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The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Henry Herz

Henry Herz has taken a moment out of his busy fall schedule to pop back in and talk with me. If you missed our first interview on July 30, 2017, check out Henry Hertz's basic bio facts and discussion of his earlier book Cap'n Rex & His Clever Crew, here.

So the big news is that Henry has three books releasing in short succession this fall - Alice’s Magic Garden (Familius 9/1, an imaginative prequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), How Squid Got Two Long Arms (Pelican Publishing Co. 9/4, a new twist on a Pourquoi tale), and Good Egg and Bad Apple (Schiffer 9/28, the next “punny” food book).

Welcome back Henry! You have been very busy. Any changes to your process or preferred place to write since we last spoke?

Thanks, and the three book releases will keep me busier still. No, I haven't changed my writing process. I have expanded what I'm writing. Lately, I delved into creative non-fiction picture books. My agent is shopping a couple of those around (sorry to be vague, but you know...). I've also begun trying my hand at middle grade. I'm starting that journey by writing short stories for kid magazines and fantasy/science fiction markets. I've received preliminary interest from one magazine and a polite decline from Highlights encouraging me to keep submitting. Given that the most common answer from submissions is silence, I'm very pleased by Highlights' personal response. Welcome to the world of publishing, everybody.

No kidding. Good luck with all these endeavors. Was it serendipity or planning that resulted in these three books being released in the same month?

Serendipity. As an author, I focus on writing the best stories I can. It's impossible to predict when an agent will send out the query, when a publisher will express interest, and when a manuscript will finally make it into print. Other than for multi-book deals, it would be the height of hubris to think one could time book releases. There are plenty of other things about which I can opt to obsess.

Well, if it gets way to hectic, may serendipity be a little kinder in the future. What can you tell us about working with these three particular presses?

At this point, I've worked with five different publishers: Pelican, Schiffer, Sterling, Familius, and Kane Miller. Each operates in their own preferred way, but they're all focused on the same thing: producing the best quality book they can. Typically, I deal directly with an editor. But at Pelican, I also interact with the art director. At Kane Miller, I've had the privilege of working directly with the publisher. Some houses have the budget for illustrated end papers; others don't. One might accept my manuscript with minimal feedback, another might require numerous iterations. And since we're talking about ART (both the words and the illustrations), everyone can have a different (and valid) preference. If I view something differently than my editor, I express my opinion respectfully. If the editor is unswayed, I salute smartly and move on.

Great advice. What was your inspiration for the creative take on Alice in Wonderland in Alice’s Magic Garden?

You might be surprised to hear that I didn't base my story at first on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The original inspiration for Alice's Magic Garden was actually the Caldecott-winning A Sick Day For Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead. My idea was to have a lonely little girl care for the plants and creatures in her backyard. Her love would then transform (or reveal) some of the mundane critters as fae – a dragonfly would transform into a tiny dragon, etc. Then the fae would care for Rosie when she gets sick.

However, things didn't quite work out that way. David Miles, my Familius editor, suggested a Victorian setting to lend a dreamier feel to the story. That's when I renamed the protagonist to Alice and changed the fae to match characters from Alice in Wonderland. David encouraged me to create further parallels, and down the rabbit hole I went.

Thank you for sharing the evolution of this book. It is fascinating how you got to the rabbit hole. What inspired Good Egg and Bad Apple? How long did it take to get the puns right?

I knew I wanted to write a book around food-based wordplay after I saw this refrigerator magnet. This was one of those happy circumstances where the first draft spilled out quickly. But, like any picture book manuscript, this needed work. I went through about 15 revisions.

When I researched food-based idioms. I was amazed at how many there were (my cup runneth over). I intentionally overloaded the wordplay at first, and then removed those references that felt forced and weren't advancing the story (they didn't cut the mustard).

Ha! Guess you just needed a sprinkling for flavor. Where/how did you discover the Pourquoi tale that inspired How Squid Got Two Long Arms? How much did you twist the tale?

