Feature Stories Alumni: Leaps of Faith at UMassD with Elisa Lorello ’99, M ’03

Lorello's headshot, books pictured behind
Lorello has written 12 women's fiction novels and 1 memoir, including the bestselling Faking It series.
Feature Stories Alumni: Leaps of Faith at UMassD with Elisa Lorello ’99, M ’03
Leaps of Faith at UMassD with Elisa Lorello ’99, M ’03

With an affinity for the written word, Lorello couldn’t keep her creativity confined in a box and returned to UMass Dartmouth to finally unleash it.

Budding women’s fiction author Elisa Lorello ’99, M ’03 couldn’t stop her hands from trembling as she signed her first book for someone that wasn’t related to her. After years of flattering rejections and confidence-boosting feedback, it was hard for Lorello to envision herself discussing her book with an enthusiastic fan, someone who connects with her writing on a deeper level. Yet there she stood on the cusp of a new chapter in her life, ready to fearlessly pursue what sets her soul on fire: writing.

Around 2010, Amazon became one of the leading companies in digital self-publication, an avenue that Lorello took advantage of when she started listening to publishers’ positive criticism about her novel. She was yearning to find her home within the literary industry as a witty romantic, and despite its competitive nature, she never gave up on her novel and, most importantly, herself.

“I knew I could sell my book. At that point, I wasn’t thinking world domination,” Lorello said, “but I was thinking about the connections that I made at UMass Dartmouth that would support me if I took a leap of faith and began my career as an author.”

Lorello struck gold immediately. By the end of 2010, her first novel skyrocketed to the top of the Amazon bestseller list and sold 24,000 units in just three days, setting everything in motion for her. Within six months, she self-published another ebook, secured a publishing contract, and sold both novels to her publisher. It was the moment she had been waiting for, a professional crescendo of all the hard work, dedication, and love she put into the creation of her novel.

For Lorello, the road to becoming a women’s fiction author twisted and turned in unexpected ways. Two degrees in distinct subjects and crossing state lines to pursue a different career path stared back at her in the rearview mirror as she embarked on her journey as a professional writer. However, UMass Dartmouth provided a platform for her to fearlessly explore and embrace every part of her unique story.

Falling in Love with Language

Three. That’s how many times Long Island native Lorello tried to attend college after high school, suffering from false starts that go hand-in-hand with her blossoming young adulthood. Finding her niche proved to be more difficult than originally imagined, but Lorello looked to motivational speakers to maintain a positive mindset, inspired by the emotional power in their words as her road turned bumpy.

“Motivational speakers helped me realize that I was interested in the psychology of leadership,” Lorello said. At the time, professional writing wasn’t a thought on her mind, her canvas blank and ready to splatter with paint. At 25 years-old, she dauntlessly enrolled at UMass Dartmouth to pursue her studies, a university she lovingly labels as her home away from home for years.

“I found UMassD because they had a great human resources program,” Lorello said. “I thought that was the best path for me to take if I was interested in leadership, but I ended up declaring psychology as my major instead. I still had no clue what I wanted to do, but there was never any pressure on my shoulders from faculty and staff. I wasn’t afraid to fail, and I had to freedom to get to know myself and the Corsair community.”

Lorello and mom holding diploma
After graduating with her bachelor's degree in psychology in 1999, Lorello shared the accomplishment with her mother.

At the core of what allured Lorello to the psychology of leadership in the first place was the sheer strength of language, those moving words uttered by motivational speakers that captivated her in ways like no other. It was a fact unbeknownst to her, but apparent to Professor Bob Waxler when she took one of his writing courses as a senior.

Thinking highly of her writing skills, Waxler encouraged Lorello to broaden her horizons and explore her literary talents outside the realm of psychology. Ever the creative mind, Lorello said, “In the months following his suggestion, I started to really think about writing a book. An idea popped into my head that I just couldn’t get rid of, but I wasn’t ready to write it yet. I wanted to give my psychology career a try.”

Despite his encouragement, Lorello graduated with honors in 1999, all while Waxler’s words still reverberated in her ears like a sweet melody. She did give her psychology career a fair shot, but after working for one year in the leadership training field, she realized how right Waxler had been about the strength of her writing skills. She felt misplaced in her current position and yearned for an outlet to unleash her caged creativity.

Ready to take a courageous leap of faith down an unexpected detour, Lorello made the bold decision to obtain her master’s degree in professional writing, and there was no better place to chase her dreams than where her journey of self-discovery began: UMass Dartmouth.

A Second Chance at UMassD Pays Off

Lorello began her studies at UMass Dartmouth for the second time in 2001. This time, she had her sights set on strengthening her writing by relying on the experience and expertise of UMassD faculty to mold her into a literary tycoon.

Recalling the book idea that came to her as a graduating student in 1999, Lorello said, “While I did my studies, I kept thinking about potential character names and different plotlines to explore. It never left mind, but I unexpectedly fell in love with teaching. I really admired my professors’ ability to instill their love for language in their students.”

After she graduated with her master’s degree, Lorello began teaching rhetoric and composition at local universities like Bristol Community College and University of Rhode Island while working on her first manuscript. Lorello said, “I thought nobody would read it, so it could be the worst thing ever written. I think the permission to fail is what ended up making my book good in a sense.

“So, I wrote it and had a first draft by 2005. I still continued my higher education career in the process, but it just wasn’t working out for me in New England,” Lorello continued. Wanting a fresh start, she moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and taught rhetoric and composition at North Carolina State, her completed manuscript tucked right under her arm. She wanted to publish her novel and write many more, plans that stalled for a few years until the digital renaissance reached the book industry.

Lorello on campus in October 2019
Lorello still returns to her home away from home as often as she can, last visiting UMassD in 2019.

“By 2010, I was completely in love with writing novels, and the honeymoon phase of my teaching career was beginning to fade,” Lorello said. She found that authorship was a perfect fit for her, a collision of her psychology and professional writing degrees. “When I was teaching at NC State, I was also simultaneously writing novels and learned a lot about my writing style.

“When I write, I’m thinking about persuasion, purpose, and style,” Lorello continued. “What’s going to make the reader feel something? I guess my psychology degree comes in handy there, too. I know how the human mind works and explore what motivates any character’s behavior, and that helps me craft an engaging novel that readers will love.”

Since her first self-publication in 2010, Lorello has written 12 novels and 1 memoir. She’s sold over half-million units worldwide and has been featured in the Charlotte Observer, Woman’s World magazine, Rachel Ray Every Day magazine, and many more. She runs her own website, where she posts exclusive content for her fans and maintains her teaching roots by distributing advice to aspiring writers.

“There’s still a little bit of that motivational speaker in me,” Lorello said with a smile on her face. “I still want to inspire and motivate people to do whatever they want to do and come into their own. If I do think thematically, the recurring theme in all of my novels is authenticity, staying true to oneself.”

Lorello’s story is a testament to the power of self-discovery and the beauty found in the unforeseen. Staying true to oneself was a concept born and nurtured at UMass Dartmouth for Lorello, a place where she was taught to fearlessly embrace her future and strive for more. While her path to success was anything but conventional, Lorello has no regrets about her unique story, and certainly shouldn’t.