Attica Locke, Novelist and TV Writer, Has Some Suggestions for Hollywood

Locke, whose new crime novel is “Heaven, My Home,” would love to see television adaptations of Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Prep,” Madeline Miller’s “Circe” and more.

What books are on your nightstand?

I’m a one-book-at-a-time reader, and right now it’s “King of the Mississippi,” by Mike Freedman, another Houston writer. Just a few days ago, we were checking out of a Houston hotel at the same time when I saw him carrying a few surplus books from a Brazos Bookstore event, and I asked, “Are those yours?” We struck up a conversation. He’d read my first book, “Black Water Rising,” and we started talking about Houston having a literary moment right now. We’re both Houston natives, but also Michael Arceneaux, Bryan Washington, Jia Tolentino, Marcus Guillory and Susan Choi are all publishing incredible work that is deeply rooted in Houston culture. Anyway, Mike was nice enough to give me a copy of his book on the spot, and I started reading it on my plane ride back to Los Angeles, where I live.

What’s the last great book you read?

It’s a tie between “Heads of the Colored People,” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires, and “Heavy,” by Kiese Laymon. They are both books of astounding insight, humor and language so sharp you may cut your fingers on the pages. All the things I love in a book.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

“The Grapes of Wrath,” about a year ago. I was missing a loved one who’d died and who was a rabid John Steinbeck fan, so I reached for the book in my grief. The book is exceptional and timelier than I might have expected. But my primary experience of reading it was of sharing something with someone I loved who is no longer living. It felt at times as if he were right beside me on the couch, reading along with me. It was quite moving.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Everyone should read more J. California Cooper.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Megan Abbott because her writing so perfectly captures the dialectic at the center of female friendships: devotion and competition.

Jade Chang because “The Wangs vs. the World” should have won a National Book Award. It is funny and touching and achingly poignant.

Karen Joy Fowler because “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.

Skip Hollandsworth because he is one of the nation’s best true crime reporters. His articles for Texas Monthly magazine are juicy, well reported, full of cultural and historical context, and a joy to read.

Tayari Jones for the breadth of love she has for her readers. And for Celestial and Roy in “An American Marriage.” I will never forget them.

Josh Kun for his curiosity and ability to braid together many disciplines in his research and writing — in a way that broadens our understanding of the world around us and the cultural traditions we hold dear.

Laila Lalami because her prose is both grounded and dreamlike. She is a storyteller touched by magic, as far as I’m concerned.

Min Jin Lee because “Pachinko” knocked my socks off, and I was lucky enough to spend an evening with her at the Texas Book Festival and discovered she is raucously funny.

Lin-Manuel Miranda because I am the last person on earth to see “Hamilton,” and I bow down before his audacity. I am in awe of every lyric, every note.

Viet Thanh Nguyen because if I could time travel and go back and give him the Pulitzer for “The Sympathizer” again, I would. His talent is breathtaking.

Emily Nussbaum because her TV reviews in The New Yorker are an absolute must-read for me. She is the reviewer we need at a time when the medium of television has so elevated itself as an art form and cultural diving rod.

Claudia Rankine because I don’t want to keep getting older without her thoughtful poems and essays to both guide and heal my spirit along the way.

Curtis Sittenfeld because her writing is pitch perfect and I wait for news of a new work by her the way the Beyhive hovers over Beyoncé’s Twitter page, waiting for her to drop a surprise visual album. Her collection of short stories, “You Think It, I’ll Say It” was my “Lemonade.”

Jesmyn Ward because no one loves poor black Mississippians as deeply as she does, or writes of the people who live in this area of the American South with as much wide-eyed wonder at the inexorable beauty of black folks.

Sarah Weinman because she is the future of true crime reporting. “The Real Lolita” is a page-turning look at a salacious kidnapping — which inspired Vladimir Nabokov, whether or not he wished to admit it — but it is also a sociological study of girlhood and the ways in which our views about rules and meanings of girlhood both have and haven’t changed since the publication of Nabokov’s book.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

The breadth of Lorraine Hansberry’s political intelligence and curiosity in “Looking for Lorraine,” by Imani Perry. Also, Lorraine’s romantic relationship with Molly Malone Cook, who went on to become Mary Oliver’s partner.

What books besides your own would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about East Texas?

For sweeping historical epic, “The Wake of the Wind,” by J. California Cooper. For contemporary crime and page-turning fun, the Hap and Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale. And, of course, the work of James Lee Burke.

What moves you most in a work of literature?


Which books got you hooked on crime fiction?

It’s more mystery story than “crime fiction,” but I was absolutely mesmerized by “The Westing Game,” by Ellen Raskin, when I was a kid. I must have read it 15 times. It lit up my mind in a way that other books didn’t. What do you mean “Sunset Towers faced east and had no towers”? I was literally hooked from the first page.

How do you organize your books?

See an empty space. Fill it with a book.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

“Bachelor Nation,” by Amy Kaufman.

What’s the last book you recommended to a member of your family?

“Washington Black,” by Esi Edugyan — to my dad.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Larry Brown, Toni Morrison and Philip Roth — because there’s a significant chance that a spirited debate might break out, and I love drama above all things.

You’re a TV writer as well as a novelist. What books would you love to see adapted for the small screen?

“Circe,” by Madeline Miller. I never saw a single episode of “Game of Thrones,” but I would watch the hell out of this female-centric mythical epic.

“Prep,” by Curtis Sittenfeld. A prep school coming-of-age story, with deep observations about class? Yes, please.

“Middlesex,” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Family. Questions of identity. And a broad history of the city of Detroit. I would love to see this.

“Lit,” by Mary Karr. A woman with a biting sense of humor faces her alcoholism with candor, as she pieces together a homegrown approach to rehabbing her life and relationship with her child. It could be an incredible vehicle for an actress.

You’re welcome, Hollywood!

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Why would I ever answer this in print?

Whom would you want to write your life story?

David Sedaris.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

More James Baldwin. I’ve only read “Notes of a Native Son” and “Another Country.”

What do you plan to read next?

Well, since I’ve just admitted the above, probably some more James Baldwin. But it is also highly likely that my pre-order of Laura Lippman’s “Lady in the Lake” will be read first. Or Colson Whitehead’s latest, “The Nickel Boys.” I am highly intoxicated by the brightness of contemporary fiction. It is so exciting and urgent to me, and it’s what I am most interested in reading on any given day.

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