Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Guest Blogger: Linda Spalding & Giveaway

Summary: Winner of Canada's 2012 Governor General's Award for Fiction

In this provocative and starkly beautiful historical novel, a Quaker family moves from Pennsylvania to the Virginia frontier, where slaves are the only available workers and where the family’s values and beliefs are sorely tested.

In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, recently widowed and shunned by his fellow Quakers when he marries his young servant girl to help with his five small children, moves his shaken family down the Wilderness Road to the Virginia/Kentucky border. Although determined to hold on to his Quaker ways, and despite his most dearly held belief that slavery is a sin, Daniel becomes the owner of a young boy named Onesimus, setting in motion a twisted chain of events that will lead to tragedy and murder, forever changing his children’s lives and driving the book to an unexpected conclusion.

A powerful novel of sacrifice and redemption set in a tiny community on the edge of the frontier, this spellbinding narrative unfolds around Daniel’s struggle to maintain his faith; his young wife, Ruth, who must find her own way; and Mary, the eldest child, who is bound to a runaway slave by a terrible secret. Darkly evocative, The Purchase is as hard-edged as the realities of pioneer life. Its memorable characters, drawn with compassion and depth, are compellingly human, with lives that bring light to matters of loyalty and conscience. -- Pantheon

My intent was to have read and reviewed THE PURCHASE by Linda Spalding so I could share my thoughts prior to posting this interesting guest essay. However, life has been insane and I'm terribly behind in my reading. Rather than wait until I find the time to read this novel, I wanted to introduce you to this book (which sounds terrific, by the way) and the author. I hope you enjoy learning some of the "strange facts" that Ms. Spalding discovered in her research for THE PURCHASE. I know I did!

Strange Facts

One of the things I like best about writing is coming upon strange facts. Even when I’m working on fiction, there is research to be done: Locale. Weather. Trees and wildlife. History! And of course, clothes and habits. Writing The Purchase was a special treat in this regard. The story is based on a few facts I knew about my grandfather’s grandfather, a Quaker abolitionist who became a slave owner in 1798. In order to research his time and place, I found myself collecting all kinds of second-hand books. One of the best came from my mother’s library and involved life on a farm in southern Missouri before the Civil War. I figured southern Missouri wasn’t a lot different from south-western Virginia, so I read up on corn husking and winter amusements and what kinds of work children did on farms. It was in that book that I learned that nobody wore coats in the winter! This really surprised me. It was actually shocking to realize how impoverished those ante bellum lives were by our standards. I read a book about superstitions and another about herbal medicine and another about African religion. I read all the old Foxfire magazines I could get my hands on. But the most surprising source was Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. It amazes me to think a man as hugely busy as Jefferson could have the time and patience to learn about and then write about every weed and flower and animal and tree and river in his state along with all the laws and the factories and the public revenues and expenses and the minerals and the aborigines, as he called them. Imagine a political figure today having that kind of interest in the natural world. And I believe Jefferson must have been as confounded by his investment in slavery as my ancestor was, since he refers to it, in his book, as a “political and moral evil.” “Our peculiar institution’ is what they called it in the South, which sounds pretty shame-faced to me, like someone with an addiction who shrugs it off as a medical necessity. Here’s another strange fact. Without the cotton gin, slavery might have disappeared long before the Civil War, but the new machine caused a great demand for more and more slaves to grow more and more cotton for the British mills. That was another surprise – another strange fact I learned along the way. The trouble was, there was one big, blank page in all my research. Here is what I needed to learn: What was the effect on a person of conscience who bought a human being? It was the question that most haunted me and which I was trying to answer by writing my book because I believe my family and those like us who bought into the “peculiar institution” were poisoned by the denial of truth and decency we hid behind. I believe our society is still reeling from that toxic effect because we all grow out of the soil scraped thin by our grandfathers. That’s another strange, thought-provoking fact and it kept me working on The Purchase until I had fully absorbed it to my satisfaction.

Linda Spalding was born in Kansas and lived in Mexico and Hawaii before immigrating to Canada in 1982. She is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and (with her daughter Esta) Mere. Her nonfiction includes The Follow (Canadian title, short-listed for the Trillium Book Award and the Pearson Writers’ Trust Prize, and published in the US as A Dark Place in the Jungle), Riska: Memories of a Dayak Girlhood (shortlisted for the Kiriyama Prize), and Who Named the Knife. She has been awarded the Harbourfront Festival Prize for her contribution to the Canadian literary community. The Purchase received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Spalding lives in Toronto, where she is the editor of Brick magazine.

Visit Linda's website at www.lindaspalding.com.

Thanks so much to Ms. Spalding for this fantastic guest post, and make sure you check out THE PURCHASE! I can't wait to read it!

Giveaway alert: Thanks to the fine folks at Saichek Publicity and the publisher, I have a copy of THE PURCHASE to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below before December 16th at 11:59 p.m. EST. I will randomly select and notify the winner the following day. This contest is open to those of you with U.S. addresses only. Good luck!


bermudaonion said...

I love odd facts like that too. Both the book and the author sound fascinating.

Beth F said...

I agree. Great guest post and the book sounds great