The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Henry Herz Plus a Giveaway
Today we get to meet Henry Herz. Interestingly, he had the great fortune to write his initial books as joint projects with his two sons. As a very active member of the Kidlit community, he has spoken at SCBWI and writer's conferences, San Diego Comic Con, and Wonder Con. He has also been a guest blogger on Tara Lazar's Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) and Angie Karcher’s Rhyming Picture Book Month (RhyPiBoMo).
His newest book - Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew (which releases TOMORROW) - and is the first picture book Henry has written on his own. Happy Book Birthday!
ME: Welcome Henry, thank you so much for stopping by to share a bit about your new book and yourself with us. Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)
Henry: I started writing later in life. I’ve been writing for about ten years, but professionally for about seven years. I typically write at my computer in my home office, but I understand that every person has their own best environment in which to work.
High fantasy is my favorite genre to write (and read). That said, I don’t limit myself. If I get an interesting idea for a book that’s features talking vegetables rather than minotaurs and imps, I’m happy to pursue it to see if there’s anything there. Recently, I drafted my first non-fiction picture book manuscript. I had this really outside-the-box idea, and I gave myself permission to run with it. We’ll see…
What is something no one (or few) knows about you?
Some secrets are best left unspoken. :-) However, I can share with you that even though I cannot illustrate worth beans, I got pretty good at painting inch-high miniatures for the fantasy tabletop game, Warhammer.
ME: Impressive. That is very detailed work.
Your first couple of books were written with your sons - When You Give an Imp a Penny (Pelican, 2016), Little Red Cuttlefish (Pelican, 2016), Mabel and the Queen of Dreams (Schiffer Publishing, 2016), Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes (Pelican, 2015), & Nimpentoad (self-published, 2012) – how did that come about?
When my sons were five and seven years old, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them.
What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (Nimpentoad) and creature (Neebel) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? We were sufficiently encouraged by feedback that we decided to self-publish.
My sons also helped with the art direction. Our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. My goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into encouraging them to participate in the creative process. In the end, it was a great experience for my sons, and I discovered that I loved to write children's fiction.
That sounds like it was an amazing opportunity for you and them. How different was your experience of writing your newest PB Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew on your own?
It’s a little bittersweet to realize that my 15- and 17-year old sons probably think that writing with dad has lost its luster. But kids grow up and choose their own path. Their role was primarily to review drafts and give me feedback. So, in that sense, my critique groups provide the same function. Although as adults, they don’t have an organically child-centric point of view. I’ve heard of authors who read their drafts at schools or libraries to get that kid’s first impression of their manuscripts.
Who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book as a child?
That's easy! WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. I must have borrowed it from the elementary school library a dozen times. I loved the illustrations. You know it’s a good book when you want to leap into the pages and explore. I loved the idea that a kid could hang out with (relatively) friendly monsters. It probably sparked my lifelong love of reading fantasy.
How different was it working with Sterling Publishing, versus smaller presses? Did you get more or less input with the illustrators?
The experience was pretty similar. My editor at Sterling was a blast to work with. After a few emails, we just got on the phone for an hour and collaborated to address her feedback. I was also given the opportunity to review the sketches and full-color art to offer my input, which I very much appreciated. Sterling has been very supportive in terms of soliciting professional book reviews (e.g., Kirkus, Booklist), and in providing copies of the book to bloggers and for Goodreads Giveaways.
What/who is your greatest source of inspiration? (as a child or now as a writer.)
Inspiration is a fickle muse; she arrives unpredictably. Sometimes an idea will pop into my head unbidden. For example, can you apply “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” to book characters? Yes. Yes, you can. I did it for The Lord of the Rings at http://lotrproject.com/sixdegrees/. Other times, I leave myself open to serendipity. For example, I met an artist looking to collaborate. That led me down the path to doing Little Red Cuttlefish.
Sometimes the world drops a book idea in your lap. For example, I found this funny refrigerator magnet showing a group of really mad looking anthropomorphic vegetables. The caption said “Steamed Vegetables” (see http://www.rubescartoons.com/images-store/rm2931-steamed-vegetables1.jpg). I love word play, and that little magnet sent me down a path that yielded a picture book coming out next year, Good Egg & Bad Apple.
Sometimes I’ll riff off of something I read. For example, I read a Mental Floss (great magazine) article about animal defense mechanisms. That led me to come up with a sci-fi chapter book about an alien boy who gets lost while hiking, and meets all sorts of interesting creatures.
