Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre (CAMAC) & Paris, France Photos

Each time I view my photos taken in France, I receive inspiration. Expect to see my next middle grade novel filled with an imagination sparked via the French countryside and Paris. In the meantime, enjoy this selection of photos!

SCBWI, an invaluable resource for children book writers

Writing books, whether for children or adults, is a business.

Yet, after a 25+ year business career, the camaraderie of aspiring authors and authors in the Society of Children Book Writers strikes me as unparalleled. I took a moment to reflect on this following my month-long writing residency at Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre (CAMAC) in France.

SCBWI is an international organization with chapters throughout the world. So, it occurred to me to reach out to the head of the French chapter during my stay in France. It wasn’t long before I had an invitation to attend a master session of a renowned children’s book editor who helped launch the career of the most famous modern day children book writer. Airline scheduling problems prevented me from extending my stay, but I was able to reach out to the editor with my query, which was welcomed. Let’s all cross our fingers.

I have countless examples of generosity extended by Wisconsin members as well. All designed to make the climb just a bit easier for the struggling author. Our conferences invite agents, publishers, editors, authors and illustrators from far and wide. Connections are made and to the budding author, crossing the finish line to publication seems closer.

I’m happy to give back to SCBWI. I’ve recently agreed to join the faculty of the upcoming fall conference. The image in this post is the illustration of our theme, “Experiment and Play.” Who says business has to be dull? I will share my knowledge of public speaking and marketing with authors through a presentation, “Presentation skills for authors and storytellers.” Getting books out into the world is one thing, but bringing words to life with an author’s passion is true performance art, with the ability to leave an indelible mark on book lovers and reluctant readers.

SCBWI’s Wisconsin chapter has released its fall offerings list. Support a local author. Buy a book. Enchant a child.

http://wisconsin.scbwi.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/86/files/2017/06/SCBWI-FALL2017-Web.pdf

Lora Hyler is on a journey toward publication of her middle grade manuscript, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes. Her latest writers residency in Marnay sur Seine, France gave her the space and time to create. She’s a member of the international Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), will be a fall Wisconsin conference speaker and serves as the Listserv administrator.

In France, residents live and laugh with uncertainty for the future

The headline of this blog post summarizes the Guardian news article I am attaching.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/28/paris-soldiers-on-street-change-way-of-life

As the article states, French writer Albert Camus writes of individuals and their “ability to forget.”

It was disconcerting to walk around Paris and regularly encounter a team of four soldiers, with weapons at the ready. Paris remains on high alert due to terrorism concerns, along with other sections of the country. I witnessed an uncanny display of dissonance that will likely stay with me forever. A baby-faced soldier on patrol with three others suddenly stopped walking. They were on duty circling the perimeter of Notre Dame Cathedral.

He gingerly stepped over a low fence in the garden in front of the Cathedral. On this sun-drenched day, on display were bountiful, colorful roses. He stooped down, and seemingly from thin air, pulled out a set of shears, snipped off a rose, and dropped it into a bag on his hip. Flowers for a loved one? Perhaps. A fragrance-laden reminder of the beauty of the place he loved, but was now reduced to protecting with rifles? Perhaps.

We tourists giggled. Our anxious looks at the soldiers armed with rifles, were temporarily replaced with a human connection. A young man, not much older than my own 21-year-old son would be forever imprinted by the vigilance he must endure scanning strange faces, seeking an indication of a possible threat before it materializes. Relaxing only when off duty. If, then. For just a moment, he and his fellow soldiers were able to relax while on duty.

I like to think our spontaneous giggles were joined in the air with prayers for France’s future.

Photograph: Pascal Rossignol, Reuters

Inspiration for Writers

As I left a beautiful Bed and Breakfast in Paris this week, a proprietor said to me, “Hopefully, you are finding inspiration.”

Indeed. And in ways, I could have scarcely imagined. Writing in a country new to you opens up the eyes unlike anything one would experience at home. Surrounded by artists who have trekked to France from all over the world, to the natural wildlife inhabitants along the Seine River, to new locals with their lilting French accents, inspiration thrives everywhere.

At CAMAC, the doors of our 17th century former priory opened last night for an Open Studio, designed to show one’s artistic sensibilities. So, The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes has had its international debut. Starting with France. More to come for me and my fellow artists.

The artist’s journey calls for perseverance, discipline, opening up for comments and observations, and learning how to act as a mutually supportive community member. In whichever community one finds one’s self.

In seeking further inspiration, I am encouraged by the journey of many artists with ties to this place. Many are of African heritage. France has a long history of diversity. The famous Musee’ D’Orsay featured statutes of Africans; you may also gaze upon the works of Rodin and Van Gogh. In France, I discovered Gare Rosa Parks, a train station named after the American Civil Rights hero.

