A lot of women are familiar with that empty nest feeling. Author Lesley Kagen used that feeling to start a whole new career as a writer. Her first book, New York Times bestseller, Whistling in the Dark (NAL/Penguin) was published when she was 57. That book, now in its 13th printing, sparked six more novels including The Resurrection of Tess Blessing, the second book in her Finley Sisters series with Spark Press.
When did you know you were a writer? What are some of your earliest writing memories?
When I was in fourth grade, St. Sebastian's held an all school poetry contest. I wrote a little ditty entitled I Am the Sun, I'm in the Sky. As a somewhat cagey, blue-collar kid, I figured that if I mentioned God in every sentence, I'd be in like Flynn. Sure enough...I won! A silver dollar! In 1958, that was a lot of money. My parents laminated the poem and it hangs near my writing desk. The silver dollar? I blew it on red licorice.
What is your publishing story? How did you get to where you are?
After my daughter went off to college, I suffered the usual empty nest angst. Did I do a good job? Does she know what she needs to know to make her way? Then I started thinking about how much easier it was for my mother to raise kids (self-esteem hadn't been invented yet) than it is nowadays. That led me to musing about my own childhood. All the writing I had done up to that point was in advertising, but I thought, what do I have to lose? I'll start slow and see where it takes me. A year and a half later...Whistling in the Dark was finished.
I guess for women, when their children leave home, it frees up the time that you've been spending on the day to day raising of them. I used that time to write.
How do you write? What is your writing process or ritual?
I wake up with the sun, put on my incredibly unattractive lucky writing jacket, head downstairs, brew many cups of Earl Grey tea, light candles, proceed to my desk, and let it rip. I give very little thought to my writing until the editing process. During the first draft, my goal is to tap into my subconscious, which is where the stories appear to live.
What roadblocks or obstacles did you face along the way? How did you get past them?
After I finished my debut novel, I had no idea how to get it published, so I headed to my local indie book store to educate myself. The first step was to find a literary agent. I thought that'd be a breeze. I've been an actress for over forty years, have had many agents, and I'd never had a problem attracting one before. (Ignorance is not bliss, by the way). Whistling in the Dark was rejected for literary representation 146 times before it landed with a kind gentleman who fell in love with the story.
What are you most proud of in terms of writing? In terms of the rest of your life?
My willingness to to reach out. To connect. To put down on the paper feelings that I hope in some small way will bring something to readers' lives. Be it a laugh, or the recognition that they're not alone. In my life...I'm proud of my children. It's always been about my children.
Name three pieces of advice for new writers
2.To thine own self be true.
3. Don't ever give up.