Noir fiction’s focus on the darker aspects of human nature make it an interesting choice through which to look at history

Attica Locke is an American author. The Cutting Season is her second novel.

The opening scene successfully renders the “outrageously beautiful” of “Belle Vie”. What were your sources of inspiration to create this

In 2004 I went to a wedding at the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. I had never been to a historically preserved plantation before, and I was stunned by its beauty, but also angry to think that beauty was being touted as a way to distract from the horrors of slavery. I thought it was inappropriate to be throwing a party, let alone a wedding, on the grounds of a plantation.

Is The Cutting Season the other side of Gone With The Wind?

No, I don’t think so. The Cutting Season is very much meant to deal with our contemporary take on history.

You thank Dennis Lehane at the end of your novel. Is noir fiction the appropriate genre to revisit history?

I think noir fiction’s focus on the darker aspects of human nature make it an interesting choice through which to look at history, especially since history is full of dark deeds and despicable characters.

The Cutting Season is a detective novel in which the police does not prove worthy. Is it still common in Louisiana to be involved in a case while being innocent and still plead guilty because you are black, you already have a criminal record and you are promised a reduced sentence?

I think this is true in a lot of places in the United States, not just Louisiana. My husband is a public defender in Los Angeles, and there are instances when he advises a client to take a lesser charge (in a plea deal) rather than risk losing in court and going away from potentially the rest of his client’s life. It is extremely easy to be wrongfully convicted, with or without a criminal record, black or white. It happens nearly every day. The desire for justice often clouds every aspect of a criminal case – from arrest to trial – and cops, prosecutors and juries don’t always get the right person.

There are two investigations in this novel: one in the past and one in the present which converge at the end, making sense of the whole novel. Was it difficult to set up the structure of The Cutting Season?

I didn’t find the structure hard to write. The hardest part of the process for me was accepting the fact that certain ideas I had for how to tell the story weren’t working. In earlier drafts, I told the story of Jason, Caren’s ancestor, through flashbacks, but it was kind of dragging the story down, and even though it was revealing a great deal about Caren’s family history it was taking us away from her, the main character.

Could you, in a few words, give us a psychological portrait of Caren Gray?

At the beginning of the novel, Caren is “stuck,” someone I think of as hiding out from life on this plantation, keeping her and her daughter safe from the world, as if behind glass in a museum. Growing up, she always wanted to get away from the plantation and yet when we meet her it seems she’s just resigned to the fact that this is where she’s always belonged. And in this sense I meant Caren’s psychological state to be a stand-in for the way I feel that Americans are often still “stuck” in plantation mentality about race.