Do you have a favorite among your books? (Or is that like asking which child is your favorite?) If so, then, does one stand out for a particular reason, at the moment?
So, you are presenting me with a Sophie's Choice? How can I choose from among my babies? Each has something that endears it to me. Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes was my first book. When You Give an Imp a Penny has slapstick humor. Little Red Cuttlefish inspires kids to be brave. Mabel & The Queen of Dreams is a bedtime picture book based on Mercutio's soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet. And Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew has a great theme of thinking outside the box.
ME: Sorry for the tough question. But you faced it bravely. And these each sound amazing, I can see why it was tough.
What is the hardest thing about writing for you? The most amazing?
I’ve always been analytical. That’s probably what led me to get an engineering degree, and into a job as a process improvement consultant. My day job is to analyze how businesses operate, and figure out how to make then more efficient – cheaper, fewer mistakes, and faster. As you may know, the publishing industry is not typically known for its speed. So, here I am, Mr. Doitquickly, submitting manuscripts in an industry where it takes over a year to see one’s writing fully realized. Fate, it would seem, is not without a sense of irony.
One amazing thing for me (and most authors, I suspect) is seeing that first copy of your published book. Something that started in your head is fully realized and has taken tangible shape. After much time and toil, your literary baby is finally born. Another is seeing a kid’s face light up when they read your story. That is the true power of an author. To plant seeds of imagination and love of reading in young people. And the pleasing mystery of not knowing if your story will somehow influence them in a subtle way.
Is there something you want your readers to know about Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew?
The kernel of this story was the idea that if kids like pirates and they like dinosaurs, then kids would really like a story that combined both. Sort of a literary Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. In fact, I was originally going to write about dinosaur SPACE pirates. However, my critique partners reeled me in, and said that was mashing up too many things. So, my big buccaneers set sail in a triceratops trireme, not a spaceship.
The original title was going to be DINOSAUR PIRATES. As the artwork was being finalized, I discovered that another book was coming out with that very title. So, at my suggestion, we changed the title to better reflect the story.
My favorite illustration shows the crew trudging across an island toward the buried treasure. The illustrator, Ben Schipper, did a great job conveying the personality of Cap'n Rex. He's out in front, of course, as the leader. But he's got this jaunty walk that just screams self-confidence or perhaps hubris. And we all know what happens to characters that get too full of themselves...
ME: Wow, at least it was just an identical title and not an identical story.
Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us? Will you be writing solo or with your sons?
Well, there are three picture books my agent is shopping around right now. And these three books are scheduled to be published in 2018: How the Squid Got Two Long Arms (Pelican Publishing) - Ever wonder why two of a squid's ten arms are longer than the others? A selfish squid is cold, so he swipes other animals' clothing. Will he learn it's wrong to steal in the end? This modern fable demonstrates you reap what you sow. It’s Kipling's How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin meets Klassen's This Is Not My Hat.
Good Egg & Bad Apple (Schiffer Publishing) - Not all the foods in the refrigerator get along like peas in a pod. Bad Apple and Second Banana are at the root of the problem. The vegetables are steamed. Good Egg suggests his friends try different responses to the bullies, but his tactics don’t bear fruit, at first. Only by using his noodle does Good Egg save their bacon.
Alice's Magic Garden (Familius) - Alice lives in the dreariest boarding school in England. She pours her love and attention into caring for her little garden and its denizens. Unknown to her, these include a large caterpillar, gryphon, and a talking white rabbit. When Alice is in trouble, the magical creatures come to her aid. Love, it turns out, is magical. A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee meets Alice in Wonderland.
ME: Talk about strikes of inspiration. These are definitely interesting hooks and I can't wait for them to be published.
Is there anything about writing or publishing you know now that you wished you had known when you started? Or anything you’re glad you didn’t know about in advance?
The short version is: hone your craft and be persistent.
The longer version is my article “Be an Animal to Write a Picture Book” at https://henryherz.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/be-an-animal-to-write-a-picture-book/
What is your favorite animal? Why?
There are so many cool animals. Some of my favorites include the wombat, sea dragon, and cuttlefish. But, ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved dogs. Their loyalty, playfulness, and intelligence win me over every time.
Thank you so much, Henry for stopping by. It was wonderful to get to know you and chat with you. I wish you the greatest luck in your future endeavors.
Reminder: Henry's book, Cap'n Rex & His Crew releases TOMORROW (8/1). Comment here or on the Friday #PPBF post for a chance to win this book.
To find out more about Henry Herz, or get in touch with him: