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Home-Grown works


April 10, 2012

Someone once said, "Being a writer was never a choice, it was an irresistible compulsion." These three Milwaukee-based authors have written new books they hope reveal their irresistible compulsions to the reader.

>>"Shame the Devil" by Debra Brenegan

"Shame the Devil," the debut novel of Mequon native Debra Brenegan, is based on the life and works of 19th century American journalist and feminist Fanny Fern. If youíve never heard of Fanny Fern, you arenít alone. "I never heard of her until I was working on my Ph.D. at UW-Milwaukee. My 19th century literature professor told me about her and, the more research I did, the more I loved her. She was the most popular, highest paid, most published writer of her era, a mentor to Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and many others, but she shunned the limelight," she says. "She had many fans, but her writing and the way she lived also drew harsh criticism from some people."

"Shame the Devil" has received rave reviews from critics and readers, who note that fans of historical fiction will love Breneganís lush descriptions of 19th century life in general and the amazing life of Fanny Fern. "What I loved about Fanny is how pertinent her life still is to todayís women. She struggled to overcome poverty, widowhood and an abusive second marriage, and she later married a much younger man. She even wrote what was probably the first prenuptial agreement," Brenegan says. A former freelance writer and teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College, Brenegan returned to college to earn an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in English from UW-Milwaukee. She now divides her time between Mequon and Fulton, Mo., where she is an assistant professor of English and coordinator for the womenís studies program at Westminster College. "We return home to Wisconsin in the summers," she says.

When Brenegan is not touring to promote her book, she enjoys meeting with book clubs either in person or via Skype. She is presently working on another novel, set in Missouri, and on a short story collection. For more on Brenegan and her book, go to

>>"Good Graces" by Lesley Kagen

Fans of Lesley Kagenís first New York Times best-selling novel, "Whistling in the Dark," can now read the eagerly anticipated sequel, "Good Graces." Called a "spot-on sequel to her bestselling debut," by Publishers Weekly, the book chronicles the continuing story of the OíMalley sisters, based on Kagen and her sister who grew up on the West Side of Milwaukee.

It is another hit for Kagen, a former disc jockey and professional actress, but she readily admits she was nervous about trying to write the sequel. "You hear so much about sequels that donít live up to expectations. I was terrified to let down my readers," Kagen says.

Kagen didnít begin her writing career until seven years ago when her children were in their later teens. She has now published four novels. Sometimes, she says, she cannot believe her success. "ĎGood Gracesí was published Sept. 1 and I am thrilled with the wonderful reviews and comments from readers that I am getting on my website (," she says. "I love meeting with book clubs!"

Kagen is currently writing her next novel. "Itís about a mother-daughter relationship through the motherís eyes," she says.


>>"The Sun, The Moon and Room Service" by Jodi Kostal

"Write what you know" is the advice given to many new authors. Thatís exactly what Mequon resident Jodi Kostal did when she wrote "The Sun, The Moon and Room Service." Kostal has been a painter (under the name Jodi Castagnozzi) and a practicing astrologer for more than 20 years, but this was her first foray into books. "My main character is a professional astrologer whose expertise lies in the ancient art of horoscope interpretation. And, she likes to be pampered. Thatís where the name comes from," she says. The story is targeted to anyone who is questioning their own spiritual foundation, and the mysteries of life in the midst of crisis.

The book "just evolved," Kostal says. "I didnít have an outline; I just let the characters develop and see where they would take me," says the first-time writer who self-published this novel. "I have been a painter for a long time and I wondered how different writing would be; they are both art forms. I also had some experience writing astrology columns, and I was able to use my astrology and metaphysics knowledge in the book," she says.

Kostal exhibits her work at William Delind Fine Art Gallery and at the Coquette Cafť in Milwaukee. Sheís considering another book. "I already have the plot in mind," she says.

This story ran in the January 2012 issue of: