I was delighted to meet Henry Herz this last summer at the LA SCBWI conference in July where we sat down to talk books with a few others. He was funny! You may remember my Simply 7 interviews with him about a couple of his previous books (“Little Red Cuttlefish” and “Mabel and the Queen of Dreams”). Today he returns to talk about his latest picture book.
If you’re not familiar with Henry Herz, you should get to know him! Henry writes fantasy and science fiction for children. He wrote several books with his sons and is a SCBWI member. He participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions and reviews children’s books. You can learn more about him at his website.
His latest book, “Cap’n Rex & His Clever Crew,” was released in August. It’s a classic tale of swashbuckling adventure with dinosaur pirates. That’s right, dinosaur pirates.
Welcome back Henry!
Me: You’ve published most of your previous picture books through independent or small presses prior to this book. This is your first picture book with a big publisher like Sterling. What was different about the publishing process for you this time as a result? Were there any learning curves?
Henry: It really wasn’t much different than my experience with smaller presses like Pelican and Schiffer. There was a little bit of collaboration with my editor to fine-tune the manuscript. Then I was given the opportunity to review and comment on the artwork. All pretty typical. My editor, Ada Zhang, was terrific.
What was unusual was three books with dinosaur pirates coming out in a short period of time. Shortly after signing the contract for CAP’N REX, I found out that Josh Funk was writing PIRASAURS. Then, a few months ahead of the planned publication date, I discovered that another book with the exact same title as mine, DINOSAUR PIRATES, was also coming out. So, in discussion with my editor, we decided to choose a new name. I suggested CAP’N REX & HIS CLEVER CREW. I like that title better, both for the alliteration and because it captures the theme of the story: think outside the box.
Me: Good things come in threes perhaps? Your story is certainly different from Josh Funk’s story. Each has their own unique spin. Part of that is the illustrations by Benjamin Schipper which are fun. Were you able to communicate with the illustrator like you were in the past? Were there any illustration surprises?
Henry: Although we are connected on Facebook, I did not have any direct communication with Ben prior to the book being published. That’s pretty standard because publishers typically don’t want to risk even the possibility of differences in artistic vision causing a project to implode. I was pleased that my editor gave me a chance to review and comment on both the sketches and the near-final artwork. It was then up to her and the art director to decide what feedback to pass on to Ben.
One surprise Ben created was the design of the pirate ship. In my head, I envisioned the classic frigate. However, he designed a ship more akin to a Greek trireme, and shaped it like a triceratops head. That’s probably another reason why publishers don’t want an author to give art direction to the illustrator. Because a good illustrator will add a layer of texture and creativity on top of the author’s.
Me: Absolutely! Dinosaur pirates. What gave you that idea? Why not kid pirates? Or bird pirates? Why dinosaurs?
Henry: Bird pirates? Interesting. I thought it would be fun to do a mashup – a combination of unlikely elements. In fact, my original title was DINOSAUR SPACE PIRATES! But it became clear as I worked on the manuscript that mashing up three ideas was one idea too many. Kids love dinosaurs, and they love pirates. So, they must REALLY love a book featuring dinosaur pirates, right? Sort of a literary Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Me: LOL! Yes! Reese’s for the win! You dedicated this book to Deb Lund and Molly Idle among others. Why them? Were they critique partners? Or did they write something that inspired you?
Henry: I dedicated the book to Molly because I so loved her book, TEA REX. I dedicated the book to Deb because of her mashup, DINOSAILORS, and because she was kind enough to give me some very helpful feedback on the rhyme of my first book, MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES.
Me: The pirate dictionary is an awesome tie-in. It’s perfect for “talk like a pirate” day. Brilliant! Was that ending Author Note your idea?
Henry: Yes. So far, I’ve only written fiction. But where possible, I love putting an educational element in an author’s note. The one in MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES gives the mythological background of its creatures. The one in LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH offers information about cuttlefish and tiger sharks. And the author’s note in MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS quotes the passage upon which the book is based: Mercutio’s soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet.
There’s a boatload of non-fiction piratey history, songs, recipes, movies, and jokes on the CAP’N REX web page.
Me: There are only four dinosaurs in this book as characters (5 if you count the Megalodon). Did you have to pick and choose which dinosaurs to use for your story? Did any dinosaurs get cut out during rewrites?
Henry: No dinosaurs were cut in the making of this book. The number and type of dinosaurs was strictly driven by the requirements of the plot. I needed a menacing captain, and who better than the king of dinosaurs? The crew faces three challenges as they seek their booty. So, I have one dinosaur pirate solve each challenge using a strength native to their species: the long tale of the aPATosaurus, the flying ability of the pTERRYdactyl, and the armor of the anKYLEosaurus.
Me: What dinosaur is your favorite (either in the book or of any dinosaur of all time) and why?
Henry: Like many boys, I loved dinosaurs since I was a kid playing with a plastic set of colored sauropods. My favorite became the triceratops. I liked the idea that here was a chill herbivore who was tough enough to fend off a T-rex. Here’s a trike logo I put together when I was brainstorming alternate titles.
Awesome! Thanks for stopping by again Henry. Readers, if you haven’t had a chance to read this one, be sure to give it a try. ‘Tis a great read mateys! (I HAD to capitalize on yesterday’s barely missed “talk like a pirate day.”)