Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Good Graces by Lesley Kagen

Welcome to Author Lesley Kagen


Lesley Kagen is a writer, actress, and restaurateur. She lives in Wisconsin.



If you could travel in a Time Machine would you go back to the past or into the future?  
Since I write historical fiction, this is easy.  The past.  Sometime in the Fifties and Sixties.  Love the easy pace of life back then. 
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Doris Day.  Or John Wayne.  I was conflicted.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I didn’t have much say in the matter.  I believe writers are wired to write.  The same way some people are given the ability to draw or sing. 
Can you see yourself in any of your characters?
In varying degrees, there’s part of me in all of my characters.  Drawing upon my experiences is the only way I know how to bring authenticity to my writing. 
What piece of advice would you give aspiring authors?
Write every day.  It’s important to keep in the flow.  And if your fondest dream is to get your work published, don’t give up!  Those that succeed are often not the most talented, but the most persistent.
Tell us in one sentence why we should read your book.
It has been proven that those who do look better and are thinner than the rest of the population.
Any other books in the works?
I’m finishing up the first draft on another novel right now.  It’s a mother/daughter story set in the backdrop of the horse world.  I love to write about complex female relationships.  And horses. 
Tell us about your most rewarding experiences since being published?
Readers reactions to the stories are priceless.  I’m touched by the mail I receive from people who have connected with a character or situation,  Book club visits are also high on my list.  (These women drink wine and bring cake and cookies.)  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t give thanks for the ability to get up every morning and do what I love.
What is your favorite quote?
“There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.”    —Albert Einstein.
If you could invite any 5 people to dinner who would you chose?
The Dhali Lama, my husband and kids.  This would make for an insightful and hilarious evening.
What do you do in your free time?
I spend time with my family.  I have a grandbaby, Charlie, who is the love of my life.  He’s made everything brand new again.  I like to hike with my dogs.  Spend time with horses.  Read.  I also watch an obscene amount of TV. 
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be?
Right where I’ve settled. In small town Wisconsin.  I live in a hundred year old farmhouse with a big red barn on six acres of land that’s close enough to Milwaukee and Chicago that I can indulge in a big city fix whenever I feel the need.  Sure wouldn’t mind having a place down South to fly to when January rolls around, though. Winters in Wisconsin can seem neverending.
What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?
The three B’s.  Be here now.  Breathe.  Be grateful.

Q&A provided by Publisher:

Q. Your previous novel, Whistling in the Dark, hit the New York Times bestseller list. Why do you think this novel is such a favorite amongst readers, Indie booksellers, book clubs, and teachers who assign the book for classroom and community reading?

A. When I send a book out into the world, I can only keep my fingers crossed that booksellers and readers will connect with the story, which thankfully, they have, but for different reasons. In our conversations, some readers tell me the tale of the two little sisters stumbling through a bygone era brings back memories. Of their families, their neighborhoods, the issues kids had to deal with during a time when children were supposed to be seen and not heard. At many of the book clubs I’m invited to, women dress in poodle skirts and serve 50’s fare. And many mothers have let me know that they share the book with their children in hopes of giving them a glimpse into the way they were raised. Sisters especially seem to find the story appealing, a jumping off point to kid each other about their own past exploits. I’m particularly proud Whistling in the Dark is used in community read programs. I adore the idea of people bumping into one another at the grocery store, stopping for a few minutes to discuss the book in the produce aisle. When I speak in classrooms, I get such a kick out of hearing the kids discuss how life back then was, “so old school”.

Q. For those who haven’t had an opportunity to read Whistling in the Dark, can you quickly tell us where that novel left off to set the stage for GOOD GRACES?

A. Whistling in the Dark concluded with the girls having survived a summer spent dealing with their father’s sudden death, their mother’s remarriage and hospitalization, and their near escape from child predator. Good Graces deals with the aftermath of those traumas, and presents a slew of new ones.

