Storytelling has always been part of Alexandria (R. T.) LaFaye's life. Born on March 9, 1970, in Hudson, Wisconsin, LaFaye grew up in a rural Mississippi River community just east of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Her family encouraged her imaginative talents and reading interests. LaFaye's father, Patrick LaFaye, worked as an aviation mechanic, and her mother, Rita LaFaye, managed an office. Constantly inventing characters and scenarios, LaFaye told elaborate tales to entertain her parents and friends.
LaFaye attended St. Croix Elementary School in nearby Roberts. She often wrote lengthy stories, exceeding page limits for school assignments. In a teenreads.com interview, "I'd jump in and write away," she remembered. "Twenty pages later, I'd just be getting into the story." LaFaye realized she had potential as a writer when her sixth grade English teacher, Mr. Magee, praised her work to her classmates and called her a "talented storyteller." She recalls in the teenread.com article, "So, I started to write. I wrote novel after novel from that day forward." LaFaye handwrote her first book, Phantom on the Terrace, a ghost story featuring her friends.
After graduating from St. Croix Central High School at Hammond in 1988, LaFaye enrolled at Mankato State University in Minnesota. Three years later, she transferred to the University of Minnesota where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in comparative colonial history in 1992. LaFaye considered history to be a practical field, but her heart longed to write fiction. While living in Minneapolis, LaFaye honed her storytelling skills by performing original stories to entertain neighbors who did not have televisions.
In 1993, LaFaye returned to Mankato State University, completing a master of arts degree in creative writing and multicultural literature by June 1994. LaFaye took a variety of classes, including linguistics, to attain a better comprehension of language. Her goal was to write professionally and teach creative writing and literature at the college level. LaFaye's thesis, "Edith Shay," represented her creative writing studies with Terry Davis, the author of Vision Quest. She then enrolled at the University of Memphis where she completed a master of fine arts degree in creative writing in December 1995. Her thesis, "The Duchess of Skien," later became her first published young adult novel, The Year of the Sawdust Man.
During the summer of 1995, LaFaye began attending the graduate children's literature program at Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. She also enrolled in Illinois State University's doctoral program in children's literature. LaFaye graduated from Hollins with a master of arts in children's literature in 1998, presenting the creative writing thesis "Strawberry Hill," which was published the next year.
LaFaye began teaching as an English instructor at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, in 1997. She then accepted a faculty creative writing position at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. LaFaye currently is an assistant professor of English at the University of California at San Bernardino. She occasionally teaches creative writing to children's literature students at Hollins.
LaFaye's writing honors recognized her literary merit. The Year of the Sawdust Man and Nissa's Place were both given stars by Publishers Weekly and placed on the Accelerated Reader list. The Banks Street School of Education named Edith Shay the "Best Book of the Year 1998," and that novel was also selected for the Accelerated Reader list. Strawberry Hill was nominated for the Mark Twain Award and named to the Accelerated Reader list.
LaFaye also writes fiction for adults, but most of her work is for children because "I still have a child approach to a lot of things." She also told Teenreads.com that "I try to be true to the stories I'm telling and the characters within them." Like her protagonist, Katherine Lunden, LaFaye enjoys traveling in North America and abroad to see new places.