henryherz.com

Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


1 Comment

Interview with picture book author/illustrator Benson Shum

Benson Shum enjoys creating and telling stories through animation and illustration. He has worked in the animation industry for seventeen years with various studios including, Sony Pictures Imageworks, DHX Media, Rainmaker, Atomic Cartoons, Bardel Entertainment and Sesame Workshop. Benson is also an Animator at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios, where he was a part of such films as Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana. His inspiration comes from his love of children’s book illustrations, and observation of the little things in life. I met Benson at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

For what age audience do you write?
I like to write picture books for young readers.  No specific genres. If I find something inspiring, I’ll try to write something about that!

Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is HOLLY’S DAY AT THE POOL with Disney-Hyperion.  It’s about a little Hippo called Holly, and how she overcomes her fear of the water.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
I hope the readers take away that we all can be brave even when we are scared.  We can find the courage within.

Henry: Ah, my LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH has the same theme.

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?
What I find most challenging when writing or illustrating is when I can’t quite find the story-telling pose for the character, or find the right words to describe a situation. But when you do find it, it’s really satisfying.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer/illustrator?
That’s a hard one. The most powerful lesson I’ve learned from this book is actually after the book was done and seeing how the kids reacted.  Whether through your illustrations or words, to see how a child reacts or attaches themselves to the characters you create is pretty amazing.

Henry: Yup, that’s the money shot.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors or illustrators?
I would say try to create a story with one drawing. If you can, then you are half way there.  A drawing can say a thousand words.

Henry: I’m only an author. Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

Do you have any favorite quotes?
I heard this quote from my teacher a long time again.  He said KISS – Keep it simple stupid.  I try to apply to my work whether when I’m animating at Disney or writing and illustrating.  I think it’s a great idea! Haha. Simplicity is key.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
If I could have one superpower, it would be to fly!  so I can travel the world! Haha

Henry: Free airfare, and very green!

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with JK Rowling, Quentin Blake and Mary Blair.  I probably wouldn’t say anything, as I’ll be super nervous, haha, but would love to hear their story and process.

Henry: Wow, some unusual choices. Wikipedia helpfully offers:

“Sir Quentin Saxby Blake, CBE, FCSD, FRSL, RDI is an English cartoonist, illustrator and children’s writer. He may be known best for illustrating books written by Roald Dahl. For his lasting contribution as a children’s illustrator he won the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2002, the highest recognition available to creators of children’s books. From 1999 to 2001 he was the inaugural British Children’s Laureate. He is a patron of the Association of Illustrators.

Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, was an American artist who was prominent in producing art and animation for The Walt Disney Company, drawing concept art for such films as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Song of the South and Cinderella. Blair also created character designs for enduring attractions such as Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, the fiesta scene in El Rio del Tiempo in the Mexico pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase, and an enormous mosaic inside Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Several of her illustrated children’s books from the 1950s remain in print, such as I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss. Blair was inducted into the prestigious group of Disney Legends in 1991.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
Mermaids would be one my favorite creatures.  The idea of a person and a fish, is pretty incredible.  There is a whole other world in the ocean that we don’t know about and I find that fascinating!

Henry: Mermaids aren’t real!? Thanks for nothing, Benson! 🙂

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to paint, sketch, hang out with friends and watch mindless TV!

Where can readers find your work?
At my website, http://www.bensonshum.com, or on Instagram/Twitter: @bshum79

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Benson.


1 Comment

Interview with NY Times bestselling picture book author Jean Reagan

Jean Reagan is an award-winning picture book author from Salt Lake City, Utah.  Her “HOW TO” series which started with HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA and HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA (illustrated by Lee Wildish), regularly makes the NYT Bestseller and the Indie Bestseller lists.

Jean’s first book, ALWAYS MY BROTHER (illustrated by Phyllis Pollema-Cahill), a story about sibling loss, was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.

Each summer she and her husband serve as wilderness volunteer rangers in Grand Teton National Park, living without electricity or running water. If you ever visit the Tetons, stop by her cabin for a cup of tea!

