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A lifelong Southerner, author Lynn York was born and raised in North Carolina. Many of the characters in her fiction are inspired by the interesting and compelling people she met growing up in Pilot Mountain, NC and elsewhere.
York earned an undergraduate degree in English and French from Duke University. Before returning to school for a Masters in Business and Communications Policy from the University of Texas at Austin, she spent two years driving all over Texas and Oklahoma as a sales representative for Prentice Hall textbooks. Later, armed with her graduate degree, she worked her way up the ranks of a telecommunications start-up, NetExpress, Inc., in Washington, DC to become head of marketing for the company.
Eventually, small children and the promise of decent vegetables and a yard with grass lured York (and her husband) back to North Carolina in 1995. Working as the managing partner of her husband’s architecture firm and raising her two children, York found herself longing for something that would belong to her alone. She found it in writing.
According to York, writing was her “lifeboat, the one thing – amid kids and housework and career and a waning marriage – that was mine and mine alone.” She relied on weekend writer’s retreats, writing workshops, and the support of an incredible writer’s group to create the novel that would become The Piano Teacher (Plume, March 2004). Beginning in a graduate writing workshop, eminent Southern-writer Lee Smith offered her an incredible amount of encouragement, inspiring her to complete the first full draft of her novel. After countless rejections, York found an agent in Suzanne Gluck, William Morris Agency, at the Aspen Writer’s Foundation Summer Words Program in June 2002.
Currently divorced, York now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with her two children, Anna Lee and Will. She runs a part-time consulting business and is very happy – in the middle of her life – to be a first-time novelist.
The Piano Teacher (2004)
from The Piano Teacher, by Lynn York:
The whole thing got off to a bad start when Miss Wilma unceremoniously ran over a squirrel in the Strongs' driveway, right in front of the porch. She had been going over her prelude program, the standard wedding fare, Handel, Bach, a little Vivaldi, and she didn't see the squirrel at all, just felt a sudden small bump under her tire. When she walked up to the house, she confirmed it. There he lay flat, his little squirrel blood running across the driveway.
Surely Lily Strong has someone who could take care of it, Wilma thought, and rang the bell. She was let in by a small woman wearing a uniform from the Robert E. Lee Hotel in Winston. Lily had no doubt called in a dozen or more of these people to pull off this wedding of the century. Inside the house, it was dead quiet except for the clinking of silverware being counted in the kitchen. Miss Wilma walked on through the hall, resisting the urge to tiptoe. The living room, just to the left, was painted English-gentry green and filled with elaborately reproduced furniture. Over the fireplace hung a somber portrait of Franklin Strong, who looked like a minister instead of the proprietor of a chain of nursing homes.
She passed by the dining room, which was all set up to display the wedding gifts. There was enough china and crystal for four young women, but of course every bit of it was for Lily's only daughter, Martha. Martha was a sweet girl, but mousy. As a young child, when Martha had first started taking piano lessons, Wilma had had difficulty just getting her to actually strike the keys hard enough to make a sound. That was what you got when you had a siren for a mother. Poor Martha. If Lily had noticed Martha's tendency toward cringing shoulders or limp hair, she showed it only in her concerted efforts to prop Martha up. This elaborate garden wedding was a case in point.
Miss Wilma figured Lily had bought her house years ago as a stage setting for this day: her daughter married at home in front of the whole community. Lily's house was a notch up from all the others in Swan's Knob -- a full five acres just on the edge of town, two stories, at least fifteen rooms, separate garage, pink brick. Wilma just hoped that poor Martha would not end up looking like a homely doll set down in the middle of all the festivities. Lily herself had married Franklin in the standard fifteen-minute Methodist rite just like everyone else of her generation. Wilma had been right there in the church. They had been friends -- Lily and Frank, Wilma and Harry. They had been friends in a life that happened a million years ago. It was all long gone now, gone from the day Lily moved to this house, further gone since Harry was dead.
This was not the time, however, to dwell on any of it, which was one advantage to being an organist. You could just play and put all the rest of it aside. She went out the back door and looked around at the setting that the Swan's Knob Gazette would describe in tremendous detail on Sunday: a lovely formal rose garden with a raised back veranda, framed by four colonial columns, each wrapped with ivy and white bows. Lily had borrowed folding chairs and several green canopies from Snow Funeral Home. Lily and Grace Snow were great friends. Above all things, today's elaborate arrangements were for Grace and the rest of their crowd. Lily would be complimented right on into the fall over each and every detail. Wilma was glad that she no longer bothered with the Garden Club, and she had never played bridge. This way, she could safely avoid most of the frivolous chatter that these women survived on. She would not have to hear another word about how beautiful the back lawn looked, how pretty the flowers were, how appealing the bride and her maids.
Lily had arranged the chairs in rows facing the veranda. There were small bouquets at the end of each aisle. A wide white ribbon stretched across the front seat that was apparently reserved for Lily. Wilma herself had not had the opportunity to be the mother of the bride, not that she would have required a six-inch-wide grosgrain ribbon. Still, it was an image that you carried with you when you raised a daughter -- something you thought about when you braided her hair -- that someday the two of you would plan a wedding, that you would rush around for months to this store and that to find just the right veil, the gloves, the perfect dress. You would worry over tuberoses (Would they open in time for the ceremony? Would they go brown?). In her daughter Sarah's case, it had all been done before Wilma knew about it. Everything -- engagement, wedding, honeymoon -- all in one day, apparently, and just as well since Sarah was already expecting at the time. Just as well, too, that Wilma had not been invited. Whatever ceremony there had been had occurred at some kind of beach carnival.
It was a far cry from the little tents that dotted the expanse of the garden, sheltering buffet tables, punch bowls, wedding cake. It was all quiet and clean and white. Miss Wilma could hear Lily's cupid fountain on the far garden wall, and closer, the buzzing of bees.
Hidden behind an assortment of potted plants was the organ, also borrowed from Snow's. ...
From inside the house, Wilma heard a short shriek, followed by the clippedy high-heeled run of Lily Strong across the kitchen floor. A few moments later Lily was standing at the back screen door talking to someone inside, "Well, find a shovel and get it off the driveway, Shelton, then get a bucket to rinse the pavement and do it fast before the guests start coming. I've got to go talk with my organist."
My organist, Wilma thought, it is just like her to classify me in that way. But as Lily emerged from the house, she looked toward Wilma like an old friend in search of commiseration.
"Lordy," she said. "Can you imagine one of these folks from the Robert E. Lee Hotel ran over a squirrel, just squashed him right out in front of the house, two hours before the wedding and just left him there for everyone in the town to step in." She shook her head, but not a hair of the elaborate French twist moved. Lily was a disciple of the Cherie's Beauty Shop, where most every client emerged with luminous hair, even though that look had died with Elvis a few years back. Lily's hair was jet black, always had been. Despite the extra height of the arrangement befitting the occasion, Lily was no more than five feet two or so. Everything about her was tiny. Even now with her long white-enameled fingernails, her hands looked like they belonged to a doll.
Less than two hours before the most important occasion of her life, Lily Mae Alabaster Strong was ready.
Excerpt from The Piano Teacher © 2004.