University of South Carolina alumna Joy Callaway hosted a signing event for her debut novel, “Fifth Avenue Artists Society,” at the Forest Acres Barnes & Noble on June 1.
Callaway graduated from USC with a mass communications masters degree in 2009 and went into marketing before eventually quitting to become a full-time author.
“I did marketing for a while and then I found out what I really like to do is tell stories,” Callaway said. “So now that’s what I do. I have two little kids, a two-and-a-half-year-old and an 11-month-old, so I basically write during nap time.”
“Fifth Avenue Artists Society” takes place in New York in 1891 and follows Virginia Loftin, one of four sisters who each have their own artistic characteristics. Callaway said that what made this novel special to her was the fact that the characters are based on actual members of her family. Callaway's grandmother instilled a love of genealogy in her family, but it took her a while to realize that she wanted to share her family’s story with the world.
“When you hear about something your whole life, it’s not really that remarkable to you,” Callaway said.
One Christmas, as she was looking through photographs and portraits, the USC alumna began to realize how remarkable it was that her female ancestors were making art 120 years ago when it was primarily a man’s profession. Callaway fictionalized aspects of her family members’ lives in the novel, but after finding one of their diaries on a rare books website, she realized that what she wrote was close to what really happened.
The author had to work her way up to the point where she could be accepted by a major publishing house like HarperCollins — which means she had to endure several failed novels.
“My first attempt at a novel was terrible, long and no one would have touched it,” Callaway said. “It was awful. But it really instilled that love within me."
Through persistence, Callaway was able to create a novel worthy of being published by HarperCollins and fulfill her dream of becoming an author. She urges others to do the same.
“I think everyone should write, really, if you have a story that you want to tell,” Callaway said. “I think it’s a grueling profession but a really rewarding one because you get to live other lives, in a sense.”
Callaway also cited her time at USC as a reason for her first big step as an author.
“I had some great professors that really taught me to be the professional and the person I wanted to be,” Callaway said. “I really appreciate everything they did for me.”
Callaway plans to continue writing, and her second novel has already been written and is planned to release next year. This novel also takes place in the Gilded Age but is about the start of a sorority rather than Callaway’s own family members.
“Fifth Avenue Artists Society” is available in stores and online now.