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

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.


2 Comments

Interview with NY Times bestselling children’s book illustrator Tim Bowers

Tim Bowers is a children’s book illustrator. His first picture book was published in 1986. Since then, he has illustrated over 45 other titles. A couple of the titles have landed on the New York Times best seller list. His art is usually filled with animals and humor…and people, when needed. Tim currently lives in Granville, Ohio with his beautiful wife. They have four talented grown children and are proud grandparents.

bowerstim

For what age audience do you illustrate?

I illustrate for all ages, but mostly for children. I hear from many parents who have enjoyed my books as much as their kids. That’s especially true for my title, MEMOIRS OF A GOLDFISH by Devin Scillian. A very funny story.

Henry: Sounds like quite a fish tale…

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is FOOTLOOSE by Kenny Loggins. Kenny re-wrote his 80’s hit song, Footloose, into a kid’s version, which includes a zoo keeper (who, I’m told, looks a lot like Captain Kangaroo), dancing animals and a couple of curious kids.

What do you hope readers will get from that book?

When your life is a total zoo…DANCE!

Seriously, it’s a fun story about two kids who sneak into the zoo just before closing. The zoo keeper and animals have a great dance party under a full moon. The party continues until sunrise.  Kids can read the story, follow the illustrations and listen to the song (a CD is included in the book). So, I hope kids will put on their dancin’ shoes and have fun!

Henry: Fun! And now you’re only one degree away from Kevin Bacon.

“Now I gotta cut loose
Footloose, kick off the Sunday shoes
Please, Louise, pull me off of my knees
Jack, get back, come on before we crack
Lose your blues, everybody cut footloose”

What aspect of illustrating do you find most challenging?

A children’s book is a long project: from character development, sketches and book dummy to the final art. It takes focus and endurance to keep the process moving forward. There are times during the painting of the final art that seem to move at a snail’s pace. My mind seems to wander during those times. I’ll think of new book projects, other art techniques to explore, people I’d like to meet, a good name for a pet elephant, how would I even get a pet elephant?, would I rather have an elephant or a monkey?… and guitars, wish I could practice more, wish I could buy another guitar.

Then, I snap out of it and get back to the final artwork. Come to think of it, I’ve had this problem since childhood. Focus, focus, focus.

Henry: Would You Rather Have a Monkey or an Elephant sounds like a great picture book idea. Thanks!

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

Art is a powerful tool used to tell a story, deliver a message or share an idea. I want to use my talent to help deliver positive messages and good ideas and stories to viewers and readers. That’s why I like to illustrate children’s books.

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

There are a lot of them. I’ve been to hundreds of elementary schools to share my experiences and talk to students about making art for picture books. I love talking to kids and sharing my art with them. I wouldn’t have had that type of a connection without being an illustrator.

I’ve also worked with some celebrities because of my illustrations. I illustrated DREAM BIG, LITTLE PIG! by Kristi Yamaguchi. Without the illustration connection, I probably would not have worked with Kristi because I’m a lousy skater. I’ve also illustrated books by Neil Sedaka (DINOSAUR PET) and Kenny Loggins (FOOTLOOSE). I’m not in their social circles, and I need a lot more practice on my guitar so being an illustrator got me those “gigs”.

I guess the “powerful lesson” would be that being an illustrator has allowed me to connect with people through stories, from children learning to read to well-known people with stories to share.

Henry: I’d pay good money to watch you play guitar while ice skating. Triple axle!

What advice would you give to aspiring children’s book illustrators?

Surround yourself with books. Study the great picture book art of the past, explore current art trends, and use the best of both to create your own personal voice.

Work on your craft. Draw. Learn the elements of visual story telling/sequential art. Draw more. Strive to create art that connects emotionally to the reader. In most books, the words and art must unify to tell a clear story. Practice working with text, using your art to compliment the written word. Then, draw some more.

Much can be learned by connecting with groups like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI.org).

