I’m excited to interview picture book author, Henry L. Hertz for Writer’s Rumpus!
Kirsti Call: What was your inspiration for Cap’n Rex and His Clever Crew?
Henry L. Herz: I thought it would be fun to do a mashup – a combination of unlikely elements. In fact, my original title was DINOSAUR SPACE PIRATES! But it became clear as I worked on the manuscript that mashing up three ideas was one idea too many. Kids love dinosaurs, and they love pirates. So, they must REALLY love a book featuring dinosaur pirates, right?
KC: Did you always know that you wanted to write children’s books?
HLH: Not at all. I loved reading since WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, but it wasn’t until middle age that I first wrote fiction. 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.
KC: What is your favorite book that you’ve written?
HLH: 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.
KC: What new projects are you working on?
HLH: Well, more picture books, of course. But I’m not ready to offer spoilers. I do have some fun projects further along in the pipeline, however. My agent is shopping around three picture books:
TOP OF THE HEAP – Barnyard animals debate who is the best animal on the farm. Each makes their claim, even Dung Beetle. In response to the others’ laughter, Dung Beetle takes a vacation. Eventually, they all recognize even tiny Dung Beetle’s important contribution. That’s how he rolls.
NEVER FEED A YETI SPAGHETTI – Two young goblin siblings throw their mom a monstrous birthday party. Despite their best efforts, things go further and further awry, thanks to the yetis. One should never feed them spaghetti.
ALLEN & ALIEN – Like many boys, Allen doesn’t like to eat his veggies, pick up his toys, or take baths. But he loves playing with his alien toys. When an indefatigably inquisitive alien drops in to study humans, the alien’s enthusiasm (even for the mundane) is infectious. Allen learns an important lesson about appreciating one’s blessings, while his parents are pleasantly surprised at their son’s new alien behavior.
And I have three books scheduled for publication next year:
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. GARDEN FAE is A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
KC: What advice would you give to aspiring kidlit authors?
HLH: The short version is: hone your craft and be indefatigable. 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/
KC: Thank you, Henry! To read my review of Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, go here.
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), CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW (Sterling, 2017), and HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS (Pelican, 2018)
Henry edited the dark fantasy anthology BEYOND THE PALE, featuring short stories by award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Heather Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip & Jane Yolen.
Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). He participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Henry reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review and the San Diego Book Review. He interviews KidLit authors and illustrators on his blog at www.henryherz.com.