We are excited to have both Jeff Shaara and Dolen Perkins-Valdez with us at our upcoming 2019 conference as guests of honor. Today, Ms. Perkins-Valdez stops by our blog to answer a few questions about her books and the perspective that she brings to historical fiction set during the American Civil War.
1. What inspired you to write your debut novel, Wench?
I was inspired when I learned of this resort in Ohio where enslavers vacationed with enslaved women. I was particularly intrigued by the existence of this resort because I knew the abolitionist history of Ohio.
2. What unique voice or perspective do you bring to the genre of Civil War historical fiction?
Rather than write a battleground novel, I structured Balm as a novel about the personal sacrifices of war. I wanted to recast the traditional narrative of a devastated national family into a story about devastated human families.
3. Your second novel, Balm, deals with the aftermath of the Civil War and a divided nation needing reconciliation and hope. In what ways do you hope that readers apply the themes of your novel to today’s world?
I have tried to draw the line between these historical moments and the contemporary world, and I always find that the line is jagged at best. My hope is really just that my love of history reaches their hearts and inspires them to pick up other historical novels and learn about other periods. I just so passionately believe that we must fight the ahistorical inclinations of contemporary pop culture.
4. The orator Cicero once said that the point of speaking was to instruct, to persuade, and to delight. Which of these three qualities do you think your novels do best?
Oh, I hope they delight. I learned a long time ago not to try to instruct or persuade because readers come away with their own conclusions. I actually enjoy it when readers are unsettled by something in my books–whether it be a character’s choice or an uncomfortable moment. I just hope they delight in that discomfort.
5. What project are you working on currently? Are you staying in the Civil War era or ranging farther afield to another time and place?
My current project is set in the early 1970s. I thought this was not historical until my 11-year old said to me incredulously, “You mean it’s set way back in the 1900s?” Then I began to delve into the period, and I realized how far away we are from that time. I love the research. I couldn’t write a book that did not force me to transport myself.
Learn more from Dolen Perkins-Valdez at our upcoming conference to be held June 20-22, 2019, in Oxon Hill, Maryland (right across the river from Washington, D.C.).