So, three things that I would suggest: One- work to improve your art skills, Two- learn about the business/process of creating children’s books, and Three- make connections (network) with people in the biz: editors, authors, designers and others who are pursuing your same goals.

Henry: Four – get an elephant. Or a monkey.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

I have a huge file of quotes. Here are a few of my favorites for today:

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.”
– Miles Davis

“I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. This makes planning the day difficult.”
– E.B. White

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
– Charles M. Schulz

Henry:

“Every dog has his day, unless he loses his tail, then he has a weak-end.”
– June Carter Cash

“What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower

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

Hmmm, let’s see. I usually listen to music, have a cup of coffee by my side and try to keep focused on the task at hand (see earlier answer about staying focused). I find it extremely hard to work if my paintbrush isn’t just right for the job…if it’s lost the sharp point, too big, too stiff. The wrong brush can drive me crazy. Brushes wear out after a while, so I have a container filled with hundreds of those retired brushes. I often work better at night. Between 11pm and 3am seems to be an easier time to focus. I can’t think of anything else that might apply…Hey, did I tell you that my Grandpa had a monkey?  Would you rather have a monkey or an elephant?  Oh, sorry… where were we?

Henry: Life’s too short to use the wrong brush.

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

The power to heal at will. I could eliminate the pain of people suffering from abuse, burns, cancer and accidents… as a starter. It breaks my heart to see kids who suffer in life. Having wings would also be cool but then what? You fly around. That would be nice but I think that healing would be my superpower. But, having two powers, flying around AND healing, would be even better. I’d like to negotiate for two superpowers, if that’s ok.

Henry: Ah, the old “wish for more wishes” ploy. Healing is a lovely wish.

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

The Apostle Paul…because he was there.
Kate DiCamillo…because her work is full of heart and humor. One of my very favorite story tellers.
Cynthia Rylant… because her work is full of heart and humor. Another one of my very favorite story tellers.
There are so many amazingly talented authors (I’ve worked with a lot of them), so I’d have to have a few more dinners.

Henry: Trying to break the rules again? I sense a trend. 🙂

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I’d have to go with dragons. I’ve illustrated a great dragon book, NOT YOUR TYPICAL DRAGON by Dan Bar-El. Mermaids would come in a close second place…who doesn’t like mermaids? I’ve illustrated one book with a mermaid, Sometimes I wonder if POODLES LIKE NOODLES by Laura Numeroff.  I created some “Mer-mutts” (dog mermaids) in THE ADVENTURES OF UNDERWATER DOG by Jan Wahl, but that probably doesn’t count.

Henry: The blog judges rule that Mer-mutts is an acceptable response.

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

I play the guitar. I do more listening to great players than playing but I’m always thinking about guitars. I also have a beautiful ukulele and mandolin (my grandpa, who had a monkey, was also a mandolin player). They get less playing time than my guitars. I also like to fish. I only had time to fish a couple of times, this summer. That’s why I didn’t have you over for a big fish fry, Henry. I really like to golf, but I’ve only done that several times. My kids bought me a new set of clubs for father’s day, so I need to golf more often.

This question is leading me to believe that maybe I work too much. I have a lot of interests but don’t seem to have much time outside of my work schedule. I think I need more balance in that area. Thanks for bringing it up, Henry.

Henry: You’re welcome, Tim. You should definitely have more fish fries. I’ll even bring the fish!

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I’m not sure but here’s another quote that might apply:

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Henry:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
– Henry David Thoreau

Where can readers find your work?

In children’s books at your local library or bookstore. On line, you can visit my website: http://www.timbowers.com/ and my blog: timbowersart.blogspot.com.

Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim!


1 Comment

Interview with graphic novel/picture book author/illustrator Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is an author and artist of graphic novels and picture books. His notable works include the ZITA THE SPACEGIRL TRILOGY, the Eisner award-winning LITTLE ROBOT, and the picture book JULIA’S HOUSE FOR LOST CREATURES.

hatkeben

For what age audience do you write, and in what genre?

