Attica Locke—writer and producer of the Fox hit show Empire—is also the author of four acclaimed novels. Her debut, Black Water Rising, was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award and NAACP Image Award, and shortlisted for the U.K.’s Orange Prize.

Locke’s latest, the thriller Bluebird, Bluebird (Mullholland, Sept.), stars a black Texas Ranger named Darren Mathews, who has mixed feelings about growing up black in East Texas. He left the state until work called him back to investigate two murders: a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman.

Locke, who lives in Los Angeles, was in the middle of writing season 2 of Empire when she realized she wanted to return to writing novels about her home state. She was born and raised in Houston, and her family “going all the way back to slavery” on both sides, she notes, “come from towns along Highway 59 in East Texas.” With Bluebird, Bluebird, her goal was to write “a rural noir” deeply steeped in the area.

The character Mathews is based on Locke’s own ambivalence about being a black Texan. “Though I don’t want to live there,” she says, “I cannot hate what made me. I cannot hate where I fundamentally come from.” At the same time, Locke adds, “there are things about the state that break my heart, politically, racially.”

Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in the Highway 59 series; all will star Mathews and be set along the Texas highway. While the series has a Texas Ranger as its protagonist, Locke remembers saying that she would “never write a book about cops.” Yet she also realizes that “writing about a black police officer in the 21st century is naturally a seat from which to look at ambivalence about that kind of job.”

Locke also sees her book as a “love letter to my grandparents’ generation, a love letter to people who set down roots in Texas and have a deep love for it.” She hopes the series will get readers to reflect on questions like “what is the law for black folks in America? Is the law the thing that will protect black life? Or is the law something that black life needs to be protected from? I think that the character Darren Mathews sits inside that question and is propelled by that contradiction.”

Today, 10:30–11 a.m. Attica Locke will be signing in the Autograph Area, at Table 5.