Today, Stephanie Lehmann talks with me about vintage buttons, stores, and fashion! She also talks about her love of history, stories, and writing. This is an entertaining and unique interview you won’t want to miss! Enjoy!
If you missed my review of her novel, Astor Place Vintage, you can see it by clicking HERE!
Hi Stephanie, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am very excited to have you here as I loved your book! How has the summer been treating you?
Stephanie: Summer has been speeding past with family trips combined with book store events. I’m used to a much quieter daily routine, but it’s been fun. I’m getting in touch with my inner-extrovert.
Erin: Ha! Always fun to get out, but can be exhausting for introverts, as well. Let’s take a stroll through your favorite New York City area, maybe do some window shopping, having some coffee, and talk about you and your books!
Q: What was your inspiration for writing Astor Place Vintage? What was the process like?
A: Well, as a matter of fact, lots of my inspiration came from walking down these streets of New York. I love to think about the people who used to inhabit the same spaces. There’s such a strong sense of the past here — so different from where I grew up in San Francisco.
I don’t feel like I can say anything instructive about my process, because I probably wrote this book in the most inefficient way possible. The final draft of ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE barely resembled the outline I began with. The process of finding my story took a lot of time, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of reading, reading, reading about New York City history.
Q: Have you always liked New York City history? What stories do you enjoy from its location, what are your favorite time periods, and why to both? Mine is the turn of the 20th century NYC through the 1920s.
A: I didn’t. As a matter of fact, when I first moved to New York, I thought the city was mean, disgusting, and depressing. I came here both BECAUSE it was New York (as a writer, I should at least experience it) and DESPITE the fact that it was New York (anyone who lived here had to be crazy). I gradually came to like it, and now it feels like home. I don’t know what that says about my sanity.
I’m partial to the same decades as you – I would just add in 1890 to 1900 because I’ve recently gotten into reading about what preceded the decade I’ve been writing about. The Astors, the Vanderbilts, all their ostentation and wealth… People went from idolizing those families to seeing them as old-fashioned and uptight. There early decades of the 20th century were a fascinating period of change.
Q: I gather you also like fashion to have been able to incorporate so many details into your newest novel. What do you love about fashion? Do you have any favorite designers?
A: It’s not so much that I’m into fashion or shopping. It’s more that I find it really interesting to look at what people wore with a historical perspective and to think about what that says about the times. I myself prefer to wear comfortable clothes that feel like pajamas as much as possible. My favorite designer is Claire McCardell. She’s credited with creating the first sportswear lines for women in the 40s – casual clothes that a woman could move around in while also looking chic.
Q: I imagine it is the same for you with vintage items. Actually, I can see from your awesome Pinterest boards that you enjoy many types of vintage items. Buttons are a favorite of mine. What are some great finds you’ve found or like to enjoy looking for?
A: I love vintage buttons too! I went through a phase of buying them on Ebay and now I have a ridiculously large collection. But I do love to sew, and its fun when I’m making something and it turns out that I happen to have the perfect button for what I need in my stash.
One of my favorite finds was from a flea market in Vermont. A woman was selling a bunch of things for an elderly friend, and I discovered a box full of paper napkins this person had been saving for decades. I don’t know if paper napkins are an “official thing” that people collect. They’re such a natural thing to throw out. But this box was full of all these really cute napkins from the 30s and 40s and 50s that she’d saved from her kid’s birthday parties, holidays, weddings… (The napkins aren’t used, I should add.) It felt like I’d found a real treasure. One of these days I’m going to scan them and add them to my pinterest board.
Q: Do you think owning a vintage clothing store as your modern character, Amanda, does in Astor Place Vintage, would work in NYC today? Maybe there are some there now. Why might they work, and if they are, why do you think they do?
A: There are some vintage clothing stores in the city, especially in the East Village, like in my novel. A slew of them have opened in Brooklyn, which makes sense because the rents are cheaper there, and more of the typical younger clientele live nearby. Some vintage stores supplement sales by renting clothes out for films and such. Consignment shops selling second hand designer clothes seem to be sprouting up everywhere.
Q: In your book you show how women in 1907 were struggling to be able to be allowed to work, to live where they might want if they are single, and to obtain basic rights. What are your thoughts on the women’s movement? How might women today continue to fight for their acceptance?
A: That’s a really, really complicated question! But what you said about 1907 is true, and we’re still trying to confront many of the same issues. Something I found really interesting is how hard women had to fight to get the vote, and sometimes this fighting was with other women. There was a whole movement of women who were against it called the “antis.” You can still see women at cross-purposes today. I guess I wish women wouldn’t hold each other back. But of course different people have different opinions on what “holding back” would be.
Q: Have you ever thought about writing a novel based on any historical women? If so, who calls you to tell their story or who interests you?
A: I like the idea of it, and maybe I will some day, but so far no one has captured my imagination more than people I’ve invented.
Q: You’ve written several other novels, but I believe this is your first type (not swipe) at historical fiction. How did you decide to write something new and how was the switch to historical writing? How much research did you have to do?
A: I’d been reading a lot of non-fiction about New York at the turn-of-the century, so it seemed like a natural step to write something set back then. My imagination just wanted to stay there. It took a lot of research before I even began to write, and I’m sure part of the process of doing the research was to reassure myself that I could really do it.
