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November 3, 2010

Lisa Rowe Fraustino: Don’t Tell My Mother I Said This

Posted by jordana

Lisa Rowe Fraustino_credit Nick Lacy.jpg20101102184218.jpgAs a teen, I wanted to write books like the ones I loved to read, but I didn’t believe it possible. I grew up in the boonies of Maine! How could I ever get a terrific idea like having a spider rescue a runt who turns out to be SOME PIG? Or having an orphan named Ponyboy tell all about the drama between the Greasers and the Soc’s?

At the time I didn’t know I had anything in common with famous writers. It inspired me later to learn that E.B. White, the creator of Charlotte’s Web, also lived in Maine, and that S.E. Hinton was a girl in high school when she wrote The Outsiders.

Well, I needed more time than Susan Eloise Hinton to gain the confidence and skills to write my first novel for kids, but less time than Elwyn Brooks White, who was 46 when he published Stuart Little. I began writing my first novel, Grass and Sky, when my first child was newborn, and the book came out when she was ten. The Hole in the Wall, my eighth book, got started twenty years ago when I was in grad school.

Between drafts of my books I’ve been busy with lots of other things—raising a family, going to graduate school, working full time—but I never gave up.  What I once believed impossible, being a writer with readers, has become reality. And, ironically, my books have all drawn on things I already knew back when I thought I had no ideas.

Obviously I didn’t base my Dear America book I Walk in Dread on growing up during the Salem witch trials myself. However, I vividly recalled the fascination my friends and I had with using superstitious pastimes like predicting the future with cards and Ouija boards. This helped me create believable characters and scenes in my book. When research showed connections between the witch trials and Maine, I was able to include a subplot based on my childhood familiarity with the landscape and history of the state.


The setting of my rural childhood appears again in The Hole in the Wall, and the charactersmay seem quirky to some, but they’re like family to me. My dear departed Great Grammy gave me the ideas for Grum’s yarn blob and lessons of the day. (I’d give more examples, but I don’t want to get in trouble with the folks at Thanksgiving.)

Turns out what I really lacked as a young writer wasn’t material but rather the skill to grab a good idea out of life and then craft it into a story using imagination, research, and technique. Once I realized a novelist could learn these things, I had the confidence to keep going—to keep reading, studying, writing, and revising. Because that’s what writers do, no matter what else gets in the way.

If you want to be a writer, then, my advice to you is simply this: Don’t give up. The writers of the books you love are ordinary people, the same as me. And you.

To help my readers learn to be better writers, I’m posting a new session of “Dr. Lisa’s Class” on my website.

Visit to sit in on today’s lesson, “Putting Your Plot in Gear.” 

--- Lisa Rowe Fraustino