Sushi can be described as a delicacy that packs in several different elements into a neat little package. It's a compact item, yet all the layers are revealed. Lesley Kagen has used the cuisine she makes daily at her sushi bar Restaurant Hama, 333 W Brown Deer Rd., as an example for her everyday life.
Kagen isn't only a restaurateur, but a mother, a voice-over artist and now an author. Her novel "Whistling in the Dark" started lining bookshelves at the beginning of May and she's now going on a book tour to support her venture into the literary world.
"I have sort of written my entire life," she says. "I started out pretty young writing, poetry and later on went into doing things here and there. I was the kid in school who ran to English class. When my daughter went away to school, I thought, 'Wow, this is the time, right now.' I started writing and waited to see what I came up with."
"Whistling in the Dark" follows two young girls, Sally and Troo, in the summer of 1959 in Milwaukee. Their mother is hospitalized for an infection and since their real father has already passed, the girls are left to their own devices while their stepfather is on a drinking binge and their older sister is distracted by love. Meanwhile, a murderous molester is on the loose.
Much of the book was a result of Kagen's reflection on her own life, although the mystery part is more fictional.
"There comes a time for all women, when their children leave, when you reassess the job you've done," she says. "You get to thinking about parenting, mothering, your parent's childhood."
In 1959, when Kagen was 10 years old and living in Milwaukee, she also found herself without a father and her mother in the hospital.
"I wanted to talk about that time in life -- not only what it means to be 10 at any time, but how different it was to be 10 years old in those times and how they are now. It seemed so real to me and I think it was such a deep desire to feel the simplicity of those times. The innocence."
Without a plan in mind, she set out to capture those times. She let the words just come to her. For a year and a half, Kagen says she wrote every single day.
"I needed to get up every morning at 5. I would write between 5 and 10 and then go off and get the house cleaned up, run lunch and pick up things needed at the restaurant for night and go to sleep," she says. "It's a pretty jam-packed day. To get anything creative done, I need to have quiet, to be able to jump back into that world."
Originally, Kagen had thought that this would be a book for women her age -- ones that grew up during the '50s -- to read and reminisce. However, as more young adults are grabbing the book, "Whistling in the Dark" got Top Choice at the book reviewing Web site flamingnet.com, which Kagen considers a wonderful site. She says that the fact that more kids are reading it was "an amazingly cool surprise."
After all that she has done in her life, Kagen says that if she were to choose one thing to stick with, it'd be writing.
"I'm so passionate about it, so blessed to be able to do it. It's so biblical to put it into words, I'm so emotional about it. It's so hard, but it's just a blessing I do feel that writers, it's a born situation and something you can learn," she says. "I always wanted to be a great singer and I don't think you want me to sing. I took lots of lessons. I think it's just something you're born with and it's up to you whether you maximize that gift or not. It's a gift to write and create a story."
Through her writing, Kagen hopes that people will remember what it's like to be a child, since it's something that doesn't last very long, and that people will be touched by the girls' plight. She says that girls in 2007 have it so much better than girls in 1959; they're more highly regarded now.
"I would hope that someone reads (my book) and realize the profound effect of good parenting has on children. Sometimes it can't be helped," she says. "My father did die when I was a little younger than the girls and my mother did get ill. It imprinted on me, the traumatizing things that changed way I looked at life, the vulnerability of life."
"Whistling in the Dark" was only just published, but Kagen already has completed another novel, set in a small town in Kentucky in 1973. She hopes it will be released soon.
For now, she has several appearances to make for her current novel. The ones she's anticipating most, though, are the events being held at libraries since she's a self-professed "library geek."
Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.
However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.
Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson.
Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.