Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Here's where I'll be on Thursday evening. I wish you would be there too. Hey! You could make it a New Year's resolution! One you can actually keep!

Milwaukeean Lesley Kagen, author of The Resurrection of Tess Blessing
Thursday January 8, at 7:00 pm

Boswell is excited to welcome Milwaukeean Lesley Kagen, actress and author of six novels, as she presents her latest, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing, for a reading and signing. In this poignant novel, 49-year-old Tess sets forth on a mission to complete her final "to-do" list before what she’s sure will be her impending death after she is diagnosed with breast cancer, never thinking that she may have to stick around to deal with her handiwork.

Among the things Tess feels she must do before her impending death to cancer are making peace with her estranged sister, saying goodbye to her mother’s long-kept ashes that she keeps in the garage, rescuing her daughter from the grip of an eating disorder, helping her son grow-up, and reigniting the spark in her marriage. Grace, the story’s narrator, aids Tess on her quest and lends the story its most brilliant elements: subtle magical realism and deep psychological complexity. Is Grace an "imaginary friend," guardian angel, or a part of Tess who knows better than she? Fans of quirky novels like Where’d You Go Bernadette and Silver Linings Playbook will love this heartwarming, humorous, and slightly magical redemptive story about second chances and realizing what—and who—is really important, before it’s too late.

"Tess' emotional journey makes for compelling reading...a richly detailed, deeply resonant story of a woman of incredible strength."---Kirkus Reviews 
"In The Resurrection of Tess Blessing, Kagen deftly illustrates her gift for blending the serious and the funny, the light and the dark. With a touch of magical realism, she once again creates a story that’s as hopeful as it is poignant. As a reader, I feel safe in her hands." —Diane Chamberlain, international bestselling author ofNecessary Lies and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes 

About the Author: Lesley Kagen is an actress, voice-over talent, essayist, former restaurateur, sought-after speaker, and award-winning, The New York Times bestselling author of five previous novels. Her work has been translated into seven languages. She’s the mother of two and grandmother of two. She lives in a hundred-year-old farmhouse in a small town in Wisconsin.

Monday, December 29, 2014


I was recently informed by my editor that my debut novel, Whistling in the Dark, a surprise New York Times bestseller and Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Choice Award Winner, was about to go into its 16th printing! Besides feeling ridiculously lucky (Do you know the number of sensational books that never get a second glance?) and outrageously grateful (Thank you...thank you...thank a good bedtime prayer) not a day goes by, that I don't think about Whistling's inauspicious beginnings. Got a sec?

Shortly after my daughter flew the coop to attend college many miles away from my nest, I began wondering, as I imagine many moms do---Did I teach her everything she needs to know? How fast can I get to Virginia if she needs me? Are twenty pair of underwear enough? And then I began feeling a little sorry for myself. Started thinking about how hard it is these days to be a mom compared to when my mother raised me in the 50s. Self-esteem hadn't been invented yet, a healthy meal was a Swanson's TV Dinner, and the worst weapons were switchblades wielded by "greasers," which also brings to mind "oleo." In so many ways, they really were, "The Good Old Days." I found myself missing them. And my ten-year-old self. Before I realized what I was doing, I began to peck out memories of living in a blue collar neighborhood on the West Side of Milwaukee back in the day.

Once I'd completed the story, I thought, Hey, this is pretty good. Think I'll try to get it published! (This is somewhat akin to Judy Garland and Andy Rooney saying to one another, "Hey! Let's put on a show!") I didn't have the slightest idea how to go about this, so I headed over to my favorite book store and did a little research. Turned out I needed a literary agent who would act as a go-between me and a publisher, and to get one of those, I had to write something called a query letter, which sounded an awful lot like a pitch letter. An agent? Easy peasy! I'd been actress for over thirty years and had never had a problem finding someone to represent me. A query letter? A snap

I then proceeded to send this query letter via e-mail to agents in New York City because that's where most of them hang out. My quickest rejection was under a minute. Like Mr. Big Apple had just been waiting to shoot down the hopes and dreams of a middle-aged midwestern writer who contacted him. The longest rejection took two month. Some agents asked to see some pages and then rejected it. Two asked to read the whole manuscript and wrote back, "Thanks, but no thanks. It's just not right for us." When I received my 156th rejection, I laid in a hot bath for a week, cried, eyed the plugged-in hair dryer on a nearby counter, and wondered how bad electrocution hurt.

Two days later, wrinkly me received a nice e-mail from an elderly gentleman from a prominent NYC literary agency who wrote, "I find this story delightful and would like to represent, "Whispering in the Dark." He never did get the title right, but he did find an editor at NAL/PENGUIN who felt the same way he did, and I will always be grateful to the both of them for putting me out of my misery.

The moral of this story? Magical stuff can happen when you least expect it, so it's a pretty good idea to believe in yourself when no one else does, and never throw in the towel that's sitting awfully close to that hair dryer.



Tuesday, December 23, 2014


It was the Christmas of '92.  The Christmas my sassy five-year-old son, Riley's, belief in Santa up and went. 

