Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez l Q&A + Blog Tour + Giveaway

Dolen Perkins-Valdez's fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, PMS: PoemMemoirStory, and elsewhere. She is a former University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellow and graduate of Harvard. Wench is her first novel. Born and raised in Memphis, she currently divides her time between Seattle and Washington, DC. You can visit her website at www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com or her blog at www.dolen.blogspot.com and visit her at http://twitter.com/dolen.

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Dolen. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Dolen: I was born and raised in Memphis, TN. I have been writing seriously for about twelve years. I have published fiction in The Kenyon Review and elsewhere.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Dolen: In 1851, a lawyer named Elias P. Drake purchased a plot of land near Xenia, Ohio with the intent to establish a summer vacation resort where the country's elite could relax and enjoy the mineral springs in the area. At the time, it was believed that natural water could cure illnesses and bring about good health. What made this resort unusual, however, was that it became a popular vacation destination for southern slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. Ultimately, these flagrantly open relationship offended the northern abolitionists who also frequented the resort. After four years, the resort closed.

This part of the story has been confirmed by historians. I took this forgotten historical note and sketched in a fictional account of what it would have been like to be an enslaved woman traveling to this free state each summer. Why wouldn't the women try to escape? What kinds of emotional attachments did they have with these men? Initially, I believed that it was entirely possible that they actually loved the men. Ultimately, I discovered that it was much more complicated than that. Wench tells the story of these four slave women--Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu--as they make very difficult decisions that will enable them to survive in an era when black women had very few choices.

I wrote this story because I felt this historical footnote was too fascinating to pass up. I have always been an author motivated by questions. I was very curious about these women.


What kind of research was involved in writing Wench?

Dolen:Most of my research had to do with the period. I wanted to make certain that I got the dress right, for example. I spent a lot of time researching slave kitchens and southern plantation layouts. As a writer new to historical fiction, I quickly figured out that I had a lot to learn if I wanted to convince savvy readers. As for the actual resort, I did do a fair amout of research, but it had more to do with the details of the place. What would the men have hunted? What kinds of flowers grew there? I sketched the area where the resort existed so that I would know the proximity of the ravine to the springs, for example. By the way, I am very thankful to the librarians who helped me. I acknowledge them in my book. I love librarians.


Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Dolen: I cut my teeth by submitting my fiction to literary journals, so I know a lot about publishing bumps. At one time, I taped rejection slips to my wall. I thought it would inspire me. On the contrary, I grew more and more depressed! That was a bad idea. After that, I went to the other extreme. I ripped them to shreds once I received them! I can look back on those days and laugh now. I understand that rejection is part of this business. As for Wench, I was fortunate enough to sell it to the first publisher my agent sent the manuscript to. It sold within days. The backstory to that, however, is that I wrote three manuscripts that were never picked up by agents and so never saw the light of day. I call those my "apprentice" novels.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Dolen: I signed the contract in January 2008 and the book is scheduled for release in January 2010. When I first signed my contract, I thought my book would be out within months! I had no idea what the book publishing process was like. I have learned a lot.


Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Dolen: Yes, I have a fabulous agent. Her name is Stephanie Cabot and she is with the Gernert Company.


Do you plan subsequent books?

Dolen: Yes, I do. I am working on a second novel.


Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

Dolen: I love to write in the library. I especially like main reading rooms with high ceilings, long tables and reading lamps. I am not a fan of coffee shops although I will use one in a crunch. I am the mother of a toddler, and I am quickly learning how to write whenever and wherever.


If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Dolen: Wench is scheduled for release on January 5, so I would buy a billboard in New York's Times Square for New Year's Eve. Do you think that would work?


How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Dolen: These days, self-promotion is everything. I have a Twitter account and a Facebook fan page. I am asking my friends to host book parties for me. I wish I knew the magical formula, though.


What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

Dolen: I did not ever think about giving up because I was blindly naïve. In a way, a writer has to be blindly naïve. Don't you think? I believe many new writers give up because the demands of their day jobs overwhelm them. It is very difficult to earn a living while writing late at night or early in the morning. It is especially difficult to do it if you have children. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to land an agent!


Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Dolen: Hang in there. Keep the faith. Continue writing and honing your craft. Attend writer's conferences to meet other writers.

Thank you for your interview, Dolen. I wish you much success!

Dolen: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

We're having a giveaway! Leave a comment or a question for Dolen between now and January 22 and you could be the winner of an autographed copy of Dolen's new book, Wench! Or simply write "I love Wench!" in the comment section!

Only those leaving email addresses with their comment or question qualifies.

The winner will be announced on Jan. 25.

Good luck!
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