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"Friends Like Us" is available Feb. 14 from Knopf Publishing.

Lauren Fox talks about "Friends Like Us"

In grade school, I would self-publish my own stories, in crayon. As a result, I am always a little obsessed with people who are able to get someone else to publish their works.

Milwaukee author Lauren Fox has achieved this again, with the publication of her second novel, "Friends Like Us." It arrives on online and on shelves on Valentine's Day. Her first book, "Still Life With Husband" was published in 2007.

OnMilwaukee.com: You're a Nicolet grad, right? In Shorewood now. What do you love about Milwaukee? What don't you like?

Lauren Fox: I grew up here, graduated from Nicolet, then lived in Madison, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis for about 13 years until I moved back to Milwaukee in 2001. I really love living here, near my family. I love that Milwaukee feels like a small town in so many ways, that it's so knowable and accessible, but with many of the cultural opportunities of a larger city. I'm also experiencing the city now from the vantage point of having kids, and I'm discovering and rediscovering a lot of places. I spent the day yesterday at the Mitchell Park Domes with my little girls, and I love how it's brand new to them, but that it feels sweetly the same as it did when I was growing up.

OMC: Is it easy to break through as a Milwaukee author?

LF: I don't think it's easy to break through as an author. I'm not sure living in Milwaukee makes a difference. Back in the late '90s, when I was trying to write for women's magazines –and living in Minneapolis – I felt like it was a bit of a disadvantage that I wasn't in New York – I couldn't make face-to-face contact, couldn't meet an editor for lunch and pitch ideas. But technology has changed things so much. I don't think location makes as much of a difference now.

OMC: Talk a bit about your new book.

LF: "Friends Like Us" is a story about friendship. Willa, the 26-year-old protagonist, and Jane, her best friend and roommate, are overqualified for their lives. They live in a crummy apartment in Milwaukee, work part-time jobs to pay the rent, and date various guys – but mostly for the opportunity to come home and tell each other about it. They're on the cusp of adulthood, at that time in your life when friends are primary, and the future feels like it's both very far away and nipping at your heels at the same time.

At the beginning of the novel, Willa's high school best friend, Ben, comes back into her life after several years' unexplained absence. They reconnect as friends, and Willa brings him home to introduce to Jane. Ben and Jane fall for each other and, with Willa's blessing, they begin a relationship. Things go smoothly for all of them; they're a happy friend threesome, and Willa feels, for a while, as if she's created a family for herself, and one that's a big improvement over her own fractured, dysfunctional one.

But then, of course, Ben and Jane's relationship grows more serious, and Willa is suddenly confronted with the reality that they're moving forward without her – and she needs to figure out, at this moment of crisis, what she's willing to sacrifice for their happiness.

OMC: Team Jane or Team Willa? I found it hard to pick as I identified with both characters at different times throughout the story.

LF: Team neither? Team both? I like to write characters who are complicated and vulnerable and flawed, characters you can – I hope – identify and sympathize with but whose choices wouldn't necessarily be the ones you would make. Nobody is completely benevolent or all evil. Both Willa and Jane do some good, generous things in the novel, and then make some really questionable choices ones at other times in the story. So, if you found it hard to pick teams, then that's a good thing!

OMC: I was completely able to lose myself in your book. As a writer and mom, how do you transition between the reality you are creating and your "real" life?

LF: It's really not that hard when the soundtrack to my "real" life is "Mommy! Mama! Mama! MOMMY!" That will jolt me right out of any writerly reverie I might be trying to cultivate. The fact is, I have the mornings to write, when my older daughter is in school and my younger is at preschool and then with my parents, and then from about 3 (o'clock) on, I'm back in the world. I can't complain. I mean, I do, but I really shouldn't. I sometimes find myself wishing my kids would tone down the chatter and give me time to think, but then I try to remind myself how delightful it is to have two happy, chatty little girls to spend my time with.

OMC: What's next for you? TV/movie version of any of your books?

LF: I'm working on my next book. I'm in the very early part of that, just figuring out plot and characters. I will also be starring in the one-woman musical version of Friends Like Us, to be performed nightly in my basement. Okay, no. Does it count that I've cast the movie of my book? Actually both books. But I'm flexible.

Fox has three upcoming reading and signing events. They are listed here and below.

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