@Home with the Pinckney Family – Live Kelly & Ryan
Author Lora Hyler and her family spoke with Kelly, on Live Kelly and Ryan, about her new book Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free.
Author Lora Hyler and her family spoke with Kelly, on Live Kelly and Ryan, about her new book Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free.
I’ve taken many leaps throughout my career, confident that at the right moment, the net will appear.
I started my career as a radio news journalist (with NPR affiliate, WUWM and ABC affiliate, WISN), both in Milwaukee, WI. That was certainly the start of my writing career, which further developed as I worked in corporate communications for large media and energy companies. In 2001, I founded my own public relations and marketing company, Hyler Communications. I helped clients launch products and services to diverse retailers and companies, such as Schnucks supermarkets, Disney and Nickelodeon.
Creatively, I’ve shopped screenplays around Hollywood, wrote numerous short stories and an adult novel.
The launch of my career as a children’s book author
Inspiration arrived through watching my only child enjoying time with his friends. The friendly banter and raucous boy talk was amusing. The deal was sealed when I bought Will a nerf toy featuring a child of color wearing goggles. A superhero!, I thought. That was the genesis of my main character in my traditionally-published middle grade series featuring multicultural superheroes, working on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, who share a love of spy gadgets.
In my series, I also celebrate family love, touch upon the Civil Rights era, Tuskegee Airmen and famous historic Black spies.
The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes debuted in March 2018. The book has taken me on wonderful journeys throughout the country (nearly 40 appearances to date!) meeting kids, teachers, parents and educators.
A fairy tale?
Before you begin to salivate about what appears to be a fairy tale life, I should touch upon all of the research that goes into writing a book about CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. I first read about it a couple of years before I wrote my debut novel and was absolutely fascinated by the technology described as having ‘the ability to edit our human species.’ My quartet of kids in my books are science whizzes helping to advance this technology in the world. STEM on steroids!
I did my research–thoroughly. Yet, it was a relief to get introduced to a source working in R & D in genome engineering for a major multi-national corporation. He’s my expert for the remaining books in my series.
How it all began
Taking a step back, I have to give a shout out to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which I joined in 2015. I immersed myself in as many conferences and workshops as possible, and devoured THE BOOK cover to cover. It’s a children’s book publishing bible of sorts, with a wealth of information on how to deal with the difficult publishing industry.
These publishing industry workshops about what I call a secretive industry, were not all peaches and cream. Yet, viewed with a discerning eye coupled with my career experience, the information was very helpful. I observed obstacles and strategized how to work around, climb over and under, and bolster my skillset, not unlike what one has to do in any other career. Gatekeepers are plentiful. Dedication and perseverance is key to success.
Speak it into existence. I went public in an August 2017 Writer’s Digest magazine article in which I proclaimed to a national audience, “I’m determined. The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes will soon rest on the shelves of bookstores, libraries, and retail stores everywhere…but, first I need an agent.”
In the December 2017 issue of the same magazine, I wrote, “I have an update. I’m excited to share that I have a publishing deal and my middle grade novel, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes debuts in March 2018!”
Fast forward to present year
In March 2020, I received cancellations for six or seven events I had planned for the coming months. The coronavirus hit. In true investigative reporter style, I began to read, listen and watch every media outlet I could to learn about this pandemic and the best way to cope. Paramount was keeping my family safe.
In April, I stumbled across a competition by Emory Global Health Institute challenging authors to write a book to help children ages 6-12 cope with the effects of the virus on their lives. The book had to be completed in two weeks! I shied away for that reason, plus I was in the middle of writing book two in my multicultural superhero, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, and spy gadget series. I danced around the idea for a few days. I thought, “Who writes a book during a pandemic?” Then, I got to work.
I assembled my team: publisher, editor and illustrator. I knew I would get my book published, win or no win. I live in a lovely, wooded subdivision in a suburb in Wisconsin. I heard anguish in the voices of children, their parents, and concerned neighbors young and old, as they faced an uncertain future. Missed classroom schooling, missed playdates, social distancing-even from extended family members, and of course, the ever present fear of contracting Covid-19.
Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free was born
My coronavirus book for children, which I began in mid-April debuts globally on or near July 1. Yes, I learned to write fast. I intend to apply this technique in all my books moving forward. I can wax poetic about the challenges of writing a book in ten days. The truth of the matter, fellow authors and pre-authors, is that I didn’t have time to get in my own way. No time for second guessing, or re-writing until I was tired of my own story.
