Lynn Steward loves to reinvent herself and her journey has taken her not just from New York City to Chicago, but from businesswoman to author. Her career in New York City was spent in New York’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the buying team that developed the woman’s department at Brooks Brothers. Inspired by an intimate knowledge of the period and extensive research, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies featuring Dana McGarry. A Very Good Life, Steward’s debut novel and first in the series, was published in March 2014. What Might Have Been is volume two.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, What Might Have Been, When did you start writing and what got you into literary fiction?
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.
I was so overwhelmed with ideas, the TV series expanded to five seasons! Appropriately placed in the New York City of 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 that I knew very well.
I realized at some point, however, that the main character, Dana McGarry, needed more drama and the plots had to be developed, and I felt the best way to do that was to further develop the story in a novel. A Very Good Life, inspired by the pilot and first season, was published last year. My new novel, What Might Have Been, is based on season two.
Who is your target audience?
Based on the response to A Very Good Life, volume one in the Dana McGarry series, the audience is multigenerational. Young career women relate to the personal and professional pressures of the protagonist, Dana, and baby boomers bring their own memories to the story. The underlying universal theme of a young woman’s quest for identity continues in What Might Have Been. The life-lessons are 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 more than thirty hours many weekends. I studied historic events, iconic women, not only as 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 dates, preparing spread sheets of timelines. Quickly reaching for the right file is crucial when an idea is sparked at the keyboard.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
I again go back to “Write what you know.” New York City, and residential Murray Hill, is home to me. As a child I was often in Manhattan visiting my grandparents in their Italian neighborhood on 106th St. There is so much to draw on when writing about a place or topic that is familiar, or part of your soul. I lived a few blocks from B. Altman, the glamorous New York City department store where my main character works. I am familiar with all the locations in the story. 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. After three years researching, developing and writing the story, I was ready to get the story out. 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 I 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 community 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?
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 interesting insight into the minds and lives of writers, and they all share the need for solitude to think and write. With that being said, I think if you really long to get your story on paper, you will find a way to structure a routine and a time of day to be alone. 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!
Cover art and photo published with permission from the author.