Q. What was your inspiration for this new story?

A. Initially, I was inspired to write about the further adventures of the O’Malley sisters by readers, who asked for a follow-up book. My own desire to revisit the story kicked in when I realized that I was missing the characters and the time period. I also had issues I wanted to explore that I hoped would be thought-provoking and relevant.

Q. The Wisconsin locale plays a prominent role in GOOD GRACES. What made you decide to set the novel in the same place you’re from and what makes this part of the world unique for storytelling?

A. Authenticity of setting is incredibly important to me. I can’t draw a reader into a tale unless I feel grounded in it. I left Milwaukee in my twenties to live in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but was drawn back later in life to raise my kids. Talk to anybody who’s spent time in Wisconsin and they’ll tell you there is something special about it. The people are down-to-earth with their own brand of humor. Most importantly, I’m home.

Q. When reading GOOD GRACES, the reader is transported back to the 1950’s with your use of vivid imagery. Do you think this nostalgic element in your writing appeals to readers of multiple generations?

A. While writing Whistling in the Dark and more recently, GOOD GRACES, I loved remembering the lingo, clothing, T.V. shows and movies of those days. I hoped the images would rekindle memories for those of us who grew up in the Fifties, but I’m continually astounded by how many younger readers find the setting compelling. Perhaps it’s like looking at pictures of an iconic era that’s so appealing. Or maybe they’re charmed by their parents’ stories of the good old days, of shopping at the five and dime and nightly neighborhood games of red light, green light, the same way I was by my mothers and grandmothers’ recounting of their childhoods.

Q. GOOD GRACES covers some very dark themes and issues yet, you manage to inject such situations with humor. Why?

A. Many of the problems we faced back then are no different than the ones we grapple with now. Child abuse, post-partum depression, bullying. I wanted to write about what it was like to be faced with these kinds of problems minus the resources we have now to deal with them. Dark issues can be hard to swallow. I’ve found that in my life, as well as in my writing, humor is the sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Q. Before you were a writer, you were an actress. How has your previous career affected your becoming an author and what led you to make such a change?

A. Actually, I was a writer way before I became an actress. Poetry, short stories, even a television script. I sent in a little something to 77 Sunset Strip when I was ten years old. What a goofy kid, I was, waiting every Friday night for months in front of our black and white television to see The Case of the Dog Collar Jewels solved by ace detectives, Stu Bailey and Jeff Spencer. Alas, the mystery remained unsolved. But I was rewarded for my efforts with an 8 x 10 glossy of Edd “Kookie” Byrnes, which was nothing to sneeze at back then. My mother was enthralled by all things Hollywood, which is probably the reason I pursued an acting career. But I never stopped writing. During my stint as a morning drive D.J., I wrote features and interviews, and for many years earned my living writing ad copy. I also still act. Voice-overs, mostly, but every once in a while I get the itch to do a play and one of these days, I’ll scratch it.

Q. You’re often called to speak with children’s advocacy groups. How does your role with these organizations influence your writing, particularly in GOOD GRACES?

A. Having experienced quite a bit of emotional upheaval growing up, I feel connected to children who are experiencing the same. Both in Whistling in the Dark and GOOD GRACES, many of the younger characters are defenseless. Their vulnerability scares me. Children, especially those who are left to their own resources, can be preyed upon both physically and emotionally. It’s our duty as adults to stand watch.

Q. Like Emma Donoghue’s Room and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, GOOD GRACES features a young narrator. What appeal does such a narrator have for adult readers?

A. Telling a story through the eyes of a young narrator isn’t too different from telling it in an adult voice. Sure, the language of children is less developed, their perceptions can be skewed, but we share something important. An emotional core. The kid in me wants to connect with the kid in my readers so we can get down to the nitty-gritty of life—our emotions—without the armor of adulthood getting in the way.

Good Graces:

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.

Giveaway Details:
1 copy of Good Graces
Open to US only
Ends 11/2/11