3 Question Interview - HENRY HERZ
I'm happy to feature the prolific author Henry Herz on the blog today! Henry's new book, I AM SMOKE (illustrated by Mercè López, Tilbury House Publishers), is beautiful and so creative. And the extensive backmatter adds an extra dimension to the story. Henry shares about how he is inspired by nature, and discusses stories . . . creativity . . . and connection. Welcome, Henry!
STORIES – Discuss the inspiration for your ideas and stories, and share the process about your latest projects.
I'm inspired by many things in the natural world. I love how much personality dogs possess. I'm amazed that you can cut a piece off of a succulent, stick it in the ground, and grow a brand new succulent. That's like making a whole new person from just a finger! The range of defense mechanisms employed by animals is amazing—from camouflage to squirting ink to being poisonous to mimicking predators.
I find the use of fictional elements to convey facts a great way to engage with young readers and teach them without them realizing it. Fiction can be the melted cheese we pour on top of the broccoli of nonfiction. There are some picture books with anthropomorphic characters, but I'd never seen smoke treated as a character. And who better to explain the various ways in which people have employed smoke over the ages and across the world than smoke itself? I researched wood smoke and discovered it's primarily carbon dioxide, ash, and water vapor. That got me thinking about the water cycle. Then it hit me that trees sequester carbon they extract from breathing in carbon dioxide. Eureka! Smoke has a “cycle” too. Fire releases wood's molecules. Water eventually rains down and trees extract the carbon from the air to grow more wood. The “smoke cycle” became the framework within which I shared some of the many ways smoke has been used to fumigate homes, communicate over distances, cover unpleasant smells, aid beekeepers, flavor and preserve foods, participate in religious ceremonies, and heal.
“I am smoke. I twirl in dark dance from every campfire.”
CREATIVITY -- How do you showcase your creative side through writing/illustrating and other pursuits?
I don't write specifically to showcase my creativity, but writing certainly provides a fun way for me to express my creativity, particularly via mashups, fractured fairy tales, and humor. I think it's fun to combine elements not normally associated with each other—literary Reese's peanut butter cups, if you will. My picture book, CAP'N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW (Sterling), features dinosaur pirates. I also enjoy giving an unexpected twist to familiar tales. My picture book, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH (Pelican), is an underwater version of Little Red Riding Hood. I love injecting humor into my writing, even if it is an adult horror short story. One day while shopping, I spotted an illustrated refrigerator magnet featuring an angry-looking anthropomorphic tomato, lettuce, zucchini, etc. The caption read “Steamed vegetables.” I'm a big fan of wordplay, and at that moment I realized how many food-based idioms are out there. So, I set out to write a food-centric wordplay picture book, and GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE (Schiffer) was the result.
CONNECTION -- How do you connect to your young readers through your writing/illustrating, and how do you stay connected to the KidLit community?
Like all authors, I aspire to connect with young readers through my stories. It is my hope that the tales inspire, uplift, educate, or entertain. If my books encourage them to read more, then I've done my job. But I especially enjoy the connection of meeting kids in person at school visits or other public book events. One of my favorite things in the world is getting fan mail from kids where they've illustrated a scene from my book.
I stay connected to the KidLit community primarily through social media. Social media provides an easy way for me to interact with fellow authors, illustrators, teachers, and librarians all over the world. In fact, two of the three authors who blurbed I AM SMOKE I've never met in person, only via social media.
Henry Herz has authored 11 traditionally published books for children: MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES, WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY, MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, CAP'N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW, HOW THE SQUID GOT TWO LONG ARMS, ALICE'S MAGIC GARDEN, GOOD EGG AND BAD APPLE, 2 PIRATES + 1 ROBOT, THE MAGIC SPATULA, and I AM SMOKE.
He also wrote over 25 traditionally published short stories, including for Daily Science Fiction, Blackstone Publishing, Albert Whitman & Co., Highlights for Children, and Ladybug Magazine. He edited three anthologies: BEYOND THE PALE, COMING OF AGE (Albert Whitman & Co., MG #ownvoices), and THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE (Blackstone Publishing, YA horror).
CONNECT WITH HENRY: