Henry Herz & the Dark Side of Marie Curie

Henry Herz & the Dark Side of Marie Curie

By Angelique Fawns


Henry Herz is no stranger to the world of speculative fiction. I’ve seen his name on many TOC for the anthologies I’ve submitted to and books I’ve picked up. He dabbles in the darker tales and writes for adults and children alike. He’s published several children’s books, including I AM SMOKE, but his current project is a newly released anthology called The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie. This young adult horror anthology features stories that reimagine what Marie Curie, the world’s most famous female scientist, would have accomplished if she used her talents to do evil instead of good.
I sat down with Henry Herz to learn more.

AF: Tell me about your inspiration for The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie.

HH: Bryan Thomas Schmidt and I had decided to create an anthology. We discussed a number of genre options, and settled on dark alternative history. We wanted a female protagonist, and that conversation eventually yielded Marie Curie, arguably the most famous female scientist in history. Lastly, we had to decide on the market and the twist that would make it alternative history. Since I write for kids too, I proposed young adult. That decision produced the twist: what if Marie, devastated by the premature deaths of her mother and sister, followed a darker path with her scientific knowledge? A path leading to frightening adventures hitherto unreported. 


“…what if Marie, devastated by the premature deaths of her mother and sister, followed a darker path with her scientific knowledge?”


AF: Who is the audience for this book, and what is unique about it?

HH: It’s young adult stories that span horror, dark fantasy, and dark science fiction. That said, the stories can easily be enjoyed by adult readers. We also hope it encourages female readers to pursue careers in science, following in the real-world footsteps of Marie Curie.


AF: What is your personal experience with the work of Marie Curie?

HH: I love doing nonfiction research for a fictional story. It was really fun digging in to her early life history, locating the gymnasium (high school) where she attended (which proved challenging, because one of my main sources got the name of the adjacent church wrong), and finding on a map of Warsaw the various locales mentioned in her biography – her school, her home, the cemetery holding her family. She was a remarkable woman from a remarkable family. It was also a treat editing stories from such talented writers.


“We also hope it encourages female readers to pursue careers in science, following in the real-world footsteps of Marie Curie.”


AF: How did you choose your authors? What guidance did you give them?

HH: Bryan and I started by choosing the headlining authors we knew – well-respected authors of dark speculative fiction whose names might cause a shopper to stop and take a look at the book. Once we had those identified, we made a list of lesser-known, but still talented authors we knew and asked them to write story summaries. Based on those, Bryan and I chose who would fill the remaining anthology story slots. We didn’t give much guidance to our authors beyond: write a 3,000-5,000-word YA dark alternative history story in which Marie Curie’s scientific inquiries during her high school years go awry.


AF: Talk to me about your cover art.

HH: We are thrilled with the cover art. It even has spot gloss on the “radioactive” green fluid and smoke (he squealed as a geeking-out author). The cover designer from Blackstone was talented and very collaborative. Her first design was quite different from the final cover. It showed a photo-based image of an elderly Marie Curie on a background of scattered chemistry symbols and icons. We iterated with the designer to get the gorgeous final cover – one that shows a young Marie Curie meddling in dark arts better left alone.

AF:  You are a prolific author of short stories yourself. Tell me about your fiction.

HH: My favorite genre is fantasy, followed by science fiction and horror. I do like it when humor creeps into my stories, and I also love unlikely mashups. It’s fun to tweak public domain works, for example, changing a Shakespearean sonnet to include a vampire, or slipping some Lovecraft passages into a cosmic horror story. Where I can, I enjoy anchoring fiction in the real world to make the story more believable, and therefore more emotionally resonant.

While I certainly hope to have novels published some day, short stories let me get in and out of a project quickly (and I’m not imposing as much when asking for a critique of 4,000 words versus than an entire novel). Plus, it’s a great way to build relationships with fellow authors and editors. Authoring short stories has helped me hone my craft as I transition from my first market, picture books, into writing for older and older audiences.


“I enjoy anchoring fiction in the real world to make the story more believable, and therefore more emotionally resonant.”


AF:  What is your background? Do you have a day job outside of editing/writing?

HH: I have an engineering education and spent many years managing software development projects. Later, I became a process improvement consultant. It was only after I reached middle age that I wrote my first fiction. I discovered how much I enjoyed it, so I kept at it as a hobby. I’ve retired from consulting, so I have the luxury and privilege of writing and editing full-time. I will note that my project management experience very much prepared me for the role of anthology editing, which is as much logistical as it is literary.


AF: You’ve had wonderful success with your award-winning book I Am Smoke, can you explain how you found your audience? Your marketing plan?

HH: Yes, I AM SMOKE has received heartwarming acclaim, including a Kirkus starred review and selection as an ALA Notable Children’s Book. All my picture books are traditionally published. That means a publisher made the determination that the story I wrote would find an audience with very young readers. They sent the book to trade review journals and are responsible for distribution, including into overseas markets (I AM SMOKE has been translated into French and Korean). I contributed to marketing where I could by developing a web page, promoting on social media, arranging a blog tour, and conducting book signings.


AF: Any advice for other authors hoping to break in the genre of speculative horror for a younger audience?

HH: I would offer the same advice no matter the genre or market – read widely in the space for which you want to write. Then write, starting small with short stories, to hone your skills. If you seek traditional publication, then it behooves you to read current works. For example, I wouldn’t suggest a hopeful picture book writer read Dr. Seuss, because what publishers want now is different. I would also encourage learning about the industry by joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org) for anyone wanting to traditionally publish picture books, chapter books, middle grade, or young adult.


AF:  Do you have any more anthologies planned? What’s in the future for Henry Herz?

HH: *rubs hands together diabolically* Why, yes. Yes I do. I have three anthology projects on submission currently (middle grade fantasy, adult horror, middle grade contemporary fiction), and the following anthologies scheduled to come out in 2024. WINK (Brigid’s Gate Press) will be a YA contemporary fantasy anthology featuring stories that are inspired by a children’s classic story, e.g., a babysitter with magical powers would be a wink at Mary Poppins. COMBAT MONSTERS (Blackstone Publishing) will be an adult contemporary fantasy anthology featuring “revealed” stories of how monsters contributed to the historical outcome of various World War II battles. All the anthologies have rock star author line-ups that make me proud to be a part of the project.

I also continue to write picture books, one of which seems like it’s on the verge of being sold.

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