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Q&A with Attica Locke and Bridget Lawless

Bridget:  The theme of ‘home’ runs through this novel – and broken family relationships litter its pages: Darren’s shaky marriage, his blackmailing mother, his deep sense of home back in Camilla. Then there’s the land owned and settled by freedmen on the shores of Caddo Lake, who look after their own, and the Aryan Brotherhood followers who’ve squatted it and made it their home, too. And again, the toxic home of the missing boy Levi, his mother and her bullying boyfriend, while jail will be the lifelong home of Levi’s Aryan Brotherhood father. As a writer, what does home mean to you? And have you had to leave a place you love, either to escape something holding you back or to follow new opportunities

Attica:  Well, in a way I left Texas to be free of some of the restrictions I experienced there, and for some of the ways the political culture and climate were not a fit for my adult view of the world and what it should be. I write this even as I have warm feelings about where I come from and always will. But I can also love it from afar.

I also moved to California to pursue a career in film and television, something that I don’t think I could have done as successfully in Texas.

Bridget:  Darren’s motives throughout the novel are often less than pure. He’d be happy to pin Malvo’s murder on Levi’s father. He doesn’t want an elderly black man to be guilty of the abduction or murder of a white Aryan Brotherhood boy. He resists his friend’s insistence that justice must be seen to be done equally.  Why did you decide that the main character in the series should be flawed in these particular ways, and is it somehow inevitable he’d be torn between what’s right and what’s expedient, or desired?

Attica:  For me this was the only way to write a cop, which is a character I didn’t feel I had a natural affinity for. Knowing that Darren feels conflicted about the power the badge bestows on him allowed me to write a cop character I could believe in. And I think flawed characters are the most interesting – whatever they’re background, whatever their profession.

Bridget:  Am I right in assuming that you wrote Heaven, My Home since the Trump administration came into being? I’m intrigued that you set the novel in the period between his election in 2016 and his inauguration. What was it about that moment in time, rather than further into his presidency, that felt right for the telling of this story?

Attica:  The decision to tell the story before Trump’s inauguration was driven by the way the previous book in the series ended. It ended on a cliffhanger, and it seemed unbelievable that months and months would have gone by before that unresolved issue from Bluebird, Bluebird was handled. Then once I realized Heaven, My Home would take place within no more than two months of the previous book’s ending, I leaned into what it would mean to try to the do the right thing by a nation when there was the ticking clock of a monster about to take office.

Bridget:  Darren tries to quantify the amount of grace owed a child who was merely copying the grown men around him. ‘He hated to think the country was growing racists like bumper crops, full of piss and venom, as bitter as the dirt from which they came.’  Four years down the line, do you think Trump has fertilised a bumper crop of racists like never before? And is there hope of bringing all those people around with anything but heavy-handed law enforcement, now they’ve embraced that sense of entitlement?

Attica:  I don’t presently know where the hope lies. I definitely think that Trump has both used racists for his own ends and encouraged a lot more of them to come out of the woodwork. Ultimately, I think the most virulent of racists will yell and scream and act out to their last dying breath as a group. And they will die out.

Bridget:  Heaven, My Home, and Bluebird, Bluebird in the Highway 99 series are crime novels with detection and law enforcement as their drive. How does placing a black Texas ranger in a racist southern territory give you a wider canvas than putting a black cop in an urban setting?

Attica:  I think Texas Rangers in general are unlike any other law enforcement agency. They have a great deal of freedom of movement and freedom of approach in terms of how they investigate crimes. And rural Texas–when you get out there–can feel isolated. A Ranger like Darren could feel a sense of power and autonomy that he might not as a beat cop in an urban city. At the same time, he could get into a lot of trouble and danger before any backup could make it in time to save him.

Bridget:  You’ve given us an amazing soundtrack to this story – the Zydeco music, country gospel, jazz. I wasn’t the only one of the Staunch team playing each of the tracks as they were mentioned and it gave a whole new dimension to the story.  The Oakridge Boys song  ‘Because of Him’ includes the line from which your title is taken ‘I have but one goal, to make Heaven my home. ’ It was really satisfying to find these little gifts scattered through the book. Does music play a big part in your writing – do you listen, while you write? And is constructing the playlist a separate task or one that occurs naturally as you go along?

Attica:  The title didn’t come from the Oakridge boys song. It’s from a version of I Shall Not Be Moved by Jesse Mae Hemphill.

I do listen to music when I write. I create playlists for every book and project that I work on. Music for me is a heart-opener. It’s a big part of my process.

Bridget:  Who are your own writing heroes and heroines?

Attica:  Walter Mosley, J. California Cooper, Laura Lippman, Larry Brown, Toni Morrison.

Bridget:  What are you working on at the moment?

Attica:  The next Darren Mathews novel and a television adaption of my sister’s memoir, From Scratch, for Netflix.

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