Henry: but apparently you must bring your own water…

For what age audience do you write?

I write picture books for ages 2 to 8. Many picture book authors aspire to write for older kids or to illustrate their own books. Not me! I absolutely lack those talents.

Henry: I can barely draw stick figures. As I’m still honing my writing, the thought of climbing the learning curve on illustrating is just too daunting for me. As Dirty Harry says, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Tell us about your latest book.

In HOW TO RAISE A MOM, two siblings share tips and tricks on raising a happy, healthy mom. The tongue-and-cheek role reversal offers a humorous take on daily routines.

HOW TO GET A TEACHER READY is out in early July. In the same instructional style, a class of students takes the readers through a fun and busy school year.

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

Lots of giggles. Also—especially in this digital age where everyone is plugged in—I hope to create opportunities for real connections between kids and their adults. So, between all the wild and crazy fun, I sprinkle tender moments.

Our son passed away eleven years ago, and I make a point of including a little bit of him in everything I write. Tapping his tenderness helps keep my silliness grounded.

Henry: So sorry for your loss. It’s wonderful that he gets to be in your writing.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

I love brainstorming. I love revising. Everything between is challenging. And sadly, critique buddies and editors are primarily helpful with brainstorming and revising. I struggle alone with the remaining 95%. In fact, with each book I hit a stage where I yell, “It’s hopeless! Impossible!” I call this my I-might-as-well-do-dishes-because-at-least-I-know-how-to-do-dishes phase.

Henry: Um, isn’t WRITING what’s between brainstorming and revising? 🙂 Still, the dishes ain’t gonna’ wash themselves.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Questions and comments from kids blow me away.

At one book launch, the first question was, “Have you ever ridden an elephant?” Of course, my book had NOTHING to do with elephants, but I loved it! There’s no other profession where after a presentation you’re asked cool questions like that.

Or another time at a school I brainstormed with kids for ideas for my MOM book. When I solicited suggestions to cheer up a tired or sick mom, a second-grader who had a full-time aide blurted out, “I’d tell her how amazing the world is!” Wow!

Henry: I HAVE ridden an elephant, but I’ve never been asked that question, darnit!

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

I’ll skip the practical advice like: join SCBWI, start a critique group, enter writing contests, submit to magazines, and Read! Read! Read!

My advice?

Channel your inner worrywart. What weaknesses do you hide from others? What vulnerabilities did you feel as a kid? What fears did you have? Your answers will lead to stories that foster courage, gentleness, and kindness. Add a dose of humor to keep things light. If you’ve never been a worrywart, I have no advice. Sorry.

Give yourself a time limit. After I’d received 200 rejections and I was ready to quit, my husband suggested, “Give it two more years.” This “deadline” motivated me in two ways: 1. “Yay! I don’t have to keep chasing this crazy dream forever! I only have to endure the pain for two years!” And, 2. “Whoa! I only have two years. I better crank up my efforts and grab every opportunity!” P.S. I sold my first manuscript before the deadline. Phew.

Henry: Indeed, writing is not for the indefatigable nor the thin-skinned.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

When I felt deeply discouraged as I opened three rejection letters, all addressed to “Dear Author,” my son said to me, “But, Mom. They’re calling you author.” This quote kept me motivated, especially after he died.

Henry: You’re my first interviewee to quote their child. Way to find the silver lining!

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

I stay in my pajamas because it keeps me working instead of running errands or playing in my garden.

Another ritual is I read CALVIN AND HOBBES when my enthusiasm for a project wanes. I totally count that as work time.

Henry: I’d also treat your CALVIN AND HOBBES purchases as tax deductible research.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

My summer gig keeps me hiking and canoeing every day for three months. I rarely write at all during that time. The rest of the year I try to squeeze in hikes when I can.

Henry: It’s a rare author who can write and canoe simultaneously. Plus the laptop gets soaked.

Where can readers find your work?

My books are available wherever books are sold. Personally I support Indie bookstores!

