Sunday, June 19, 2011
Interview with Dolen Perkins Valdez
Dolen thank you for sharing a little bit about yourself and your books with my readers.
Your novel WENCH is based on factual events--slave women vacationing with their masters. How did you come upon this information and when did you know that it had the makings of a novel?
I came upon this information while reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of W.E.B. DuBois called Biography of a Race. In the section where the biographer discussed DuBois tenure as a professor at Wilberforce University in Ohio, he said that the university was a resort hotel that may have been the most unusual resort in America because it was popular among slaveholders and their enslaved mistresses. I was stunned, and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
WENCH has received a host of accolades including a nomination for an NAACP Image Award. What was it like getting the news about the nomination and attending the award show?
It was such an honor. I am from Memphis, Tennessee where the NAACP chapter has always been a legendary organization led by extraordinary individuals. The renowned Benjamin Hooks, who was the executive director of the national organization from 1977 to 1992, was from Memphis. So this was the best news I could have received. The award show was full of all the love I thought it would be: lots of hugs, kisses, warm wishes. I took my parents, and even though I didn't win, it is a memory I will always cherish.
How has the support of your publisher helped to propel the novel?
The support of my publisher has been immense. Having said that, I feel that I earned a lot of my publisher's respect and support. When my hardcover came out, it had a modest first printing of 10,000 copies. I was not given a national tour or much of a marketing budget. Once I understood this was very typical for an untested debut novelist, I began to work very hard on my hardcover sales. WENCH went into seven printings in hardcover. As a result, the publisher got behind my paperback in a much more committed way. I have been very pleased with my experience with Amistad/HarperCollins. They have some talented people working there.
How much do you think word of mouth has played into the success of WENCH? And what were some of the strategies that you employed to get the word out?
Word of mouth has been tremendous. They say that word of mouth is the best marketing an author can get, and I can attest to that. I have been very active on Facebook and Twitter. I think that social media has really given debut authors an advantage.
This is your first novel. But of course, novel writing is not all that you do. What other hats do you wear? Who is Dolen when she turns off the computer or puts down the notebook?
I have a family, so I am constantly juggling my family and career needs. Like any working professional mom, I hope that I am doing an adequate job at each. It's definitely not easy.
The original cover for WENCH was a beautiful picture of a woman, somewhat obscured by a large hat. The paperback version of the novel is a bird freed from its cage. What role if any did you play in the new cover and why the change? What has been the overall reaction to the new cover?
My paperback imprint HarperPerennial chose the paperback cover. Contractually, debut authors usually do not have the authority to choose their covers. I was fortunate, however, to have a publisher that valued my input. They asked me about each, and I responded that I really loved them both! My readers have mixed reviews, though. My hardcover still sells because some prefer that cover. Others like the paperback cover.
Shifting gears just a bit. How do you feel the new digital age will change the face of publishing--if at all-- and will it have any impact on writers of color?
I think the new digital age will definitely change the face of publishing. Think about it: there have been four authors of color on the paperback New York Times Bestseller list in 2011. That's a promising number which I hope will rise. There is, of course, no way to measure the impact of the internet on book sales, but I'm willing to venture that it is significant.
What is one book (other than yours) that you would highly recommend readers to get and why?
I highly recommend a book I read recently called A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar. It is a beautiful debut novel about a young girl growing up in Kuwait and Egypt around the time of the Persian Gulf war. Jarrar has a wicked sense of humor--I laughed the whole way through! This is not a tourist journey through Arab culture.
Dolen, what can readers look for next from you and when? I'm working on a new novel set during the time of the Civil War.
I really hope I can finish it soon, but as you know writing a novel is long, difficult work. Wish me luck.
And of course, where can readers find you on the web?
Find me on Twitter at twitter.com/dolen or Facebook at facebook.com/writerdolen or www.DolenPerkinsValdez.com