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.
Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, What Might Have Been. What was your inspiration for it?
A: 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.
After meeting with professionals in the entertainment industry, 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 do that was to convert the pilot and first season into a novel and A Very Good Life, was published last year. My new novel, What Might Have Been, is based on season two
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Dana is underestimated by her soft demeanor but she has fortitude and will stand her ground for what she believes and wants to achieve. She will find a way to reach her goals.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: I started developing the TV show approximately four years ago, spending the first year and a half researching historic facts, places, and events from the period, and creating the characters. I did not have writers block or any bumps along the way. The stories for the five TV seasons/books just kept writing themselves. Characters I thought would play an important role, never made it to the page, and others, I least expected, became my favorites.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: 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. And, of course, my in the fashion industry has provided many personalities, events, and experiences for inspiration. I lived many years a few blocks from B. Altman, and I was in the store practically every day. I have great affection and enthusiasm for the real and fictional characters, and the period, and I think that is translated to the page.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: No 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 I constantly use it in conjunction with my computer.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: My favorite time to research and 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.
Q: How do you define success?
A: Being at peace with one’s self, happy to face a new day.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: 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 enjoy reading author interviews in The Paris Review and I have new insight into the minds and lives of writers. While all are very different people, they share an intensity about the amount of private time they need 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; structure a routine, 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!
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: Orwell got the driven part right, but I did not have a horrible experience. It is surprisingly exhausting, considering I am seated in one spot for hours and not running a marathon. But, yes, the editing is stressful and tedious; you pull one thread, and everything else falls apart. The passion, however, or as Orwell said, the demon, returns you to the same place the next day.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: I have met the most wonderful people on this new journey: kind, helpful, and patient. I have had two high energy careers, and I am enjoying the peaceful world of not only writing, but of writers.