Laura Kieger is a resident of Lino Lakes and the author of Summer’s Complaint: My family’s courageous, century-long struggle with a rare genetic cancer syndrome. Her medical memoir chronicles the multigenerational struggle she faced living with the knowledge that cancer seemed to “run in the family” and the genetic mutation they eventually discovered was the cause of their baffling medical syndrome.
1. Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
Summer’s Complaint; My family’s courageous, century-long struggle with a rare genetic cancer syndrome is a genetic memoir. I use the term “genetic” in that it describes my family’s generational fight against what has been called a “doomsday gene”. I wrote the story in order to raise awareness that “cancer families” do exist and face challenges on many fronts; physical, psychological, and emotional-especially the life altering burden of knowing you have a nearly 100% chance of being diagnosed with cancer as a young adult if you carry the gene mutation.
2. Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
What I discovered about my writing process, oddly perhaps, is I start with the first chapter and the final chapter in mind. Through multiple re-writes to my manuscript, the first and last chapters survive as conceived early on with only minor edits. With Summer’s Complaint, it had to end on a hopeful note. That was important to me and the timing was right for this book, our story, to end with a future of more than discoveries in medical treatment, but pointing toward a cure. There has been a marked increase in “all things genetics” with direct to consumer DNA testing such as 23andMe and the exciting gene editing technology of CRSPR. In terms of research, I began gathering my notes and family documents for the specific purpose of writing my memoir in 2015. I had, however, kept documents including family letters, medical records, genetic test results, and later, emails exchanged by family members for many years-beginning with my mother’s death in 1997- in anticipation of writing my family’s story.
3. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
For me it’s the “letting go” of an idea during that incubation or “draw down” stage when I need to think through my storyline. It may look like I’ve stepped away from a writing project but it gives me an opportunity to stop and look at my ideas more objectively. With Summer’s Complaint, this was the period of time in which I reached out to family members and listened to their personal stories and, more importantly, their feelings around laying bare our lived experiences.
4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I learned that bringing in beta readers and researching publishers would be more beneficial earlier on. As the author of a work -in- progress, I value feedback throughout the creative process.
5. Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
I became a fan of creative non-fiction after reading The Glass Castle by author Jeannette Walls and her writing heavily influenced how I wanted to approach my memoir. In preparation for writing Summer’s Complaint, I also read Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
6. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I am currently working on a realistic fiction piece which falls into a “coming of age meets family secrets” contemporary novel. It’s set in the early to mid-2000’s prior to the release of the IPhone and Facebook becoming ubiquitous. The days of AOL Instant Messenger, flip phones and MTV “TRL”
7. What does literary success look like to you?
That I have had a positive impact on the people who read my books. And that my children are proud of my work.
8. What inspired you to start writing?
Teachers were an influence, especially in grade school. As a young girl I was a prolific writer- with a captive readership consisting of parents and seven siblings. Handwritten poems and short stories were my go-to genres. Then the leap to a painstakingly “published” single page neighborhood newspaper. It was a moment in college that Inspired me to think that I could write for an audience beyond my established circle of familiar fans and gentle critics. I was sitting in my American Studies class at the University of Minnesota. It was a Friday and an assignment my classmates and I had turned in weeks earlier was being returned. I was aiming for a decent grade. The topic of the assignment was to write a paper on our family’s automobile buying habits. I found it triggered my curiosity beyond the cars my family acquired over a period of fifty years and learned their choices also reflected their values and even their politics. When the paper landed on my desk with an “A” scrawled across the top, my professor had also scribbled This could be published. I was ecstatic!
9. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
It’s a great question now that so many of us are staying close to home due to Covid19. Traveling with family and friends would take up most of my free time if I had the choice outside of writing and work-related projects. I’ve also taken on a role as a patient advocate for the rare disease community which involves writing, speaking, and fund raising. And in the moments in between, jump on my bike or stroll the walking trails near my home.
10. Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work?
Readers can learn more about my work at www.laurakieger.com and on Twitter @lkiegerauthor