I kept my passion in front of me: I wanted to write this story to help children. Truly, lives are at stake as some children are facing mental health crises during this pandemic. Adults are struggling also. I like to think adults have learned some resiliency over our decades of living. Children are not in the same boat.
Advance reviews have been humbling. As I’ve participated in media interviews, I’ve reflected upon the double pandemic children are facing. I worry about the scars of coronavirus and the scars of racial trauma, which a Milwaukee medical professional warns causes “psychological symptoms whether covert or overt.” Children of color and their empathetic friends are suffering.
I urge you to listen to the dear children in your lives or community. Do more listening than talking. Read a book to them. Provide nurturing and comfort.
Artists, we have work to do
I’m a member of Nō Studios, a beautiful 40,000-square-foot space located just west of downtown Milwaukee. It’s both a workspace and social environment for artists of all kinds. Founded by Oscar winner John Ridley, born in Milwaukee, I’ve been able to take advantage of book and film events, and various programming. In a recent webinar, Ridley urged writers to “Take the thing you can do as an artist and activate it. We can only do as an artist what God has given us. We need you. Get your voice in the mix.”
Your time is now. Seize the moment. Art will save us.
About the author
Lora Hyler is a former reporter for NPR affiliate, WUWM and ABC affiliate, WISN, both in Milwaukee, WI. She worked for media and energy companies. In 2001, she founded her marketing company, Hyler Communications. She also worked in television for two years on NBC affiliate, Today’s TMJ4.
Her debut novel, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes is the first in a three-part children’s middle grade series traditionally published. The novel has received several awards from the international Eric Hoffer Book Awards, and the Best Book Awards.
Writing book two was interrupted when she accepted the challenge from Emory Global Health Institute to write a book to help children around the world deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The book’s publication date is July 1. Suitable for children ages 6-12, the 40-page book is a work of fiction with facts about staying safe during an epidemic. We follow 7-year-old Maya, and her 10-year-old brother, Bryan as their lives are turned upside down. Ultimately, they learn how to cope, help their family and community, and look forward to the future.
Jed Doherty, host of Reading with Your kids interviewed Lora Hyler for his podcast. They discussed how Lora’s new book, Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free will help kids stay safe, and find new ways to deal with their ‘new normal.’
There’s no doubt that the world has changed due to coronavirus, and Lora Hyler is on a mission to help kids navigate the new norms. Inspired by Emory Global Health Institute’s competition to help children deal with the effects of coronavirus (no schoolroom, no playdates, changes in family celebrations, etc.), Lora wrote Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free: A Coronavirus COVID-19 Book for Children in just ten days! Today she joins us to talk about her new book and what her hopes are for it globally.
Watch the interview here>>>
Children’s book author and former NPR journalist, Lora Hyler has written a new children’s book, Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free inspired by Emory Global Health Institute.
Children within the U.S. and throughout the world have seen their normal lives uprooted by coronavirus and are experiencing the emotional lows and highs unforeseen just two months ago.
“As I saw the children in my neighborhood deal with missing their classmates and their teacher, playdates, visits with family, and trips to favorite places, my heart went out to them.
I knew children everywhere were struggling, and wanted to help ease their pain,” said Hyler. “I’d love to reach kids ages 6-10+.”
Lora Hyler, author of Our Bodies Stay Home, Our Imaginations Run Free, joins host Andrea Williams to discuss how the book can help parents talk to children about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Listen here: https://www.nostudios.com/podcast
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.
“Congratulations. As part of the Eric Hoffer Award, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes was nominated for the da Vinci Eye.”
“Your book is still on track for a category prize, including the Hoffer Grand Prize. The da Vinci Eye is an additional distinction, awarded to books with outstanding cover art. Approximately six books receive this award each year. Regardless of the judge’s final determination, your book at the very least will carry the distinction of da Vinci Eye Finalist.”
The Eric Hoffer Award is an international award launched in 2001 for books and prose. Of course, the da Vinci Eye Award is named after Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci known for his Mona Lisa and The Last Supper paintings.
The Eric Hoffer Award is named for the American philosopher, who was an author of ten books, and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.
