Many of the new books I decide to read come as recommendations from Shelby (who gets hers from the featured sections of Barnes&Noble lol). Her and I have a similar love and passion for reading so when she referred Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez to me last fall I was confident I’d love the book.
This past January I finally finished reading Wench. It is now a New York Times bestseller! The story is so captivating, raw and intense that I was unable to put it down. Before I knew it, I’d raced through the 300+ pages in less than a week! The storyline delved into the lives of four enslaved women and their romantic, and sometimes brutal, relationships with their masters at a summer retreat (it later became Wilberforce University) in Wilberforce, Ohio:
Situated in the free state of Ohio, Tawawa House offers respite from the summer heat. A beautiful, inviting house surrounded by a dozen private cottages, the resort is favored by wealthy Southern white men who vacation there, accompanied by their enslaved mistresses.
Regular visitors Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet have forged an enduring friendship. They look forward to their annual reunion and the opportunity it affords them to talk over the changes in their lives and their respective plantations. The subject of freedom is never spoken aloud until the red-maned, spirited Mawu arrives and voices her determination to escape. To run is to leave behind the friends and families trapped at home. For some, it also means tearing the strong emotional and psychological ties that bind them to their masters.
When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet soon learn tragic lessons,that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the cruelest circumstances as they bear witness to the end of an era.” – http://www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com
After reading the incredible story, I took to Twitter to proclaim my fascination and admiration of the story! It was there that I caught the attention of Perkins-Valdez who invited me to attend the Cincinnati leg of her national booktour that HarperCollins was endorsing to promote her novel. On January 27, 2011 I met Mrs. Perkins-Valdez at Downtown Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library and gained new insight into the novel. Below is my interview. Enjoy 🙂
How does it feel to have your first published novel prominently displayed in bookstore giants such as Borders and Barnes & Noble?
It is an amazing feeling. I’m grateful if I see the book displayed prominently in ANY bookstore, including independently-owned stores and airport stores. It is a longtime dream of mine.
How long was the writing process for Wench? Including research?
It took four years to write the book. I sold it to my publisher in January 2008. Then I waited another two years before it appeared in print.
The publishing industry can be such a scary, intimidating arena for inexperienced writers trying to land their first book deal. How were you able to navigate your way to getting Wench published? Is it as complicated as it would seem?
It is not that complicated although every stage of the process is very difficult. I managed to attract the interest of an agent. That literary agent then sold my book to HarperCollins. The process is a simple one, but the chances of success are so slim that there is a great deal of luck involved. It helps to have a solid manuscript.
Any tips that you can give young, Black writers who are looking to become published?
I would just say to write the very best book you can. Read read read. What you read is reflected in your writing.
Growing up, what was your relationship with books? Did you see yourself becoming a writer one day?
I was a reader from a very early age. I thought I would become a lawyer.
Are you working on anything currently? Any details you can spare?
I’m keeping quiet about the second book. I’ll just say that it is not a sequel to WENCH, but it is a historical.
Do you prefer writing novels or short stories? Why?
I prefer novels. Short stories are very difficult because they have to be so perfect. The short narrative arc of a short story requires a great deal of precision.
What are you reading right now? Favorite literary genre?
I’ve got an advance copy of Tayari Jones’ SILVER SPARROW in my bag. It’s next on my list! It comes out in May. I really love literary fiction.
Musically, listening to right now?
Musically, I prefer jazz, particularly the vocalists. I just saw Dianne Reeves in concert.
Besides Wench, what other books come highly recommended by you?
BIG MACHINE by Victor LaValle, anything by TAYARI JONES, THE SEAMSTRESS by Frances de Pointes Peebles, A MERCY by Toni Morrison
What do you think of the new surge of bloggers? Will you be joining the movement and becoming one yourself?
I used to have a blog. Now I prefer to Tweet (@Dolen) or Facebook.
Any blogs you frequent?
I just like to browse.
I noticed your hair texture…are you natural?
I wear my hair both straightened and curly. So I’m hesitant to commit in this question to one or the other. I believe in convenience!