"Only three weeks left, Ri. How's your letter to Santa to coming along?" I said as I set his scrambled cheese eggs and toast down next to his hot cocoa. 

"I'm not making a list this year," he announced. "I don't believe in Santa anymore."

"Really?" I was, of course, heartbroken, and ticked at the third grader who lived behind us who I was certain had blown Santa's cover, but also semi-impressed by my son's bold stance. " sure you want to take that chance, Ri? I mean...what if you're wrong?"

He stuffed a piece of cinnamon toast in his smirky little mouth and said, "I know you and Dad get the presents. Get over it."

"But what about—" I started to protest, when a glimmer of an idea took hold. "Just to be on the safe side, if it was me, I'd pull together a letter with a list anyway, honey. You know, cover your bases. Couldn't hurt, right?"

He rested his case with an eye roll and a disbelieving grunt. But a couple of days later, I found this huffy, smudged note on the kitchen table. Unable to write yet, Riley had asked his eight-year-old sister, Casey, to do a little secretarial work:

Der Santa,

Your not real but this is what I want

1. Mario game
2. WWF reslers like Rock
3. Sled


After I tucked him that night, I told him that he could rest easy because I'd sent the letter off to the North Pole that afternoon. He gave me a look that can only be described as a poor-Mom-how-did-she-live-this-long-without-getting-hit-by-a-bus look.

I played it pretty low key for the next two weeks, didn't breathe a word about Santa until the family was traveling to the American Club to celebrate the holiday. Besides sleigh rides, wreath-making classes, caroling and other assorted seasonal attractions the hotel offered guests back then, there was an up close and extended personal visit with Santa on the venue!  

I mentioned nonchalantly on the ride up about how excited Mr. Claus would be to see Riley. "I bet you're pretty relieved you pulled that letter together now, right? That'd be pretty embarrassing to be sitting on Santa's lap and--

"Bah, humbug," was my whipper-snapper's back seat response. 

While my husband checked us in, I mumbled something about looking around and dashed off to find a hotel employee who could direct me to Santa's Workshop. After a quick chat with the jolly one, I rushed back to reception and arrived just in time to hear Riley tell his father, yet again, "But I don't want to go see Santa. That's for babies."

It was only after much cajoling, bribery, and minor threatening, that later that afternoon our son dawdled through the hotel's hallways, stood grouchily in line with the other, much happier, children. When it was my boy's turn, Santa gave me a wink, and said to my little non-believer, "And who do we have here! Why it's Riley, if I'm not mistaken, and I never am," as he reached into his big ole red furry pants with a hearty ho...ho...ho and withdrew my son's Der Santa letter that I'd slipped him earlier. 

The jaw-dropping look on my little wise guy’s face? 
Worth its weight in gold, incense, and mirth.

Merry Christmas to all. May your belief in someone or something greater than yourself never waver.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Visitor

If I had to name one thing that gets to me the most this time of year it wouldn’t be the snotty-nosed children’s choirs, twinkling red lights illuminating snowflakes joining their brethren during an after midnight snow, or misshapen snowmen with gnawed carrot noses. Although loved and time-honored, those holiday traditions can’t hold a yuletide candle to the joy I feel watching usually cranky folks holding doors open for package-carrying shoppers with a shy smile, or the town skinflint tossing five dollars into a bell ringer’s kettle, and the delight that runs through the audience of a middle school production of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi.

What is this powerful force that tip-toes into the souls of we otherwise self-absorbed, distracted, and darn right stingy this time of year? What is this…this…spirit that comes to visit for the month of December? From whence does it come? And for godssakes, can’t someone speak to it about taking up permanent residence? 

Friday, December 19, 2014


My daughter and I have a long-running argument, I mean lively discussion, on whether of not the time-worn tradition of an Elf on the Shelf is a good idea. Casey thinks it's hilarious and enjoys hiding the dang red man all over the house. I like that part of it too. It's the part when this smirking little rat fink reports back to Santa everyday if my always wonderful g-baby is minding his p's & q's. A tattle-tale. That's what that elf is. In my old know what we'd do to a snitch? My attempts to procure a teeny tiny concrete raincoat have been fruitless, so I'm seriously considering kidnapping the snack size stoolie. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The G.G.

I spent last Friday morning with my Charlie and his chums at Maple Leaf Preschool reading B.J. Novak's hilarious, The Book with No Pictures, and talking about how books come to be. Fantastic teacher, Barb Gould, has assembled the stories the kids told me into a book their parents will receive at Thursday's holiday party. Kudos, children, kudos! 


This week I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with your children about what authors do. I explained to them that books were just stories people thought up in their brains and wrote down on paper. One by one they joined me to share what tale was uppermost on their minds. Some of the kids needed prodding; others were disappointed when their turn was over. All of them were delightful and wonderful. I hope you enjoy their debut short story collection as much as I enjoyed recording them.
             —Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author and Charlie Fleming’s G.G.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Double Scoop

I generally do not put a lot of stock in book reviews. Too subjective. Some folks like chocolate ice cream and some like strawberry. But when the notoriously cranky Kirkus gives you one like this...well, it's better than a cookie cone in the eye.