My comics are mostly classed as “middle grade” but I really try to write for everybody. I also make picture books which are even more for everybody. As to genre, I tend toward fantasy and science fiction. I tend to add swords and robots and goblins to just about everything I touch.

Henry: You complete me. Fantasy makes everything better. And cowbells.

Tell us about your latest book.

MIGHTY JACK is a two-book, modern-day, graphic novel retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story.

Henry: Fun! I’m a big fan (and writer) of fractured fairy tales.

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

A sense of wonder.

Henry: Wonder at the world you created, or wonder at what goes in inside your head?

What aspect of writing or illustrating do you find most challenging?

It’s all challenging, and really, the challenges are the best part. Except for drawing cars. That’s just terrible no matter how you look at it.

Henry: Conversely, I can only draw cars. Ha! Let’s collaborate on a fantasy picture book: DON’T LET THE DRAGON DRIVE THE BUS.

What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being an author/illustrator?

You never know who will be touched by your books, or how. It’s incredibly humbling to see both kids and adults connecting to some crazy story you made up.

Henry: Right! Which is why it is so important to weave a positive theme in one’s story.

What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been an author/illustrator?

There have been many. In 2014, I was invited by my French publisher to the big comic festival in Angoulême. It was such an amazing week that I cried at the end.

Henry: Oo la la! Not only do they host the Angoulême International Comics Festival, but “the commune has been awarded four flowers by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.”

hatke-angouleme

What advice would you give to aspiring authors/illustrators?

Make things and share things all the time. Creativity is a habit, and the more you do it the better your work will become.

Henry: For example, Ben posts sketches on Facebook.

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

You know, I honestly can’t think of anything…

Henry: Uh huh. Really? A guy who teaches his daughter to shoot flaming arrows has no strange work rituals?

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

The ability to know with certainty, once a day, when and where something terrible was going to happen. Everything else can be planned for.

Henry: Coupled with the power to NOT BE THERE.

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

C.S. Lewis: because I feel like he’s my fairy godfather, my Serious Black.
Neil Gaiman: because very early on I modeled many of my career goals after his career, and boy do I have questions for him.
Jane Austin: because she has hilarious insight into human nature that make me think she’d be lots of fun at dinner, and because my street cred would be through the roof.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Rothfuss, because we got to be friends while arguing in front of a full room at Comic-Con last year.
Extra Honorable Mention: Cory Doctorow, because he’s fun and I think my wife would get a huge kick out of arguing with him.

Henry: By the way, I was in that room at Comic-Con (as was Laini Taylor) when you and Patrick spoke. I watched the bromance bloom in person. You guys were great.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

That …whew, that can change from day to day. Goblins, though. I think Goblins are my steady. I love those filthy little guys.

Henry: Didn’t see that coming AT ALL from the author/illustrator of NOBODY LIKES A GOBLIN… I loved the wink at Dungeons & Dragons.

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

It’s really hard for me to distinguish my hobbies from my work. Even when I’m hiking, I tend to bring a sketchbook. The closest thing I had to a pure hobby was skipping rocks. I also really have a deep love of archery. Gosh I love arrows.

Henry: Especially exploding arrows! How do you feel about trebuchets?

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

I guess if I live a life of legend, my tombstone could say “Yes, THAT Ben Hatke.”
Oh! Or how about “Here lies Ben Hatke: shit got real there at the end, didn’t it?”

Henry: Also consider, Ben Hatke: Teller of Tall Tales and Drawer of Dark Domains. You’re welcome.

Where can readers find your work?

At the library! (and online at BenHatke.com, Instagram @heybenhatke, Twitter @benhatke)

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Ben!