Squid is an homage to two other authors' works. The first is Kipling's Just So Stories, a compilation of whimsical fictional explanations for why many animals are the way they are: How the Whale Got His Throat, How the Camel Got His Hump, How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin, How the Leopard Got His Spots, and How the Elephant Got His Trunk.

I employed alliteration and lyrical language to emulate Kipling's style. Here's his wondrous opening for How the Whale Got His Throat -

“On the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale, and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, and the crab and the dab, and the plaice and the dace, and the skate and his mate, and the mackereel and the pickereel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel. All the fishes he could find in all the sea he ate with his mouth—so! Till at last there was only one small fish left in all the sea, and he was a small 'Stute Fish, and he swam a little behind the Whale's right ear, so as to be out of harm's way. Then the Whale stood up on his tail and said, 'I'm hungry.' And the small 'Stute Fish said in a small 'stute voice, 'Noble and generous Cetacean, have you ever tasted Man?'”

The second author to influence the writing of Squid was Caldecott medalist Jon Klassen. I liked This is not My Hat's theme of “do unto others,” and I especially loved the irony of the unreliable narrator. To me, few things ring so true and are as funny as people's ability to deceive themselves.

Interesting. Was one (or more) of these books easier of harder to create? [More revisions, more rejections, harder to get started, etc.?]

Any of you who are new to writing for traditional publishers should learn now that we authors must develop a tough skin. Rejection is an integral part of the business. And I don't mean just me. Even authors at the top of the field like Jane Yolen and J.K. Rowling have been rejected. You just put your head down and keep honing your craft.

I'd say that Alice's Magic Garden was the most difficult to create in terms of the number of revisions. That said, it was actually a lot of fun because the editor was willing to invest the time with me to keep going back and forth until the manuscript was just right.

I'd say the time was well spent. Any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?

Well, let's see. I can tell you that I have two new picture books scheduled to come out in 2019. Sherlock Chick and Bunny Watson: The Poached Egg (Pelican Publishing), as the title suggests, will involve Sherlock and Watson solving a mystery. The theme of that book is “don't jump to conclusions," which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock was wont to do. It will be illustrated by the fabulous Patrick Girouard.

Two Pirates + One Robot (Kane Miller Books) involves (surprise) a perilous journey by two space pirates and their self-sacrificing robot. Think of it as a math-centric The Giving Tree meets TV's Firefly. I originally titled it Aye, Robot as an homage to Isaac Asimov's classic science fiction novel I, Robot. But my publisher felt that most people wouldn't get the pun (and she's right, of course). When I wrote that, I imagined human pirates. However, the very talented illustrator Brian Bowes took a different approach that I hope will delight young readers.

I can't wait to see these books. Have to say it is the first PB I've heard of that comps Firefly. Is there something you wished an interviewer would have asked you? Either about these books, you, or writing in general?

Would you like one million dollars? Why, yes. Yes, I would. [Who wouldn't?]

Do you have any fun trailers for your books? Why, yes. Yes, I do. You can enjoy them at:

What does your launch/book talk schedule look like?

I will be attending a bunch of book events in Southern California. My schedule can be viewed by going to and clicking on “EVENTS” in the upper right corner.

One I'm particularly looking forward to is reading How the Squid Got Two Long Arms

and Little Red Cuttlefish at the Scripps Birch Aquarium. Talk about “show and tell”!

Henry Herz at Cephalopod Celebration Author appearance, October 20, 2018 10:00AM Scripps Birch Aquarium, 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, CA, US

I love the Birch Aquarium. Sounds like you'll have a great time. Thank you, Henry for stopping by. It was wonderful to get to chat with you again.

My pleasure. Thank you for hosting.

Be sure to come back on Friday for a Perfect Picture Perfect Friday #PPBF post on Alice's Magic Garden.

To find out more about Henry Herz, or get in touch with him:

Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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