If you’d like to learn more about me, my books, or my summer job as a volunteer park ranger, visit http://www.jeanreagan.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, as JeanReaganBooks. Or stop by the Leigh Lake patrol cabin in Grand Teton National Park. (BTW, I’m not on Wikipedia, but our cabin is!)

Henry: I had the pleasure of meeting Jean at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Thank you for spending time with us Jean.


Leave a comment

Fun Times at LA Times Festival of Books 2017

I attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Here are photos from that event.

Always a good way to start an event…

I got to meet Karen Lechelt, debut picture book author/illustrator of WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOU? Bonus fact: she has a French Bulldog, so you know she’s cool.

John Rocco introduced me to graphic novelist and picture book illustrator Matt Phelan.

Then John hopped up on stage and worked his magic.

I wandered around the booths, and found the dynamic duo of Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett signing books.

In the audience of the Children’s Stage, I bumped into friend Salina Yoon, author/illustrator of PENGUIN AND PINECONE, and met Jean Reagan, author of HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDPA.

On stage, we were regaled by a duck hat-wearing David Shannon, author/illustrator of NO, DAVID!

Lee Wind moderated a graphic novel panel with Faith Erin Hicks, Matt Phelan, and Cecil Castellucci.

I wandered some more, and found James Burks, author/illustrator of BIRD & SQUIRREL, Amy Sarig King, author of ME AND MARVIN GARDENS, and Jarrett Krosoczka, author/illustrator of LUNCH LADY at the Once Upon a Storytime booth.

Author/illustrator Jon Klassen and author Mac Barnett read their picture books EXTRA YARN and TRIANGLE to us. Best part: a kid in the audience said “I have THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT”, leading Mac to talk about how Drew Daywalt planted the kid in the audience to promote book sales.

Here is the exuberant Megan McDonald, author of the JUDY MOODY series.

This is a life-sized Olivia.

Lastly, we were entertained by the lively Adam Rubin, author of DRAGONS LOVE TACOS, ably assisted by a dragon.


Leave a comment

Good Times at WonderCon 2017

My sons and I had a great time attending WonderCon yesterday.


We had beautiful SoCal weather.


Comic conventions always boast entertaining food trucks.


A well-designed Gen. Grievous costume from Star Wars.


With author/illustrator Will Terry at his booth.


With NY Times bestseller and Caldecott honoree, John Rocco.


I moderated a rock star KidLit author/illustrator panel with Joe Cepeda, Stacia Deutsch, Eliza Wheeler, John Rocco and Marla Frazee.


Signing books after the panel, next to Caldecott honorees John Rocco and Marla Frazee (looking like the cat that ate the canary)


Leave a comment

My excellent adventure at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival

I had a terrific time at the 2017 Charlotte Huck Children’s Literature Festival.

henryyuyi
I registered for the conference, and popped into the festival book store, run by Frugal Frigate. I look to my left, and there’s Caldecott Honoree and Pura Belpre Medalist, Yuyi Morales!

yuyipresents
Yuyi gave the keynote address on the first day. Her description of the work involved in creating her book Viva Frida was captivating.

schwartz
David Schwartz talked about helping kids wonder about what they read. Here he is unfurling a banner with one million stars on it.

georgeellalyon
I listened to the delightful George Ella Lyon speak about poem and picture books.

yuyiselfie
At the book signing, I got to meet Caldecott Medalist Brian Floca. I asked Yuyi Morales to take a photo, but she took a selfie by mistake.

henrybrian1
Here, Yuyi’s photography skills improved. Me with Brian Floca.

herzflocasigning
The next day, I got to sit next to Brian for another book signing.

emilyarrow
The conference attendees got a surprise song via Skype from Emily Arrow.

flocapresents
Then, Brian Floca presented about his writing/illustrating process.

henrypanel
I moderated a panel, Research for Picture Books, with David Schwartz, Brian Floca, and Lois Harris.

pammunozryan
The conference wrapped up with a lovely presentation by Newbery Honoree Pam Munoz Ryan. Good times.


