By Beth Browne
Everyone has a story and Carolyn Fraiser has worked hard at telling other people’s stories. Now, she’s starting to tell her own stories, with great success. She’s just appeared for the second time in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, this time in Lemons to Lemonade: 101 Positive, Practical and Powerful Stories about Making the Best of a Bad Situation.
Fraiser’s story, titled “Just For You, Teacher” tells how Fraiser’s first teaching experience was changed from a disaster to encouragement as the result of a heartfelt thank-you from a student. As a child, Fraiser had dreamed of being a teacher, surrounded by the eager upturned faces of a crowd of elementary school students. Instead, her first teaching job presented her with a roomful of sullen, disinterested adults in a remedial English class at a community college. Fraiser felt lost and despaired of ever teaching again. However, when the class was over, Fraiser received a hand-written note from a student full of praise. As many teachers find out, Fraiser ultimately learned more than she taught.
Fraiser broke into the Chicken Soup market four years ago with a story in a volume titled What I Learned From the Cat. In the story, Fraiser reveals how her cat, Percy, alerted her to the fact that she was about to have a seizure. Percy the cat stayed by her side after she collapsed and comforted her with his purring as she recuperated. Fraiser had rescued Percy as a stray after he had been beaten and abandoned and had been with Fraiser for nine years before this incident. Once again, Fraiser feels she received more than she gave.
Although her first love was fiction, Fraiser studied journalism as a way to pay the bills. She says, “Fiction is the dream for many of us.” Fraiser has written and published over 350 non-fiction stories on a variety of subjects, mostly about people. For four years she worked in communications for a Christian mission organization and discovered a love for writing about people and their life stories. She was able to use fiction techniques she had learned while studying creative writing in college to tell people’s stories.
The ones she likes the best are the stories of people banding together to develop new solutions to problems such as homelessness or hunger in their communities. Fraiser was excited to tell such important and inspiring stories and hopes that the stories will inspire more people to form partnerships between churches and within communities to make the world a better place. She says, “There is too much that divides us. If we just focus more on what is uniting us, we can get a whole lot more done.”
Ironically, Fraiser says that although the job was not what she had planned to do, “It was interesting how all my experience up to that point began to take shape into this communications role. It was more than just being an editor; it was interacting with media, designing brochures and magazines, editing as well as writing, working with volunteers and staff members. It gave me invaluable experience.”
Along the way, Fraiser got to go on several trips herself. The most difficult one was a trip to India in 2004 when she visited the slums in Mumbai. Fraiser has always had a passion for children, and she says, “The children were everywhere. It touched me to see how they were living.”
While in Mumbai, Fraiser visited a single mother living with a handful of children in one room. One of the children was a ten-year-old girl who was unable to walk. The mother carried her everywhere. Fraiser says the little girl “told us through a translator that she believed God would heal her. She was just so full of joy, even in the midst of her circumstances.” Unfortunately, when Fraiser went to follow up on the child six months later, she learned the child had passed away. Fraiser wrote the little girl’s story in first person and says she thinks it was one of the strongest she’s ever written because it was so emotional for her.
A fictional story assigned in college also challenged Fraiser. The professor had given a first line prompt: “The black car came around the bend.” Though desperate to complete her assignment, she struggled for some time searching for a plot line. A story finally formed, but in an unfamiliar voice and era: a ten-year-old boy during World War II, long before Fraiser was born.
After agonizing over the story and doing research to make it believable, she still wasn’t happy with it. “I honestly thought it was one of the worst stories I’d ever written,” she says. On a whim she submitted it to a competition and was surprised when she won. She says, “It really shocked me because I don’t think I had struggled to write a story as much as I did writing that one. It was not something I was expecting at all.”
Going forward, Fraiser hopes to continue to work on a book of devotions for teens, something she has been contemplating for some time. Twenty years ago Fraiser did a self-directed bible study, taking copious notes and since then she’s passed those notes on to a handful of people and they all encouraged her to polish it and publish it. She says that she doesn’t usually write such personal things down, but many of the people she shared it with came back and said to her, “This could help a lot of people.” These days, in between working her five part-time jobs, she’s trying to work her notes and stories into a book.
Fraiser took some of the passages from the Book of Ephesians and changed the wording from third person to first person. For example, Ephesians 1:9 reads: He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which he purposed in Christ.” Fraiser reinterpreted this as “I am able to know the mystery of God’s will.” She says, “It’s a journey of self-discovery.” she’s organized the book around questions people often ask, such as “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?” She says, “It’s all about making the Bible personal.”
Fraiser’s success in getting into the Chicken Soup books has motivated her to work toward finishing the book of devotionals. From sharing people’s stories of helping communities, to teaching remedial English, Fraiser is committed to helping people and trying to make the world a better place. The new book is another way of continuing that work. She says, “It took a lot for me to first get published, but each step has been a learning experience for me. It’s very humbling.”
Beth Browne writes from her nineteenth century farmhouse in Johnston County and on her twenty-four foot sailboat in Pamlico Sound and hopes one day to make a sailboat her permanent home.