Tyler Rogers is the author of The Marvelous Invention of Orion McBride,and is also the music educator at Big Horn Elementary School in Sheridan, WY. Between piano, percussion, acting, and writing, Tyler has found many homes in the world of the arts. Outside of work, Tyler directs the Sheridan County Boys Choir year round, as well as local community children's theater musicals in the summer.
Tyler is committed to being an agent of positive change for youth. His goal is to inspire and enable every student he meets to build intrinsic bridges between community, the arts, and joy.
Thank you for speaking with us, Tyler!!
Tyler Rogers (00:00):
The answer is no, neither of the main leads are really modeled too heavily after any one kid that I know, but I do think, and unavoidably, there are flickers of kids, I know who show up in the books and especially in the way the characters speak.
Emy Romero (00:19):
Hello, my name is Emy diGrappa. Each week, we bring you stories asking our guests the question, "Why" we learn about passion, purpose, and the human experience, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation, this is What's Your Why?
Emy Romero (00:57):
Today, we are talking to author Tyler Rogers. Tyler is a new and up-and-coming author, and he just finished his first book, The Marvelous Invention of Orion McBride. Welcome, Tyler.
Tyler Rogers (01:13):
Thank you very much for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Emy Romero (01:16):
I love that just reading a bit about your book, and you're writing about this kid who's having an adventure. Well, first of all, what was your desire to write, and write this book?
Tyler Rogers (01:30):
Oh, well, thank you for that question. There's actually a little bit of irony, I think in the scope of my life, that I wrote a book because as a child growing up, I was such a reluctant reader. True story, I kind of fought it in school, but I think a lot of people have this story or this moment where I eventually read a book that really just changed everything for me, and that book was the Newbery Winner, When You Reach Me, and that really put me on a path of reading a lot of middle grade works. So, kind of middle grade being that it bridges the gap from children's little, like picture your Magic Tree House books, to young adult, not quite as mature as young adult, but that middle grade, third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade territory book.
Tyler Rogers (02:06):
And so, I just, I fell in love with that demographic and the stories that are being told there, and I just kept reading them, and over the course of several summers, I would seriously just go through, almost like Matilda from that children's book, and just take everything down from the library and read it, and eventually, you just get this feeling of, "I can do this, right? I could actually do this. I think I could tell a story for this target audience." Also, just the idea that I wanted to attempt at it, or take a stab at it existed for a while, and now put that together with my role as a teacher, I'm a public school teacher, I spent five years working as the arts director for our Sheridan County YMCA.
Tyler Rogers (02:43):
So, over the course of my working life. I have encountered thousands of children at this point, and their stories, and who they are, and who they want to be, and their goals, and one thing that sticks with you, and I think a lot of teachers would understand this and agree with it, is you run into kids, they're carrying a lot, right? And they don't always have the tools to say it, they don't always have the tools to ask for help. They're carrying more than maybe developmentally we think they should have to, but this is the cards they've been dealt, really. And so, I was kind of just thinking about those challenges, and sometimes that's trauma, and sometimes it's familial, and all those things, and sometimes kids have a really surprising way of expressing those difficulties, and that's where the idea for this story kind of came through, is as kids who are carrying more than they are prepared to, even though those situations might be out of their control, and the surprising, and perhaps at times, inelegant way that they're going to ask for help.
Emy Romero (03:40):
And when you work with kids, like in your five years that you worked with kids at the YMCA, is your main character in your book modeled after one of those kids that you worked with, and you really saw them go through some real life struggles?
Tyler Rogers (03:56):
That's such a great question, and I do get asked that quite a bit, especially by the kids who are in my periphery. The answer is no, neither of the main leads are really modeled too heavily after any one kid that I know, but I do think, and unavoidably, there are flickers of kids I know who show up in the books, and especially in the way the characters speak. There are some spoken habits. I really wanted to do kid voice really well, and have an authentic sense of kid voice. And so, I did think about the patterns of speech that kids use, and so, there's flickers here and there, but as far as telling their story too specifically, no.
Emy Romero (04:37):
Okay. I was curious about that, and I also was curious if you based it on some of your own childhood struggles, and that maybe you went through a time in your life where you can suddenly relate to these young people and what they're going through?
