Guest Author: Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nHenry 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 -3August 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?

 

when-you-give-an-imp-a-penny-book-coverIs 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.

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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.

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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?image5

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?

At my website at www.henryherz.com and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/henry.herz/

Using Picture Books to Interest Young Readers in New Genres – by author Henry Herz

13240064_1100770546649029_4587016448810551750_nI was lucky enough to meet Henry Herz on a cold, spring, rainy day under the SCBWI tent at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I was selling books and chatting with awesome kids, teens, parents and authors, when Henry came up explaining that he, among other topics, wrote Shakespeare-inspired books for kids. His books are gorgeous, he’s great, and I’m thrilled he wanted to guest post here. Check out his newest venture MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, inspired by Queen Mab from Romeo and Juliet.

 

 

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NY Times bestsellers Brandon Sanderson, Maggie Steifvater, Kami Garcia, Jonathan Maberry & Zac (Heather) Brewer

 

I love fantasy. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are hooked me in elementary school. And J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings sealed the deal. I write fantasy picture books, like When You Give an Imp a Penny. I moderate fantasy literature panels at San Diego Comic-Con. I even edited a dark anthology, Beyond the Pale, featuring short stories by fantasy greats Saladin Ahmed, Peter Beagle, Zac Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip, and Jane Yolen.

As a parent, I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my young sons. I hit upon the idea of writing a fantasy story for them. This turned out to be a pivotal moment for me personally, as it led to my discovering a passion for writing children’s literature. But it also gave me a useful insight. If I wanted my sons to one day read The Lord of the Rings and other great fantasy novels, starting them on fantasy picture books could be a good way to plant that seed. A third unexpected boon was that my sons didn’t just read that story. They gave me feedback, essentially becoming junior co-authors. The fruit of that labor was our self-published fantasy early chapter book, Nimpentoad.

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I also fondly remember reading Bullfinch’s Mythology as an older kid. After a couple of years honing my writing craft, another inspiration struck. Why not write an anthology of fractured nursery rhymes that substituted mythological creatures for some of the original characters? Surely that might interest kids in reading mythology. The result was our first traditionally published book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes.

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Hey Doblin, doblin, the gnome and the goblin. The centaur ran through the lawn. / The minotaur laughed to see such sport, and the imp ran away with the fawn.

Although I’d been reading fantasy my whole life, it wasn’t until I had the pleasure of meeting author Kevin Hearne that I discovered urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy set in an urban setting, typically in contemporary times. Note that the boundary between the subgenres of urban fantasy and paranormal romance is blurry. The use of magic and/or the lack of a romantic focus can help distinguish urban fantasy from paranormal romances like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, and Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

I devoured Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, and went on to enjoy other urban fantasies like The Exile by C.T. Adams, Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Weather Warden series by Rachel Caine, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Magicians series by Lev Grossman, Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, Rebel Angels by Gillian Philip, and Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (yes, technically it’s middle grade/young adult urban fantasy).

image4So, if I could plant literary seeds for fantasy and mythology, why not try urban fantasy? The answer to that question became the bedtime picture book, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams from Schiffer Publishing. 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. The fae queen paints children’s dreams, so she can only visit when their eyes are closed. As Mom’s tale unfolds, Mabel gradually transitions from sitting on her bed, to slipping her feet under the covers, to laying her head on her pillow, to finally closing her eyes.

“Wait,” you ask. “Doesn’t the presence of the fae queen make this a fairy tail?” I’m glad you asked. The story’s contemporary urban setting violates Tolkien’s definition of a fairy tale. The story takes place in the “real” world, rather than in Faërie. So, Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, though featuring a fairy, is urban fantasy, not fairy tale, or as Tolkien preferred, Märchen (wonder tale).

image5But wait, there’s more! Mabel and the Queen of Dreams is inspired by Mercutio’s soliloquy in Romeo & Juliet, in which he details how the tiny fairy queen Mab influences people’s dreams as she passes by in her flying chariot. An author’s note provides the original Shakespearean language. So, this story serves double duty, planting seeds of interest in both urban fantasy and Shakespeare. *drops mic*

Regardless of subgenre, I hope readers will find in my story what Tolkien posited for Märchen generally. “Far more powerful and poignant is the effect [of joy] in a serious tale of Faërie. In such stories, when the sudden turn comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through.”

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