Gustave Flaubert. Camille Claudel. Auguste Rodin. Josephine Baker. Henry Ossawa Tanner. Richard Wright. Ada ‘Bricktop’ Smith. Alexandre Dumas.

Alexandre Dumas, of African heritage, is the author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His mansion has been converted into a museum west of Paris. I’m mulling over a visit for further inspiration.

My manuscript number two for middle school children. Superheroes. Spy Gadgets. Science. And the French Connection??

Stay inspired.

Enjoy this 360 degree view of site of my residency: CAMAC, Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, Marnay sur Seine, France.

Writing and Roses

 

It’s nearly end of week 2 of my writer’s residency in Marnay sur seine, France.

I’ve enjoyed the local cuisine and libations. You can’t beat fresh champagne from the Champagne Ardenne region southeast of Paris.

During these two weeks, I’ve worked on the outline and plot points for my second middle grade manuscript. I’ve sent in submissions of the first to publishers.

And in the French countryside with few distractions, I’ve taken time to listen to the birds sing, to listen to the frogs do what they do, and to watch the dance of the sky. Spring unfolds through vibrant awakening flowers.

Taking the time to walk the grounds of CAMAC and to witness the rebirth of roses and irises is heavenly. Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre has carved out a space for artists.

ADD Photo white roses and purple irises and me yesterday, a vision in blue

Lora, What does this quiet time have to do with writing, you may ask?

Everything.

When a writer peers into his or her brain to unlock imagination, we may find tangled wires stemming from thoughts of the day’s tasks, wondering what last night’s argument really meant, pondering what to have for dinner. You get the picture. It isn’t until we relax and join the beauty of the moment that we are free to enter the wonder of a space of creativity.

So, to turn from book 1 of The Stupendous Adventures of Mighty Marty Hayes to book 2 is a daunting, yet freeing task.

The page is blank, but will soon be filled with lively 12-year-olds ready to use their superpowers, science and spy gadget smarts to bring more light into the world.

A’ bientot!  I’ve got a flower to nurture.

 

Long walks in France, time to solidify ideas, and to turn them into action

Long walks among nature, discussions over dinner with strangers, time to reflect and crystallize ideas.

These are the hallmarks of an artist or writer’s residency, whether it’s in France, Martha’s Vineyard, or far flung places of the earth.

A recent discussion at CAMAC, Centre d’ Art Marnay Art Centre prompted me to reflect on what divides us and what brings us together. My thoughts go to my new journey toward novel publication, my December 2016 visit to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American Art and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the dearth of children’s books reflecting the colors and beauty of all children.

As adults, we are a reflection of our upbringing, our choices, our education and our environmental decisions-where to live, who to associate with, where to work, how to develop our inner selves. Children don’t have that luxury. They are our most fragile and as a nation, need our energies directed toward lifting them up.

Yes, we need to know our tangled American history of divisiveness and racism, leaving scars all too visible today. However, for those of us who are people of color, enough with the recitations of history we know all too well. I am a forward-looker. I intend to solely contribute to positive stories of our past. Let us focus on recitations of positive contributions of people of color, all too often overlooked in history. I’ll point to the popular Hidden Figures film as evidence. It took decades for the story to surface. The theaters were filled with people of color, and people of all colors, in pure awe at what they were seeing on the screen. African American women calculating the math to send man to the moon.

This blog posting includes a few of the photos I took while visiting the National Museum of African American Art and Culture. My husband and I are now members and financial supporters. Who are these unsung heroes, you might ask? Who are they indeed. Why am I just learning of these trailblazers, you might ask? Publishers didn’t publish these stories. Hollywood gatekeepers didn’t greenlight these scripts.

Now, let’s think of children today who must scramble to find images in books that reflect their lovely faces. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center in Washington, D.C. has been keeping count. Despite population demographics, 73.3% of children books published in 2015 featured white images. Another 12.5% featured animals, trucks, etc., and the remaining percentage (26.3%) encompassed American Indians/First Nations, Latinx, Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans, and Africans/African Americans.

I am working towards a world of inclusion, and not as an afterthought. The publication world’s We Need Diverse Book movement is on the right track. I challenge publishers, educators, parents, and authors to uplift a child of color. We Need Diverse Books to save a child.

 

Marnay sur Seine, France Musings

I have completed week one of my month-long writer’s residency here in Marnay sur Seine, France.

It is very much an artist’s paradise. Located along the Seine river, with a 12th century church bell tolling the hour and the half hour, wildlife of all sorts play inches from the balcony of the room where I am writing. I appreciate the time and space to write surrounded by natural beauty. The Centre d’art Marnay Art Centre (CAMAC) has a storied history here, welcoming artists from all over the world.

