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Exotic Milwaukee locations, the pace of life and a solid writers group craft the recipe for a local author’s fully cooked novels.

When I meet Lauren Fox in her Shorewood home, she offers me muffins. She is warm yet cautious, and self-aware in a way you might expect from someone who writes novels about relationships.

Fox’s stories cover emotional territory similar to bestselling author Emily Giffin’s – romantic infidelity, a friend’s betrayal – but with more depth and a heavy dose of well-placed puns.

Beneath the humor, though, are themes of loss and grief. Days of Awe, her third novel (Knopf, August), begins with the funeral of protagonist Isabel’s best friend, whose downward spiral ends in a fatal car crash. In fact, Fox lost a friend to cancer, and the novel she wrote in the aftermath feels like her most personal yet, with explorations of motherhood and Jewish culture blended with her familiar focus on female friendships. “I think she’s gone a little deeper, a little darker,” says Boswell Book Company owner Daniel Goldin.

Fox grew up in Fox Point and lived in Madison, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., before returning to the North Shore. She uses Milwaukee-area settings liberally: Her first novel, Still Life With Husband, ends in a fictional version of Mars Cheese Castle.

Although she prefers to work at home, Fox relies on feedback from a writing group that has been meeting for about 14 years. “We work pretty well with the longer form, supporting each other through the marathon of writing novels,” she says.

She’ll be leaning on them again as she works on her fourth novel, which she’s writing now. It’s a process that, for her, is done best in segments. “I love tasks that have a beginning, a middle and an end,” she says, “because writing a book takes three years. But baking a batch of muffins – boom!”

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‘Literary Devices’ appears in the September 2015 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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