Author Interview - Lesley Kagen

Book Summary: Lesley Kagen returns with the sequel to her national bestselling debut, Whistling in the Dark.

Whistling in the Dark captivated readers with the story of ten-year-old Sally O'Malley and her sister, Troo, during Milwaukee's summer of 1959. The novel became a New York Times bestseller and was named a Midwest Honor Award winner.

In Good Graces, it's one year later, and a heat wave has everyone in the close-knit Milwaukee neighborhood on edge. None more so than Sally O'Malley, who remains deeply traumatized by the sudden death of her daddy and her near escape from a murderer and molester the previous summer. Although outwardly she and her sister, Troo, are more secure, Sally's confidence in her own judgment and much of her faith have been whittled away. When a series of disquieting events unfold in the neighborhood-a string of home burglaries, the escape from reform school of a nemesis, and the mysterious disappearance of an orphan, crimes that may involve the increasingly rebellious Troo-Sally is called upon to rise above her inner demons. She made a deathbed promise to her daddy to keep Troo safe, a promise she can't break, even if her life depends on it. But when events reach a crisis point, will Sally have the courage and discernment to make the right choices? Or will her false assumptions lead her and those she loves into danger once again?

Lesley Kagen's gift for imbuing her child narrators with compelling authenticity shines as never before in Good Graces, a novel told with sensitivity, wit, and warmth.

Interview with Lesley Kagen:

Q. How did you come up with the title?

A. I had a few other titles I really liked, but about three quarters of the way through the manuscript, Sally, the narrator, refers to being in God's good graces and that felt right to me.  It captured the feel and tone of the book. 

Q. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

A. There are so many issues I hope the book addresses, but especially, the importance of adults to nurture and protect our children.

Q. How much of the book is realistic?

A. I grew up in a blue collar neighborhood on the Westside of Milwaukee that was very similar to the setting in both books.  Some of the family dynamics reflect my own.  My father died in a car accident when I was young.  My mother quickly remarried.  The sisters are spaced the same as they are in my family.  Also, the kids on the block are very much like the ones I grew up with.  And many of the issues I touch upon are the same ones people faced in the 50's and 60's. 

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?

A. I'm a tinkerer.  I can always find a word here or there or a scene that I could make tighter or flow better, but I'm proud of the story as it stands. 

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

A. For me, the hardest part of writing a story is keeping everything in balance.  The right amount of narration vs. the right amount of dialogue.  Making sure the pace is brisk, but not too quick.  I often write about dark issues, but use humor to offset them.  Is it too funny, not funny enough?  After I have my first draft done, I am compulsive about getting everything just right.  What feels best to me anyway.

Q. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

A. Every book I write teaches me something. Learning to be better at what I hope to do--writing stories that entertain and engage readers---is my passion.  

Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

A. I was born with a pencil and paper in my hand.  I believe writers are wired to write much the same way artists are to draw and singers to warble.  It's a gift.  What I do to develop that gift is up to me.  My first writings were, of course, school assignments.  I was the obnoxious kid who always handed in way more than I needed to.  I loved poetry, and won a contest in fourth grade with a little something called, I Am the Sun and I'm in the Sky.  The prize was a silver dollar!  Big bucks in those days.  I also dreamt up a story for my favorite TV show at the time, 77 Sunset Strip ,that I entitled The Case of the Dog Collar.  My mother, bless her heart, sent it off to Hollywood.  I'd wait every Friday night in front of the TV to see the sleuths solve my crime.  (Laugh.)  What I received instead was an 8x10 glossy of Ed "Kookie" Burns.  (Pretty cool.) I kept diaries, wrote some school skits, and when I was a DJ wrote all the content for the show.  Later, when I moved to California, I was a copywriter, which was great training.  As obnoxious as commercials are, like novels, they need a beginning, middle and an end. Trying my hand at novel writing didn't happen until I was in my early 50's.

Q. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

A. There are so many writers whose work I admire.  I loved Robert B. Parker's dialogue.  Amy Bloom's ability to cut to the chase in such a poetic way.  Tana French's descriptive work.  David Sedaris's humor.

Q. Tell us your latest news.

A. I'm just completing my Good Graces tour.  Attending lots of bookstore events and bookclubs.  And working on a new story that is set in the horse world. I'll leave in a few weeks to record the audio version of my third book, Tomorrow River, which I adore doing!  I'm a voice-actress as well as a writer, so this doubly fun!

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

A. Besides a ginormous thank you?!  Their support of my work means the world to me.  I'd also like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays!  

Lesley Kagen's Bio: I was born in Milwaukee and spent my early years in a great working class neighborhood, much like the one where Whistling in the Dark and Good Graces are set.

I attended Marquette University for one year, fell in love, and followed my boyfriend to New York City. I lasted about six months. I was so intimidated, I spent most of my time running from my apartment to the grocery store and back to my apartment, which was located above a 24 Hour Soul Record Store. Hence, I have the dubious ability to recite every lyric to every James Brown tune ever recorded.

After returning to Milwaukee, I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin where I majored in Radio and Television. I fell into a job as a morning drive DJ on one of the country's first alternative radio stations—WZMF. I got to interview lots of very cool rock n' rollers like Frank Zappa, Hendrix and John Lennon.

In 1976, I moved to Los Angeles, where I began a ten year career working for Licorice Pizza record chain where I produced, wrote and voiced thousands of commercials as Lesley from Licorice Pizza. When I set out to expand my career, I ended up doing on-camera commercials, a couple of Movies-Of-The-Week, and a Laverne and Shirley.

I met my husband, Peter aka Sushi Man, in Malibu, which is pretty funny considering he was from Milwaukee as well. While we both loved living in California, after the birth of our kids, Casey and Riley, we felt this overwhelming need to return to the roost, so we moved back home in 1990.

Well, that's about it. Oh, wait. The writing. I adore it. I crave it. But it wasn't until Casey went off to college, and teenage Riley made it clear that any form of communication between us was to be restricted to—"With or without pepperoni"—that I found the opportunity to sit down and let 'er rip. I hope you love reading Whistling in the Dark, Land of a Hundred Wonders, Tomorrow River and Good Graces as much as I loved writing them.

1 comment:

  1. Star, thanks a million for hosting Lesley today.

    Lesley, I think every good writer is a tinkerer - you are not alone :)


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