A visit to the new Musee’ Camille Claudel in tiny Marnay sur Seine reveals the depth of the talent that have strolled these streets. Claudel was a talented sculptress and her one-time lover, Paul Godin, was renowned for his poetry, sculpture and writings. Claudel was the archetypical tortured artist, with a stay in an insane asylum spanning decades. A story worth researching.

I strolled past the former family home of French ecrivain (writer) Gustave Flaubert (1921-1880), known for Madame Bouvary, among other works.

A simple walk down the street from CAMAC unveils glimpses of the old life, providing inspiration around every corner. Residents of the town have chosen to keep much of the old stone architecture, with simple updates of shutters and windows, giving one a feel of residing in another century.

My middle grade manuscript No. 1 is out on submission (seeking an agent or publisher). Manuscript No. 2 is underway here in France.

For the latest relaxing scene outside my writing space, sign up for my YouTube videos. Go to the main site: www.youtube.com and enter LoraHylerAuthor

Au revoir!

Vive la France!

Don’t mistake this for a political message. I’m writing this from Marnay sur Seine, France on the eve of the French election.

               I’ve been awarded an international artist residency at the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre located in a village of about 250, an hour and a half southeast of Paris. For one month, with seven other artists, I’m living in a place of old bones. It’s a 17th century priory, spacious and still reverential with ancient surprises around every corner. We’re along the Seine river; as the water ripples, the place teems with singing birds, playful fish, contented couplings of white swans cruising, and stately, towering trees with stories to tell.

                The l’eglise (church) directly across the street provides a spiritual lift and carries us through the day with a bell counting off the hours at the top of the hour. A single bell sounds each mid-hour. After 11:00 each night, the streetlights go dark, leaving stars as the only illumination. Energy conservation or romanticism?

               Yet, as is the beauty adorned within a Monet painting, there’s amazing artistic vitality everywhere. I’m in the fourth day of my residency, enjoying an easy settling in, making an unknown spot in the world a place to create. I’m sure I was a gypsy in a prior life. Or perhaps it’s because a writer is so comfortable in his or her own head.  To create, one only needs to relax, a corner filled with light, a laptop, some tunes and if lucky, nature just outside the window. I have it all, with Paris just a train hop away.

               My fellow artists, writers, painters, and creators of sculptures, are a talented, hearty group who have ventured in from all over the world. We hail from Brazil, two are from New York (one, by way of Japan), Wisconsin, Mississippi, California and two are from Canada (by way of Korea).

               I woke up one morning to the sounds of delighted children assembling just outside my second floor window. Fresh off the bus, they had arrived for an art workshop. I thrilled at the sound, picking up the delightful lilt of the French language I had studied for years, abandoned, and picked up again in preparation for my residency. Little did the children know, they were already artists, bending and shaping language to fit their changing moods.

               Last night, we joined a gala in a welcoming home of an Argentine artist, just down the street from CAMAC.  Our group was comprised of residency artists, former residents, locals, and individuals from various countries, all succumbing to the magic of Marnay sur Seine, Paris and surrounding cities. I met one former CAMAC artist who came for a residency, and last year settled down here, uprooting herself following a 30-year career in Mississippi. A natural gathering, as the savory wine flowed and music from all over the world spilled from speakers, we artists, united in dance, with wide smiles and camaraderie.

               That’s the magic of art as the children discovered the day of their visit to CAMAC. Art can be created anywhere. It simply requires giving in to the muse. And the rewards are immeasurable.

              

Why I March…On the journey toward children book publication

The journey of getting one’s children’s book published is filled with anticipation, excitement and downright disillusionment. I’ve never taken ‘no’ for an answer, so I focus on the blessings to date.

I’m submitting to agents and getting rejections, so I’m closer to acceptance of my middle grade manuscript! For those who have passed on the adventures of my 12-year-old African-American superhero, Mighty Marty Hayes and his awesome band of multi-cultural friends…Well, wait and see.

Meantime, I’m making final, final edits. Not too much. Time to start the next book. And I’m doing my homework. Ah, homework. For the uninitiated, book publishing is a business. Once you plug into this world, as Dr. Seuss says, “Oh, but the places you’ll go.” And then, there are my French language studies.

An aspiring author must study the marketplace. So, I took a field trip just before our recent snowstorm to Madison, WI. There’s a little-known jewel located on the UW-Madison campus called the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC). What’s that, you ask? As the website, informs, “a library of the department of education.” It’s a research library for anyone interested in the field of children and young adult literature.

I called the day before my trip and spoke to a librarian. “I’d like books set aside that cover the themes of the book I’m writing,” I said. “What’s that?” she asked. “Superhero, spy gadgets, science, particularly the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology… and civil rights, especially if a book has been written that deals with the superheroes of the civil rights movement,” I responded. Just kidding on that last part. My middle grade manuscript may be the first to imagine that link. Mighty Marty’s Granny does indeed perform some miraculous feats to help out Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I arrived at the CCBC to find a cart full of about fifty books reserved for me. I was like a kid in a candy store! Better, a lifelong reader and writer surrounded by books available in the marketplace and books about to be published and untouched by the public: advance copies. And better still, the careful CCBC library staff had notated inside the front cover of each book whether the book had won any awards, for which years and which award.

I set out to catalogue and read the first few pages of each book, noting a few things. Damn, this is a great first book by a first-time author. Wow, this author has written 30 books! Certain publishers are focusing on a certain style. How does my manuscript measure up? I also noted upcoming books that I intend to purchase. My ever growing list and membership in the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) means my reading pile continues to grow and impact the household budget. (All in the name of research, dear).

So, my day at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center was a day well spent. The marketplace knowledge I gained will undoubtedly impress an agent to the extent that they will eagerly offer representation. That’s the plan anyway. As I was packing up to leave on that cool February day, I remembered that the director Kathleen Horning had shown me to a bookcase filled with advance book copies, free for the taking. I decided to nab one to get a sense for how a final published book differs from the advance copy, prior to final editing, market positioning, etc.

So, my research continues.

More on this in a future blog. You may be interested to learn that amidst all the delights of the job, the CCBC staff does some sobering work. Annually, they compile statistics on publishing works of authors and illustrators of people of color and first/native nations. Folks, there’s work to be done. Equity in publishing is not yet reality.

http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu/books/pcstats.asp

Why does this matter? Because children need to see themselves reflected in the books they read for their self-development and to know that they matter. A little brown boy superhero who loves science and spy gadgets could very well inspire the next scientist or inventor.

I’m happy to spend time reading my critique partner’s 73,000-word sci-fi young adult novel. Yes, writers are disciplined and committed. It’s a great read and ready for the marketplace.

This May, I’ll stay in France for a month at an artist colony, CAMAC, all in the name of research and writing solitude. I’ll check out middle grade books published in France and see how a European country’s approach differs from the U.S. publishing industry.

Au revoir!

Lora Hyler is a seasoned communicator, public relations and marketing expert. Founder of a 15-year PR firm, she is now on the journey to get her middle grade children books published. She has been awarded a 2016 Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring for fiction, 2015 and 2016 residencies at the Martha’s Vineyard Noepe Center for the Literary Arts, and a May 2017 residency at Centre d’Art, Marnay Art Centre in Marnay sur Seine, France.

 

 

Lessons learned on the eve of our change of power

We, the people.

In addition to existing as a memorable preamble to our U.S. Constitution, these words were repeated by outgoing president Barack Obama in his final address. President Obama sought to remind us to become “jealous guardians of our democracy” and that “for all of our outward differences, we all share an important title: citizen.”

If upon first glance, Donald Trump supporters thought this was a treatise on why we should all hail Trump, get ready to be disappointed. The thoughtful among us have come to understand that middle aged white men have felt threatened by the pace of change in America, the election of the first black president, and the diverse parade of citizens (finally) gracing their television screens each night. We get that you’ve been disguising your pain. We’d like you to understand that people of color, disabled citizens, women, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, and many others have felt left out from this country’s promises for decades. This struggle plays out in the workplace, communities and places of worship.

You’ll now watch closely with the rest of us to see whether campaign promises translate into governed action and policy.

No one wins if we remain pitted against one another. This lesson should have been learned during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. It seems that those who didn’t suffer a personal affront didn’t think these lessons applied to them.

We will never realize the promise of America until we fully understand that we have both a moral and economic imperative. And by the way, it’s a losing argument to insist that those who voted for him surely agree with his misogynistic, racist and xenophobic comments. Some would call these Trump supporters racist. Fact is, some were just so focused on their pain, that once they heard a catchphrase they could relate to, they jumped on board the Trump train and held on ‘til the end.

Some overlooked the fact that these insults applied to their family members, friends, co-workers, next door neighbors, church members. People are complicated. I get it.

I remain hopeful that these individuals and all of us will listen a bit more in the coming days and not dismiss each other. Each of us has work to do. Whether you march, write, speak, or take action in the method that best suits you, take action for unity.

For those of you with a Trump sign still in your yard, take it down.

We’re clearly a divided country. It’s up to all of us to make it better. Our children are listening and learning.