Monday, May 20, 2013

Sandra Chang's Escaped Alone

Sharon Clark Chang was raised in Richmond, Virginia, in a family whose forbears included some of Virginia’s earliest settlers as well as 19th-century immigrants who arrived on famine ships. She is a graduate of The George Washington University, with a degree in International Affairs/East Asian Studies. After an 18-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Clandestine Services, she worked in advocacy for Americans of Asian descent. Still later, she formed a one-of-a-kind consultancy serving minority-owned small businesses. Together with a brace of terrierists, a relentless sense of humor, and a reputation for being incorrigible, she currently lives in a Northern Virginia city located not far from the sites of the Escaped Alone action.

Welcome, Sharon! You're my northern neighbor.
How has growing up in Virginia affected your writing?

I live in Northern Virginia—and grew up further south in Virginia.  Growing up in a Southern environment and having a healthy dose of Irishness in my genetic makeup has given me two strong storytelling influences.  Add to that the fact that coming from two conquered peoples makes for a pronounced awareness of what, for better or for worse, has been lost as time passes and one era transitions into another.

How many books have you written?

This is my first book-length work.

Give a short synop of Escaped Alone.     

The Greatest Generation made our world safe for democracy—and then sired a generation that began transforming our nation into one that was safe for diversity. Escaped Alone transports the reader to mid-20th-century Virginia—to a time when the American South was experiencing its Last Hurrah. As a society struggles to return to its prewar stability, the slower-paced mode of living for the very young remains sheltered and in many ways idyllic, allowing ample time to savor the joys of childhood. Yet accompanying this pleasant existence is a darker undercurrent of institutionalized injustice that gradually awakens one child to the ugliness of racial, religious and lifestyle discrimination within her community. Departure for college provides the opportunity to begin her search for a more tolerant mode of living. The tale of her development into one who will seize this opportunity is punctuated by abundant humor, occasional horror, the emergence from the closet of some wildly animated family skeletons, and a generous outlay of unmistakably Southern storytelling. Its entertainment value aside, Escaped Alone may well be the first in-depth chronicling of exactly how a new kind of American conscience was formed.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

Since the book is nonfiction/memoir and I am the narrator, there is none of myself that’s hidden in it. My characters don’t take on lives of their own.  Their lives are depicted as they are (or, in some cases), were.  Truth may be stranger than fiction in the case of many of the characters I present.

What challenges did you face while writing this book?

It’s perfectly fair to say that my biggest challenge was bringing myself to stop editing it and to get on with the process of finding a publisher.

Do you travel to do research or for inspiration? Can you share some special places with us?

I have mostly traveled for work or for pleasure.  The doing of research and the finding of inspiration are incidental aspects of travel for me.  In terms of travel during my developmental years, some several special places (one of which is depicted in the opening scene) are shared within Escaped Alone—which, among other things, is a book that evokes a very strong sense of place and of drawing the reader into certain scenes in a very vivid and intimate way.

What do you think is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about writing so far? What advice can you give new writers?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned about writing so far is to make the writing as beautiful as the story is compelling.  Very often when I write, I apply two criteria to any given sentence.  The first is “Does it read well on the page?”  The second is “Would it sound equally good, or even better, if read aloud?”  If the answer to both questions is an unqualified “Yes,” I know that I’ve achieved the effect I’m seeking. 

To new writers, I’d say that letting your creativity have full rein requires that you first know and observe the basics: spelling, grammar, usage, sentence structure, etc.  Unless you’re willing to attract only readers who are themselves too lackadaisical to be distracted by errors in a published work, the devil definitely is in the details.

Where do you store ideas for later use: in your head, in a notebook, or on a spreadsheet?

Sometimes in my head, sometimes in a notebook.  Never on a spreadsheet.

We all know how important promoting our work has become. How do you get the word out both off and online?

Friends, family, neighbors, word-of-mouth from those who’ve already read the book, publisher, signings and other appearances, Facebook Author Page, web site.  At the moment I’m working on sewing the title of my book in mother-of-pearl buttons on the back of my jean jacket for a bit of a springtime/rock star effect.  Will be interested to see how that works.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Are your books available in print and ebook formats?

Yes.  The buy link can be found to the right on my web site: