Interview with Carolyn Bennett Fraiser


About the author: “Carolyn Bennett Fraiser is a writer and graphic designer for non-profit organizations and the author of more than 1,600 articles published for adults. Currently, Carolyn volunteers on the administrative team of her local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) chapter and teaches creative writing workshops for teens in her hometown in Brevard, North Carolina, where she stumbled across the town’s local moon tree” (Bio taken from the book).

Find Carolyn Bennett Fraiser on the following platforms:

Thank you to Carolyn Bennett Fraiser for taking the time to do an interview with us at Pine Reads! Her nonfiction picture book Moon Tree: The Story of One Extraordinary Tree is out now from Reycraft Books. Also, be sure to check out our review of Moon Tree here!

Erika Brittain and Grace Katich: To start the interview, we want to say thank you so much for talking to us about Moon Tree (Reycraft Books)! This book was so interesting to read, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful. How does it feel to have Moon Tree out in the world?

Carolyn Bennett Fraiser: Thank you! It’s so great to be here. To be honest, having Moon Tree out in the world is both exciting and overwhelming. It’s a dream that I sometimes wondered if it would ever come true, and now that it’s happened, it’s sometimes hard to believe. But I’m so excited to finally see it on the shelves and hear what people are saying about it! 

EB & GK: You have written hundreds of articles and also published another book, Our Solar System: Moons (BrightPoint Press), earlier this year. When did your love for writing start?

CBF: Oh, I’ve loved writing since the third grade. I would write poems and stories. I always loved reading books, so creating my own adventures came naturally. But I never considered it as a career until I was close to graduating from high school and learned about all the different ways I could use writing to make a living. I also fell in love with graphic design and photography around the same time, so I was able to combine all those skills into a marketable career for nonprofits. 

EB & GK: With that, are there any authors who have inspired you throughout your writing career? Any children’s authors that were helpful in your process?

CBF: Several authors encouraged me along the way. But the one who invested the most time into me was Vivian Kirkfield. She selected me as a mentee when I entered Moon Tree into the #PBChat Mentorship Program. At the time, Moon Tree was definitely my strongest project. My others just didn’t compare to it. But she helped me fine-tune several of my other projects until I had a strong selection to pitch to agents. She has continued to be there to offer me advice throughout the publication process as I’ve needed it. I don’t think I would have managed so well without her expert advice! 

EB & GK: Your writing also has a common theme: space. What is the most exciting aspect of space, and what’s an “undiscovered” space topic you’d like to see more in kid’s literature?

CBF: That was definitely a coincidence! But it is funny that I also have an unpublished fiction picture book with “moon” in the title that is currently out on submission. I never intended to write exclusively about space—I just love the natural world. It’s fascinated me since I was a child, so nature (including space) has become a prominent theme in my writing. I didn’t realize that until this year.

There are so many “undiscovered” topics about space that would make GREAT picture books. I’m playing around with a topic idea that I stumbled on when I was researching for Our Solar System: MOONS that I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about. I just haven’t found that perfect angle yet! Astronomers continually are making new discoveries about outer space and even the planets and moons in our own solar system that the possibilities are endless!

EB & GK: As written in the story, moon trees are not a commonly known thing. We sure didn’t know about them before reading this! How did you first hear about moon trees?

CBF: Well, I had never heard about them either, and I grew up not far from Cape Kennedy in Florida. I just happened to stumble across one of our local moon trees while researching a topic for a magazine article. I was walking by the tree and caught the sign out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t think I had read it right, so I literally stepped backwards and had to read what was on the sign. Stuart Roosa’s story intrigued me. I took a photo of it and continued doing my research. I never found a topic for my article that day, but the idea of the moon trees kept nagging at me until I decided to dive deeper into the research. 

EB & GK: You researched this topic pretty heavily in preparation for writing this book. What was the appeal of writing a picture book about moon trees compared to other formats and mediums?

