Friday, March 21, 2014

Interview with contemporary debut novelist Lynn Steward

I'd like to introduce you to debut novelist Lynn Steward today. She's talking about the first in a new series set in 1970's New York City, A Very Good Life.

Lynn Steward is a successful business woman who spent many years in New York City'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.

Welcome, Lynn. Please tell us about your current release
A Very Good Life is set against an historic backdrop of New York City in 1974, but the themes are timeless and universal. Like many young, married career women, twenty nine year old Dana McGarry’s life is on autopilot, and signs of trouble both at home and the office are masked due to an over-scheduled calendar and exhaustion. But on the eve of International Women’s Year, when women hungered to have it all, Dana is determined to stop going through the motions, and find time for self-fulfillment and a balanced life.  

A Very Good Life chronicles Dana’s quest, while providing a behind-the-scenes look at the worlds of art, fashion, and business, alongside some of the most legendary women of the twentieth century. There is a meeting with business icon, Estée Lauder, a guest appearance at Café des Artistes by legendary Vogue editor and special consultant to the costume institute at the Metropolitan Museum, Diana Vreeland, and an art lecture at the Met by Rosamond Bernier, close friend of some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. This is story of extraordinary women that will inspire women of all ages

What inspired you to write this book?
About three years ago, I started researching and developing characters for a TV series, and before I knew it, I had outlines for five seasons. After I developed the pilot and wrote synopses for the season, I realized that the main character, Dana, needed more drama and the plots had to be developed, and I felt the best way to do that was to write a novel. The story, however, came from my knowledge of the period, experience in the fashion industry, fond memories of New York places and events, and historic research that helped weave the plots and characters.

Excerpt from A Very Good Life:
Dana McGarry, her short blond hair stirred by a light gust of wind, stood on Fifth Avenue in front of the display windows of the B. Altman department store on the day after Thanksgiving, November, 1974.  Dana, public relations and special events coordinator for the store, pulled her Brooks Brothers camel hair polo coat tighter around her slim, shapely frame.  Shoppers hurried past her, huddled in overcoats as mild snow flurries coated the streets with a fine white powder.  It was now officially Christmas season, and Dana sensed a pleasant urgency in the air as people rushed to find the perfect gift or simply meet a friend for lunch.  The frenetic pace of life in Manhattan continued to swell the sidewalks, but pedestrians were more inclined to tender a smile instead of a grimace if they bumped into one another.  Dana often told her friends that Christmas was a time when there was a temporary truce between true believers and grinches.  As far as business was concerned, she was pleased to hear the cash registers of B. Altman singing their secular carols inside the store, but she also still believed that the holidays brought magic and balance, however briefly, into a world of routine and ten-hour workdays.  
Balance?  Dana smiled wistfully, for balance was becoming harder to achieve.  She was only twenty-nine, but the pressures of life were already assaulting her mind and spirit in numerous ways.  She tried to please multiple people in B. Altman’s corporate offices on a daily basis, not an easy task given that the seasoned professionals who were grooming her had various agendas, not all of which tallied with each other.  And then there was her marriage to Brett McGarry, a litigator at a Wall Street law firm.  Brett was as busy as she, and simultaneously attending to her career and the needs of her husband was sometimes difficult, if not downright burdensome.  His needs?  Well, “demands” would be a more accurate description of what Dana had to contend with.  Although Brett didn’t overtly order Dana around, he informed her of what he would or would not be able to do with her on any given day.  His growing air of superiority was extremely subtle and couched in affable smiles that most of Dana’s friends could not accurately read.

Brett McGarry walked confidently into the offices of Davis, Konen and Wright on the thirty-seventh floor of 80 Broad Street.  The address was in the heart of New York’s financial district, a suitable home for the powerhouse corporate law firm where Brett hoped to soon make partner.  The imposing limestone edifice of the Art Deco building, with its many tiers of set-back facades, was near Battery Park, the Staten Island Ferry, the New York Stock Exchange, and other famous landmarks in lower Manhattan.  Brett felt at ease in the financial district, and whenever he entered the area, he felt a spring in his step.  This was where he belonged, and when it was time to have a drink with colleagues, he could walk to Fraunces Tavern, the Georgian-style building on nearby Pearl Street where General George Washington had bid the officers of the Continental Army a fond farewell at a dinner in his honor.  On any given evening, one could find newsworthy faces at the tavern, and for Brett, scotch neat went down that much easier when at Fraunces.
He turned the corner of one of the quiet corridors of the firm, hitting his stride.  He had every reason to believe he was on the fast track to partnership, so the light snow and gray skies outside hadn’t dampened his spirit.  On the contrary, he felt invigorated by the cold air, with gray skies matching the venerable gray buildings on Wall Street. 
 “Good morning, Brett,” came a female voice from behind a secretary’s desk in the center of an office suite occupied by the firm’s litigators.
Startled, Brett jerked his head forward.  He had expected to find only the cleaning staff shuffling through the hallowed offices on this Friday morning.  The voice belonged to Janice Conlon, the firm’s new junior litigator.  Brett stopped in his tracks and surveyed the five-foot-ten leggy blond dressed in tight jeans and an even tighter turtleneck covered by a brown distressed suede jacket.  Long straight hair splashed across her shoulders, and her deep blue eyes gazed at Brett above high angular cheekbones.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A Very Good Life is the first novel in a five book series featuring Dana McGarry, and I will soon be starting Book Two. The synopsis is written, actually all four remaining stories in the series are developed, and I am researching historic events for the period.

Book Two begins with Dana in London on holiday. While shopping at Jaeger’s on Bond Street, she is inspired to create a similar women’s classic clothing boutique at B. Altman, but, once again, Helen, her boss, is an impediment. Back in New York, she finds a new love interest, Mark, who introduces her to Irwin Berger, a menswear manufacturer. After Dana learns that Brooks Brothers is opening a ladies department with fashions made in the cutting rooms of menswear manufacturers, she convinces Irwin to work with her to design a private label collection of tailored clothing, using menswear fabrics, to present to senior management at B. Altman. When Mark’s daughter suffers a serious horseback riding accident, she is faced with a new heartache, and the always-resilient Dana concentrates on her work. Dana meets a mysterious woman, Abby, in London, and she invites her to speak at a luncheon program at the Colony Club, but Abby doesn’t show. The book ends with Dana receiving a letter from Abby’s husband, and this correspondence sets the stage for Book Three.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Just a few years ago, when I started putting my ideas on paper for the TV series. That led to creative writing and storytelling. Previously, all my writing was business related.

What do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I have a busy real estate career, and my favorite time to write is early in the morning, preferably around 5:30 a.m., when my mind is clear.  It is peaceful and there are no interruptions. I won’t allow myself to even peek at e-mails. I don’t want anything to distract me for at least three hours. I am always surprised and disappointed how fast that time goes.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My writing uniform. I always write in black cotton leggings and white long sleeve stretch-cotton t-shirts.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted a career in the fashion industry, preferably buying.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I would like to share with my post-50 readers the joy of embarking on a new adventure. We are at an age when we don’t need the approval of others, if we fail, so what. It can be fun and invigorating to get out of a comfort zone to welcome a challenge.

Thank you, Lynn!

1 comment:

Collin White said...

A sad story about a couple who were at once love-sick yet when money and reputation got to the spouse's self-image, things changed and so did their marriage. I found A Very Good Life to be a nice read. This was such an exciting Dana and her drive and common sense in all phases of the life she was in.