Here’s a look at some of the many things we can do this MLK Day (and, as Bernice King notes, beyond it) to restore our hope and honor MLK’s work…
Books galore and for all ages
Middle-grade readers with interest in superheroes may appreciate books like “The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes” by Lora L. Hyler.
“I feature American history through black spies and key figures such as Ruby Bridges and Josephine Baker, along with Dr. King,” says Hyler. “Since my novel’s March 2018 publication date I’ve enjoyed school visits, book festivals, education and library conferences all over the country. The kids’ eyes just light up when I note that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is part of the book.”
For sheer magnitude, Milwaukee’s biggest book event in 2019 will be Michelle Obama’s March 14 appearance at the Miller High Life Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., where the former first lady will speak about her memoir “Becoming.” Except for a few high-end seats in the $925-$1,125 range, it’s a sold-out show.
But fear not, dear readers. The first part of the year brings many promising books and local author events. In chronological order, here’s a selection of 15 forthcoming books and events that may interest you, with an emphasis on Milwaukee and Wisconsin writers.
The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes
Lora L. Hyler (HenschelHAUS)
In Hyler’s middle-grade novel, a multicultural class of 7th graders get involved in gene editing, spy gadgets and superpowers.
Hyler will speak 2 p.m. Jan. 12 at Nō Studios, 1037 W. McKinley Ave.
In The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes, (which author Lora L. Hyler sent me to review) Christopher and Marty’s girlfriend, Aisha, are all in the same Advanced Science class. Marty thinks he’s the only one with special powers. Soon, he figures out that Aisha has powers too!
Since Marty loves anything spy related, he is super excited about this science class. They will be testing the CRISPR-Cas9, a gene editing tool. But everything turns upside down when the school bully, Wade, ruins the experiment. From letting loose mosquitoes to stealing Marty’s spy manual, Wade keeps sabotaging their work. But why? Marty and his friends go on a spy mission to figure out what Wade is up to and to stop him and other bad guys from stealing important data from the International Spy Museum! Who will succeed? You have to read the book to find out!
Seventh-grader Marty Hayes is excited to work with the world-renowned CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing kit in science class. But things go awry when insect eggs turn into mosquitoes and swarm the classroom. Miraculously, Marty reins them in. When his Granny hears what happened, she starts to worry that the world will discover that Marty has inherited superpowers that run in the family. She is in the Order of the Hannibal, a society of people with superpowers. Marty is able to materialize anything, especially with the help of his smartphone’s drawing app. For example, he attempts to impress his crush, Aisha, by conjuring a jet pack at swim practice. Meanwhile, two suspicious men who are after the CRISPR launch a drone to capture its data. Marty and his best friend, Christopher, use spy tools to figure out who is sabotaging the class’s CRISPR experiments, and eventually it’s revealed that Wade, the school bully, is somehow involved. As Granny’s anxiety over Marty’s gifts escalates, she approaches him and explains his powers. While she gives him her Order of the Hannibal Medal to control and amplify his abilities, she asks him to refrain from employing them. Relieved his secret is out, Marty agrees. But on a visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., a crisis arises. Will Marty save the day? Despite the superhero framework, Hyler’s fast-paced tale deftly touches on scientific elements like genome study. In addition, she skillfully deals with some significant historical episodes in her narrative. For example, Granny recounts how her superpowers impacted integral events in the civil rights movement. But some threads of the story could be expanded. For instance, Aisha has superpowers and her grandmother is also in the Order, which is primarily chronicled in one chapter from the girl’s viewpoint. Additionally, details about the Order are vague. Still, this leaves plenty of material for a possible sequel. This rousing book with engaging characters should appeal to readers who enjoy adventurous superhero sagas.
A thrilling tale with series potential that highlights science, spying, black history, and the importance of family.
