Lora L. Hyler: From shy bookworm to author creating a safe harbor for middle grade kids
Books can be a refuge for children who face hardships in life, and Lora L. Hyler is helping to fill a void of youth identity as a middle grade children’s author.
With a value for education and a background in journalism and marketing, Hyler crafts multicultural characters for students in her debut work. The story allows kids to find a reflection of their own beauty within the pages of her novel, and ease the stigma for them about feeling like an “other.”
Q&A with Lora L. Hyler
Milwaukee Independent: What was the fondest memory of growing up in Racine, and who was the most influential person in your youth?
Lora L. Hyler: I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood populated with families who greatly respected my parents, and looked out for all the children as we freely played after school and throughout long summer days. The lone single white female around the corner, with the parents’ blessings, regularly invited children over for chocolate-fondue. It was idyllic in many ways, with normal, church-going parents who valued family and friends. These neighborhoods do not attract the local news. My parents were the most influential people in my life, who valued education and reading books.
Milwaukee Independent: How were you introduced to books by Astrid Lindgren and Roald Dahl, and why did they have such an impact on your childhood?
Lora L. Hyler: I was a huge reader. I was first introduced to the Bible, and then the encyclopedia when my parents purchased a volume for our home. Beginning in elementary school, I would check out as many books as I could carry walking to and from school. As soon as I could see over the counter, I would visit my local public library and quiz librarians about books on hand featuring famous Blacks. My eyes opened beyond my hometown, and I have never stopped appreciating various world cultures. I loved the adventures of the Lindgren and Dahl books, and the way they sparked my imagination. As a debut middle grade children’s author, I now appreciate them even more.
Milwaukee Independent: If you could send a message 20 years into the future and another 20 years into the past, what would you ask your older self? And, what advice would you give your younger self?
Lora L. Hyler: Twenty years into the future, I would ask myself, ‘Why stop the adventures?’ How many times did you visit France to work? Are there other stops around the world and people to meet? Are you appreciating all the blessings and thanking God every day?”
My advice to my younger self is, “Congratulations for always questioning, looking within, growing, appreciating and reveling in hard work, along with adventure. Without being aware, you have always been on a fearless path. You remembered to learn from those much wiser than yourself, and to inspire someone else along the way.”
Milwaukee Independent: Just like a sprint is different than a marathon but still perceived as running, what have you found to be the biggest misconceptions about writing styles and being an author?
Lora L. Hyler: The biggest misconception is that inspiration strikes and a masterpiece is birthed, instantaneously. The truth is good writing comes from putting in the work, learning the craft, editing and editing again, and taking chances to tell the stories you want to tell. Then, the real work begins: marketing. The author needs to get a book into the world through tireless promotion, making the transition from keyboard master to public speaker. Luckily, my background includes public relations and marketing. I have owned my PR and marketing company, Hyler Communications, since 2001.
Milwaukee Independent: What did your career in broadcast news teach you about yourself? And, how did that work influence your style of writing?
Lora L. Hyler: My journalism career taught me that a shy bookworm can become anything I set my sights on. Fresh out of college, I was sent to interview Wisconsin’s governor, presidential candidates, and fire chiefs. I enjoyed both research and using my wits and imagination to get the story. My creative writing today – short stories, screenplays, and books – use all of these skills. Authoring children’s middle grade fiction is my absolute joy.
Milwaukee Independent: What is the most rewarding part of the writing process? And, what is the most stressful part of being creative with words?
Lora L. Hyler: The most rewarding part for me is conducting the research first, crafting a story, editing and seeing my words come to life in a way that touches kids and adults. The most stressful part is living life with all the stressors and demands vying for attention. A creative soul must strike a balance between tuning out the world, yet understanding that harmony with loved ones and surroundings is what feeds the creativity.
Milwaukee Independent: What is the writing scene like in Milwaukee? And how can more professional and creative opportunities be developed?
Lora L. Hyler: I have looked all over the country and abroad to form my ‘writing community.’ I nurture and get sustenance from writers without regard for borders. I seek out residencies throughout the country and have established supportive relationships with artists originally from France, the UK, Korea, Japan, and the Caribbean, just to name a few. I am a member of the global Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and am an active member of the Wisconsin chapter. I also belong to Milwaukee Film, Milwaukee Filmmakers Alliance, and Oscar winner John Ridley’s Nō Studios.
I join Ridley in seeing the great potential within artists from Milwaukee and Wisconsin. I challenge artists to devote the proper hours to develop their craft and build mutually supportive networks.
Milwaukee Independent: How do you work to change the racial and gender stereotypes about writers?
Lora L. Hyler: I do not get hung up on the limited views and shortcomings of other folks. I pride myself on identifying gates and gatekeepers, preparing myself, and knocking down barriers without apology. I am fearless. Here is what I know for sure: hard work pays off and once an individual creates his or her own opportunities, the universe opens up to receive and reward their talent. It is as if the universe says, “Welcome, child. You have earned your way. Tell us what you want.” Right now, I am on the receiving end of many blessings and have touched lives in ways I could not even have imagined. It is humbling.
Milwaukee Independent: How has social media and shorter attention spans for reading affected the publishing industry, and they way people consume text published on paper?
Lora L. Hyler: Most publishers advise their authors to release a paper and e-book simultaneously. It is somewhat misleading to think people spend less time reading. They read differently, many on personal screens. Social media has also played a role in ‘vetting’ our reading, through referrals. Savvy authors benefit from this. We have ‘champions’ for our work that we may never meet.
Milwaukee Independent: With the overwhelmingly popular trends of superhero movies and video games, do libraries still offer a place to engage imagination, or is that becoming obsolete?
Lora L. Hyler: There will always be a place for libraries. I spend a lot of time in libraries, with kids, millennials and elderly people. I see researchers, casual readers, and game enthusiasts. I see solo and shared experiences. I walk in and each time, something new catches my eye. I deeply appreciate librarians and view them as vital to literacy and understanding the world around us. They are excited to help kids and adults alike. Librarians are also working to bridge gaps that divide us.
Milwaukee Independent: How do you connect your childhood to your current work, and what are your expectations for kids today?
Lora L. Hyler: I was a kid who grew up in a loving, safe environment populated by two parents in my home, and a safe harbor neighborhood. Not every kid can say this. As I became a member of the kidlit community, I realized I am helping to fill a void. Books can be a safe harbor for a child for whom life is unkind. Every child needs to see himself or herself within the pages of a book. Currently, there is a great disparity between books sent out into the world through publishing industry gatekeepers, and the reality of the nation’s demographics. I support all initiatives to change this. Our kids come in many flavors: various ethnicities, cultures, immigration statuses, religions, sexual orientation, etc. When a child cannot see their beauty in a book, they feel like an ‘other.’ I am convinced we need more of these books in the marketplace. A book can save a life.
Milwaukee Independent: What was your goal in writing the “Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes,” and what do you hope children take away from reading it?
Lora L. Hyler: I simply wanted to write an original fun, adventurous story featuring multicultural superheroes, science and spy gadgets. I achieved that with The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes. Kids need to just be kids for as long as possible.
Milwaukee Independent: What message do you have for young girls of color who dream of using words to express their creative dreams?
Lora L. Hyler: Creativity does not require a fortune, it requires imagination. All children can start where they are. Simply begin writing, illustrating, painting, designing, dancing, playing the piano or any artistic expression that speaks to you, with whatever skills you have right now. Work at your craft and stick with it because your soul demands it. I promise you, good things will follow. The world loves and needs artists.