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!