Very Vintage: An Interview with Sandra L. Young

Vintage clothing has always fascinated me, but not the way it has author Sandra L. Young, whose debut novel, Divine Vintage, was inspired by it! In the story, main character Tess Burton opens a boutique—Divine Vintage—and finds an Edwardian trousseau gown that “opens her mind to channel the prelude to a century-old murder.” If that’s not an intriguing hook, I don’t know what is! And readers agree. Author Janie Emaus wrote that the story is “an enchanting novel that will appeal to readers who love both historical and contemporary stories,” while author Rob Samborn said, “Divine Vintage is a timeless love story (in a dual timeline) entwined with a whodunnit that has haunted a family for centuries.” Along with writing novels, Sandra leads a very full life, so I’m thankful she found the time to answer my questions.

Christina: Congrats on the upcoming publication of Divine Vintage. You’ve mentioned that an “appreciation for vintage clothing inspired” the book. Can you give us a few more details for what else might have sparked the premise for the book?

Sandra: The initial hazy concept for the story was driven by my huge vintage collection. I’m a pantser, and the opening found me in Tess Burton’s new vintage shop, as she nervously prepped to open the doors to the public. I read a lot of diverse genres, and some favorite books wrap around romance, historical elements, mystery, and a lighter, ghostly vibe. That’s what poured out in my first draft. It amuses me to look back at the major changes I’ve made to improve the story over the years. It didn’t start out as a mystery. But as I learned about the importance of upping the stakes, I introduced various suspects in the dual-timeline murder storyline. The story also wasn’t “romance” by genre definition. So I brought in the handsome hero earlier and  gave him POV chapters too. Ultimately, I’m pleased with the blend. And, of course, I get to describe some lovely clothing, though I don’t dwell on it. I’ve likened it more to the lacy frill on a gown.

Christina: Your main characters, Tess Burton and Trey Dunmore, find themselves involved in a century-old crime. Clothing aside, how much research did you have to do to portray the era accurately? Did anything surprise you?

Sandra: I love historical fiction, so I definitely researched the era. Some things were basic, like would they still go sleighing in 1913? (There was a song written about it that year, so yes.) I also shifted my dual-timeline dates around as I reworked the novel. Because the events center around a centennial in the Carver House mansion, I didn’t want the century-mark to land them in WWI or during the 1918-20 pandemic. Those events were too impactful. And as the twentieth-century couple was set to sail overseas for their honeymoon, I needed to be mindful of the Titanic disaster. I also researched the term “Edwardian” and discovered Americans extend that era beyond 1910 to last before the first world war. Europeans are more definitive in their classification.

Christina: As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, can you tell us a bit about the challenges each of the lead females faces in pursuing romance in their era? What’s the steam level for the book?

Sandra: In 1913, Phoebe and Edward’s relationship is constrained by social expectations. They don’t go out alone and date like we do in modern times. Instead, they attend local social and family gatherings. And there are other potential suitors/suspects vying for Phoebe’s attention behind his back, leaving her conflicted.

For Tess and Trey, the attraction is strong, but their unsettling psychic visions definitely impact the relationship. He’s skeptical and skittish, while she’s pushing full-on to untangle the murder mystery. He’s also wary that the pull of those century-old emotions may be influencing them, or may ultimately derail, their blossoming romance.

I call Divine Vintage slow-burn romance because both timelines move cautiously into the attractions, building the tension. As for steam, it’s open-door long enough to allow a tingle, but no long, graphic descriptions.

Christina: Every author has a different journey to publication. Will you share a little bit about yours?

Sandra: I wrote the first draft in 2010 as part of three linked novellas. I envisioned meshing them into one book. I then attended a workshop with international bestselling romance author Catherine Lanigan, and she advised me to turn this one into a novel. I fleshed it out and eventually queried, getting some nibbles and a full request. But ultimately no takers. So I let it sit and moved on to write other stories. But I’d swing back to Divine Vintage as I kept studying and learning technique through Writer’s Digest and Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association webinars and attending some in-person workshops. The book kept improving as I rewrote it and applied these learnings. In late 2020 I tweeted in Pitch Wars and ended up with a small traditional press contract offer. As they were a newer press, I entered it into a Sweetheart Pitch and got another offer. I decided to research The Wild Rose Press as other WFWA members I respected were with them, and I signed in April 2021.