Tyler Rogers (04:54):
Oh, well, and I appreciate that thought too, and to that, I will say I am extremely fortunate in my upbringing and in my present day, to have come from stability, and to come from support and love, really at every turn, and the protagonists of the story, Christopher and Orion, they're both dealing with a little bit with some fractures. I don't know if we can spoil it here. I don't want to go into spoiler territory, in case someone listening maybe hasn't read it before, but the boys have some challenges going on, and Orion keeps his pretty close to his chest.
Tyler Rogers (05:26):
But no, I cannot myself anchor into those experiences much at all, but to your previous question, I've seen many kids go through similar situations, if not very similar situations. And so, it's one of the things when you're in that teacher role, you care about these kids and when they're aching, it's hard on you too, and you want to support them and you want to understand them. And so, navigating that, it's so kid by kid, and person by person too, right? It would go for adults too, but it just so happens that the focus of my work tends to be age 12 and under.
Emy Romero (06:00):
So, how did that become your passion to focus on that age group? What is it that you love about that age group that kind of makes you passionate about even writing this book?
Tyler Rogers (06:13):
I love that question, and it's a brilliant question, and it is a hard one for me to answer, because let me think. I was 16 years old, and I had grown up doing our children's art programming in Sheridan, and eventually, you outgrow and you graduate from it, right? And I wanted to stick with it, it was important to me, it was kind of really central to my identity that I was a part of these programs and these communities. There was theater things, and music things, and things like that. So, I wanted to find ways to stay involved.
Tyler Rogers (06:38):
So, even after I graduated, I asked the directors in charge, "Hey, is there any way I can come support? Can I be backstage? What can I do to stay involved?" And I stayed involved, and that just kind of snowballed. So, when I'm 16, I am volunteering for the Children's Theater, and two years later, I'm working as someone who works at the Children's Theater, and before I know it, I'm teaching elementary school music. I just love elementary school, that's who I am. I love working with the elementary age group, I get to teach elementary music every single day, and it's exactly who I am and what I want to do. And I love music, and the music piece aside, I'm just very intrinsically motivated to be an agent of positive change for kids. I want to support kids all throughout their lives, and I think childhood, it's a volatile time, and there's a lot of good that can happen in childhood, and there's a lot of bad that can happen in childhood, and I want to be a force for good.
Tyler Rogers (07:32):
We know evidentiarily that what happens at different markers in your childhood could have long-lasting effects on your life, and not just for the future, but for the present child now. That's what motivates me, is to just be that agent of positive change for kids, whether they're in my school or not, whether it's through a theater thing, just in all ways that I possibly can, and I think writing Orion McBride was just another avenue of that, of supporting kids and listening to their stories, and trying being a presence with them.
Emy Romero (08:02):
How is it that you started in music? Music is another passion of yours.
Tyler Rogers (08:08):
Emy Romero (08:10):
When did you start? What age did you start down that road?
Tyler Rogers (08:13):
I started piano lessons at age six. I have two older siblings and my older sister played piano, and she's three year years older than me, right? And so, she always had all these tricks and all these songs that she could do, and I would get so jealous that she could do all these things. And so, when I turned six, I was like, "That's it, put me in, I'm getting in there." And so, as a young kid, I was so motivated in my piano lessons to practice and to really give it my all, because I wanted to be better than my sister, who was also really dedicated and had three years more time than me. So, it was just constantly going after each other, and to this day, we both still play, and now I love it, right?
Tyler Rogers (08:49):
And it's funny that you say that, the people in my community, the people in my circle really probably know me as a music person who randomly wrote a book. That is kind of what the picture probably looks like. Even when I first wrote it and I announced it, "Hey, I did this thing, check it out," the response was very supportive and very positive from a lot of people, but there was also a lot of, "What? Why? Are you changing careers on us? What's going on here?" And so it's like, "No, it's not a change of careers. I love the arts." When I worked at The Y, I really got to work in performance, music, reading, and visual art, and I like all of those things. And so, I had to extend myself to be able to write that, it was a long process.
Emy Romero (09:34):
I read something in about you, and it's that you always knew that you would live and work in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Tyler Rogers (09:40):
Emy Romero (09:40):
And I thought that was interesting.
Tyler Rogers (09:42):
Yes, absolutely. So, I'm from Sheridan, I love Sheridan. For my whole life that I can recall, I have felt very connected to the social fabric of this community, I guess, and I know growing up too, you're a teenager, you're going through high school, even when you're young in college, there's a lot of, "I want to get out." That's great. I want to explore the world too. There's a lot of places I want to see, but I want my effect to be felt here and shared, and that piece is super important to me. It's where my family is, it's where my people are.
Tyler Rogers (10:15):
I love that in this community, anywhere I go, I'm going to see people that I know, and I think there's people who maybe wouldn't like that, but I love it. At a restaurant, "Hey, Hey, Hey," you know the people when you see them at the store. I love that presence, and to me, you never want to say something's off the table, you don't know what life's going to throw at you, but I know that were I to locate somewhere else, I would have to reestablish that and kind of start over, and I've had a full life to get that done here too, and that is deeply meaningful to me, and it's worth cherishing.
Emy Romero (10:49):
Well, that's interesting too, because you have a very strong Wyoming identity, and is it a Wyoming identity, or is it just a Sheridan identity? What do you think?
Tyler Rogers (10:58):
Oh, I think it's a Wyoming identity. I love our cowboy state. I spent four years at the University of Wyoming, proudly representing their marching band. I drummed with their marching band for four years. Whenever there's the Cowboy football, Cowboy basketball, my dad and I are always like, "Oh, did you see the latest scores?" All those things, and yeah, my effect is here in Sheridan, of course, but I love our state.
Emy Romero (11:19):
What do you think about what you were saying about young people growing up in Wyoming, and "I want to get out, I want to get out?" And sometimes they do leave because maybe they have a difficult time finding employment, and maybe there's not enough opportunities. What do you think about that for young people?
Tyler Rogers (11:40):
Well, I think it's a real challenge that young people, as they move through life in any location, are going to have to ask themselves, "What do I want, and what is this place going to give me?" And I think I would hope with my students or with anybody, to equip people with the self-awareness and skills to ask the question, "What do I want? Who do I want to be? Where do I want to be? What effect do I want to have? Am I able to have that effect here?" There's a lot of ways that I think Wyoming can do that, but no place is perfect for everybody. And I think of, I've got a really good buddy of mine who's in the music industry, more as a performer, Wyoming isn't going to serve him particularly well. He's from Sheridan too, and he loves Sheridan and he would love to come back and visit, but right now he's down in Las Vegas, because that's where he needs to be to make the splash that he wants to make, along with his schooling.
Tyler Rogers (12:29):
So, I even look at someone like my sister, who, again, she loves Sheridan, Wyoming, but her and her person, she needs urban. She loves the metropolitan, she loves the sea of people, she loves existing in that space, and at that speed, and so, the Boston area is where she landed, and that's where it's at. And so, it's tough, and every person in situation are uniquely their own, of course, but I do hope that any person, especially young people who are maybe in high school, approaching high school, thinking about, "Where am I going to go?" Wyoming is a darn special place, it really is, and I hope people give it a good thought before they think about leaving, and of course, the doors are always open to come back to if they do, but it's a special place.
Emy Romero (13:13):
Yeah. Well, I think when you live in Wyoming, we kind of brag about it like that, because we have such a small population.
Tyler Rogers (13:21):
Emy Romero (13:23):
You got to be tough to live in Wyoming. You have to stick it out, find your place there, it's extreme weather.
Tyler Rogers (13:32):
I don't stay for the weather, I'll tell you that.
Emy Romero (13:36):
Not for the weather.
Tyler Rogers (13:37):
Emy Romero (13:38):
But for the people, you find the people genuine.
Tyler Rogers (13:41):
Yes. I love people, even in kind of our own family lore. My mom jokes that even as a young child, I just loved people so much, age one, age 100, I just want to talk to them, and I would be a young kid at the park and I would just befriend the entire park, irrespective of their age. I'd talk to the parents, I just love people, and I have found that being in a smaller place actually suits that really well, because I feel connected to people, and to me, that is super important. Connection and meaning, for me, go hand in hand, and that's one of the things that's going to, at this moment, completely expect to keep me here for a very long time.
Emy Romero (14:18):
Well, that probably made your mom panic all the time at the park, because you-
Tyler Rogers (14:22):
Surely, it did.
Emy Romero (14:23):
Yes, you would disappear.
Tyler Rogers (14:26):
[inaudible 00:14:26]. I didn't have the stranger danger piece, maybe as a young, young kid, but that thing where you meet a kid for 45 seconds and you're playing and you're like, "Hey, he's my new best friend." Yeah.
Emy Romero (14:35):
That was, you?
Tyler Rogers (14:36):
That was me.
Emy Romero (14:37):
Just collecting people.
Tyler Rogers (14:39):
Emy Romero (14:40):
[inaudible 00:14:40]. That is its own gift, really, that you are so comfortable in your own skin, that you don't have any problem walking up and saying hello to somebody, no matter what their age, or who they are.
Tyler Rogers (14:54):
Well, thank you. Yeah, it serves me very well in the classroom. One of the things I take a lot of pride in as a teacher in the public school setting, and as a teacher in general, is that I have to prioritize the relationships that I have with students. That's who I am. I want to connect with them. The music is important. Yes, I absolutely believe that the academics are important. Yes, absolutely, but I think there are certain things that are felt here that aren't as measurable, that are perhaps a little more ephemeral, that I want to attend to too, and those things, to get there, to nurture those things with kids, you have to develop a relationship, and out of Big Horn Elementary, I'm really proud of just the relationship and the culture that I have with these kids, and that's not my work alone.
Tyler Rogers (15:38):
I work in a great school with great people who do great things, and there's a lot of alignment, in that sense. I guess looking at my entire life, it's not surprising that I found work that involves again, lots of people, because that's what I like. People kind of rib me a little bit, because I love public speaking. I think it's great.
Emy Romero (15:58):
What kind of public speaking have you done?
Tyler Rogers (16:01):
Well, not too, too much. In my former role with the Sheridan County YCMA, there was a once a month situation where directors from our Y would go onto the radio just to say what's going on, what's going on, and they would ask, "Okay, who wants to go this month?" And no one would really put their hands up, and I would be like, "Let's go," and they'd be like, "Nope, you've gone too recently again, stop." Or I direct, for example, our Sheridan County youth choir, I'm a co-director of the Sheridan County youth choir, so getting up in front of the audience to have that welcome, "Welcome, please turn off your cell phone," all those kind of pieces, I just love it. I love being able to address the crowd and be with them too, be present with them.
Emy Romero (16:38):
No, I think that's great, and what was it that made you decide to be a teacher? Like you always knew you wanted to be a teacher, or did you go to college and not really know that's what you wanted to do?
Tyler Rogers (16:51):
Oh, that's a fantastic question. I'm a very planner type person, and I always have been, and from about, let's say middle school for several years, the plan for me was actually to go medical. I was going to go do something medical, because they make a bunch of money, and I want money. That's great. And then earlier, I mentioned that I started kind of volunteering and staying involved with the programs that I had outgrown being a participant in myself. Well, when I was 16 years old, I was involved with one of our theater camps, just as a volunteer, and it was actually a single kid, and a conversation I had with a single kid that completely derailed my whole medical plan, and again, it was the whole relationship thing, and I feel connected, and we talk, and it's comfortable. And theater camp is something too, it requires a lot of vulnerability, and kids really have to open up if they're going to really do this thing, right?
Tyler Rogers (17:42):
And so, he was a third grader, and it was the last day of camp and he was not too happy, kind of kicking the rocks, not happy, we have about an hour left, and he's kind of frustrated, and I said, "We've had a great week. What's going on?" And he told me, and this moment actually changed my life, he said, "I wish you could be my third grade teacher," and I was like, "Oh, that's nice, buddy. I have to go to high school. I'm an 11th grader," and he said, "No, I need you," and that moment right there, it was such validation of the relationship building that had taken place in five days. It was not a long period of time, but of also like, this matters to me, the emotions here matter to me, and literally that day, elementary school, elementary education is where I'm going, and that's the path I've been on ever since.
Emy Romero (18:27):
Well, that is very exciting, and you are, you're such a planner. You set it out in front of you, and you go for it.
Tyler Rogers (18:35):
And that's where we go. I guess though, too, if I could kind of spin that, one thing that I think is evident in my teaching, and possibly evident in the story I wrote as well, is that I'm a feeler, and I always have been, and there is a bit of a tough juxtaposition with take your really stereotypical, rugged Wyoming toughness, and being a feeler. And I don't work in the social setting, so I'm not teaching lessons on these emotional things, but I do try to show kids in all contexts that you are allowed to have your feelings, and I think that two protagonists of the story, they are very emotional boys who are dealing with a lot of heavy emotions.
Tyler Rogers (19:15):
And I really try to encourage just some positive emotional health with kids, "You are allowed to be upset, you are allowed to get angry. Let me show you and give you tools that are positive, healthy ways to express those feelings that aren't going to do damage to others." Part of the connecting of all these pieces too in the story, is being able to tell a story that is very emotionally charged, and trying to equip kids with tools to deal with it. We see Orion, he, in many cases, does lack the tools to deal with it, and that's real, but to me, there's a big intersect between even just in my personality profile, very, very, very extroverted, very, very, very feeling, both of those things.
