By Morgen Baily
Welcome to the five hundred and eighty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s fantasy author Henry Herz. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Henry. Please tell us about your journey to write this book.
Henry: I wanted to share my love of fantasy with my (at the time) five- and seven-year old sons. They were too young 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 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? So, my 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. I had no thoughts of having the book published. But one day, my sister-in-law suggested that I consider publication because she felt the story was much better than a good deal of the books she was seeing for her similarly-aged kids. I thought about it for a while, and decided to give it a try.
The first step was to find the right artist. Once again, my sons were involved, this time in providing art direction. We would explain in words what each illustration should contain. Collaborating remotely via email and DropBox, our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. Nimpentoad came to life, while my boys added another dimension to their experience.
Morgen: What a wonderful story, literally. What led to you self-publish?
Henry: Given the amount of time that had passed, as well as the anticipated challenges with finding an agent or publisher willing to take a chance on an unproven writer, we decided to self-publish. CreateSpace has a fabulous web-based print-on-demand service, backed up by superb customer service support. We were in business!
Well, sort of. We had a good book, but we lacked readers. So, we then embarked upon the most arduous part of our journey – promoting Nimpentoad. Luckily, my boys (dare I say it) are charismatic and precocious, and are comfortable conducting public readings and doing book signings.
Morgen: Marketing has been the answer to ‘What’s your least favourite aspect of your writing life?’ mainly because it’s so time-consuming. What have you done to promote your book?
Henry: I have booked my sons as much as their school schedules would allow. We’ve done readings and signings at San Diego libraries, elementary schools, La Jolla YMCA, the New Children’s Museum, farmer’s markets, book fairs, Mysterious Galaxy Books, Readers Books, Warwick’s Books, and Barnes & Noble. We have books for sale in Mysterious Galaxy, Readers, and Barnes & Noble, as well as online atwww.nimpentoad.com and Amazon.
Morgen: It sounds like you’re having a wonderful time. You mentioned CreateSpace which is for paperbacks, are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Henry: Nimpentoad was originally published in paperback, but recently is now available as an eBook for Kindle (or iPad). We are certainly big fans of eBooks, but also think there is an enduring appeal for paperback illustrated children’s books. There’s just something magical about turning the pages.
Morgen: There is, and very few (I’d say a handful) of authors I’ve spoken to say they prefer eBooks only. If your book was made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Henry: Since our protagonist Nimpentoad is a Nibling, a movie version of our book would have to be animated. That said, if you’re looking for an actor with impeccable skill bringing fantasy creatures to life, first choice has to be Andy Serkis from The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Planet of the Apes.
Morgen: Voice-overs are becoming as popular as seeing the actors act. Most of us are big children, so love animated movies. What’s your next step?
Henry: Our promotional activities have been limited to Southern California (and the Web). We would love to be represented by a literary agent to take Nimpentoad to the next level, broadening our reach. We think the story themes (discouraging bullying, and promoting teamwork, creativity and perseverance), and the meta-story of two boys helping to write and promote a book, send positive messages to elementary school aged kids everywhere.
Morgen: Did you have to do much research?
Henry: One of the pleasures of writing fantasy is that (typically), no research is required. Fantasy authors get to set their own rules!
Morgen: Whilst still being believable. What point of view do you find most to your liking.
Henry: Nimpentoad is a tale narrated in 3rd person. However, to make the story more informal and to draw the reader in more, the narrator occasionally switches to 2nd person to ask the reader questions. Don’t you agree that makes a book more engaging for kids?
Morgen: Although I don’t have children, I’m a big fan of second person, so I’d say, yes, absolutely. I read Ian Livingstone / Steve Jackson’s adventure books as a child and they’re predominantly second person. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Henry: Has anyone ever answered “no” to that question?
Morgen: Some have, yes, but usually because they’ve not written much and have had everything accepted or because they’ve not submitted.
Henry: Well, we don’t have a publisher or literary agent yet, which means “yes”, we’ve had rejections. Rejection can be easily handled with the proper mix of pharmaceuticals, psychotherapy, and alcoholic beverages.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Henry: If you are aspiring, prepare to be perspiring. The journey takes work. If you are writing to be published, understand the publishing process. Realize that you have to build your platform before publishing, and that getting published traditionally and promoting your book after publication involve more work than the writing itself.
Morgen: It does, sadly, but then you’re meeting so many of your readers in person which must make it all worthwhile. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Henry: There was a TV show in the 60′s called Meeting of the Minds based on that great premise. I don’t know how I’d get the guest list down to three. How about: Moses (kosher quail and manna), Leonardo Da Vinci (fettucini alfredo and white wine), an interpreter who speaks English, ancient Hebrew, and medieval Italian (I bet most people forget to invite an interpreter…)
Morgen: I can’t recall anyone saying that, no. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Henry: That is a great question.
Morgen: Thank you. It’s one of the newest…
Henry: I love the words “wee” (thank you, Brits) and “dipthong” (which turns out to be rather disappointing when you learn its meaning). Off the top of my head, some good quotes are:
- “Smooth seas never made a skillful mariner.”
- “The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
- “When men speak ill of you, live so as nobody may believe them.”
- “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
- “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
And yes, I did just put a quote from George Patton adjacent to one from Gandhi.
Morgen: Wee as in ‘small’ presumably, a very Scottish phrase. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Henry: I encourage my co-author sons to be entrepreneurial. So, in addition to being children’s book writers, they also have a couple of web-based businesses:
www.yardcritters.biz – painted concrete animals for your yard (a la garden gnomes)
www.jhbases.com – cast bases with terrain for the Warhammer fantasy miniatures game
Morgen: Wow. You must be so proud of them. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Henry: My “real job” has nothing to do with writing fantasy. I’m a partner in a process improvement consulting firm (www.SDLeanSolutions.com). We help companies become more competitive by shortening timelines, reducing waste, decreasing defects, and more fully engaging their employees.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Henry: We are very active on Facebook (you can Like us on www.facebook.com/Nimpentoad) and Twitter (you can follow @Nimpentoad). It is a great way to increase exposure, make new friends, and make contact with people that may be able to help you.
Morgen: It is, and LinkedIn is great for the latter. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Henry: The subtle themes of our book discourage bullying and promote teamwork, creativity, leadership, and perseverance. As the parent of my two co-authors, I offer the following advice to other parents or teachers. Always look for opportunities to pat your kids on the back for doing something well. Tell them you think highly of them – as Dale Carnegie recommended, give them a good reputation to live up to. Cultivate an open and honest dialog with your kids, so if someone is bullying them, they will tell you about it, and you can decide together how to respond.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Henry: How have you come to embrace the “e” in your name?
Morgen: What an interesting question. I do indeed embrace it because so many people (probably automatically) call me Morgan so ‘Morgen with an e’ has become a bit of a brand in its own right. I’ve also been called other variations including Megan more than once. Despite this I do get other people’s names wrong and I should know better! Thank you, Henry.