Lynn Steward, a veteran of the New York fashion industry and a buyer on the team that started the women’s department at Brooks Brothers, created the Dana McGarry series, set at a transformational time in the 1970s world of fashion and in the lives of multigenerational women. What Might Have Been is the second volume in the series. A Very Good Life, Steward’s debut novel, was published in March 2014.
Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?
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 know very well.At some point along the way, I realized that the main character, Dana McGarry, needed more drama and the plots had to be developed, and I felt the best way to further develop the story was to write a novel. A Very Good Life, inspired by the pilot and season one, was published last year. My new novel, April Snow, is based on season two.
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
A few years ago, when I started putting my ideas on paper for the TV series. That led to creative writing and endless storytelling.
Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.
What Might Have Been is the second novel in a five book series featuring Dana McGarry. A Very Good Life, my debut novel and book one, was published in March 2014.
As a fashion buyer at one of New York’s most glamorous department stores, Dana McGarry is a tastemaker, her keen instinct for fashion trends and innovative ideas coupled with a razor sharp business sense. But like the elegant and conservative store that employs her, Dana is caught between two eras—between being liked and standing her ground, between playing by the rules and being a maverick. Dana is sensitive and beautiful, but what you see is not what you get. Behind the cool and attractive facade, Dana is both driven by her need to control yet impeded by her expectation of perfectionism. As she competes to replace women at the top of their game, she is challenged by jealous colleagues. And when a love interest wants to open doors and support her ambition, she embraces Coco Chanel’s mantra of “never wanting to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” As the women’s movement paves the way, Dana finds a path to the career she wants at the expense of happiness that was not meant to be.
Did your book require a lot of research?
I easily spent a year and a half researching – a many hours every day, and more than thirty hours some weekends. I studied historic events, iconic women, not only individuals, but how they related to each other, and interiors of famous locations, such as the B. Altman department store, 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 organized notes and articles by date, and made spread sheets of events. Quickly reaching for the right file is crucial when an idea is sparked at the keyboard.
Who is your target audience?
Based on the response to A Very Good Life, volume one in the Dana McGarry series, the audience is multi-generational. 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 April Snow. The life-lessons are timeless.
What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?
A little of both. My life experience in Manhattan provided good information to write, I hope, an authentic story, and the characters and plots were joyfully created in my imagination.
Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I get my best ideas in my office and library, inspired by my books, archived articles, photographs, and magazines. Sometimes a song will express an emotion or idea to develop, and often a photograph will capture an interesting personality to explore.
From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Three years to publish A Very Good Life, volume one, and four years to publish What Might Have Been the second novel in the series.
Describe your working environment.
I have a sunny office with an organized workstation, Asian-inspired wallpaper, personal photographs, piles of books, and, my prize possession, a William IV green leather desk chair.
Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
Once the plots are structured and the storyline developed, each written chapter is edited along the way.
They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
You can’t please everyone, so I am prepared; and, since I tremendously enjoy the writing and research, a few harsh words will not deter me.
As a writer, what scares you the most?
Not having a story to tell.
Are you a disciplined writer?
Yes, I am disciplined about my series. I’m either writing, researching, marketing, or promoting, every day.
When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
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.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
My writing uniform. I always write in black cotton leggings and a white stretch-cotton long sleeve T-shirt.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?
No writer’s block or anxiety at all. I think it helps to be prepared with good research, photos for inspiration, and organized files, readily available when an idea is sparked at the keyboard. I think, no matter your subject, organization is key. Your mind cannot possibly keep everything neatly filed and available when you need it. My iPad has been tremendously helpful for note taking, and cross-referencing, and I constantly use it in conjunction with my computer.
How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?
After working tirelessly for three years, researching, developing, and writing, I was ready to publish, but I knew that, as an indie author, it could take another few years to find an agent and a traditional publisher. It was clear, if I wanted to see the book in print, I would have to self-publish. There is an abundance of information on line, and bloggers generously share their experiences. It wasn’t long before I had a large binder of references and note, and, when the time came to put the pieces together, it was a smooth and pleasant experience. A Very Good Life was published in March 2014, and What Have Been in March 2015. Both are available on Amazon.com in print and digital format, and all devices that support the Kindle App.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
LynnSteward.com ~ Facebook.com/LynnStewardnyc ~ Pinterest.com/LynnStewardny
Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
Volume Three in the Dana McGarry series is outlined and the synopsis is written. The plot has a strong English influence and, as readers will know from the previous two books, that will make Dana very happy! She is an Anglophile!
Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!