Q: What are your hopes for your future writing endeavors? Do you have a list of things you want to write or do you wait for something to strike your fancy?
A: No list. I can’t think farther than the project I’m on, and then the next one. And it’s less of a fancy striking than a puzzle teasing.
Q: I read your very funny biography on your website and learned that you love TV like I do. Shameless, aren’t we? Ah, TV is all about stories too. And many times relationships. What are some of your favorite vintage shows and what have they taught you? Then, for fun, what are your favorite shows now?
A: Yes, I’m a TV addict from way back. I have to mention THAT GIRL with Marlo Thomas because she was a young woman coming to New York City to pursue her dream of being an actress. As Amanda says in my novel: stories about young women coming to New York never get old for me. And Ann Marie on THAT GIRL certainly set an example as an independent single woman living in the city. (Even if she did have her boyfriend Donald and meddling parents to fall back on.)
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’m partial to reality shows these days. My favorite is PROJECT RUNWAY. It truly shows people being creative. I love watching the contestants facing these weird challenges, seeing what they make, cursing at their sewing machines…
Q: What advice do you give to aspiring authors about the publishing journey? What were your biggest challenges? What is something you feel extra good about accomplishing?
A: My first novel published was the fourth novel I wrote. It took me a really long time to break through, and it was a very frustrating process that involved taking lots of rejection! So my advice is to be persistent. Have a thick skin. Don’t take the business part of it personally, because it’s just plain hard, and the odds are against you to get anywhere in this business, and then even if you do there’s no guarantee that it will last, and it probably won’t. And maybe most of all, don’t lose sight of the fact that outside success isn’t really what it’s about. We write because of a need to express something that’s inside, and to engage in the challenge of finding a way to say it in the most elegant way that’s true to you.
Q: What is the best part of NYC to you now? What advice would you tell someone who has thought of moving there?
A: I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for years and I’m pretty settled here. I like my coffee shops and my local library and the unpretentiousness of the neighborhood. The city is so darn expensive now, and Brooklyn seems to be more where it’s at these days. Of course you don’t have to live in New York to be a writer. You need to be in a place that inspires you to write or lets you alone enough to write or some kind of combination of both.
Q: Where can readers connect with you? And where can they purchase your books?
A: I’m all over the web. www.astorplacevintage.com, www.StephanieLehmann.com, www.facebook.com/stephlehmann, www.pinterest.com/stephlehmann, on Twitter as @stephlehmann www.vintagemanhattan.com Did I leave anything out?
My book is available in local bookstores and all the usual places online.
Erin: Thank you so much, Stephanie, for talking with me today about all kinds of fabulous things. Maybe one day our interview will be found and we’ll be looked upon fondly. I guess I’d have to print it off and stuff it inside something valuable, right? Ha! In all seriousness, thank you and best wishes for much continued success!
Stephanie: Thanks so much for all your great questions, and helping to tell people about ASTOR PLACE VINTAGE. Even if, in years to come, our interview is lost and never found, I will personally look back on it with fondness!
Erin: Thank you, Stephanie. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.
Astor Place Vintage, Synopsis~
Amanda Rosenbloom, proprietor of Astor Place Vintage, thinks she’s on just another call to appraise and possibly purchase clothing from a wealthy, elderly woman. But after discovering a journal sewn into a fur muff, Amanda gets much more than she anticipated. The pages of the journal reveal the life of Olive Westcott, a young woman who had moved to Manhattan in 1907. Olive was set on pursuing a career as a department store buyer in an era when Victorian ideas, limiting a woman’s sphere to marriage and motherhood, were only beginning to give way to modern ways of thinking. As Amanda reads the journal, her life begins to unravel until she can no longer ignore this voice from the past. Despite being separated by one hundred years, Amanda finds she’s connected to Olive in ways neither could have imagined.
Praise for Astor Place Vintage
“The past meets the present in Lehmann’s work of feminist literary fiction. . . . The author combines an impressive knowledge of history, sociology and psychology to create an intellectually and emotionally rewarding story.”
« “Enchanting. . . . Lehmann does a seamless job of moving between the past and present and gives a definite sense of place to the story’s two periods, with rich descriptions of city life and architecture. First-class storytelling with an enticing dose of New York City history.”
-PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (STARRED REVIEW)
“A thoroughly engaging story about fate, struggle, and will, as told through the intertwined lives of two women in New York living a century apart. Past and present blur in unexpected ways in this insightful, charming, and wholly entertaining novel.”
—KHALED HOSSEINI, author of The Kite Runner
“Lehmann’s blend of past and present perfectly woven together create an addictively readable novel. New York City will never look the same to me after reading ‘Astor Place Vintage.’”
—KATHLEEN GRISSOM, author of The Kitchen House
“A fascinating tour of turn-of-the-century New York. Guaranteed to appeal to anyone who likes to search for the bones of the past beneath the bustle of the present.”
—LAUREN WILLIG, author of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Stephanie Lehmann received her B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and an M.A. In English from New York University. She has taught novel writing at Mediabistro and online at Salon.com, where her essays have been published. Like Olive and Amanda, she lives in New York City.
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/astorplacevintagetour/
Twitter Hashtag: #AstorPlaceVintageTour