Leave a comment

Interview with middle grade novelist Henry Neff

Henry H. Neff is the author and illustrator of the five-book fantasy epic THE TAPESTRY, along with his newest creation, IMPYRIUM, which Entertainment Weekly named the #1 Middle Grade Book of 2016. Henry lives with his wife and two sons in Montclair, NJ.

neffhenry

For what age audience do you write?

My books are usually classified as middle grade fantasy, but I don’t really write for a specific audience or age group. I simply try to tell a story I find entertaining and figure the audience will sort itself out. While that certainly includes 8-12 years olds, I’d say almost half my readers are teenagers and adults. My stories are categorized as fantasy because they contain magic but you’ll also find lots of history, mythology, and even science fiction. They’re a genre stew.

Henry H.: Speculative fiction goulash. A potpourri of preposterous plot particles.

Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent work is IMPYRIUM (HarperCollins, October 2016). It’s the first in a trilogy that takes place in a distant future when our world is dominated by magical humans, most notably the godlike Faeregines, whose family has ruled the empire over 3,000 years. Unfortunately for the Faeregines, the family’s magic has been fading, and their many enemies have noticed. The story has two main characters: Hazel Faeregine, who is an outcast within the royal family, and Hob Smythe, a non-magical commoner and undercover revolutionary that serves (and spies) within the palace. Some have joked that it’s Game of Thrones—for kids! In addition to writing the story, I create all the interior art and maps. It’s been a lot of fun.

Henry H.: I enjoyed reading IMPYRIUM. My brain unconsciously kept translating Faeregines as Fae peregrines. Elvish falcons!

What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?

First and foremost, I want them to be entertained. But I also want readers to be challenged, and to make deep and lasting connections with the characters. I rarely work in black and white, and strive to give my heroes flaws and the villains motivation beyond simply being bad guys. There are some tricky topics broached in IMPYRIUM having to do with class, opportunity, the use of power, and institutional decay. As in real life, there are no easy answers to complex questions. Everything involves a tradeoff and there is usually another side to the story.

Henry H.: If we could peek inside villains’ heads, I suspect most of them wouldn’t consider themselves villainous. I agree with you that complex villains are so much more interesting. Gollum is much more intriguing than the uniformly evil Nazgul.

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

My rough drafts are painfully slow, as I suffer from a tendency to over-plan and edit while writing them. Having a roadmap is helpful, but excessive planning can smother creative spontaneity. Revising while writing kills momentum and can lead to losing sight of the forest, and instead obsessing over individual trees. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d write rougher drafts and take far less time doing so. If anyone is in possession of such a wand, please get in touch.

Henry H.: Unplug your computer mouse. You can only type. You cannot go back and edit (until the first draft is done). You’re welcome.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?

When in doubt, trust your gut — even if it’s telling you to do something that seems weird or risky. There’s no guarantee of success, but I believe this leads to better stories, a more interesting life, and fewer regrets. No one spends their final moments wishing they’d been more conventional.

Henry H.: However, one should take care not to extend this advice too far. Just because your gut says that a 300-page dystopian picture book sounds like a fun project, you should probably skip it.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?

Does having a family qualify? I reconnected with a former classmate (we attended the same elementary school) after my first book, The Hound of Rowan, was published. Danielle read it, sent a nice note, and we caught up the next time I was in New York (I was living in San Francisco at the time). A decade later we’re living happily in Montclair, NJ with our two beautiful boys. If I hadn’t left the corporate world to teach and write, I’d probably be alone with a bigger bank account and a lot less happiness.

Henry H.: Best. Answer. Ever.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Get your drafts down quickly, grow a thick skin, and truly embrace revision. Also, don’t over-romanticize the profession. This last one is important. Having talked with many aspiring authors, I’ve noticed that some believe publication is the ticket to fame and riches. I can tell you firsthand that it is not, and there are very few children’s authors that can live solely on their writing income, much less amass anything resembling wealth. If being rich and famous is your goal, there are more reliable paths than making children’s books. Write because you have stories to tell and enjoy telling them. If your book becomes a bestseller, GREAT! But don’t allow that to be your goal, much less your reason for writing.

Henry H.: All excellent advice. If I may elaborate, Henry’s thick skin comment refers to both dealing with agent/editor rejections, and unfavorable book reviews. Take solace that ALL authors get rejected. And don’t read reviews of your books. The positive ones don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, and the negative ones are depressing.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” from Catch-22, and “Just keep swimming” by the ever-buoyant Dory. The former appeals to the wry cynic in me; the latter to my chipper optimist. It’s the Frosted Mini-Wheats of quotation pairings.

Henry H.: “There is no such thing as paranoia. Your worst fears can come true at any moment.” – Hunter S. Thompson
“Fish are friends, not food.” – Bruce the Great White Shark

Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you work?

When I settle in to write, it’s usually with a pot of coffee, noise-cancelling headphones, and Tchaikovsky’s “Arabian Dance” on repeat. There’s something about that piece I find conducive to writing. It has a soothing, almost hypnotic quality that helps put my brain in work mode. According to iTunes it’s been played over 23,000 times, so I’d say that qualifies as a ritual. I also pay tribute to Cthulhu.

Henry H.: “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”
“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
Yeah, that’s soothing…

If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Forget flying. My super power would be the ability to write a rough draft in four months or less. I would weep with joy. So would my editor.

Henry H.: A modest, but practical superpower. Well played.

If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?

J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, and Philip Pullman. Tolkien because he’s the granddaddy of modern fantasy, LeGuin because she’s a marvelous writer whose penned iconic works in both fantasy and science fiction, and Pullman because I think “His Dark Materials” is not only brilliant but fearless. The dynamic would be an interesting one. I’d love to hear Tolkien spar with Pullman about whether The Lord of the Rings has merit beyond a basic children’s story (Pullman’s been highly dismissive of Tolkien’s work as anything resembling literature or even a children’s story of moderate depth). It would be fun to witness two opinionated, scholarly writers have at it. Meanwhile, I could ask Ursula how she manages to craft stories that portray both magic and daily life with such lyrical beauty and realism. I was tempted to resurrect Patrick O’Brien whose Aubrey-Maturin are my favorite books, but I’ve heard he was a superior, standoffish fellow. Sorry Patrick, you can’t come. If I could add a fourth, it would probably be Neil Gaiman. I admire his work and he seems the type to bring a good bottle or two.

Henry H.: That is one high-powered dinner soiree. But the pressure! You know they’re silently correcting your grammar.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

There’s a quotation in Impyrium attributed to a long-dead playwright that reads Keep your basilisks and harpies, your trolls and goblins. There is only one true monster and its name is Dragon. I should note, however, that the dragons I’m talking about aren’t overgrown lizards that are fodder for enterprising heroes. The dragons I’m talking about are mythological entities whose being is tied to some aspect of Nature or the cosmos. In my books, there are only a handful of dragons and they are ancient, godlike creatures whose mere presence is utterly overwhelming to mortals.

Henry H.: Dragon Is correct. Would you like to try Mythological Creatures for $400?

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Mostly, I chase my kids around. We have two young boys, ages five and three. They keep me pretty busy. Fortunately, I enjoy Legos, frozen waffles, and toilet humor.

Henry H.: The only thing scarier than a dragon is stepping barefoot on a Lego.

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

“No vacancy.”

Henry H.: Wouldn’t it be preferable if your tomb remained vacant? Just sayin’.

Where can readers find your work?

You can probably find IMPYRIUM in your local bookstore or library, along with any of the major chains or online retailers. My first series, The Tapestry, can be purchased online and found in the odd bookstore with exceptional taste. My books also have digital and audio versions and some have been translated into a variety of foreign languages. For more information, you can visit my website at http://www.henryhneff.com

Thanks for spending time with us, Henry.