Emy Romero (19:57):
Well, one of the things that is also intriguing about your work with kids, your connection to kids, but I also think that the other side of that is that you have to connect with their parents, especially in the age group that you're dealing with, and that must also be frustrating in some ways, because you can't control everything.
Tyler Rogers (20:19):
Emy Romero (20:19):
You can't control their home life.
Tyler Rogers (20:21):
Emy Romero (20:21):
You only, you have this time with them, these certain hours during the day that you can work with these kids.
Tyler Rogers (20:28):
That's totally true, and I know every teacher on the planet knows the feeling of, there are kids who are in your reach at a school or in your setting, that when they go home for the day, you're kind of like, "Okay, I would rather them be here," right? Maybe here you know that they're going to get fed, maybe here you know that they're safe. We want to work with all parents, right? One of the things I feel like my school does especially well, is the door is so open for that parent-school community, and saying, "How can we support you? How can we be a team in this?" And that's super great, and of course, in almost all cases, it's up to the parent to want that, to look for it, to accept it, right?
Tyler Rogers (21:09):
An interesting thing too, comparing my work at The Y to my work at a school, is when I worked at The Y and I was the director of these programs, I was the one that parents would come to talk to like, "Hey, what are you seeing here?" If we had to have that crucial conversation about maybe a nasty behavior that took place, we could have that, but it is interesting now that I'm in the elementary music space, I don't talk to the parents nearly as much. In many cases, I don't yet know who they are, and rightly so, when parents want to talk to the teachers, they want to talk to their classroom, their homeroom teacher, right? And so, that has been one surprise for me in this role, is how less contact I have with the parents.
Emy Romero (21:49):
Yeah, that is interesting when you say that. Well, what is next for you? Now that you've written your first book, what are you looking forward to? Are you going to write another book?
Tyler Rogers (21:59):
I certainly hope to, I absolutely hope to, and I'd say plan on it. I love to plan. The thing that's putting that off at the moment is I don't want to force it, I don't want to rush it. To me, when Orion McBride, the story all came together, I did have that spark idea of like, "Oh, I see it. I'm going to play with that, I'm going to unravel that," and then the planning, oh my gosh, the spreadsheets of me planning that story, I loved it, that was my favorite part. There's character spreadsheets, and everything chapter, by chapter, by chapter, everything planned.
Tyler Rogers (22:31):
I don't yet have that second idea of like, "Oh, I love that. I'm going to do that." And so, I'm thinking about it. There's some ideas that I'm loosely playing with, but I need to massage something out and be really inspired before I do that. But I can for sure say, let's say when I write a second one, not if, let's say when I do it, it's not going to be an Orion McBride sequel. I think Christopher and Orion's story is done, and I think there's new tales to tell.
Emy Romero (23:03):
Tyler, how can people find your book? Where can they buy it, where can they find it? Do you have a website? How can they find you?
Tyler Rogers (23:12):
Great question. I am probably the lamest author on the entire planet. I don't have a website. I self-published my book, so it can be cheaply found through Amazon, The Marvelous Invention of Orion McBride, or any local bookstore or library can probably order it in too. I know a lot of our Sheridan bookstores do carry it. I do know of another one in Wyoming that carries it upon request, so they're able to do it.
Tyler Rogers (23:34):
I do sometimes get asked, "Why did you self-publish?" Well, to me, I'm a teacher, and to me, the traditional route, going through a big publishing house, that's great, there's more money there. That would've been more of a career move, and I'm not looking to leave the classroom. I want to write the story, I want to share it, then that's kind of all it is. And so, that's why perhaps I'm not as well kitted of an author as I should be. I really should get a website going. That's been on my to-do list for like 14 months, but it's just not happened yet. So, maybe this summer that'll happen, but Amazon is going to be the fastest way to find it.
Emy Romero (24:09):
Okay, Amazon, it is. Tell me the name of your book again?
Tyler Rogers (24:13):
The Marvelous Invention of Orion McBride.
Emy Romero (24:16):
Okay. That's where people can find your book and read it, and I look forward to hearing more about you in the future, Tyler. Thank you for talking with me today.
Tyler Rogers (24:25):
Great. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
Emy Romero (24:38):
Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why?, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with support from Wyoming Community Foundation, and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to thinkwy.org, subscribe, and never miss a show.