Christina: I’ve always believed that every object has a story, even inanimate ones, and I can only imagine the events some of the vintage clothing has witnessed. Do you know some of the true histories of the vintage clothing you deal with? Do you have any stories you can share?

Sandra: Thirty years ago, the bulk of my original collection came from an estate sale of a 90-year-old woman in central Illinois. She must have loved clothes as she held on to dozens of lovely pieces. Though my current collection fills a small bedroom, I’ve not spent much because of estate and thrift store bargains. I rarely buy now, but friends and acquaintances have gifted me with clothing, hats, jewelry, and accessories as they know I’ll cherish and protect them. I do know those backstories. A lovely lady passed on a knee-length WWII-era dress that was her mother’s wedding ensemble. She also gave me a copy of a photo. Another super-cool 30s dress was owned by a theater friend’s mother. It’s a calf-length wrap dress made of blue, orange, and white plaid seersucker. This friend’s wife swore it was ugly and I wouldn’t want it. Well, I loved it! They also gave me an old corset. Thank goodness we don’t wear those torturous creations anymore. (But hey, some folks swear by Spanx.) Another good friend gave me a long, black velvet gown with gorgeous pearl and bead embellishment passed down from her great grandmother. I wore that dress in my first Vintage Review post, and she was thrilled!

Christina: Aside from writing, you sing, act, and volunteer. Which of those activities calls to you the most? Do these other interests inform your writing too?

Sandra: Theater was my consuming passion for many, many years, which is how I came to love and appreciate vintage clothing and styles. I’ve performed in more than 75 shows so far and worn several vintage beauties. In the past dozen years, I gained the confidence to sing solos and I was in a rock/pop band and now a more acoustic trio. Singing has supplanted acting now, and in another of my draft books, the heroine enters a national karaoke contest as her life falls apart around her. I interviewed a theater friend who had competed in a karaoke event in Vegas and drew on my own background to heighten the emotion in the singing scenes. The sequel to Divine Vintage will focus around a community theater production, and the costuming, of course!

Christina: As you mentioned above, a side project of yours pairs books with vintage clothing, much like Taylor Swift as Books and Scarves & Books pair pictures of Taylor Swift and scarves with book covers. What is your process in this pairing? Is this a project that you hope to continue going forward? If so, do you take requests?

Sandra: I landed on the Vintage Reviews idea for Instagram to brand my book persona with my love of reading. I do them weekly and have posted about 15 so far. Most of the books have a timeline set in a vintage era—at least 20 years old, though some set 25 as the limit. I search my collection for a piece embracing the feel of the book. For The Dressmakers Secret I used a tailored gray jacket that mirrored the cover of the WWII-era book. For these reviews, my preference is to use a book with a vintage link or a dual timeline. But I also post other stand-alone book reviews that don’t meet the criteria. I’ve been focusing for the past few months on reading new releases and 2022 debut ARCs to support my fellow launchers. I have taken a few review requests from other debuts as we connect through a wonderful Facebook forum and support each other. I definitely would consider requests. I love it when a book has a fashion angle, but as I said, I read and enjoy multiple genres.

Christina: What does literary success look like to you?

Sandra: Just being published with a traditional press is a success for me. But the next part of that is launching this book baby to the best of my ability. There’s no big marketing machine behind me, so like thousands of other authors, I build my social media platform and connect and soak up all the advice and leads I can to try to broaden my reach to the world. Thanks so much for the opportunity to do so on your blog!

Overall, it would be lovely if the book sold nicely and gathered lots of good reviews. But it’s also about knowing that a niche of readers really enjoyed the story and that it hopefully left some positive impact on them. It’s uplifting when I post on Facebook and friends and acquaintances reply that they’ve pre-ordered or can’t wait to read it. I want to carry the good from that and not get bogged down in comparing with other authors. I’m trying to focus toward my own milestones and applaud them for theirs, even if they soar beyond me. I’ve just relished sharing this moment with them. Also, if anyone is interested in more Divine Vintage details, including examples of clothing mentioned in the book, my web site is I’d also be happy to connect on social media.

Sandra can be found in multiple places!
Twitter: @1DivineVintage
Instagram: @slyoungauthor

Thanks to Sandra for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.


Leave a Comment