This week's debut author, Lesley Kagen, has been getting some buzz around her first novel, "Whistling in the Dark." Her book was a Midwest Booksellers Connection Title and a featured alternate for Double Day Book Club and the Literary Guild.
Also, she'll be here in Oshkosh on Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon at the Oshkosh Public Library, 106 Washington Ave., for a book talk and signing. If you don't have a copy of the book, they will be for sale at the event.
For more on Kagen, check out her website.
WN: How did your childhood in Milwaukee influence you when writing this book?
KAGEN: Milwaukee is such a unique city. I’ve lived in L.A. and New York and Chicago and I lived in Denver for awhile. There’s no place quite like Milwaukee. There’s a sense of community here.
In the 50s on the west side of Milwaukee…. It was so unique. There was a sense of such neighborliness and protection.
The essence of the story is two little girls who are abandoned for a summer essentially because of their mom’s illness. After the mother went into the hospital, the girls were essentially abandoned that summer because the stepfather didn’t want to hang around. The girls were on their own. If it happened nowadays, it’d be a completely different situation.
In 1959, it was a completely different situation. I think as a child, you felt that way. It wasn’t just your parents, it was the neighborhood. As the girls go about their business that summer, there’s a deep sense of that. Even though their mom is sick. [In the book there’s also a molester around] It’s a pretty scary summer for them.
A lot of the other stuff did. After my children had both taken off and gone to school, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of a Mom was i. And what kind of a parenting did I have. That was the lifting off point for Whistling.
WN: What was your writing process like?
KAGEN: [It was a] year and half from start to finish.
I get up every morning … write from 5—10. I am not an outliner. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I go to where my computer is and hope for the best. The story as it unfolds for the reader, it unfolds for me.
Some days exciting, some times, I creep in with a lot of trepidation. It’s such an incredibly fascinating process for me.
My subconscious is still pretty active and I have easy access.
In the mean time, I’m still thinking about the book, but not very much. I have excellent shower vision and it seems like I work out a lot of problem while I’m in the shower.
WN: You worked doing voice-overs for many years. Did that career help with writing?
KAGEN: I still do voice-overs for a couple clients. I started in radio in Milwaukee in 1970, three years in Milwaukee then 15 years in LA. I did 1000s of voice overs and commercial.
During the process, right before I started to do strictly acting, I was working for … Licorice Pizza. I was writing all of their commercials and writing and voicing.
When you write copy, you cannot be too wordy. You have to get to the point quick. I think that absolutely affected my writing. I like to get to the point. I like to keep it short and sweet. I do feel that some of my copywriting experience really did help with that.
WN: Now that you are out on book tour, are you having fun? Is it interesting to you to hear how readers are reacting to your book?
KAGEN: It’s really fun.
My daughter got married… I was down in Virginia for 12 days. I did first reading at a bookstore in Richmond. It’s so cool to meet people. It’s amazing to me to meet readers. I’m pretty interested in their story.
It’s kind of surreal. Writing is such a solitary thing. I get up, nobody else is awake. You work and work and you work for years. You’re never 100 percent sure anybody’s going to like this. Of course, I like it. It’s wonderful validation for people come up and say, I really like this part.
There’s a sense of phew. Thank goodness that somebody really seems to like the book. People bring up interesting questions that I never thought about.
It makes me examine motive and structure. It’s an excellent exchange.
WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
KAGEN: The best part is the writing. It’s so exciting to me.
I have no plan. That can be also the worst part of writing,
The fact that I come down and I’m wondering what’s going to happen. And something does happen most days. Other days, I’m concerned.
It’s sort of a double-edged sword.
WN: What’s next for you as a writer?
KAGEN: I just completed next book. It’s called, “The Land of a Hundred Wonders.”
It’s set in Kentucky in 1973. It has a little historical component to it as well. I hope it’s good. I’m in the same situation. It’s finished at least.
WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
KAGEN: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” What an impact that book had on my life. As well as the movie. I can’t put into words the impact that book made. I’d have to say “To Kill a Mockingbird.”