Linda Spalding | Creating the Past
January 8, 2014
My latest book, THE
PURCHASE, is being called historical fiction. And I suppose it is.
But writing historical fiction is a mug’s game. Are we recreating the past, or
creating it? While writing, I am imagining things that never happened, trying to
make it seem like they did, like they were part of the actual pageant of
history, like they make as much sense as the history we all learned in school,
some of which was also a fiction. While writing, I am leaning backward from my
21st century chair and hoping to smell things that no longer even exist, to
create medicines and foods and conversations I have never heard or seen or tasted.
So, I am turning myself into the past! I am becoming a way in which it can exist
in the present. And if all events are with us forever, as causes and effects,
then I am translating something from a language I’ve never heard. As I would
translate the work of a stranger who speaks a language I don’t understand - a
stranger who provides me with a dictionary.
How can I enter the mind of a slave, male, black, his mother an African captured
and raped? How dare I decide to tell his story, or that of a slave girl who has
learned to heal, although her methods are foreign to the people around her. My
morals, ethics and beliefs were unimaginable in 1800, which is the time I write
about in The Purchase. But I begin to understand the values of that time by
reading its literature, its diaries, its official reports. Of course, my words
will cast shadows of modernity on the story. I will reflect the past with all
the distortions lent to me by a contemporary temperament, but I will resist that
temperament at every turn and do my best to turn myself inside out, like a sock.
And in the telling, there is so much learning! I learn everything I can about
how it feels to have been alive in 1800 in southwestern Virginia, where a human
being could be purchased for two hundred dollars. 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.
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. 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 and described it page by
page.The lives I was reading about can never be relived but they can be assumed,
entered, translated and shared. What a privilege to participate in such a
transformation and rebirth.
Literature is not reality, but it reflects reality as seen and felt by the
creator and then the beholder. It is the commitment of entering another point of
view that I celebrate. On the part of both writer and reader.
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.
About Linda Spalding
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
28 comments posted.
Re: Linda Spalding | Creating the Past
Wow, this sounds like an extremely interesting read.
(Christine Schultz 1:30am January 8, 2014)
A burning question indeed. This book sounds extraordinary!!!!
(Mary Preston 6:01am January 8, 2014)
This sounds like a book I'd definitely love to read! Thanks and good luck!!!
(Bonnie Capuano 6:19am January 8, 2014)
sounds like a totally different kind of story..and would love to read it.
(Mal Kaplan 7:58am January 8, 2014)
Sounds like a great book! I would really like to read it.
(Kathy Morrison 8:34am January 8, 2014)
Due to the amount of research you did, I'm sure you nailed the story!! I'm anxious to get my hands on your book, after reading the synopsis. History, as painful as it is at times, has to be kept alive, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Authors such as you who do their best to keep parts of History alive, so that others will know how our great Country began. Thank you for your work!!
(Peggy Roberson 9:49am January 8, 2014)
Sounds very interesting!
(Richard Proctor 9:57am January 8, 2014)
sounds really good thanks
(Denise Smith 10:10am January 8, 2014)
Sounds like a great book! Can't wait to read it!
(Maria Proctor 10:24am January 8, 2014)
Sounds awesome! Who is your favorite author to read? Thank you for the
(Vickie Schultz 10:42am January 8, 2014)
I am most fascinated by your captivating novel. Best wishes
and much success. Congratulations on your awards.
(Sharon Berger 10:45am January 8, 2014)
I most definitely will read this book! Thanks so much for the contest!
(Vennie Martinisi 1:45pm January 8, 2014)
I am definitely intrigued by this one. Keeping my fingers crossed!
(Melanie Backus 2:20pm January 8, 2014)
One of my dad's cousins was doing some research on family history. He was looking at land titles. One of the documents that he came across and that my dad shared with me shook me up quite a bit. There was a document that stated that piece of land had been traded for "an 8 year old slave girl". Thinking of that child as a piece of property that could be bought and sold really brought the meaning of slavery home to me! I was stunned that anyone could think of a child as property!
(Sandy Fielder 3:15pm January 8, 2014)
I don't always read historical but this sounds like so much more than historical and it sounds amazing!
(Denise Austin 4:13pm January 8, 2014)
Southern fiction, especially historical, is my favorite genre. Having said that I was wondering if you have read Page From a Tennessee Journal, Mudbound, The Kitchen House, etc. They are breathtaking!
(Susan Coster 4:37pm January 8, 2014)
I love the cover, it is a peaceful looking place. My sister has done research on our family, very interesting.
Thank you for the giveaway.
(Barbara Wells 4:54pm January 8, 2014)
Now I need to read this book to find out if Daniel"s wife was a bought slave. My
mother's family was very influent in a Virginia county and owned many slaves, all
between her grandfather and his five brothers. Such an interesting subject and
I'd like to know how it was approached by you.
(Suzanne Gonneville 5:15pm January 8, 2014)
This book sounds very interesting, captivating and worth reading. It is always interesting to learn new facts through authors that do their research and incorporate this into their novels. I didn't know that winter coats were not worn in the winter either. I definitely want to read this! book.
(Linda Luinstra 5:16pm January 8, 2014)
This book sounds like it would be an interesting read! I love to read, always carry books around with me every-where I go!!
(Carol Oddy 7:19pm January 8, 2014)
Wow, Congrats on your new book: THE PURCHASE. I like the
book cover too! Hello, Linda, Happy New Year 2014 to You. I
was born and raised on a huge farm in Kansas. I am now
living in Austin, TX and your new book sounds fantastic.
Congrats on all your awards too! I would love to win and
read your new book in the New Year. Thank You very much.
(Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez 9:36pm January 8, 2014)
Your book sound very interesting. Thanks for a chance to win.
(Linda Hall 10:12pm January 8, 2014)
Sounds like my kinda read, really injoyed your blog.
(Sheila True 10:31pm January 8, 2014)
I think I would like this book; adding it to my TBR list
(Barbara Studer 10:58pm January 8, 2014)
The idea of owning another person is just so foreign to me that I can't imagine how I would feel about it.
(Sue Farrell 11:09pm January 8, 2014)
The Purchase sounds like a real intense story but someone has to tell this story. I do like the interview that you have done research so the readers can really see it through the characters' eyes.
(Kai Wong 11:37pm January 8, 2014)
Would love to read this story. Very interesting and thanks for the chance to win.
(Kathleen Beale 9:11am January 10, 2014)
The Purchase definitely caught my attention. Your research proved to write depth into the pages that make the book a touch more painful and intense. Sounds like a wonderful read.
(Rosemary Simm 5:00pm January 11, 2014)
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