By Lesley Kagen
In some ways, I envy writers who can set books on distant planets, or France, or hundreds of years ago on some remote island. I can’t do that. Setting is so important to me and a place needs to feel real before I can convey the sense of it to a reader. Which is why I always set my books in locations that I’ve spent a good amount of time in. Same goes for the era I set a story in. Good Graces takes place during the summer of 1959 on the west side of Milwaukee in a neighborhood very similar to the one I grew up in. Block after block of Irish, German, Polish, and Italian Catholic families jammed into duplexes. Grown-ups sitting out on their front steps at night with a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in their hands listening to a cadre of kids playing kick the can or red light, green light. Penny candy at the local Five and Dime, and Saturday matinees at the Uptown Theatre. It’s all part of my Fifties childhood known by some as The Good Old Days. (They weren’t always, there was plenty of bad stuff going on back then, it was just swept under the carpet.)
Having been brought up in a different time, (We barely had television) I appreciate so many of the wonderful things about now— the fairer treatment of children, women’s rights, improved medical care, etc. but I think we all reach a point in our lives when our childhood memories become old friends we would love to hang out with again. We yearn for a time when the days moved slower. If you’re at all like me, you might find yourself looking back at the years in your life when you could lie on your back and search for figures in the clouds for a whole afternoon. Read books in a tree fort. Play ding-dong ditch. Best of all…remember eating almost non-stop without gaining an ounce?