Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Meet: Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of WENCH


I finished reading Wench last night and I still feel shaken. The language is spare, the characters hop off the page and live with you, and the story is powerful, powerful stuff. I definitely recommend it!

I'm delighted to introduce you now to the author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, who was kind enough to answer some questions for the blog.

White Readers Meet Black Authors: Tell us about Wench. How did you come to write this story? What subjects/themes do you explore? What's your writing style like?

Dolen Perkins-Valdez: Wench began when I stumbled upon a fascinating footnote of history. While reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois, I learned that during the 1850s, there was a summer resort near Xenia, Ohio notorious for its popularity among slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I was stunned to learn this little-known historical fact. I decided to do a bit of historical excavation and learn more. At the time, it was very popular among the country's elite to visit natural springs. This particular resort opened in 1852, and became popular among southern slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I knew that Ohio was a free state and many of the northerners were abolitionists. Yet I was fascinated to learn that because they did not enjoy vacationing with the southerners and their slave entourages, they stopped coming and business declined. The place closed in 1855. I began by asking myself: If the women entered free territory, why wouldn't they attempt to escape? Is it possible that they actually loved the men? As I made my way through draft after draft, I discovered that these were not questions easily answered. Even the answers I thought I would find turned out to be much more complicated than I'd imagined. (You can learn more in this NPR interview.)

WRMBA: What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? entertain? illuminate?

DPV: Of course I set out to entertain. Always. I come to writing as a reader first. I judge any book by whether or not I am able to lose myself in it. I have a reading chair at home. With a good book and a stretch of time, I can disappear into that chair. I hope my book does the same for other readers.

WRMBA: What's your biggest surprise-good or bad- (so far) about the publishing biz?

DPV: My biggest surprise has been how nice other writers are. I was always a bit frightened by published writers. Yet I have met so many who are just the nicest people you'll ever meet. I suppose my fear was all in my head. There is a lot of love among writers in this industry, especially among women writers. It's a beautiful thing.

WRMBA: What's next for you?

DPV: At the moment I am concentrating on promoting Wench. Once things slow down a bit, I'll get started on the next one. By summer, I hope to be deep into my next project.

WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?

DPV: There are so many!!! You are one, Carleen! I'm always telling people about you. Also, I am a huge fan of Tayari Jones. I hope people recognize her brilliance. [For Black History Month, I'm blogging about other writers you should know about over at The Divining Wand. Please stop in.]

WRMBA: Thank you!  Any advice for aspiring novelists? Someone asked me the other night how do you maintain some confidence through the long process of writing a novel. How did you do it?

DPV: So far, I have answered this question by saying "keep the faith" to every interviewer who asks it. But how does one keep the faith? There is no easy answer to that. I am driven by a passion for reading and the act of writing. Find what drives you. Gain energy from that. It is all that matters.

WRMBA: What else do you do with your time besides write--work? family? hobbies? Anything you want to share with readers?

DPV: When I'm not working/writing, I am spending time with my husband and daughter. That's about all I can handle.

Thanks Dolen and continued success with this book and all the ones to come! See you in April!

19 comments:

Barbara Samuel O'Neal said...

Fascinating subject, and I've heard nothing but good about this book . I'm taking it on a plane this weekend.

Traci said...

How ironic. I just picked up this book yesterday so that I could feature it on my blog later this month. This subject is VERY fascinating.

Zetta said...

Great interview, Carleen! I can't *wait* to read this book...

Lydia Sharp said...

Love this interview! Wench was already on my 2Bread list, and after reading this, I'm even more psyched about it.

I love how you mentioned that you approach your writing as a reader who wants to get lost in a book. It's a wonderful feeling to lose yourself in a story. I just finished reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, and that's exactly how I felt. I could not put that book down (spent more than one night reading until 2am because I didn't realize what time it was). My husband mentioned to me a couple different times that he had to say my name (loudly) more than once to get my attention while I was reading. I honestly forgot where I was and didn't hear him, and he was only a few feet away! Haha. I'm hoping I feel the same way when I read Wench.

Thanks so much for this interview!

Dolen Perkins-Valdez said...

Carleen, I love your blog. I love your politics. I love your style. I love everything about you. Thanks for this post!!

I hope y'all like the book. :-)

Tere Kirkland said...

Thanks for an amazing interview, Dolen and Carleen. I've ordered this book, so I hope it gets here soon. Dolen, thanks for writing what sounds like a riveting story about a part of history that shouldn't be forgotten or ignored.

(Lydia, that was the same response I had when reading Kindred. One of my all-time favorites)

Carleen Brice said...

Thanks everybody for your comments!

Laura Benedict said...

I've heard many wonderful things about Wench, Dolen. So thrilled that your audience has discovered you in a big way. Can't wait to read the novel--I know you have a brilliant career ahead!

I have family in Xenia, Ohio. Soon I'll be able to look at it with different eyes.:)

Najela said...

I need to read this book. She supposed to be coming to my school next week for writer's week and I'm super excited!

Great interview.

Barbara Albin said...

Wench should be arriving today by one of my favorite men, the UPS guy. I am really looking forward to it, although just a little nervous because many of these books take much out of you. I also celebrated Black History Month by visiting Barnes and Noble, purchasing the book bag they issued, full of bright colors. Not that I needed another book bag, but I liked this one. Again thank you for all the wonderful reading suggestions. The only problem is there are not enough hours in the day. Your interview was great.

Conseula said...

Ohh, I can't wait to read this.

Jeannine said...

I just finished Wench and reviewed it on my blog. An extremley interesting subject. Defintely a great book that stay with you long after you read the last page.

evelyn.n.alfred said...

I think Wench is a fabulous book. Great interview! Some of the lines are so beautiful, like:
The heat caressed them, oppened their pores, greased their faces with exertion.

Fantastic!

nathaliemvondo said...

I'm currently updating my to-read list and added WENCH. After this interview I can't wait to start reading it. It's interesting how the "official" account of history is unilateral and selective. They always seem to leave the best and most challenging parts out.

Thank you, Dolen, for writing about this. Carleen, you're wonderful I always learn so much when I read your interviews!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

I was pointed over here from Zetta Elliot's blog.

I just finished Wench, and it's still with me. Great novel!

Chris Eldin said...

Fantastic interview! I saw this book on Moonrat's blog and it immediately caught my interest. It sounds like such a complex topic...
Having lived in the Middle East and seen an Arab man or two with more than one wife, well, all these kinds of sex/power relationships fascinate me.
Am off to purchase from Amazon...

Rochelle Spencer said...

Interesting, interesting interview--both the questions and the responses. I look forward to reading this book!

Anonymous said...

I bought the book on a Friday and finished it on that Sunday. Totally enjoyable although I stumbled a bit with the dialogue in the first two chapters. Great author!

Ελλάδα said...

The book is an easy read but artfully told and well written story. The narrative is clean and sometime even lyrical. The characters are multi-dimensional, vivid and fully realized; surprisingly many of the minor characters are well developed as well. Perkins-Valdes made a courageous decision; she started out the book with her protagonist making an unpopular choice which frankly made her unlikeable almost immediately. Later in the novel the author focuses on how Lizzie and Nathan's relationship began and that's when we start understand our protagonist better.