I have the pleasure of including an interview with Ms. Dolen Perkins-Valdez on my blog. Her fiction touches upon my writing interests, historical fiction and the stories of African Americans. When I contacted her about her novel and about the possibility of an interview, she suggested that we wait until after the paperback was released. That happened in January, and when I reconnected with her, Ms. Perkins-Valdez was happy to be interviewed. I’m giving a copy away, so see below for more information on that. Here’s the interview.
MW: You started this novel by stumbling upon something. Tell us about that.
DPV: I was reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois by David Levering Lewis, and I came across a line about the origins of Wilberforce University. Lewis wrote that it was once a resort hotel popular among slaveowners and their slaves. I was shocked and intrigued.
MW: Before learning of your work’s success, I didn’t think most people rushed to discuss how white mistresses lived in and around their husband’s slave wenches. What was it like preparing this great novel as a WIP? What was it like to pitch the project?
DPV: As I was writing, I just focused on telling the story. I wasn’t thinking of it as a “great novel” or anything like that because it was my first book and I wasn’t even sure if it would be published. Once I decided to pitch it to agents, I just described the story as honestly and confidently as I could.
MW: I think I read that you had a little trouble pulling together historical fragments as you researched. How would you suggest that writers, communicators, and people in general tell history? How do we pass on stories these days?
DPV: I hear from so many people who have fascinating family stories. I always urge them to write those stories down. Most cell phones have built-in voice recorders, sort of like mini-cassette recorders. At the very least, people should talk into these and then save the audio files on their computers and/or e-mail them to the tech-savvy members of their family. Those of us who are younger should solicit the stories from the elders in our family. Many oral stories will be lost if we don’t do this with a greater sense of urgency.
MW: Did you find new things or learn things as you worked on the manuscript?
DPV: Of course! Yes, I learn so much when I’m working. There are many things that can’t possibly make it into the final book. Not only do I learn a lot about history, but I also learn a lot about how to tell a stories. Writing is a craft, and it takes many years to master. I am still learning.
MW: You’ve probably been asked a lot of questions since publishing the novel. What question haven’t you been asked that you really want to answer, and what is the answer?
DPV: I can’t think of a good question I haven’t been asked. Recently, however, in Santa Monica, an audience member asked me about Jeremiah in the book and why he won’t take orders from the overseer’s wife. I’d forgotten all about Jeremiah! I insisted that there was no Jeremiah in the book. That was a funny moment. People are often surprised when authors forget what they wrote, but it can happen sometimes.
MW: What’s next and how can my blog readers stay in touch with you?
DPV: I’m working on a new novel. It’s a historical novel, but it is not a sequel to WENCH. I hope my fans will be patient. In the meantime, please pass the news about the book. There are still lots of readers out there to reach. My website is http://www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com and I’m on Facebook at facebook.com/writerdolen.