"Tess' emotional journey makes for compelling reading...a richly detailed, deeply resonant story of a woman of incredible strength." 
--Kirkus Reviews

Thursday, December 11, 2014


Five Books that Inspire Me


“It changed my life. A timely story, beautifully written. Harper Lee captured Scout, Jem, and Dill’s voices perfectly. The setting speaks to me. The depth of the characters floor me. It’s perfect in every way. I often listen to the soundtrack of the movie when I write.”
to kill a mockingbird


“And everything else written by Amy Bloom. I am humbled and awed when I read her. She’s a writer’s writer.”


“Alice Sebold’s masterpiece.  I love her courage, her ability to reach into the depths of her soul and capture the essence of a character.”
lovely bones


“Absolutely adored this novel of a young man with autism attempting to solve a crime. Mark Haddon is a genius.”
the curious incident


“Abigail Thomas’s profoundly beautiful and darkly comic memoir remains to this day, my favorite. Exquisite writing.”
a three dog life

Monday, December 8, 2014

Happy Birthday

Thirty-one-years ago today, I managed to get it right. From the moment I held my daughter, Casey Dineen, in my arms, I was besotted. And with each passing day, I cherish her more, and am filled with boundless pride. Love you, baby.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Sisters, Sisters, Such Devoted Sisters"

Woke up this morning to find the O'Malley sisters of WHISTLING IN THE DARK hanging out with the Finley sisters from THE RESURRECTION OF TESS BLESSING on Amazon's Top 100 Women's Fiction/Sister list!! Color me VERY happy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blessings Upon Me

I am absolutely THRILLED, and couldn't be any prouder to announce that The Resurrection of Tess Blessing has been chosen by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association as a January Connections Pick!!! You can learn more here!

For all of you who know me, I am a long-time advocate for indie bookstores, which makes this selection doubly sweet! And also historical and wonderful in another way.

Years ago, the fine booksellers who belong to MIBA were kind enough to select my debut novel Whistling in the Dark as the winner of their year end fiction award. Without a doubt, Whistling would never had garnered the attention, made the New York Times list, or about to be going into its 16th printing without the support, care, and magnificent hand selling that indie bookstores are so famous for.

I am humbled. And grateful. And so damn excited to be working with these booksellers again that I can't stop happy dancing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Author! Author!

       With the release of my newest novel, The Resurrection of Tess Blessing, coming up on December 9th, one of the things I'm most excited about are book events. When my first novel, Whistling in the Dark, was declared a break-out hit and New York Times bestseller, I was utterly bowled over.  Especially after the invitations came pouring in from readers who invited me to their monthly book club discussions, and the bookstores that’d set aside evenings for me to speak.  Almost overnight I, a fifty-seven-year-old menopausal woman who felt lucky to remember where she’d parked her car, had magically morphed into a sought-after author. 

     I’m deeply grateful for all the time I’ve spent talking to readers who share their wine, tasty treats, and feelings. While many of their reactions to my books have moved me to tears, it’s not always been a smooth sail. Here are a couple of the more intriguing ones along with my responses that I may or may not have spoken aloud.

          This from a woman at a Milwaukee library event during a discussion of Whistling in the Dark,  “I like the book and everything, but I grew up during that era and I think you should’ve tried harder to be more accurate. You do know that there were no homosexuals in Milwaukee during the nineteen-fifties, don’t you?”

        Me: (Stunned.) “Ahhh…are you suggesting that gay men weren’t invented until 1967 in San              Francisco?”

       When absolutely nobody showed up to hear me speak in a bookstore in Michigan, the sweet manager tried to cheer me up by telling me, "Don't feel bad. Everyone's probably at the grand opening of the new Dollar Store. They're giving away combs. You wanna head over there?"

        Me: (A woman who hadn't had a drink in over thirty years.) "Will we be passing a bar along the way?"

        This last encounter took place when a publisher's representative, let's call her Sylvia, and I were lunching together before the release of my first novel. This gal, who was supposed to be my book's biggest supporter, had just inserted a dinner roll into her mouth when I asked her what she thought the chances were that Whistling in the Dark would be selected by the independent booksellers highly coveted BookSense list.
      Her: (Snort-laughing so uncontrollably that the dinner roll became lodged in her throat.)

      Me: (sitting in the ruins of a burst bubble.) "Oh, gosh, Sylvia. I do believe you're choking." I reached across the table and barely patted her on the back, just a graze, really. "I used to know the Heimlich maneuver, but gosh, my memory just isn't what it used to be. Have you seen my keys?"


Monday, December 1, 2014

Dear Book Clubs

I'm excited that book clubs across the country are already getting in touch with me about getting together to discuss THE UNDERTAKING OF TESS and THE RESURRECTION OF TESS BLESSING! You can find out how we can chat too. Here: