Written By Summer 2015 : Page 25

the hotel, Locke had “a crazy dream: I was living on a film commune—very Sundance-y—a commune where peo-ple lived together, they made movies together. Everything happened in this one place where we all lived. And it was the night of a big movie premiere—and I was on janitorial duty that night. On the night of some big premiere hap-pening somewhere else, I literally had a broom and I’m sweeping with the janitorial crew—not participating in any way with the movie. And I stopped sweeping in the dream, and I said: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ “And somebody else said, ‘You have to go tell Marlon.’” Locke laughs. “In my dream, Mar-lon Brando was running this film com-mune! Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront . And I had to go tell him that I didn’t want to do this anymore. And when I went to meet with him, he said: ‘Are you sure? I’ve heard great things about you.’ I said to him, ‘It isn’t what I thought it was going to be.’” Locke had her epiphany: “Like a light went on.” Within a year, she borrowed money from her house and began writing a novel. The Hard-Knock Writing Life By the time of the Guild strike in 2007, Locke was a new mother without a nanny, because she didn’t know how long she’d be unemployed. “I was a stay-at-home mom during the day,” she says. “Diapers, bottles, the whole thing. The second my husband got home from work, I fled the house and I came here”—to The York— “and I would sit at one of these tables, lay out pages, and work on my book.” Writing that novel was “mind-blowingly awesome,” she recalls. “Oth-er than motherhood, the single most transformative experience of my life. It was terrifying; I was a neurotic mess. But there was a tremendous freedom in doing something that nobody was pay-ing attention to. Nobody knew I was writing it—and nobody gave a shit. So I felt completely free.” Then again, when she first contem-plated writing a manuscript that would draw on personal experience and whose protagonist-lawyer Jay Porter would to a great extent resemble her own attorney father, Locke says she also felt fear. “I drove out to a hotel in Palm Springs and stayed there for a couple of nights. I re-member sitting on the floor of that ho-tel, crying. I knew if I was to write this story, I was necessarily going to ‘color’ myself for the world. Which sounds in-sane, because clearly I walk around the world black. But I’d had a Hollywood career in which I was being praised for not doing black material—for being a ‘crossover.’ I could do comic-book adap-tations, I could do something for Sandra Bullock. I could do something for Jamie Foxx—but there wasn’t anything inher-ently black about what I was doing.” In fact, she was encouraged not to write black. “My agent at the time would sometimes apologize if a story came that was black; they would almost shy away from it, didn’t want me to feel like they were pigeonholing me or somehow handing me something that was lesser. I always thought, What are you talking about? I would never see anything black as lesser, and if there is something black out there—I wanna do it! ” Black water rising indeed: “I was fundamentally walking through Holly-wood not as my full self. I was present-ing someone who was of no color. To write a novel about a character like Jay Porter would let the world know actu-ally my world-view is fundamentally black. And it was very scary for me but ultimately liberating. I could no longer go through my professional career be-ing this crossover person. I would be a writer who was black—and who cher-ishes that about herself.” Black Water Rising received positive reviews and was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edgar Award, and (in England) the Orange Prize. Locke’s second novel, The Cutting Season (2012), was a national bestseller. Her just-released third novel, Pleasant-ville, brings back the character of Jay Porter in a story centered on political machinations and criminal deeds in an African-American community in Texas. Not So Pleasant There is a real Pleasantville, a Hous-ton suburb built years ago for blacks of means; but Locke, who grew up in Houston, never heard of Pleasantville until her father ran for the Houston mayoralty in 2009 and she returned with her siblings to help on the cam-paign. “One night I had to go to a can-didate forum in Pleasantville. A middle-class neighborhood, kinda worse for the wear: pockets of it were nice to walk up, but other pockets of it were falling apart. I’m thinking, How is it that every can-didate for mayor, city council, congressper-son—why are they all always here, begging for votes from these people? I didn’t get it.” When Locke did some research into the history of Pleasantville, “I was floored. That it had been founded by these two Jewish developers [who] had this dream for the place: becoming the first planned community for Negro families that have money. What they didn’t understand was going to happen is that, if you put thousands of moneyed, engaged, edu-cated black people in their single voting precinct, you’re gonna shift state politics. That is exactly what happened. All of a sudden it was this powerful precinct; now they have this history that is 60 years old, of being highly, highly, highly engaged. They vote, like nobody else in the state, consistently. So everybody woos them.” Within a week of returning “home” to Houston, Locke knew the location and plot of her next novel. “There was going to be a girl who went missing. ’Cause I was doing that job: canvass-ing for my dad all over the city—with a cell phone in 2009. I’m thinking, What must this have been like for a person be-fore there were cell phones? To be out in a strange neighborhood, knocking on doors. ” Of more immediate interest to her that year, of course, was her father’s cam-paign. “It was a weird election,” Locke recalls. “One year after Obama, the two candidates for mayor of Houston, Texas, are a former gay student-rights activist and a former black student-rights activ-ist—this white woman and my dad. All of the racists went to her, and all of the continues on page 62 SUMMER 20 15 WG A W WRITTEN BY • 25

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