2 Comments

Interview with NY Times bestselling picture book author Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker is a mom who loves to garden, cook and collect old oil paintings. She lives in a crazy house, filled with unmatched socks, kids, total chaos, endless noise and a dog who barks whenever she picks up the phone. She is also a #1 New York Times bestselling children’s picture book author.

rinkersherri

Tell us about your latest book.

On Valentine’s Day, the long-awaited sequel to GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT, CONSTRUCTION SITE debuts, titled MIGHTY, MIGHTY, CONSTRUCTION SITE.

Henry: Will there be rhyme? Will there be heavy equipment!?

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

First, I hope that fans of GGCS will enjoy and appreciate this second offering; I’m so afraid of letting anyone down! Next, the theme of the book deals with friendship, teamwork and cooperation, and I hope the spirit of that comes through — joyfully.

Henry: Breathe! You’ll be fine. 🙂

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

For me, it’s finding the TIME and the QUIET to write in the mix of a busy life — taking care of my kids and our home, promoting books, traveling for school visits, etc. Oh, and editing. I hate editing.

Henry: And yet, revision is key to getting the most story out of 500 or so words. I thought you were going to say creating good rhyme, BTW.

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

The stories we put out there can become treasured memories for kids and their families. That’s pretty big. And amazing.

Henry: So true. And those stories can shape lives. I still remember borrowing (over and over again) WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE from my elementary school library. WTWTA was a gateway drug to LORD OF THE RINGS. And LOTR eventually lead me to become a writer.

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

I’ve had the opportunity to “talk shop” with authors and illustrators that I greatly admire. That’s been pretty awesome. And, school visits: I love school visits and talking about books with kids. When I mention a book that I love and a bunch of faces light up… wow: such a connection!

Henry: I love answering young reader questions at school events. You never know what they’ll ask. “What’s your favorite color?” “How old are you?”

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Read everything in your genre. Stalk bookstores. Read reviews. Read the trades.

Henry: Read like no one’s watching. But write like everyone is.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” — Albert Einstein
(I think this resonates with me because I’ve always felt a little intellectually inadequate — my recollection of history, geography and factoids is limited. I don’t watch much television, so I’m always out-of-the-loop on pop culture conversations. My ability to recall classic literature and romantic poetry is faulty. I fail miserably at Jeopardy. But, perhaps, imagination makes up for that, just a little? Einstein boosts my confidence — a bit, anyway.)

Henry: “This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

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

I prefer to be showered and dressed — I’m not sure that’s strange, but I hear of authors writing in their pajamas, and that just doesn’t feel like “work mode” for me. Also, I like beverages —Sorry, Henry — Nothing too odd; I’m kinda boring.

Henry: There’s nothing strange at all about writing in ballroom attire… *backs slowly away*

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

Does singing count as a superpower? Ok, then — FLYING. Totally.

Henry: Magical singing that produces an extraordinary result most certainly would be a superpower! See “Treesinger” in THE WHEEL OF TIME or Tolkien’s AINULINDALË, the tale of the song the angels used to create the world.

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

JK Rowling, Kate DiCamillo and Beverly Cleary — just to bask in their greatness and hear them discuss their work, processes and inspirations with each other.

Henry: I think everyone knows who JK Rowling is. Wikipedia helpfully adds:
“Katrina “Kate” DiCamillo is an American writer of children’s fiction for all reading levels, usually featuring animals. She is one of six people to win two Newbery Medals, recognizing her novels THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX (2003) and FLORA AND ULYSSES (2013). Her best-known books for young children are Mercy Watson series illustrated by Chris Van Dusen.

Beverly Cleary is an American writer of children’s and young adult fiction. One of America’s most successful living authors, 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since her first book was published in 1950. Some of her best known characters are Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy, Ramona and Beezus Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse.

She won the 1981 National Book Award for RAMONA AND HER MOTHER and the 1984 Newbery Medal for DEAR MR. HENSHAW. For her lifetime contributions to American literature, Cleary received the National Medal of Arts, recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children.”

