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 at www.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.
I then invited Henry to provide me with more information about his book and below are some examples of what other published authors have said about Nimpentoad:
- “With all the buzz about fantasy stories written FOR children, it’s a treat to read a fun, engaging story written BY talented children. Nimpentoad is a great little romp with cool illustrations that kids of any age will enjoy.” – Ron Noble, author & Emmy award-winning animation director of Rugrats, Rocket Power & The Wild Thornberries
- “We were immediately intrigued by the cover and loved that it was written by two boys. The story unfolds as Nimpentoad’s quest to improve the lives of his tribe leads them into dangerous encounters with many exotic forest creatures. Through courage, trust, and creativity, Nimpentoad saves the day and sets a good example for readers. This is the perfect book for kids who enjoy Fantasy and who are just a little too young to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I look forward to reading Nimpentoad’s next adventure.” – Sheri Fink, author of The Little Rose & The Little Gnome
- “Nimpentoad is a work of love… for fantasy. And it’s clear from the first paragraph (the authors) take the inspiration from the best in the genre… to wonderful effect. Geared towards the 6-10 year old set, Nipentoad is an appropriate work to introduce younger readers to fantasy tropes… and the lessons therein. The illustrations encapsulate the quirkiness of the piece…and I can’t wait for more from this team. Simply put: a winner!” – Sohaib Awan, host of FictionalFrontiers.com
- “What made Harry Potter so popular was the fact the author didn’t talk down to kids. This book takes that same approach. I read it to my five and seven year-olds and they hung on every word–even if they didn’t know the meaning of every word. They were enthralled, entertained, and excited about the main character and asked a lot of questions (a good sign) about the various creatures and the world the author created for this tome.” – Lee Silber, author of Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain, Rock to Riches, Bored Games
- “Parents of young children, if you haven’t heard of this book, do yourself a favour and pick it up. It’s a long time since I read anything in this age range, but this is proof positive of the old adage that fairytales really are for everyone. No, there aren’t fairies, but there are some really important lessons about courage, friendship, trust, and careful thinking. The lessons are conveyed in a funny and-dare I say it-cute package.” – W. Brondt Kamffer, author of The Ossian Chronicles
- “Nimpentoad is a delightful tale that will have fantasy fans everywhere high-fiving. The pacing is pitch-perfect, and the strong emphasis on community and leadership never comes across as didactic. The protagonist Nimpentoad represents everything we want ourselves and our leaders to be: smart, resourceful, innovative and kind. I highly recommend this book to teachers and parents as a read-aloud for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.” – Léna Roy, author of Edges
- “Nimpentoad is a remarkable little book. It’s a fine example of creative writing with an appealing story. I found the style of writing particularly interesting. The writers’ comments accompanying the story, often in parenthesis, invite the reader to participate in the “telling and receiving” to the extent that the reader is increasingly engaged in the tale and with the characters. This was so refreshing that reading it was a truly delightful experience.” – Berty Segal, author of Teaching English Through Action
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