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Telling the Tale: An interview with kid lit author Henry Herz

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Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction for children. He has five picture books published or under contract: Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes (Pelican, 2015), When You Give an Imp a Penny (Pelican, 2016), Little Red Cuttlefish (Pelican, 2016), Mabel and the Queen of Dreams (Schiffer, 2016) and Dinosaur Pirates (Sterling, 2017).

He and his sons have also indie-published four children's books, including Nimpentoad, which reached #1 in Kindle Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy, and was featured in Young Entrepreneur, Wired GeekDad, and CNN; and Beyond the Pale, with short stories by award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Peter S. Beagle, Heather Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder and Jane Yolen.

Why do you write children’s books? What draws you to this literary niche?

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 the protagonist (Nimpentoad) and a creature (Neebel) name 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.

Originally, I only shared the story of Nimpentoad with family, for their own enjoyment. My sister-in-law suggested that I consider publication because she felt the story was much better than many of the books she was seeing for her similarly aged kids. We decided to give it a try, and that launched my writing career.

What is the most fulfilling part about being a writer?

My favorite part of being a writer is seeing kids get excited by books. Books stimulate little imaginations, and lead to learning and knowledge. A child opening a book is like the acorn being planted in fertile ground. I visualize how that will help the child as they grow into a mighty oak.

What is your least favorite aspect of the “job”?

The rejection and the waiting. Even highly successful writers (and I’m not including myself in that category) have manuscripts rejected more than they’re accepted. And even if a manuscript is accepted, it can take up to two years to see it in print. Waiting is not fun, but it’s a sweet moment when your baby comes forth as a fully illustrated book.

How hard is it to break into children’s literature? What recommendations do you have for aspiring authors?

You can write whenever you’re ready. And anyone can self-publish. But it’s very challenging becoming a traditionally published author. So, you better love writing, and not be in a hurry. Hone your craft by joining Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators and taking writing classes. (I took the Writing Children’s Picture Books class at UCSD Extension.)

The best advice I have is my animal-based version on my website. Here's an excerpt:

Be A Dung Beetle: Be tenacious, even on crappy days. Becoming published isn’t easy. But it won’t happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit!

Be An Armadillo: You need to be thick-skinned and learn to roll with the punches. Understand that a publisher’s or agent’s rejection isn’t personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you’re in good company.

Tell us a little about your latest book.

Pelican Publishing just released my second picture book, When You Give an Imp a Penny.

book.jpgIt’s a medieval fantasy homage to Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Before you lend an imp a penny, there’s something you should know—such a simple act of generosity could set off a side-splitting chain of events! A colorful picture book full of mythology, mischief, and magic, When You Give an Imp a Penny shows what happens when an accident-prone—but well-intentioned—imp comes along asking for favors!

From tracking mud on the floor, to setting the broom on fire, this clumsy little imp causes accidents wherever he goes, but he’s determined make things right again. The only thing it will cost his host is a little patience—and maybe a bit of time cleaning up some messes! It won’t be long before this troublemaker has won over the entire family (except for the cat) with his irrepressible charm.

How do you come up with the ideas for you book?

Soak up everything around you. View, listen, sniff, taste, and feel. Watch people (in public, not with a telescope from your house), read books (especially picture books), and watch TV and movies. Take notes. Even the most mundane situations can unexpectedly feed your muse.

Combine elements into unlikely (and therefore hilarious) pairs, as in Doreen Cronin’s CLICK CLACK MOO: COWS THAT TYPE. Practice riffing on the things you soak up. I did a classroom reading where this boy had a torn-up sneaker. I thought, picture book title: The Boy With Exploding Sneakers. Let your creativity run free.

You know a book you’ve written is a success when…

Kids smile when they read it or parents tell you their child requests repeat readings.

What other projects do you have coming up?

I have a couple of hilarious manuscripts on submission that I hope will find a home – a rhyming picture book, Never Feed a Yeti Spaghetti, and Barnyard Debate, featuring a dung beetle protagonist. I have three picture books scheduled for publication. Little Red Cuttlefish (Pelican, 2016) is an aquatic version of Little Red Riding Hood starring a sassy cuttlefish. Mabel and the Queen of Dreams (Schiffer, 2016) is a bedtime picture book about a little girl who resists going to sleep (sound familiar?). Her mother lulls her to sleep with the tale of the Fae Queen in a story based on Mercutio’s soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet. Kids love dinosaurs and kids love pirates, so Dinosaur Pirates (Sterling, 2017) should give them just what they want – a T-rex with a piratey patois!

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The Writing Children’s Picture Books course that Henry Herz took is an elective in both the Children's Book Writing and Children's Book Illustration certificate programs. You can learn more about Henry, his books, and his reviews on his website.



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