Lora Hyler’s middle grade novel debuted in March 2018. The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes features a multicultural cast of superheroes, who love science and spy gadgets. Lora will present at the Children’s Literature Conference April 6th and 7th while in residency at Write On. I had the chance to talk with Lora about her novel, writing, and diversity in children’s literature.
Maggie Peterman: What was your childhood like?
Lora Hyler: I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin, with two sisters. Our parents were well-respected in the community and church. Our neighborhood was multicultural, and filled with people who knew their neighbors and looked out for one another. Kids played together at each other’s homes and at the nearby park. We lived close enough to Lake Michigan to walk to the lakefront to swim. Of course, books were a huge part of my life. I was a voracious reader, and loved Pippi Longstocking adventures, along with biographies of famous African-Americans. I began writing novelettes when I was about 10 years old.
MP: What was your favorite class or teacher in school and why?
LH: Mrs. Vopalensky was my favorite teacher. I was in an advanced reading class with her. I knew that I was in an elite group, beginning in second grade. So my parents did a great job of planting the seed for my love of reading, and later writing, which obviously has continued into adulthood.
MP: Do you have a favorite library memory?
LH: I can recall asking librarians for books about famous African Americans. My parents were certainly my role models, along with a lot of the church folks, yet I somehow sensed that I needed to find out how greatness was shaped outside of the confines of my small city.
MP: What author and/or book has most influenced your own writing and why?
LH: I love the Pippi Longstocking series by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren due to Pippi’s great sense of adventure and discovery. I’m thrilled that I just met teen author Jacqueline Woodson at the Tucson Festival of Books. A mere two weeks later, it was just announced that she has won the Astrid Lindgren award. Now, Astrid Lindgren and Jacqueline Woodson are intertwined in my mind. Also, Maya Angelou and her unflinching books speak to me.
MP: What are some of your favorite books?
LH: I loved The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Currently, I’m loving The Children of Blood and Bone, a debut young adult fantasy novel from Nigerian-American Tomi Adeyemi. She has a Wisconsin tie. One of her mentors was Ashley Hearn, now with Page Street Publishing. And finally, I’ll mention that I am reading a slate of British children’s books; I’ve corresponded with and was fortunate enough to convince JK Rowling’s editor to read my manuscript. I received some encouraging words. I am now digesting what she likes to publish via her publishing house in England.
MP: With a need for more diversity in literature, is there a character and author that made a difference in your life?
LH: I speak on this topic, so I conduct a lot of research and read a variety of diverse books. I will say that I’m anxious to see the publishing industry catch up with the nation’s demographics. There are still children, whether they are immigrants, disabled, living in a community where their culture or ethnicity or sexual preferences are not valued, who need to see themselves reflected in the pages of a book. It’s these kids that I’m concerned about. I want them to find a character or author they can relate to. In some cases, this will be life-changing. James Baldwin says, “I didn’t know I was absent, until I saw myself.”
MP: What project are you currently working on?
LH: Part two of my three-part series of The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes. I hope to publish part two in 2019 and the final book in the series in 2020.
MP: Why did you choose to write for middle-school-aged students?
LH: I was inspired watching my son grow up with his multicultural group of friends in Glendale, Wisconsin. Raising an only child, we welcomed kids to our home to hang out. I just loved the carefree chatter of boys and wanted to create a story that middle-schoolers could relate to, without some of the heaviness of young adult literature, as youth begin to stretch toward adulthood.
MP: What is your daily writing discipline?
LH: It varies. I do like to move around to write, so I hop from home, to coffee shops, to libraries, to bookstores. I’m greatly inspired by writing residencies, and have begun to make good on my vow to write around the world.
MP: What advice can you give to aspiring Write On writers?
LH: Writing takes discipline. I focus on the writing and make it a priority. I tune out television, other books, etc. when I’m in the writing mode. Since writing is such a solo endeavor, I also recommend joining writing groups, such as the wonderful Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and finding critique partners, along with good editors. Take charge of your writing career, and use some ingenuity to bypass barriers of the publishing industry. Once you’re close to publication, bring someone else along. I found my illustrator on the Internet. Ian Wade is from St. Philip, Barbados and I’ve gifted him with a SCBWI membership in hopes he can illustrate more children’s books. I love my book cover and inside illustrations.
MP: Is there a need for an organization like Write On in Door County?
LH: I hear Write On is doing great work. Congratulations on the conference line-up. I’m thrilled to participate.
MP: What book do you think every elected official should read?
LH: Be Kind, a picture book by SCBWI member Pat Zietlow Miller.