Henry Herz and I met at the Gaithersburg Book Festival last year. I was sellin’ some books at the SCBWI table, and we got to talking about our mutual love of Shakespeare (his gorgeously illustrated MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS is a picture book based on the Queen Mab speech from ROMEO & JULIET). I’m thrilled he wanted to share his thoughts about writing and to talk about his adorable new picture book!
Tell us about your newest project.
I’m very excited about it. My picture book, CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW, comes out in August from Sterling (the publishing arm of Barnes & Noble). Captain Rex and his dinosaur pirates sail the seven seas in search of buried treasure. But whenever they hit an obstacle—like a giant shark or pea-soup fog—the crew members are quick to say they can’t overcome. To this, Captain Rex always glares with teeth bared and says, “CAN’T YE?” And, somehow, the crew always comes up with a clever solution. The book has already received positive reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.
What was your inspiration?
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?
Is there a common theme in your books?
No, each of my books has its own theme. Well, except MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, which has no theme because it’s simply a collection of fractured nursery rhymes. WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY conveys that it’s the thought that counts. LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH teaches young readers to be brave. And CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW has a theme of thinking outside the box and persistence.
What was your favorite picture book when you were little?
That’s easy! WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. I must have borrowed it from the elementary school library a dozen times. I loved the illustrations. You know it’s a good book when you want to leap into the pages and explore. I loved the idea that a kid could hang out with (relatively) friendly monsters. It probably sparked my lifelong love of reading fantasy.
Was there a book that inspired you to want to write?
Surprisingly not, but that’s because I began writing for children when I drafted a chapter book, NIMPENTOAD, to get my young (at that time) sons interested in reading fantasy. It was originally intended just for them, and used images grabbed from the Web for illustrations. But we got such encouraging feedback, that we ended up hiring an illustrator and self-publishing it. That’s when the writing bug bit me.
What makes you laugh and does that influence your writing?
Many things make me laugh: Cute animals, young kids, clever word play, and irony. In 2018, I have a picture book coming out, HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, which uses the irony of the protagonist’s self-delusion (think of Jon Klassen’s THIS IS NOT MY HAT) for humorous effect. Next year will also feature another picture book, GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE, which is loaded with food-based word play. Here’s the pitch: 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.
What is your day job? How does it inspire your writing? Does it ever get in the way?
My day job is as a process improvement analyst. That means I study how companies do things, and make recommendations for how they can reduce costs, save time, increase quality, and improve customer satisfaction. It’s very analytical, and has nothing to do with my writing. But, neither does it get in the way. Nor should it, since I don’t buy the theory that people are either analytical or creative. I do plot out my stories (even picture books). So, I suppose being analytical is helpful for that.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers, young or old?
The short version is: hone your craft and be persistent.
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/
Who would win in a fight: Queen Mab or a dinosaur pirate?
Since the Queen of the Fae only visits people when they’re sleeping, even a ferocious T-rex buccaneer would be helpless against her magic.
Where can we learn more about your books?