AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Deborah K. Frontiera, author of Living on Sisu

Book Title and ISBN:

Living on Sisu: The 1913 Union Copper Strike Tragedy 978-0-9820278-5-1

Author Name: Deborah K. Frontiera

Author’s Website

100 word Synopsis

To twelve-year-old Emma Niemi, life may be hard, but it is basically good. She has finished sixth grade and is nearly a young lady. Her father pushes tram cars full of copper ore in a Calumet and Hecla Mine and has saved almost enough money to buy land for a farm. In the summer of 1913, Emma’s life, and the lives of everyone in the region, will be changed forever by a violent strike against the mining companies in Houghton and Keweenaw Counties in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A friend whose father is not on strike will be forbidden to talk to her. Another will die in the terrible Italian Hall Tragedy on Christmas Eve. Only the character trait the Finnish people call “sisu” will help her and others in the region live through this terrible tragedy.

Genre of book: historical fiction for grades 4-8 and up

How do you come up with story ideas and characters?

I grew up in The Copper Country hearing the “myths” of the Italian Hall Tragedy. My father taught at MTU and ran a bottle gas business. My grandfather, who grew up in the area and received a degree from The Michigan College of Mines (one of MTU’s former names) was a mining engineer who, although not involved in any side of the strike, returned to the area a year or so later. I had friends of Finnish descent whose families farmed the Trap Rock Valley. The idea of doing a story of “The Strike” from a young person’s point of view came to me the summer I attended the premier of the opera, Children of the Keweenaw, at the restored Calumet Theater. Discovering that, while there are many non-fiction books for adults on this subject, there was little to nothing still in print for young people on this important part of Michigan history took the project from “idea” to reality. “Emma” is a compilation of several real people’s experiences. Three years of research, two years of writing, several years of rejection later, I finally found a publisher willing to take a chance on it. Its “partner”, Copper Country Chronicler: The Best of J. W. Nara (coffee table book of historical photographs) grew out of discovering that most of the photos I wanted to use in Living on Sisu were Nara photos. MTU archives and the photographer’s grandson, Dr. Robert Nara, worked with me to complete that project.

When and how do you write?

Before I “retired” from full time teaching in public schools in Houston, TX, my writing was wedged into one week-day evening per week, some Sunday afternoons, Christmas break, Spring Break, and summers. Now, it’s my first priority–although I still occasionally substitute teach and work a few hours a week for Writers In The Schools–and I usually write in the mornings. I have to feel some personal connection to every project or it doesn’t “work” and usually ends up in the trash can.

What other authors inspire you?

  • E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web
  • L. Frank Baum, The Oz books
  • C. S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, Screw Tape Letters
  • Tolkein (sp?) Lord of the Rings
  • Cokie Roberts, Founding Mothers
  • James Michener–any/all of his

How did you find your publisher?

Lots of queries, lots of submissions, persistence, sisu, success with a small press.

How long does it take you to write a novel?

Three to five years.

How do you overcome writers block?

I set aside the project for a while and work on something else, go for a walk, soak in the bathtub and sleep on it, or in the summer I take my paddle boat out into the marsh near our cottage.

What’s your next project?

I am currently working on a picture  book (under contract) on the Bill of Rights. This project came to me as a result of a referral. An elderly poet in my SCBWI-Houston chapter is a friend of the two people financing this book. He gave them my name, they contacted me, I met with them, provided samples of my writing and a couple possible ways to handle it and got the contract.

I also have some adult non-fiction (my  family’s ordeal proving innocence to Children’s Protective Services after our daughter and son-in-law were accused of abusing their son). The publisher for Living on Sisu would love to do it, but (as a small press) doesn’t have enough funds at the present time.

How long have you been writing and how did you get started?

I started writing poetry in college. Then didn’t write for several years as babies, etc. filled my time. I wrote (and had a small press publish) a non-fiction book on teaching swimming in 1985. That book was the result of teaching a lot of fearful kids how to swim and finding there was “nothing” out there to help.  Then family life dominated again for several years. My first fiction, The Chronicles of Henry Roach-Dairier, a future fantasy, began to evolve in the mid 1990’s. It was one of those ideas that wouldn’t go away. It kept yelling, “Write me!” The first edition came off the press in 2000 and a second edition in 2004.  My picture book series, Eric and the Enchanted Leaf, came out of my experiences teaching kindergarten. I wanted a fun way to get some science into their heads. Eric Carle’s books weren’t quite enough and The Magic School Bus was too much. So I decided I could do something just right for primary grades.

How does your background influence your books?

I grew up watching little to no TV because we lived in a small town where the only TV station was 100 miles away and reception was lousy. My parents read to me every night. They read much more than picture books of the 1950’s. I listened to classics, Greek and Roman mythology, lots of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Charlotte’s Web the year it was originally published. By high school I was reading things like The Count of Monte Cristo and A Man for All Seasons, while my friends couldn’t see past things like To Sir with Love.  I had an intuitive sense of how to develop plot and character long before Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces or The Writer’s Journey were written. I also played outdoors in the woods and hills around Lake Linden and Bootjack, MI, so nature and ecology themes run through a lot of my work.

Author’s Contact information

Deborah K. Frontiera

11807 S. Fairhollow Ln.

Houston, TX 77043


Summer months:

34317 Pine Hollow Rd.

Lake Linden, MI



Living on Sisu: The 1913 Union Copper Strike Tragedy by Deborah K. Frontiera
Now Available! The book will should be available throuh wholesale distributors by fall 2009. Retain Price: $16.95. Schools and school districts should contact the author for special sales price when they purchase class sets of 20 or more copies….

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