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

I adore Despereaux! — such a dramatic, emotional, unlikely hero with so much surprising inner strength.

Henry: Don’t get me started on fantasy animal heroes! Here are four heroic mice: Desperaux Tilling (from THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo), Reepicheep (from PRINCE CASPIAN by C.S. Lewis), Martin the Warrior (from REDWALL by Brian Jaques), and Celanawe (from MOUSE GUARD by David Petersen)

miceheroes

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

Read a book, work in the garden, bake a nice bread, shop for old oil paintings or antique gesso frames (but, admittedly, I’m running out of wall space). Oh — I’ll confess: I love naps. Especially on Sunday after church, or on dreary days. I. LOVE. NAPS.

Henry: Not enough wall space? “Honey, we need a bigger house!”

What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

Thanks for stopping by! Now… go read to a child: It makes all the difference.

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever books are sold. 🙂

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, Sherri!


1 Comment

Interview with NY Times bestselling KidLit author David Elliott

David Elliott is a New York Times bestselling writer of books for young readers. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife of 33 years and a rescued Dandie Dinmont terrier mix.

elliottdavid

For what age audience do you write?

I write for the very young, the middle grades, and with the release of BULL in March, teen readers. I’m currently working on one of each kind of book. I like to have a few things going at once. It’s the ADD.

Henry: Given the slow speed of the publishing industry, working on multiple projects simultaneously isn’t just ADD, it’s a good idea! Speaking of which, I recently wrote a picture book featuring an OCD owl and an ADD hummingbird.

Tell us about your latest book.

BULL (HMH, March 2017) is an expansion of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. I know that sounds kind of highfalutin – expansion. But I use it because the book doesn’t at all change the outline of the myth; rather, it fills in areas about which the myth remains silent – the Minotaur’s childhood and adolescence, for example. At least that was my intention. The story is told in the various voices of the main players, each character speaking in a distinct poetic form. It practically killed me, but I loved writing it.

Henry: BULL is terrific. Sort of a YA mashup of Homer and Eminem.

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

O dear. I think I’d better leave that to the readers. But it would be terrific if one or two saw that each of us has the potential to become either Asterion — the Minotaur’s’ actual name, by the way, meaning Ruler of the Stars — or the Minotaur. Or maybe even more important, the ability to encourage one or the other in the folks around us. We are now seeing at the national level what happens when the monstrous is excited — the uptick in hate crimes, the increased cruelty in our schools, all of that. Our leaders on both sides of the aisle seem lost in the labyrinth.

Aside from that, I hope readers will enjoy the humor in the book and the language used to tell the story, their language (for speakers of English.) It’s resilience. Its playfulness. It’s beauty.

Henry: We should mail balls of string to Congress so they can navigate the labyrinth!

What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?

Oh, writing comes easily to me. But writing well comes very, very hard.

Henry: That pesky adverb well again! When I first began writing for children, I was surprised at how many revisions are necessary. Not like writing when in school, where the first draft was the final draft!

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

I think sometimes people feel that publishing a book changes your life. And I guess it can if you’re someone like J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, at least in terms of material security. (Uh . . .that has not been my experience.) But here’s the thing: Even after that book is on the shelves, you are still who you are. There’s no escaping that.

For me, and especially since every book is different, being a writer is a process, not a result. I now try to think of myself as a scribe rather than the more elevated “writer”.

Henry: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how collegial the KidLit author/illustrator community is. Not at all like the hyper-competitive Hollywood scene.

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

Well, the most memorable is very difficult to describe, and if I did, people would think I was crazy, so let me just say that a few years ago, I was invited to Germany to visit schools there. My wife and I became very good friends with the person assigned to interpret for me. She is still an important of our lives. How lucky is that?

Henry: So, you think describing a memorable experience will push people over the edge on assessing the sanity of a man who fractured a Minotaur myth with rap?

