Please join me in welcoming Henry Herz, author and co-editor of the new young adult anthology, The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie!
Melanie Meaders: Hi Henry! Why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us about some of your previous work?
Henry Herz: Hello! I’m a co-editor and have a story appearing in the YA horror anthology, The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie. I got my start writing picture books. I have twelve traditionally published titles, including I AM SMOKE, an ALA Notable Children’s Book. My children’s short stories have appeared in anthologies like Coming of Age (Albert Whitman & Co.), as well as Highlights for Children and Ladybug Magazine. My adult fantasy, sci-fi, and horror stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Metastellar, Air, and anthologies from Nothingness Press, Fantastic Books, Monstrous Books, and Alienhead Press. The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie is the third anthology I’ve edited, with two more in the works. You can follow my literary shenanigans at www.henryherz.com.
MM: Can you describe this anthology in your own words? What made you say, “Heck yeah!” about this book and decide to do it?
HH: Marie Curie had a very difficult childhood. When she was eight, her sister died of typhus. A year later, her mother succumbed to tuberculosis. These profound losses threw her into a deep depression. She abandoned both her musical studies and her religion. Making matters worse, the Russian-controlled school she attended was an oppressive environment. As we all know, she rose above her circumstances to change humanity’s understanding of science. But what if, while in high school, her dire personal life had corrupted her intelligence and judgment to pursue darker forms of science?
I found that hypothesis to be irresistible.
MM: Why Marie Curie as a basis? Was there something that inspired this idea in particular?
HH: My co-editor, Bryan, and I wanted to have a female protagonist for this alternative history anthology. For that to work, it needed to be someone most people have heard of. Marie fit that bill. She is arguably the most famous female scientist in history: a double Nobel Prize winner whose discoveries changed our understanding of the universe. She also faced adversity as an adult—her world was very patriarchal, and her husband died in a tragic accident. Yet, she was generous and noble of spirit. Her mobile X-ray machines are credited with saving many soldiers’ lives in World War II. And she eventually died from exposure to radiation from her own experiments. She is the perfect tragic hero.
MM: Did the fact that this collection is based on a nonfictional person present any challenges to you and Bryan as editors? Did you find it harder to edit than something that was 100% fictional?
HH: I wouldn’t characterize it as a challenge so much as consistency constraints. We provided our authors with historical information about where she lived, her family, her school, and her friends. We asked them to write a story that would have occurred while she was in high school. The result was a delightfully diverse set of horror, dark sci-fi, and dark fantasy stories.
MM: This anthology is aimed at a young adult audience, but as I can attest, adults will find it just as enjoyable. Why focus the tales on a teenage Marie Curie, and did you have any rules for the authors as far as what types of content were allowed?
HH: Adults have far more freedom of action than teens, especially back in Marie’s time, and particularly for females. Speaking generally, teens don’t have the same quality of judgment as adults. So, a teen Marie offered us the compelling character attributes of being highly intelligent, bereaved, angry at the Russian domination of Poland, being told what to do, and lacking the good sense of an older person.
MM: How did you and Bryan decide which authors to include in the book? Was there anyone you would have loved to have included but couldn’t?
HH: We first identified well-known headlining authors who’ve successfully written YA and dark speculative fiction and who might be available and affordable. Then, we developed a list of less well-known but strong authors. We invited those to submit story summaries which we evaluated and rank-ordered to fill out the author roster.
Of course, there are far more excellent authors than available story slots. That’s perhaps the toughest part of organizing an anthology—knowing there are others who could also have provided great contributions but for whom there isn’t room.
MM: Did anything in the anthology surprise you? Any unexpected moments while working on it?
HH: The cover art was a pleasant surprise. The Blackstone designer was gracious in both soliciting our feedback and accommodating it. I think the end result is spectacular. There’s even spot gloss on the radioactive liquid and smoke.
MM: What are you working on right now? Anything fun coming up?
HH: Yes. I recently got to see draft artwork for my picture book, I Am Gravity. I’m hoping to sign a contract for another book in that series. I’m also working on three more anthologies: Wink (YA contemporary fantasy with Brigid’s Gate Press), Combat Monsters (adult World War II fantasy with Blackstone), and A Great Miracle Happened There (middle-grade contemporary). It’s always a thrill to work with talented authors.
MM: If you were to edit another anthology in this style, what historical figure would it center around?
HH: Oh, my. There are SO many great historical figures who would be fun to tinker with. I recently wrote a short story where Enrico Dandolo, the Duke of Venice in 1200, turns out to be H.P. Lovecraft’s Outer God, Nyarlathotep. I think any well-known figure offers ripe material for alternative history. Really, the only limitation is your creativity and how much caffeine you’ve consumed.
MM: Thanks so much for your time! Where can people find you on the internet?
HH: Thanks for hosting me and helping tell people about Marie Curie. My website is www.henryherz.com. I’m on Facebook and Twitter (@HenryLHerz).
The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie is available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook on April 11! And be sure to check out Henry Herz and his work on his website and social media!