, she said last night at a reading at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, California, going into her 30s, she felt “bored with my work to the point of depression.”

Film is a “cumbersome art form,” she said, consisting of “meetings about practicing art, not actually practicing art.” Writing a book “seemed so accessible. It just seemed possible in the way that movies don’t.”

Perhaps she was always destined to write prose: one executive told her, “There are too many words in here.”

Locke “thought I could find something in a book that I couldn’t anywhere else.”

She found inspiration for her first novel close to home: her protagonist, Jay Porter, is based on her own father. “I have to be careful,” she said. “My father is running for mayor. But, yes, facts of [Jay’s] life line up with facts in my father’s life.”

Jay’s psyche, though, “is much closer to my own. I’m a child of the Reagan ’80s. Jay’s racial paranoia is mine—I’m the first in my family to live in a racially integrated society. My parents didn’t equip their children to deal with what they fought for. I’m a product of that tension.”

Locke is working on her second book, but it’s not a follow-up to Black Water Rising. “I like stories that drop in at the biggest moments of a character’s life,” she said. “Something big would have to happen” to Jay for her to return to his story.

For Locke, writing her first book was life-changing. “It felt like do or die,” she said. “I was so burnt out and so unhappy. Other than being a parent, it was the single most transformative experience of my life.”

For an interview with Locke, click here.

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