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Accept all criticism as one hundred percent accurate.
For twenty-four hours.

Henry: Interesting approach. Another good piece of advice I’ve read, is never read reviews of your own work. The positive reviews don’t tell you anything you don’t already know, and the negative ones are so rarely constructive, that you’ll just end up depressed.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

Here are three:
“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.” Eudora Welty.
“Habit is more important than inspiration.” Octavia Butler.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

Henry: So, Doctorow was a pantser, not a plotter? Isaac Asimov said “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” Then there’s Ray Bradbury: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

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

My entire life has been, and continues to be, One Strange Ritual. I think everybody’s is.

Henry: Capitalizing the phrase makes it sound like a great book title. Well played, sir.

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

I know from the one I already possess – the ability to eat non-stop –that superpowers are very difficult to control. I think it might be wiser to bestow them on those better equipped to manage them.

Henry: Isn’t it only a superpower if you can eat all you want and NOT gain weight?

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

Not many people know this, but Charles Dickens and the Polish poet Wyslawa Symborska are conjoined twins, so if invite Charlie, he’ll have to drag Wyslawa along. (The original meaning of Plus 1, by the way.) That’s also true of Teju Cole and Richard Wilbur. Then there are those famous triplets, George Eliot, Shakespeare and Moliere. Journalist Masha Gessen and the Australian novelist David Malouf are my alternates.

Henry: Boy, give you and inch, and you take a mile! Wikipedia helpfully offers:
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Teju Cole is a Nigerian-American writer, photographer, and art historian. Cole is the author of three books: a novella, Every Day is for the Thief (Nigeria: Cassava Republic, 2007; New York: Random House, 2014; London: Faber, 2014), a novel, Open City (New York: Random House, 2012; London: Faber, 2012), and a collection of more than 40 essays, Known and Strange Things, published in 2016. He is currently working on Radio Lagos, a non-fictional narrative of contemporary Lagos. Salman Rushdie has described Cole as “among the most gifted writers of his generation”.

Richard Purdy Wilbur is an American poet and literary translator. He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987, and twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1957 and again in 1989.

What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?

As you know, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with The Minotaur recently. I think I might choose someone a little cheerier next time around, The Mad Hatter, maybe. Or someone really solid like the armored bear, Iorek Byrnison, in Philip Pullman’s wonderful book, The Golden Compass. I do wish the Oracle of Delphi had a better sense of humor.

Henry: Please note the minotaur on the cover of MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES in the header image above. But, I’m with you on the panserbjørne!
panserbjorne

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

These days, I feel like I’m always working. I’ve got three separate and very different (from each other) projects going right now, and the administrative part of the writing life – interviews like this one, for example, are taking more of my time. (Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Who doesn’t relish the opportunity to talk about himself?) To complicate matters, for the first time ever I’ve become actively political. Nobody is more surprised about that than I am.

Staring out the living room window into the fields behind our old house is a wonderful thing.

Henry: Can we say your passion for democracy has trumped your desire to focus on writing?

What would you like it to (accurately) say on your tombstone?

He wasn’t afraid.

Henry: You gave me a Monty Python opening, and I’m taking it.

Bravely bold Sir Robin
Rode forth from Camelot
He was not afraid to die
Oh, brave Sir Robin
He was not at all afraid
To be killed in nasty ways
Brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Robin

He was not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp
Or to have his eyes gouged out
And his elbows broken
To have his kneecaps split
And his body burned away
And his limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Sir Robin

His head smashed in
And his heart cut out
And his liver removed
And his bowels unplugged
And his nostrils raped
And his bottom burnt off
And his penis split and his…

“That’s… that’s enough music for now, lads.”

Where can readers find your work?

Wherever weird books are sold, but especially at your local independent bookstore.

Henry: Thanks for spending time with us, David. For something completely, different, check out David’s THIS ORQ (HE CAVE BOY)
orq