I am thrilled to feature Memoir Author Lene Fogelberg in this discussion about her bestselling memoir, Beautiful Affliction. Lene and I met through the National Association of Memoir Writers Facebook group. When I read her memoir, I was swept into her story; captivated by the story itself as well as by her eloquent writing. It reaffirmed my belief in miracles.
Finding Words For a Miracle: A Discussion with Lene Fogelberg
KP: The allure of memoir is that one can be transported into another person’s world, and in doing so connect their own story to your story. I certainly felt transported when I read your stunning debut memoir, Beautiful Affliction. Tell us what motivated you to write your memoir and what you most wanted to convey.
LF: I remember feeling incredible lonely during the years when I most needed support from someone who understood what I was going through, and I believe I wrote Beautiful Affliction for my younger self; it is what I would have liked to read when I struggled the most.
KP: The fact that you are a poet was evident in your lyrical prose. Your details are vivid and pulled me into your story. Did poetry help you in the writing process and, if so, how?
LF: I think poetry has helped me in my writing, but also in life in general. I think poetry has taught me to look for beauty, even in the most terrifying situations. Sometimes the only place to look for it is in the smallest details, but the details usually mirror something bigger, is my belief.
KP: Memoirist have the distinct challenge of selecting life events and shaping them into a story with a beginning, middle and end. I was intrigued by the structure of your memoir where you alternated between the past and present until you lead up to the heart surgery that saved your life. You also used flashbacks very effectively. How did you decide upon this structure? Did you start out knowing the structure or did the structure reveal itself through the writing?
LF: When I started writing my story I had no idea how to structure it. I didn’t know if I would ever finish it, I just knew that I had to write it. As the text accumulated I realized I needed to find a structure, and I drew inspiration from two books that had left a powerful impression on me: Sarah’s key by Tatiana de Rosnay, and The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. These beautiful books use the method of alternating chapters, though in a different way to how I use it.
KP: Without giving away too much of the plot, it seems to me that you experienced a miracle. What was it like for you writing about this profound event in your life?
LF: I use to say that I live on miracle-time, because that is how I feel. When writing about it, I felt I needed to tread carefully though. I wanted the reader to experience it for herself, not have it pointed out, in her face. It is very individual, how we perceive our place in the universe, and this perception also shifts during our lives, based on our experiences. I felt I wanted to give every reader a chance to live through my story without pointers from me how to interpret it. It was not until after the events in the book, that I could look back on my affliction and see the miracle that made it a Beautiful Affliction. When I was in the middle of it, I had many fights with God, I yelled and prayed and often felt very lonely. I wanted the reader on that journey with me, because I know I am not the only one who has felt this way, and I felt it might be comforting for someone to find a friend in me. However, when I looked back at the years of struggle, I realized they all took part in the beautiful pattern that became my miracle and it would not have been possible without the struggle.
KP: Your story includes exposing flaws in Sweden’s medical system. As a health care provider, I was deeply touched by the lack of follow through and care. Did you ever fear repercussions by writing this truth from your point of view? Do you feel writing your story has had an impact on the state of the medical system?
LF: Well, it was very difficult for me to write about this, since I love my home country and I would like to present it in the best way possible. But I also felt that I needed to be true to the story of what happened to me, especially if it would in any way help make things better in the Swedish medical system. I know many professionals in the medical field in Sweden are reading my story with great interest and the reader response from Swedes has been overwhelmingly positive. They say they can really connect with how Sweden is portrayed and have also expressed hope for a change.
KP: What has life after publication been like for you?
LF: I would never have guessed so many people would want to read my story! It came as a total shock when ten weeks after publication, Beautiful Affliction went up as #3 on The Wall Street Journal Bestseller list for non-fiction e-books. I have received so many messages from readers that have touched me deeply, telling me their stories and how they experienced my book and how it helped them. After Beautiful Affliction made the WSJ bestseller list, a number of literary agents contacted me, but I had actually already been contacted by an agent who found my book on Amazon and read it, saying he wanted to represent me. I signed with that first agent and now I am represented by Abrams Artists Agency in New York.
KP: Do you have any memoir writing tips you’d like to share?
LF: I think it is important to dare to be vulnerable, to be authentic. It is tempting to try to cover up and present yourself as perfect as possible, but I think it is more rewarding as a reader to connect with someone who dare to show their flaws and struggles. I was worried before publication that I would expose myself, but many readers have told me they really appreciated to read about my relationship with my mother for example, and with my husband: our struggles and our beautiful moments too. So that is perhaps the best tip I can give, to dare to be you, both in life and on the pages of your book.
Thank you for sharing your powerful story and your writing process with us, Lene. Your story will touch many who are experiencing life-threatening health issues, giving them encouragement and hope. Congratulations on the widespread success of your memoir and on landing an agent!
Lene Fogelberg is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, an award-winning poet and double open-heart surgery survivor. Born in Sweden, she currently lives with her family in Malaysia, where she is working on a novel that takes place in Asia.
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Lene Fogelberg is dying—she is sure of it—but no doctor in Sweden, her home country, believes her. Love stories enfold her, with her husband, her two precious daughters, her enchanting surroundings, but the question she has carried in her heart since childhood—Will I die young?—is threatening all she holds dear, even her sanity. When her young family moves to the US, an answer, a diagnosis, is finally found: she is in the last stages of a fatal congenital heart disease. But is it too late?
Unflinchingly honest and often harrowing, Beautiful Affliction is an inspiring account of growing up and living on the verge of death―and of the beauty, harshness, loneliness, and, ultimately, unbending love that can be found there.
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How about you? Have you ever experienced a miracle in your life?
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ANNOUNCEMENT: Congratulations, Charlene Jones ! Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive Melissa Burch’s memoir, My Journey Through War and Peace: Explorations of a Young Filmmaker, Feminist and Spiritual Seeker.
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