Wednesday, August 30, 2017


I'd like to thank all the readers who have enjoyed my newest novels, THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY and LAND OF A HUNDRED WONDERS.

And for those of you who are wondering what I'm working on now, here's a little bit of THE SWEET BYE AND BYE


            I will never forget the sound Frankie’s leg made when it snapped in two.
            She didn’t blame me at the time and, to the best of my knowledge, still doesn’t. But a part of me has never forgiven myself for instigating what happened that night in the woods. Then again . . . if Frankie hadn’t thrown herself down from the highest branch of the oak she and Viv were hiding in, she wouldn’t have received all the attention she did for saving my life and I wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale.
Of course, not everybody remembers that long ago summer with as much guilt, or gratitude, that I do. Whenever it comes up in conversation, someone not old enough to know any better is bound to pipe in, “No use bringing all that up again. What’s done is done.” But there will come a time when they too will understand that not all that is over is past. And when memories do resurrect, they don’t ask permission to do so.
All it takes is a gentle wind stirring the leafy boughs of an oak or a dog barking on a full moon night or the scent of sweat to bring back the press of cool steel on my skin and the sound of Frankie’s femur cracking in half. The stitches left an ugly, raised scar on my neck, and she walks with a limp when it rains, and poor Viv. Though not bodily injured the way Frankie and I were that night, her spirit was more than a little broken.
But as much as we might wish the border between then and now was less like a cobweb
and more like a brick wall, as my lifelong friends and I sit on the front porch of our Honeywell Street house on another summer evening decades later . . . the past is present. We never forget the summer of ’60. The summer that evil paid a visit to our small town and took our live as we knew them as a souvenir.

                                                                    Chapter One

Oh, the horror of it all.
Wild-haired hypnotists mesmerizing us to do their bidding, werewolves sinking their yellow fangs into our sunburned necks, and “little green men” or the “Commies” dropping out of the sky to enslave us not only seemed possible back then, but just a matter of time. Every day felt like anything-can-happen day and our nights were filled with things that went boo.
Why my best friends and I loved nothing more than getting the hell scared of out of us every Saturday afternoon at the Rivoli Theatre in downtown Summit or in the evenings at the Starlight Drive-In on the edge of town still remains a mystery to me, but we spent most of our childhood covered in goose bumps and jumping out of our skins.
The giant radiated ants from Them! sounded an awful lot like cicadas, and the three of us never looked at a full moon the same way after we saw The Wolfman. And for a few months after we’d seen The Fly, we couldn’t spot one without saying, “Heeelp me . . . please, heeelp me.” But it was The Tingler that almost did us in. Unbeknownst to us, Mr. Willis, the owner of the Rivoli Theatre, had fastened a vibrating device called the Percepto! beneath the red velvet seats that was activated during certain scenes in the movie to make it feel like the parasite had wormed its way into our spines and we ran out of the theatre’s Emergency Exit screaming.
But to the best of my recollection, which, if I do so say myself, remains remarkably sharp
for a gal on the dusky side of her sixties, in reality, other than the soaping of Main Street shop
windows every Halloween Eve by boys being boys, a reclusive woman the kids in town believed to be tending a bubbling cauldron in her cellar, the occasional escaped patient found wandering around town or the woods abutting Broadhurst mental institution, and Granny Cleary, nothing too frightening or out of the ordinary occurred in Summit—a town judged so ho hum by a popular Wisconsin travel brochure that the Points of Interest section was left blank—before the record-breaking heat showed up that Memorial Day like a harbinger of the horrifying things to come.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Land of a Hundred Wonders by [Kagen, Lesley]

A love story that's near and dear to my heart. Here's what it's about:

Brain damaged after a tragic car accident that took both her parents, Gibby McGraw is now NQR (Not Quite Right), a real challenge for a fledgling newspaper reporter. Especially when she stumbles upon the dead body of the next governor of Kentucky, Buster Malloy.

Armed with her trusty spiral note-book and accompanied by her dog, Keeper, Gibby figures that solving the murder of Buster Malloy might be her best chance to prove to everyone that she can become Quite Right again. But she gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers a world of corruption, racism, and family secrets in small town Shorewood. Luckily, she's also about to discover that some things are far more important than all the brains in the world, and that miracles occur in the most unexpected moments.

You can pick it up at Amazon. And if you love it, which, of course, I sure hope you do, you'll do me the kindness of leaving a glowing review.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Wow. Just wow. After 156 rejections for representation, scores of "passes" by publishers, against all odds . . . my debut novel became a New York Times bestseller now in its 17th printing. This is so profoundly moving to me, there are no words.

