The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Carolyn Bennett Fraiser
Today, I have the pleasure to feature a dear friend and critique partner and help her introduce you to her lyrically beautiful, nonfiction debut picture book - Moon Tree.
Carolyn Bennett Fraiser grew up just south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and has been fascinated with astronomy since she was a child. After years of writing for the adult market, she now writes for kids of all ages, where she brings her passion for the natural world and history to the pages of children's books. Carolyn and her husband currently manage a small homestead in western North Carolina where she continues to write for the non-profit sector and encourages local youth to discover a passion for writing. When she is not reading, writing, or researching a new topic, Carolyn enjoys playing the piano, hiking, photography, and snuggling with her rescued furbabies.
Her debut picture book, Moon Tree, released September 1st.
Welcome Carolyn, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest book and your writing.
Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
I’ve loved to write since I was in elementary school. I studied writing in college and worked as a copywriter and journalist for many years before deciding to pursue book publishing. Working on a variety of different projects in those early years really helped me hone in my writing skills. By the time I started writing picture books, writing short and tight wasn’t a problem.
Probably my favorite place to write is outside. There’s something about being out in nature that calms my spirit and opens up my inner creativity that allows me to write more freely. I get so much done when I’m able to get away to simply write in a cabin for a weekend with no distractions. It’s amazing.
I’m an eternal student. I love to research and learn about new things and people. I think that’s why I gravitated towards nonfiction. As a journalist, I enjoyed interviewing people and hearing what they were passionate about. Writing about history is the same way – except that I’m often searching through old books and articles to uncover that passion. There is always something new to learn, and if I can find something that excites me then I want kids to get excited about it too!
What a wonderful way to describe the joy in writing nonfiction. What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Well, I almost didn’t become a writer. All through my childhood, I wanted to teach (except for a few months when I thought I wanted to become a veterinarian). I just never saw writing as a possible career. It was just something I enjoyed. But in high school, I had the opportunity to be involved with the yearbook and literary magazine staffs and saw the potential. I also fell in love with the layout and design aspect of publication.
But just as I was getting preparing my applications for college, a teacher told me that I had no business being a writer. I believed her. Writing was a pipe dream. Teaching was more practical. So I decided to major in elementary education. Thankfully a year later, a professor in college encouraged me to pursue writing. After hearing the story, she marched me down to the registrar’s office to change my major and the rest is history!
That is the best teacher ever! Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?
I think the topics themselves keep me inspired. If a topic doesn’t grab my passion, then I drop it pretty quickly. The passion about the moon trees only grew as I dove deeper into the research. The more I learned, the more it fueled the writing process. But it also tied back to my childhood. I’ve always loved astronomy and enjoyed looking at the moon and stars as a kid. I was in middle school when Challenger exploded and growing up along the space coast, that had a major impact on me. Looking deeper into the history of the Apollo program really brought those old passions to the surface for me.
And, to make things more interesting, after Moon Tree was acquired, I had the opportunity to write an educational book for the Our Solar System series by BrightPoint Press called Moons. It released it in August. I couldn’t have timed the two releases better if I had tried!
It is so fun that your first two books are on the moon and released in back to back months. What was your inspiration for Moon Tree?
Well, I had never heard about the moon trees. One day, I decided to visit the Pisgah National Forest to do some research for a magazine article and I stopped by the Cradle of Forestry museum. As I was walking their educational trails, my eye caught a glimpse of a placard in front of a tree that said “Moon Tree.” I literally stopped and backpedaled. What was a moon tree? I read the plaque and was intrigued. Then I walked away and tried to focus on my original task. Well, I never got my article idea that day. I kept thinking about the moon tree I had seen. So when I got home, I decided to do a little more research on it to see what I could find.
It definitely pays to listen to a serendipitous spark of an idea. How many revisions did Moon Tree take from first draft to publication?
I don’t know exactly how many revisions I did on the project, but I completely started from scratch three different times. Each time, I wrote the piece from a completely different angle and style. My first draft was very long and educational. I had written side bars for every page. Essentially it was an information dump, but I needed to get it out of my head in an organized fashion. My critique groups pushed me to do better. So I wrote a different version – a very voicy, colloquial version from the perspective of the tree.
It was much better, so I started to send it out. In one day, I got two rejections: one from an editor and one from an agent. The editor said he loved the voice, but the topic was too niche. The agent absolutely loved the topic, but hated the voice! It’s all about personal taste, but she suggested a more lyrical voice, which just happened to be my sweet spot. About six months later, I wrote the final version. It sold a little over a year later.
Ha! Talk about proof that the business is very subjective. What was the toughest aspect of writing or researching Moon Tree?
For me, it was finding the right voice and tone for the project. I already knew the story needed to be told. To my knowledge, it hadn’t been told before, and it was an amazing story! But I also knew that other children’s authors had tried to write about it. To me, that meant the story needed a special twist for it to work in the market. My first version obviously didn’t hit the mark. Neither did the second version. It was only when I found the heart of the story and let that heart drive the story forward (instead of all the details) that it began to get the attention of other people. But writing this project also helped me find my own voice, which comes through more clearly in projects I have worked on since.
Finding not only the voice for the story, but your own writing voice, is such a great accomplishment. As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or your favorite book?
When I was in third grade, my grandmother gave me a copy of The Secret Garden. I had always been a book worm, but I devoured this book. Maybe it was the magical aspect of the book or the mystery in nature – I’m not sure. I just fell in love with a lonely girl who was transformed by the end of the story. I still have my old copy of it!
Is there anything you want your readers to know about or gain from Moon Tree?
For me, Moon Tree is not just a historical story. It is, but it’s also so much more. It’s about the power of each individual who was involved along the way. Without any one of them, the story may not have happened or it may have been lost to history. But each person made a difference. That’s what I’d like readers to take away from the story.
We all have a small, but important, role to play in this world. When you first saw Simona Mulazzani’s illustrations did anything amaze or surprise you? Which is your favorite spread?
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect with the illustrations. In some projects, I have a sense of what style I would like to see the illustrations take, but not on this one. I suppose I was trying to keep an open mind. But when my editor sent me the first pages of the artwork, I think my jaw dropped. I could not believe how gorgeous they were! I was simply blown away. They style was nothing like I had imagined – it was better!
Text © Carolyn Bennett Fraiser, 2022. Image © Simona Mulazzani, 2022.
It’s so hard to pick a favorite. But one of the first spreads I saw was one from the beginning of the book where young Stuart was standing in front of his home in Oklahoma looking up at the WWII airplane flying overhead. It captures the wonder and imagination of a child and you can almost see him dreaming about flying in that one spread. It is definitely one of my favorites.
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Nothing that I’m working on that I can disclose, but I do have a second picture book scheduled to come out in 2024 through Familius Publishing. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, so I really can’t say much about it, except that it is very different and has nothing to do with space! But there’s a unique story behind it that I hope to be able to share someday soon.
Congrats! We'll have to keep our eyes open for your next book. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?
I don’t know if there is a national part or forest that I don’t want to visit! I would like to visit them all! Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a forest that I had been wanting to visit for a very long time – the Joyce Kilmer Forest. My husband and I finally made the trip and had the opportunity to visit the ancient trees that are growing there. It was spectacular! The only thing I missed was not seeing synchronous fireflies live there. I guess that will have to be another trip!
Thank you, Carolyn for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.
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