Henry Herz writes picture books with his sons. I love how he works with his kids to create beautiful books. We especially adore one of his newest books, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, which is a lyrical and engaging bedtime story inspired by Shakespeare. I’m excited to interview him for Writers’ Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: When did you starting writing children’s books, and why?
Henry Herz: A few years ago, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. They were too little for watching most of the fantasy and sci-fi movie classics, and there are only so many good fantasy books available for that age range. 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 and creature names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? So, the goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into also encouraging them to write. After that, I was bitten by the writing bug.
KC: What is your favorite part of being an author?
HH: You mean aside from the staggering riches and adulation of large crowds (ha!)? My favorite part is seeing a story created in my head eventually represented with images on the page. It’s like seeing one’s literary child be born. Seeing excitement on the faces of young readers as they hear the story is very rewarding as well.
KC: What is your least favorite part of being an author?
HH: The waiting! Waiting for feedback. Waiting for a “yes” from an agent or editor. Waiting for publication day. Writing’s not a calling for the impatient. 🙂
KC: What’s your favorite book that you’ve written and why?
HH: Well, it’s not a book yet, but my favorite manuscript is NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI, a fantasy rhyming picture book. The idea came to me, but I set it aside, telling myself, “Writing and selling rhymers is HARD.” But the idea came back. I set it aside. But it insisted. Clearly, this was a story that wanted to be told. When I finally gave myself permission, it was a riot to write. The story has some very innovative rhymes, and a theme of “it’s the thought that counts”. I hope it sees the light of day.
KC: I can’t wait to read that one! It’s sounds like an incredible read-aloud! Do you have a writing routine?
HH: I really don’t, other than a work ethic of putting my behind in a chair and writing. I do keep a list of ideas as they come to me. But unlike some activities in which a sequential process can be followed, writing is an artistic endeavor that (for me, at least) resists uniformity. Sometimes I start with a theme. Sometimes with a character idea. Sometimes with just a catchy title. It swirls in my head until a story arc forms.
KC: Your newest book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, is a whimsical bedtime story. What was the inspiration for this story?
HH: I wanted to do a fractured fairy tale. I thought there might be some interesting ideas in Shakespeare, and one day, I found Mercutio’s soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet. In that, Mab, tiny Queen of the Fairies, paints sleeper’s dreams as she passes by in a flying chariot. I thought this would be a great subject for a bedtime picture book. And thus, my story was born. Little Mabel was an expert at not going to sleep. She knew all the best bed-avoiding excuses. “I’m thirsty. I need to use the bathroom. Will you tell me a story?” Mom ALWAYS fell for that one. But Mom had the Queen of Dreams in her quiver of bedtime tales.
KC: What is the best response you’ve gotten from a reader of your books?
HH: I’ve had a number of fun responses. A parent telling me that her child would now eat mushrooms after reading a story of mine in which the characters enjoy mushrooms. Getting a letter from a young reader. Doing question and answer sessions with a room full of smiling, eager kids.
KC: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
HH: Never stop honing your craft. Join SCBWI. Participate in critique groups. Writing is like cooking; it’s subjective. What works for one editor won’t work for another. Don’t take offense at rejections or criticism. Never give up, but know when to stop revising and submit. A longer article I wrote on this subject was featured during the 2014 PiBoIdMo, and can be read at https://taralazar.com/2014/11/20/piboidmo-day-20-henry-herz/
Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction for children. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency. He and his sons wrote MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES (Pelican, 2015), WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY (Pelican, 2016), MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS (Schiffer, 2016), LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH (Pelican, 2016), and DINOSAUR PIRATES (Sterling, 2017). Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Henry participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Henry created KidLit Creature Week, an annual online gallery of monsters, creatures, and other imaginary beasts from children’s books. He reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book Review.