Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Meet children's author Henry Herz and his 3 new books


For any author, the arrival of new book is much like the birth of child. We share the news with our friends and family, plan book birthday parties for our readers, and wait with anticipation for the date when busy-ness can begin.  I imagine author Henry Herz's schedule will be over-the-top crazy busy with the release of 3 different picture books from three different publishers at about the same time. 

In a sense, Henry Herz is having triplets! 

The names of his new books for children are: 
GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE (Schiffer 2018) 
ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN (Familius 2018) 
HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS (Pelican 2018).

Henry was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer some questions about his books and his writing process. So sit back, enjoy, and check out his newest children's books as well as his his previously published titles.

1. How long have you been writing? Was becoming a published writer always a part of your career plans?

I began writing fiction about ten years ago, solely with the intent of getting my young sons interested in reading fantasy. I had no idea then that I'd be bitten by the writing bug or that it would lead to traditional picture book publication. So, it was never a part of my career plan. But now I'm glad I discovered writing. I've met some amazingly talented people. KidLit is a tightly knit and supportive community.

2. What were your favorite books or characters as a child?

Dr. Seuss and WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (of course). Like most boys, I enjoyed cartoons like Jonny Quest and Spiderman. I also had picture book versions of Kipling's Just So stories and MOBY DICK! I was a ravenous reader, and started THE LORD OF THE RINGS in sixth grade. That sent me down the path of fantasy and science fiction, and I'm a big fan of those genres to this day.

3. What are your favorite children's books or characters now? Are any the same as those from your childhood?

I'm still a huge fan of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. My other favorite picture books, and there are many, are newer releases and include: THIS IS NOT MY HAT, JOURNEY, A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE, TEA REX, ZOMBIE IN LOVE, WHEN YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, and THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE. Technically, young adult books are considered children's books, and there are a TON of great YA fantasy authors, like Maggie Stiefvater, Victoria Schwab, and Laini Taylor.

4. You have some interesting and unique main characters in your books -- ranging from an Imp, to a Cuttlefish, to an Apple, etc., -- so in the writing process, which comes first for you? The character or the idea for the story?
It varies – it's a creative process, after all. In one case, I wanted to do a fractured fairy tale, and thought it would be fun to substitute a cuttlefish for Little Red Riding Hood. In another case, I saw an illustrated refrigerator magnet featuring a bunch of angry anthropomorphic vegetables. The caption read “Steamed vegetables”. Boom – I had my characters, and built up a food idiom-heavy story around them. With HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, I started with the character of a larcenous squid, inspired by Klassen's fish in THIS IS NOT MY HAT.

5. Bullying is a theme that appears in two of your upcoming books, particularly in GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE. Is that coincidence, or is that an important topic for you?

I do feel that bullying is an important topic to address in children's books. If kids are encouraged to be kind, they grow up to be kind adults. That said, my themes usually pick me in the sense that ideas pop into my head, and either stick or don't. For example, SQUID's theme is “do unto others” (or perhaps, “karma is a b*#ch”). I have an as yet unsold manuscript with the theme of the Law of the Hammer (just because you have a hammer doesn't make every problem a nail). Another unsold manuscript has the theme “you can learn from everyone, although sometimes you learn what NOT to do”.

6. Readers will recognize many of characters in Alice's Magic Garden as those from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Would you like to talk about your inspiration for ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN and the connections you hope readers will make?
It might surprise you to learn that I didn't base my story on Alice at first. 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 transforms (or reveals) some of the mundane critters as fae – a dragonfly would transform into a tiny dragon, etc. Then the fae care for Rosie when she gets sick.

The credit goes to my Familius editor, David Miles, who initially suggested a Victorian setting to lend a dreamier feel to the story. I renamed the protagonist to Alice, and changed the fae to match characters from Alice in Wonderland. David then encouraged me to create further parallels, and down the rabbit hole I went.

Carroll's final paragraph is exactly the feeling I want readers of my book to experience:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long-ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

7. Squid's facial expressions in HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS are comically priceless. The book seems to offer a perfect pairing between text and illustration. Did you have any input on what your character would look like, or did your words inspire the artwork created by Luke Graber on their own?

I provided general illustration notes, including what kind of clothing the characters wore, but Luke deserves all the credit for the hilarious facial expressions and character designs. I wanted this to be a sparse book – originally five of the thirteen spreads were wordless, which would really put the emphasis on the illustrations. But my editor overruled me on that approach.

8. Do you have a favorite time and place to write?

I don't have a favorite time to write, other than a time without distraction. I almost always write at my home office, because I have a comfortable setup with my desk and computer. Occasionally, I'll write by hand if I'm out and about.

9. Are there any special routines you have to keep the creative process flowing?

On the one hand, I don't feel I can order myself to “be creative.” That said, there are some lessons I've picked up along the way. First, you never know when a good idea will show up in your head. So, always write them down. I keep a list of as-yet unwritten ideas. Second, it is perfectly fine to set aside a manuscript if you get stuck. Sometimes letting a few days or weeks elapse freshens your perspective. The corollary to that is to have multiple stories on which you work, so you can shift focus as needed. Last, read in the market for which you're writing and be observant of the world around you. Both will spark your creativity.

10. Do you have any advice for new writers?
In addition to the advice in the prior response, I'd say “slow down”. Hone your craft before rushing to submit to agents or editors (or self-publish). Develop a thick skin, because the industry involves an enormous amount of rejection. And be persistent, because you'll never get published if you quit before an editor falls in love with your manuscript. I have a full article on this subject at https://taralazar.com/2014/11/20/piboidmo-day-20-henry-herz/

11. Do you have many opportunities throughout the year to visit schools or bookstores to connect with your readers?

Yes, I have a busy fall/winter schedule because of the three new picture books. Here are some events at which I'll be speaking and signing:

San Diego Festival of Books (San Diego) – Aug 25
Cal Aero Preserve Academy (Chino) – Sept 14
Barnes & Noble (Glendora) – Sept 14
SCBWI Writers & Illustrator's Day (Fullerton) – Oct 6
Mysterious Galaxy Books (San Diego) – Oct 7
Barnes & Noble (Point Loma) – Oct 13
Scripps Birch Aquarium (La Jolla) – Oct 20
Warwick's Bookstore (La Jolla) – Oct 28
Intro to Writing Picture Books (Liberty Station) – Nov 18

If you would like to learn more about Henry Herz and his books, visit him at his website, or like his page on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter! Those links and information are below! 

Website: www.henryherz.com (includes full details on Henry's books and events)
Facebook: @Henry.Herz
Twitter: @HenryLHerz

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