 Whistling in the Dark

Saturday, February 4, 2017


When I sat down to write The Mutual Admiration Society it was with the same intent that I bring to all my stories. In this case, it was my desire to tell the tale of two young girls. Sisters. Kids, who only have each other, or perceive that to be the truth, on a journey that seems to be too much to deal with at such a tender age. The loss of their beloved father, and in many ways, much of their life as they knew it. 

I wanted to write about how deeply resourceful children can be. How imaginative and flat-out funny, and loyal. I wanted the girls' story to feel authentic, symptomatic, and yes, out-of-the-box, because loss it like that. We all experience it to greater and lesser degrees, maybe at the same time, but not together. Grief is a solo trip. A deep sense of abandonment, I wanted to write about that, too, and the guilt one feels when we lose our dearest ones. And, of course, there needed to be a mystery, because dealing with death is so profound and hard, that often it feels unsolvable. In The Mutual Admiration Society there are many internal forces of darkness churning within narrator, Tessie, but the external force is personified by an evil next door neighbor. And a cemetery is always a wonderful setting,  and a handy metaphor. And God . . . where is He in all this? I wondered.

I wanted to write this book. And I love it. I hoped others would love it as well, or else find within its pages something that resonated with them. And if they didn't, they'd continue searching for another story that does touch them. Turns out, there are those that don't really care for my new book, no, let's call a spade a spade. They say they despise it. One reader said that it "nauseated" her. This deep down hurts. Not because it makes me doubt my writing, myself, or the story and my intentions, but because the very idea that there are people whose only intention is to harm the sale of my book by eviscerating it in reviews stretches the limits of my imagination and my belief system beyond the bounce-back factor. 

And the well-intentioned telling me,"Suck it up, buttercup," or "Hey, them's the breaks," and other equally silly cliches, does not cut the mustard. Maybe earlier in my life they would have inspired me in some odd way, but no longer. I have spent most of my working life in the public eye, fifty years of it anyway, which has always made the way I make my living a target, but never before has my acting or writing been subjected to the sheer intentional ugliness that appears to have become the norm these days. How sad that is. For me, sure, but mostly for those that believe the only way to feel good and powerful, even for just a little bit, is to spend their time crafting hate-filled reviews not only of my book, but other books, movies, television shows, art, restaurants, and other types of endeavors that require a profound commitment of heart and soul, many times without commensurate remuneration.  

A believer in humor, knowing it's the only hope that I, or any of us, have to transcend pains, be they large or small, I'd usually stick a wry smile on my face, shrug, and make a joke right about now. But this morning . . . I got nothing. Which is the saddest bit of all.


Monday, January 23, 2017


THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY launch party is right around the corner. Wednesday, February 1, 7:00 pm at Boswell Bookshop in Milwaukee. Be there or be square. 
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I've decided that rather than featuring quotes from other writers on the front covers of books, in order to cut down on confusion, they should come with a warning label. Here's the caveat emptor THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY would have slapped on the front cover:

Potential Reader: This novel is written for those above average intelligence who enjoy child narrators, possess a sense of humor, can fathom the sweetness of young love, are not offended by swearing, and understand at least a little about the complexities of children's psyches. If you do not possess these qualities, kindly keep moving to another section of the store, where you will find a wide selection of other books that might better meet your needs.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017


FACT: Life is not the bowl of cherries you might think it is. At any minute, probably when you least expect it, your life could turn into the pits. 
PROOF: Seeing is believing, so close your eyes and imagine the funniest, smartest, and handsomest daddy leaning across the kitchen table in a small wooden house on a sweltering summer August morning. Now hear him telling you with the kind of mischievous smile that all the gals at the bar love, “I got Bobby to cover my shift today, kiddo. So what say we beat this heat, feel the wind on our faces, and do a little fishing on the Great Lake today?”
Even though you don’t have any business going out on a lake, Great, or otherwise, because you don't know how to swim, you adore this daddy so much that you’d do anything to spend time with him. So you spring out of the kitchen chair where you just got done eating the scrambled egg and Spam breakfast he cooks for you, your sister, and your mother every morning, wrap your arms around his waist, and say, “Cool, Daddio, cool!” because you know that one of the things he loves most about you is that you can be a real card, same as him. 
That’s how you end up bobbing up and down on Lake Michigan in a borrowed white motorboat called The High Life. You’re having a gay old time, and don’t suspect for a second that you’re a sitting duck, oh, no, not you. You’re too busy staring at pouffy clouds in the Robin's egg blue sky that reminds you of your little sister. Searching for shapes, is what you're doing. Something like a collie or a cobra or cow. So later on when the trout you and you daddy caught for supper tonight are getting fried up on the stove, you can tell your little animal-loving sister what she missed out on today. You might even tease her about how she should’ve been at your side breathing in the gas fumes and the smell of your necks roasting pink instead of staying tied to our mother’s apron strings all day, because even though you love her, it ticks you off when she chooses your mother over you. 
 Hours later, you're still thrilled to be spending the day with your beloved daddy, but you're so sweaty, and gotten bored watching your bobber. To pass the time, you begin imagining you're somewhere else, the same thing you do when you're at church on Sunday. You really like pirate stories, so you pretend to be the main character in one you call BURIED TREASURE. In your book, the captain of your ship, hasn't been wetting his whistle all afternoon with all those bottles of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, but grog—yo ho! When the tip of your tongues swipes the sweat off the top of your lip, it’s so salty that it shouldn’t be hard to see yourself floating not a lake, matey, but on a tropical sea far, far away. A pirate chest bulging full of doubloons and silver cups with rubies and pearls the size of baseballs are lying in the sand below, below, below, calling your name _____, _____, _____.
You're so wrapped up in all this, that when your daddy jerks awake from the little nap he was taking and points at your fishing pole and says, more than a little slurry, “You need bait," you barely notice. And when he stands and reaches for the dirt-filled Campbell’s tomato soup can, you don't thank him. You’re too busy thinking now how you’re going to trade a diamond treasure bracelet you found for that blue Schwinn with the basket that’s sitting in the front window of Melman’s Hardware on North Ave. Or maybe you’re imagining what a kick you'll get out of dropping some of those sandy doubloons you find on the bottom of the lake into the lap of your money hungry mother so she could buy one of those new window air-conditioners that might keep her from losing her temper at Daddy so often.
            It's not until your daddy slips on one of the empty beer bottles rolling around on the deck of the boat that all thoughts of your pretend pirate shopping spree go flying out of your head. His impression of one of the three Stooges stepping on a banana peel has always slayed you. And when he falls backwards, smacks his head on the motor and tumbles overboard, you're not scared, quite the opposite. You just about split a gut laughing. He's an excellent swimmer who adores jokes, most especially the kind that practically scare the poop out of you and your sister, so you expect him to stay under the water longer than Houdini before he pops to the surface saying the way he always does when he pulls a scary fast one over on you, “Ha . . . ha . . . ha . . .   Gotcha!”  
              You believe this so deeply with every square inch of your heart that even after the sun finally gives up for the day and lowers itself into the cold lake water and the stars flick on above the sad-sounding seagulls circling overhead, you’re still watching and waiting for his glistening face to magically re-appear any second now. One Mississippi . . . two Mississippi . . . .  The red boat with the flashing blue light shows up when you count up to six hundred and twenty-five Mississippi.
One of the guys who comes to your rescue reminds your of a caveman at the downtown museum except he isn’t bare-chested. A white shirt with Shore Patrol has the name Stan written in red above the pocket. After he comes aboard, he looks around and says, “Theresa Finley?" You must've nodded, because then he adds on, "Your mother called us. Where’s your father?”
You almost answer him. But then the muggy air crawling under your skin mixing in with the leftover smells of Daddy’s Old Spice and the beer remind you to do what you’ve done for as long as you can remember when your mother sends someone looking for your daddy. You clam up. 
And you don't come to your senses until the burly guy, the one who’s driving the rescue boat, guns it so hard that your head snaps back and you see twinkling above you your favorite constellation. It’s called Orion the Hunter in the World Book, but your daddy always told you those stars stuck together because they were, “The Three Musketeers, like us,” on the nights when he’d sit on the porch steps of your house holding you and your sister close.
My daddy . . . he fell . . . we can't leave him . . . one for all and one for all you want to scream at Stan, but what comes out of your mouth instead is a noise that you’ve only ever heard before coming out of the cemetery behind your house.
But some how Stan knows what you're trying to tell him, because with the stink of the throw-up on your shirt and the pee in your shorts making his eyes water as bad as yours, he puts his arm around you and tells you what you’re brain doesn't want to admit, but what your heart already knows. “I'm sorry, kid. Your father . . .  he ain't coming back.” With a shake of his head, he flicks his Lucky Strike cigarette over the side of the rescue boat as it races back to shore. “When you least expected it, eh?”
And the last things you remember thinking the night when the unthinkable happened, when your life would never again be a bowl of cherries again, is how this was all your fault. If you'd only been prepared, your daddy would still be alive instead of lying on the bottom of the deep blue sea. You are the pits.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Every once in awhile, you get a very, very nice one. Thank you, RT REVIEWS!

"One of the most delightfully quirky investigative teams in recent literature. Eleven-year-old Tessie's witty narrative voice lilts with both the innocence of a child and the precociousness of a mind older than her years. While the mystery takes center stage at first glance, the heart of this novel is its poignant portrayal of sisterly love."