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Interview: Lynn Steward, Author of ‘A Very Good Life’

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AVGL LS in libraryLynn Steward loves to reinvent herself, and her journey has taken her not just from New York City to Chicago, but from businesswoman to author, culminating in her first novel, A Very Good Life. Her life and career in New York City, many years in New York’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the development of the first women’s department at a famous men’s clothing store. Through extensive research, and an intimate knowledge of the period, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies. A Very Good Life is the first in the series featuring Dana McGarry.

Congratulations on the release of your book, A Very Good Life, When did you start writing and what got you into literary fiction. 

About three years ago, I decided I wanted a writing project in my life. I always enjoyed business-related writing and thought a non-fiction self-help book, with life-lessons I learned along the way, would be a fun project.  But, as often happens when you put yourself out there, I discovered another path and took it: I developed a TV pilot about New York in the seventies because, as they say “Write what you know” and I know New York. I’m a native of Long Island, and between attending school and working, I spent twenty-two years in Manhattan, including a career in the fashion industry.  I was so overwhelmed with ideas, the TV series expanded to five seasons! Appropriately placed in New York City, 1975, which was International Women’s Year, the plots in the series intermingle fashion legends, business icons, real events, and untold stories, providing a behind-the-scenes look at inspirational women in the worlds of art, fashion, and business. It is a time and world I know very well, and remember fondly.

Who is your target audience?

I believe the audience is multi-generational. A young career woman today can relate to the personal and professional pressures of the protagonist, Dana, and baby boomers will bring their own memories to the period.  The themes are universal and the life-lessons timeless. 

Did your book require a lot of research?

Tons of research! I easily spent a year and a half researching – a minimum of three hours a day, and over thirty hours many weekends.  I studied historic events, iconic women, not only individuals, but how they related to each other, and interiors of famous locations, such as B. Altman,  Café des Artistes, Kenneth Salon, etc.  I drew inspiration from archived newspaper articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker.  Most important, I painstakingly organized  the notes and articles by date and top, making spread sheets of timelines based on the subject, i.e. the name of every costume institute show at the Met from December 1974 through 1980. Quickly reaching for the right file is crucial when an idea is sparked at the keyboard. 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00031]How do you keep your narrative exciting?

I again go back to “Write what you know.”  New York City, especially Murray Hill, is home to me.  As a child I was often in Manhattan visiting my grandparents in their Italian neighborhood on 106th St Street. There is so much to draw on when writing about a place or topic that is familiar, or part of your soul. I lived many years a few blocks from B. Altman, and I was in the store practically every day, as well as Mary Elizabeth’s tea room, the lectures at the Metropolitan Museum with Rosamond Bernier, and, of course, the exciting costume exhibits at the Met staged by Diana Vreeland.  I have great affection and enthusiasm for the real and fictional characters,  and the period, and I think that is translated on the page.

Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?

No anxiety at all. I think it helps to be prepared with good research, photos for inspiration, and organized files. Your mind cannot possibly keep everything neatly organized and available when you need it, and you can quickly lose a train of thought or momentum when you struggle to remember something minor you want to inject into a chapter, or a character’s thoughts. My iPad has been tremendously helpful for note taking, and cross-referencing;  I constantly use it in conjunction with my computer.

What was your publishing process like?

I self-published with CreateSpace. I spent three years researching, developing and writing the story, so I was ready to publish, now. I knew it could take years to find an agent, and more time to be picked-up by a traditional publisher.  I also liked the idea of controlling the creative process.  I started by extensively researching on-line, and found bloggers tremendously helpful.  I also hired a good team, a graphic designer, a formatting company, two editors, a proofreader, and a lawyer to vet the manuscript. The Amazon team was great and responsive, and the whole process went smoothly.

Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about your work?

www.averygoodlife.com and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/averygoodlifeny.com

What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

I believe that may be a problem. I quickly learned that writing becomes an all-consuming passion; you effortlessly and selfishly block out everything and everyone.  I find author interviews in The Paris Review offer good and interesting insight into the minds and lives of writers, and, while all are very different people, they share an intensity that even I, at my inexperienced level, could relate. With that being said, I think if you really long to get that story on paper, you will find a way; structure a routine, a time of day to be alone. It’s difficult to continually write for many hours, so you will welcome the company of family and loved ones.  Just try to curb your enthusiasm and don’t expect others to care what your favorite character did in the last chapter; trust me, they rather wait to read the book!

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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.