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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Milwaukee author and owner of Restaurant Hama Lesley Kagen. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Arts & Entertainment

"Land of a Hundred Wonders," is published in paperback on Aug. 5. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Arts & Entertainment

"Getting published is the hardest thing I've ever done next to parenting," she says. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

Milwaukee Talks: author Lesley Kagen


When OnMilwaukee.com interviewed Lesley Kagen in early 2007, the Milwaukee author -- and co-owner of Restaurant Hama -- was riding high on the success of her debut novel, "Whistling in the Dark."

That Kagen was something of a "late bloomer" as a novelist didn't seem to matter one iota to readers or to reviewers. The industry standard Publisher's Weekly raved about Kagen and her book, saying "Kagen sharply depicts the vulnerability of children in any era" and calling Salley O'Malley, "an enchanting protagonist."

The result? "Whistling in the Dark" has sold impressively, shifting more than 100,000 copies so far.

Although Kagen has said, "Getting published is the hardest thing I've ever done next to parenting," she appears to have had little trouble conjuring a quick follow-up and that work, "Land of a Hundred Wonders," is published in paperback on Aug. 5.

With a new book in shops tomorrow, we thought it was high time we revisited Kagen to ask about her rapid success, her new book, her Milwaukee restaurant and more. Enjoy this Milwaukee Talks with author Lesley Kagen.

OMC: Were you surprised by the success of "Whistling in the Dark"?

LK: Not surprised, gobsmacked! The chances of having even a moderately successful novel these days is astronomical. To make The New York Times Bestseller List, it, shoot, now you're making me cry. I've considered having that engraved on my tombstone, by the way. Here lies Lesley Kagen. She was a New York Times Bestseller author, you know.

OMC: How did the success affect your daily life? Did a lot of new people start coming into Restaurant Hama with the book tucked under their arm?

LK: Our regular customers have been so supportive! And yes, new folks are coming in every day. We have a gorgeous party room so a lot of the book clubs meet there and I join them. We talk and eat and drink and have a ball!

OMC: Was there a lot of pressure to write a follow-up that would duplicate or build on that success? How did that affect your ability to write?

LK: No, no pressure. I'm a high-octane kind of gal. My new novel, "Land of a Hundred Wonders," was a thrill to write.

OMC: The new book isn't set in Milwaukee. Does that mean Milwaukee doesn't creep in at all, even if unnamed? Do you find a lot of fodder here?

LK: I love that word -- fodder. No, the next story takes place in small town Kentucky, 1973. No brats. No cheese curds. Only fried chicken and sweet tea. I love Milwaukee, but wanted to explore a different culture this time around.

OMC: Does the restaurant help? You must see a lot of different people come through there on a daily basis.

LK: Actually, with all that's been going on with the books, I don't get into Hama as much as I used to. My husband, Pete, manages it most of the time. Both books are displayed prominently near the cash register and my sweetie makes sure that all our customers know what's going on. Many of them have been dining at Hama for years and years, so they get to come along on this new and wonderful ride!

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