In just a few short days (March 6 to be precise) a wonderful middle-grade novel hits the shelves with the release of The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes. It was a treat to read this book in advance. It’s a fast-paced adventure about kids who have a love for science, a fascination for all things spy related, and are just realizing that they have inherited some special talents. Smartly written, not only with the inclusion of science, the book also delights with a diverse cast of characters and well-placed references to civil rights’ history and more. This could be an excellent jumping off point for some nonfiction reading about Harriet Tubman, the Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ruby Bridges. I highly recommend this read not only for its intended middle-grade audience. I thoroughly enjoyed it as well and think it’d be a great read for older kids or for parent/child paired reading. Read more…
“Smartly written, not only with the inclusion of science, the book also delights with a diverse cast of characters and well-placed references to civil rights history and more. This could be an excellent jumping off point for some nonfiction reading about Harriet Tubman, the Tuskegee Airmen, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ruby Bridges. I highly recommend this read.” – Valerie Biel, author of Circle of Nine series, Lost Lake Press
While Young Adult (YA) novels are targeted at ages 12 to 18, the core audience for Middle Grade books are 8 to 12-year-olds. Hyler stated she was thrilled at the book’s advance praise.
“I’ve had an opportunity to share it with teachers and educators around the country, students and fellow authors, as well as readers abroad,” said Hyler. “The themes of superheroes, science and spy gadgets, with a sprinkling of American History seems to have Universal appeal.”
In The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes, the multicultural superhero story revolves around the 7th grade students of Windsor Middle School, who are starting the new school year in their Advanced Science class.
The group has the opportunity to work on CRISPR-Cas9, a genome editing tool that has been creating a buzz in the science world because it enables medical researchers to alter sections of the DNA sequence.
The main character Marty, a 12-year-old African-American boy, shares a passion for science and all things spy-related with his best friend, Christopher. The two witness strange incidents involving their abilities and soon begin testing their new found super powers with classmate Aisha.
In the process, they awaken similar powers in the school bully, Wade, who is manipulated by international criminals to steal valuable CRISPR-Cas9 data.
Constantly monitored by a stealth high-tech drone, Marty, Christopher, and Aisha band together to form the multicultural superhero team of “Advanced Science 303” and stop the theft at their beloved International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.
“My son, William, was the inspiration. As he grew, I watched his interaction with his multicultural friends and the easy, joking chatter of boys,” said Hyler. “I wanted a novel to appeal to a lot of kids, and began toying with the idea of superheroes, science, spy gadgets, with a little history added for good measure. After a visit to the International Spy Museum, I was hooked.” Read more…
Happy Wednesday, my Electric friends! This week’s interview features two authors with books for younger readers coming out in less than a month, ahhh! Let’s dive right into their spacey, super-powered adventures.
Author-Illustrator Jonathan Roth is a public elementary school art teacher who lives in Rockville, Maryland, with his wife, two kitties and three (or more) bicycles. Though Jonathan has never left Earth himself, he has met four of the astronauts who have gone to the moon. Beep and Bob is his first series.
BEEP AND BOB, out March 18 from S&S/Aladdin, is a funny and action packed chapter book series about the new kid at space school and the devoted little alien who won’t leave his side. In book one, Too Much Space!, Bob, with his new buddy Beep, finds himself having to navigate such galactic hazards as icy dwarf planets, massive black holes and a crush on a smart, cool girl. In book two, Party Crashers, Beep and Bob get a much needed break while attending their friend Lani’s birthday party…aboard the Starship Titanic!Lora Hyler lives in Wisconsin, and has visited many distant lands both in person, and in her imagination. She has an uncanny love of artist and writer residencies. To date, she’s spent time writing on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. (twice) and in Marnay-sur-Seine, France, a village of 240. Her next scheduled residency is in February 2019 in Cassis, located in the south of France. She’s the owner of a 16-year-old public relations and marketing company.
THE STUPENDOUS ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY MARTY HAYES debuts March 6 from HenschelHAUS Publishing. The novel, the first in a three-part series, features multicultural superheroes who work on the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology in their 7th grade classroom. They also love spy gadgets. When international goons threaten the technology, the battle is on at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Who will win? International goons or the nerds of Advanced Science 303?
Jonathan: How did you come up with the idea for your novel?
Lora: My son, William, was the inspiration. As he grew, I watched his interaction with his multicultural friends and the easy, joking chatter of boys. I wanted a novel to appeal to a lot of kids, and began toying with the idea of superheroes, science, spy gadgets, with a little history added for good measure. After a visit to the International Spy Museum, I was hooked.
Lora: How did you come up with the premise of your book and the character’s?
