Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine a spotlight on professor and author Sharon Healy-Yang! She will be at our little “bigger on the inside” bookstore at 65 James Street on Saturday, February 20, signing and talking about her first published novel, Bait and Switch. Her day job is teaching in the English department at Worcester State, but during her summer and winter breaks, she loves working on fiction. Because she loves classic mysteries of the forties, whether on film or in book, she decided she would enjoy writing her own. She also incorporates her love and knowledge of film and history into her teaching and academic writing, as well.
Welcome to the Spotlight Blog! For readers unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe what you write? What can readers expect from Bait and Switch?
My writing evokes the wit, humor, suspense, and style of 1940s film noir. There are strong and clever women, men who appreciate them, and a wise-aleck cat. My style is very visual, almost cinemagraphic – and I love to keep you guessing. I also like to write about people whom you would probably want to know because of their humor and integrity. That said, they are still human and make mistakes with which most of us can identify.
What kind of research went into writing this book? What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?
I went through all different forms of research. When I first started writing it, my parents and other people who’d lived during the time period in which it was set were still alive, so I could pump them for all kinds of info about what it felt like to live during the war or just what life was like at the time. It also helped me have a good feel for the morés of the time, as well as the lingo. Watching old movies also helped me develop my style of expressing ideas, the rhythm of the plot, the way people talked, the way they ate and got around. One of my favorite means of research was sitting in the library and pouring through days and days of the New York Times for the months in which my novel took place. I ended up feeling as if I were really living then: hanging on the latest war news; checking out the advertisements to see what things cost, what stores were open, how people traveled, what shows were playing (on the screen or the stage). Of course there were also some neat books on NYC in the war years, too.
What was the inspiration for Bait and Switch? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
I just loved a great mystery and wanted to create my own. Working on this book took years. I refined and revised for a long time, but I became a much better writer because of that. The two sequels moved much faster. But it is hard to write as a teacher, because during the school year I am so fully engaged in my work that I don’t have the creative or intellectual energy to work on fiction. And there’s just not time!
What was the biggest challenge in writing and putting out Bait and Switch? How did you overcome that challenge?
Writing, itself, wasn’t so much of a challenge. Even though, as I said above, teaching doesn’t leave much time or energy for creative work. What killed me was trying to find an agent or a publisher. My 1940s slant wasn’t popular until fairly recently; then, when the era did catch fire, the big publishers and agents were closing down opportunities to new writers. However, I bought my Writers’ Guide to Publishers and to Agents and I blanketed everyone who looked as if he/she might be interested. I happened to hit Touchpoint almost by accident. I had emailed the agent at an agency, even though the web site said they weren’t accepting new authors, because their interests seemed congenial to my work. The agent had actually moved on to start her own press and emailed me back right away expressing her interest. The rest is history. So, finding someone willing to give me a chance and who appreciated my style of writing was the hardest. It required perseverance, cleverness, and luck all together.
What character did you love or hate the most while writing? And why?
This question is hard to answer. I love my main character, Jessica, because a lot of me is in her – except for being willing to risk her life under any circumstances! I like James because he’s a decent guy who respects women. I love Liz, the sister, because she’s smart, has a good heart, and is wonderfully offbeat. I don’t even hate the villains because they were fun to write, though I’ve never been fond of Nazis.
What is your favorite part of being a writer? Of the whole writing and publishing process? What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?
My favorite part? More like favorite parts! I love creating, coming up with a world of people and their environs. I love establishing a mood or turning a clever phrase. I love being able to talk about the writing with others as if the characters are real people. And love the fun of keeping people guessing. I don’t know about the greatest lesson.
What piece of advice would you want to share with other writers?
Advice: Practice! Hone your craft! Get feedback from reliable people: those you respect and those that you believe are representative of your audience. Learn what advice is useful and what isn’t. Don’t be too rigid to accept suggestions, but still figure out which ones will help you achieve what you want to create. Be realistic. Don’t expect the millions to start rolling in. Even if you get published, you’re still probably not going to make much money. Don’t do it for the money; do it because you want to write. That said, still buy my book. Get two; they’re small! Even if you don’t get published or you’re not great, still write. Writing for the pleasure of writing is a wonderful thing.
How important has the New England setting been to your writing?
This novel is not set in New England, but the next two completed ones in the series do draw on parts of New England. In fact one is set almost entirely in coastal Connecticut. The fourth one, in the planning stage, will be set in Maine. I also have rough versions of two other novels, not in the series, set in New England.
I would say New England itself is a wonderful place to live to get in touch with other writers, visit NYC (where this novel is set), have access to independent bookstores, have great settings conducive to sitting down and writing in.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
I’ll be revising Jessica Minton novel #2 this summer and discussing with my publisher the best time to submit and release it. I’d also like to eventually publish the novels that are outside this series, though this series is my favorite.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
My husband and I have lots of fun traveling around the country or in China, England, France, etc. We also love ballroom dancing and riding bicycles on the rail trails. Just walking in nature is fun – and I love to bird watch. We also love to go to concerts and plays. I love Shakespeare, which is one of the courses I teach. I love teaching literature. It’s great to work with students. I’ve developed some really interesting courses like Shakespeare and Film, Film and Lit; Romantic and Victorian Gothic; Creative Thinking/Critical Writing, and Witchcraft in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (team taught). Some other areas of interest are horse racing, my delightful cats, and anything X-Files. In fact, I edited a collection of essays called The X-Files and Literature.
What does your writing space look like? What do you need to have around you while writing or editing?
I like to be someplace comfortable that won’t hurt my back. In the summer, sitting out on our front porch with a view of the hills and an occasional visit from a hummingbird is neat. I always write the first draft in longhand, on paper! It feels more immediate. No keys getting in my way. It’s also easier to cross out but still have the earlier material accessible than using a computer. The computer is nice for revising and composing additional material.
Do you have any favorite foods or drinks that must be in the vicinity (or must be avoided) while you’re writing or editing a piece of work?
Tea! Sometimes coffee.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, thus far, in your writing career?
Not to ever give up and to appreciate the support of friends – and to return that support. I guess that’s three lessons.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
For independent bookstores: Booklover’s Gourmet, Mrs. Bridges Pantry
Toadstools in Peterborough or Keene, NH may be carrying it.
I’m working on A Likely Story, Mystery on Mainstreet, and Tatnuck Booksellers
I’m also available on line through Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon, and Touchpoint Press
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
I have a web site that has all the latest on my writing and adventures (riding rail trails and ballroom dancing with my husband, riding herd on two black cats, and going out for tea – as well as my foreign travels). Check out sharonhealyyang.com on WordPress. Please feel free to connect with me there. I’m also on LinkedIn, though that’s more of a professional site. I’ve also set up a listserv, so let me know if you’d like to be on that. Also, the web site has some neat entries on great films, tv shows, and books connected with golden era mysteries. If you’re an educator or student, I also have a page there on teaching and academics.