Jena Benton - Writer and Illustrator

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Blog: Of Tea and Mermaids

Another Simply 7 interview with Henry Herz

Posted by Jena Benton on September 10, 2016 at 2:45 PM

I've been waiting to share this one for quite some time.  As you may know if you've been reading my blog for a while, I'm a great lover of the ocean.  I'm also incredibly fond of fairy tales.  Today's book combines both of those loves in the most fantastic way and absolutely tickles my fancy.  The illustrations are adorable, it teaches kids about a sea creature that isn't common, and it just works on so many levels!  I'm SO excited to tell you guys all about it!  It's been SO hard to wait!


Henry Herz was previously interviewed by me for another picture book coming out earlier this summer:

http://jenabenton.webs.com/apps/blog/show/44113601-simply-7-interview-with-henry-herz


He is a picture book author who loves fantasy and conventions to name a few things.  You can learn more about him at his website here:

https://henryherz.wordpress.com/


Now let's talk about his book "Little Red Cuttlefish" illustrated by Kate Gotfredson!


Me: What gave you the idea for this story?


Henry: I like the idea of wrapping fiction around non-fiction topics as a way of interesting young readers in STEM topics. That’s the literary equivalent of pouring melted cheese on broccoli to get kids to eat it.


I’m a big animal lover, and one of the most bizarre and cool creatures in the sea is the cuttlefish. Like their cousins, squid and octopuses, cuttlefish sport multiple arms and can squirt ink. The females have four arms and two tentacles, while the males have six arms and two tentacles. Smooth, dude! Cuttlefish never stop growing as they age. But most impressive of all is their ability to change their color instantaneously, like a chameleon on steroids. Watch some YouTube videos to see what I mean.


Me: I read in your bio that you love scuba diving. Have you ever seen a Cuttlefish in person?


Henry: Sadly, no. I have seen sharks, sea stars, sea slugs, lobster, shrimp, eels, and all manner of fish. Diving is like flying INSIDE a zoo, as there is life all around you. I understand there is currently a cuttlefish exhibit at Birch Aquarium (Scripps Oceanographic Institute in La Jolla, CA), so I’ll have to go visit them. Maybe get them to ink a copy of LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH.


Me: What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen while scuba diving?


Henry: A friend and I began a beach dive. We were swimming out on the surface before diving. Suddenly, up pops a third head. Except this head didn’t have a snorkel, but rather whiskers. A sea lion wanted to see what we were up to. It totally reminded me of a dog. “Hey guys, wanna’ play?”


Me: What is your favorite undersea discovery that you made while writing this book?


Henry: Cuttlefish are amazing in so many ways. Their blood is green-blue because instead of iron-based red hemoglobin for transporting oxygen, cuttlefish blood employs a copper-based protein. Because that’s not as efficient as hemoglobin, cuttlefish employ THREE hearts, one for each gill and a third for the rest of the body. Three hearts means three times the love. Speaking of love, like many other species, cuttlefish males vie for dominance and mating privileges. Some clever males sneak past the dominant male into his cuttlefish harem by tucking in two arms to appear female and avoid a fight. Smooth, dude. Lastly, cuttlefish employ their camouflage not just defensively, but offensively as well. By rapidly changing their colors and “flashing”, cuttlefish can confuse and immobilize their prey, making it easier to grab them with their tentacles. Sushi time!


Me: The illustrations in this book are fantastic! Did you have any input on them for this story? Did you use any illustration notes?  


Henry: Thanks on behalf of the illustrator, Kate Gotfredson. Yes, her work is a lovely blend of sweet, whimsical, and realistic.


Normally, authors who are not illustrators do not submit artwork with their manuscript. The publisher likes to choose the illustrator in that scenario. However, when I wrote LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH, I didn’t know this. So, I reached out to an acquaintance to see if she’d collaborate. I provided significant art direction for this story, normally the domain of a publishing house’s art director. When she finished, my submissions were accompanied by her illustrations and, fortunately for both of us, Pelican Publishing loved the artwork. 


Me: What does your writing process look like?


Henry: I often using a blank Excel spreadsheet as a storyboard template to map out what goes on each spread. From that, I write the first draft. What follows is a series of iterations as my sons, members of my critique groups, and other writer friends offer feedback. When I think the manuscript is ready, I send it to my agent.


Knowing when a manuscript is ready to submit is tricky for me. I’m impatient, so I want to send the book out about three times before it’s really ready. It’s also challenging deciding which feedback to incorporate. Many times I’ve received contradictory critiques from different writing partners. One must strike the right balance between sending too soon and over-polishing the story and losing its original spirit and charm.


Me: Where do you dream of scuba diving someday?  


Henry: I’ve been fortunate enough to dive off Cancun and Tahiti. Anywhere the water is equally warm and clear sounds good to me.


I admit that I've never scuba dived, but snorkeling in Hawaii in Hanauma Bay (on Oahu) with those beautiful colored fish changed my life.  I had to go back several times to do it again and capture the experience with an underwater video camera I rented so I could share it with my students.  They love to see those underwater videos and try to find the fish that they know and recognize.  Flying inside a zoo is probably one of the best descriptions I can imagine about that experience (even if I'm only on top of the water).


I'm so delighted to relive that same experience while reading this book.  I can't wait to share it with my students!  Dear readers, if you too are a fan of the ocean and of fairy tales, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Nor can I rave about how adorable the illustrations are!  Go to Henry's website and learn more about it (and see the cover!) here:

https://henryherz.wordpress.com/little-red-cuttlefish/

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