Did you know that September 19 was International Talk Like A Pirate Day? You didn’t? Well, I’ll bet today’s interviewee, multi-published author Henry Herz, knew. His latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, published August 1, is overflowing with pirate pizzazz and dinosaur daring.
Let’s find out more about Henry Herz and Cap’n Rex, and a bit about his two sons, too, who’ve helped Henry create four indie-published children’s books!
We don’t often hear about authors working with their children. How did this collaboration begin?
Ten years ago, 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.
Your latest picture book, Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew, is hot off the presses. Tell us a bit about the story.
The kernel of this story was the idea that if kids like pirates and they like dinosaurs, then kids would really like a story that combined both. Sort of a literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. In fact, I was originally going to write about dinosaur SPACE pirates. However, my critique partners reeled me in, and said that was mashing up too many things. So, my big buccaneers set sail in a triceratops trireme, not a spaceship.
The original title was going to be DINOSAUR PIRATES. As the artwork was being finalized, I discovered that another book was coming out with that very title. So, at my suggestion, we changed the title to better reflect the story.
My favorite illustration shows the crew trudging across an island toward the buried treasure. The illustrator, Ben Schipper, did a great job conveying the personality of Cap’n Rex. He’s out in front, of course, as the leader. But he’s got this jaunty walk that just screams self-confidence or perhaps hubris. And we all know what happens to characters that get too full of themselves…
What do you like best about picture books?
From an author’s perspective, I love the challenge of telling a story, conveying a theme, and developing empathetic characters in 500 words. The whole “brevity is the soul of wit” thing. It really is a unique art form that is very little like writing a novel.
From a reader’s perspective, I love how the illustrations add depth and texture, taking the story to a higher level. What I find ironic, and most non-authors don’t realize, is that there is often very little collaboration between the author and illustrator of a picture book. You sell your manuscript to a publisher, and they take your baby and hand it over to a stranger. Authors must trust the illustrator and publisher to make the story even stronger.
What’s your favorite thing about writing and/or writing books for kids?
The fame and fortune! Seriously, I write fantasy and science fiction for kids because (a) it’s fun and challenging at the same time, and (b) I think those genres are particularly powerful ways to spark a child’s imagination and plant the seed for a lifelong love of reading. I still remember to this day escaping into the magical world of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE in my elementary school library. And if I’m doing my job as a writer, the books will have a secondary appeal to the little kid inside all adult readers. I still love picture books, and so should you! Check out JOURNEY by Aaron Becker or THIS IS NOT MY HAT by Jon Klassen to see what I mean.
Any other books set to be published in the near future?
I have three picture books scheduled to be published 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.
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.
Where can fans connect with you online?
Fans can find me at any of the following. I especially recommend the website because it features interviews with successful authors and illustrators, as well as humorous and artistic posts.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Henry! I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for your next books, especially GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE! It sounds perfectly peachy! 🙂
Henry Herz has an engineering Bachelors from Cornell, an engineering Masters from George Washington U., and a national security studies Masters from Georgetown, none of which helps him write fantasy and science fiction for children. He is represented by Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency. 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.