About writing "The Redemption of Valerie Tolliver"
Years ago I made a project of documenting life and work in coal country, mostly in eastern Kentucky. I made some memorable friends there.
Valerie Tolliver was named for a family I knew in Harlan County, Kentucky. She's someone I'd love to know. Alas, she's fictional - but in a sense she's parts of many people I've known, in Kentucky and elsewhere. Val has strong traits I've become sympathetic to over the years. She's had a hard life and learned to protect herself behind a fierce, explosive personality. She has a few extraordinary gifts she's still coming to terms with, and one very dark secret.
This novel was written deep inside an old, mostly-abandoned slaughterhouse, where I had my photography studio and living quarters for more than a decade. That grand building is gone now, but this novel endures as my longest, hardest project from those years. The arc of the story in some ways reflects my own growth over the course of its creation.
The story becomes progressively darker before it resolves, but never nihilistic. While writing it I went through a deep depression, then 9/11 happened, the Iraq war began and it took almost superhuman effort to keep what was happening in the world outside from spilling into my fictional realm. I definitely put some of my passion into Val - and I sure didn't let Ray off easy. But I was determined to stay true to their story, and to all the characters I came to love almost like family. Looking back now I believe all that intensity somehow made their story a bit richer and I wish you a great journey reading it.
I was born to missionary parents in the 1950s and grew up in India, Pakistan, Texas, Kentucky and Maryland. I graduated from high school in Pennsylvania, and have lived and traveled in many places since. I call Maryland home these days, and divide my creative time between photography and writing.