CBF: I took a deep dive into the research because I wasn’t sure initially what angle of the story I was going to take. But when I stumbled across the information about the third-grade girl, I knew this was a story that had to be told. I knew early elementary school students were my key audience. They are learning about space in school, and the age tie-in would definitely create a hook. Plus, that’s about the age when Stuart Roosa became interested in flying. Most of my KidLit education was focused on picture books, so it made sense that I started with that format. 

EB & GK: What was the research process like for your book? Any fun facts that you learned but didn’t include in the story?

CBF: Honestly, it felt like I went down one rabbit hole after another. I researched every angle I could find, including the history of NASA and the whole Apollo program. In the end, I had WAY more research than I needed, but I discovered a lot of fun facts along the way. I was able to include some interesting details in the back matter, including the whole reason that the astronauts and moon tree seeds had to be quarantined beginning with Apollo 11. 

So little was known about the moon back then. The government wasn’t sure if the astronauts would pick up diseases (or “moon bugs”) from the moon and bring them back to Earth, so they passed a law requiring the quarantine. Apollo 14 was the last crew to go through that process in 1971. By that time, people realized that there was really no threat, but what I wasn’t able to include is that the law stayed active for 20 more years! It wasn’t until the early 1990s when it was finally taken off the books. There’s all kinds of this fun stuff I learned on the journey. That’s what makes writing nonfiction so fascinating. 

EB & GK: Non-fiction picture books are becoming more popular, though they definitely have their challenges when writing. How did you go about creating a child-friendly narrative about real-life events?

CBF: Well, it wasn’t easy. I rewrote it many times before landing on this format. My first draft was very straightforward. I wrote the whole story in a chronological narrative format with sidebars on every page. A critique partner suggested I think outside the box, so I wrote a more creative version from the perspective of the tree. My submissions got mixed results. In fact, one day, I received two rejection letters: an editor told me he loved the voice but thought the topic was too niche for his house, and an agent told me that she loved the topic but hated the voice! Talk about confusing! But that agent also suggested I try a lyrical voice, which was more in my wheelhouse. So, I let it sit for several months, and this version was the result. I think each version brought it closer and closer to that child level. But I had to write each stage to finally stumble across the right version. It’s definitely a process of discovery for the writer. 

EB & GK: As University of Arizona students, we get to boast that our very own campus has a moon tree in the Kuiper Space Sciences Building. Why should readers who live near these moon tree locations see them in person?

CBF: Yes! That’s so exciting! Besides the fact that these trees flew into space as seeds and exist as living memorials of the Apollo program, we just recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 14’s flight. They are not young trees. Many have already died because of disease or storm damage. Some of the trees that are still standing are struggling against disease and might not be alive much longer. So it is important that we visit them while we still can. They won’t live forever.

But on an exciting note, seeds have been harvested from these trees and planted around the world as second-generation moon trees. Plus, harvested seeds from the original moon trees recently made a trip around the moon on Artemis 1, so there will be a new generation of moon trees that will be planted in the coming years! Stuart Roosa’s legacy will continue in new forms, and I’m just excited that this book can play a small part in introducing children to these historic trees.

EB & GK: For aspiring and new writers, what advice would you give about coming up with ideas, drafting stories, or even writing through rejection?

CBF: Keep creating! Keep finding new ideas and writing new stories. Don’t stop because of frustration. The publishing industry is so hard. It is full of rejection, but those who succeed push through until they find success. They don’t give up. It took me 10 years to find a project that made it through to publication. My agent is now circulating some of my older projects to new publishers, but I’m continuing to work on new ones at the same time. It’s true that some of those projects will never be published. That’s okay. But other stories will. The world needs all of us to keep finding those stories that need to be written. Secondly, write because you enjoy the writing process. Don’t just write to be published. That high will quickly fade. But if you enjoy writing, that joy will keep pushing you forward. Find it. Tap into it. Keep writing! 

PRR Writers, Erika Brittain & Grace Katich