Jonathan: The idea for an average and easily terrified kid being mistakenly chosen to go to school in space, and only getting by with the help of an even more lost little alien, came to me surprisingly formed. But that was after a dozen or more years of writing picture books, middle grades novels, having a first agent, having almost sales in big places, etc. By putting in the thousands of hours, remaining open, and letting go of expectations (part of me really wanted to give up by this point), I was in the space to be able to reel this one in as it floated by.
Jonathan: Was there ever a point you felt like giving up? How did you push through?
Lora: I’m a resilient person and hate to fail. At some point, when you start telling people you are writing a book, they keep asking when it’s going to come out. I kept those voices in my head when I thought of giving up. I was also excited about reaching the finish line.
Lora: How do you juggle writing with your duties as an elementary art teacher?
Jonathan: Teaching 600+ enthusiastic young kids a week, and all that goes along with it, is rewarding but also very exhausting. Though I have worked on my books in the evening, my most productive writing and illustrating times are on weekends, holidays and breaks, notably summer, glorious summer. I write for the kids I teach, though, so I appreciate the overlap and at least know I know how to entertain the elementary crowd.
Jonathan: You have a cool, dynamic cover. Did you have any say in it, and what were your thoughts upon seeing it completed?
Lora: Thank you. I love my cover! I actually found the illustrator in Barbados via the Internet. He is supremely talented. We hired him and I worked with him throughout. This is a great benefit of landing a small publisher (HenschelHAUS Publishing, Inc.) I had strong feelings about how I wanted to depict my team of superheroes.
Lora: What’s been the best part of this journey so far? What about the hardest?
Jonathan: The best part of my journey has been finally feeling like I’m a contributing member of a community I’ve been part of for many years, first as an SCBWI conference attendee, and now as someone who can somehow be called “author”. The hardest is knowing just about everything about how my books are received, promoted, sold, etc. are far beyond my control. How about for you?
Lora: I’m a marketer, so as you might imagine, I’m thrilled to bring my skills to bear in getting my own books out into the world. The initial response to advance copies from teachers, educators, fellow authors, and reviewers has been awesome. The hardest part has been the little birdie who sits on my shoulder whispering, “Enjoy this. But, you know it’s time to work on book two.”
Jonathan: With your publication date near, what are your thoughts about finally getting your characters out into the world?
Lora: I can’t wait, March 6 is days away! I have many school visits, conferences and book festivals on the calendar already. And as a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers, I’m happy to share a Book Birthday with Baptiste Paul and Tomi Adeyemi, to name a couple of fellow authors. It’s thrilling. What about you?
Jonathan: The best part of knowing that my characters will soon be out there is also the most terrifying: kids will soon be reading it. Best because that’s who I wrote them for! But terrifying because kids are also honest and fickle and they don’t care what School Library Journal or my editor or my principal said, the books have to touch them directly. And, hey, I’m confident they will! (Unless, of course, they don’t). But they will! (But…)
What’s your favorite non-writing/reading hobby or interest?
Jonathan: Cycling and walking.
Lora: I love to travel. My artist and writer residencies have scratched this itch, in a big way. I plan to continue to discover distant lands. It should be no surprise that one of my favorite childhood books was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to find out?
Jonathan: Most of what I read is aimed at kids, but I very rarely watch kids’ movies or TV.
Lora: I love music, dating back to the 1930s and prior. I am exploring song lyrics and liner notes, along with poetry by African-American artists, and have been selected for an April national conference presentation on the subject. I plan to bring a record player!
Where is your favorite spot to write?
Jonathan: Home, at my desk.
Lora: A quiet spot in my home with music playing. A coffee shop. A library. A writing studio at a residency location.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve learned in life that helps you in writing?
Jonathan: My creative brain needs lots of body movement (walks, bike rides, house cleaning) to stay primed.
Lora: We have the brain cells to learn anything. We have to put in the work. Trust our imaginations and trust the process of creating fiction. For children of all colors, I love being able to create a better world for them to experience, to know that anything is possible.
Thanks so much, Lora and Jonathan!
If you, too, would like to nerd out with your very own Electric buddy, you can! Just fill out this form on Google docs and a facilitator will be in touch when it’s your turn. The sweet spot for these interviews seems to be around 800-1,500 words for both people combined, so it’s relatively painless. If you have any questions, feel free to ask us at <firstname.lastname@example.org >.
Go forth and be Electric!
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