Interview with Author Stephen Herczeg

Dragon Soul Press sat down with one of the eighteen Sea of Secrets authors. Known for his horror story, Angels of the Deep, we were intrigued to know where his inspiration stemmed.


If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose?

Those that know me know my love for Stephen King, I have a collection of over thirty-five hard cover first editions in pride of place on my bookshelves.

But, my all time favourite author is James Herbert, and my favourite of his books is “The Fog.”

I think it’s the book that inspired me to take writing seriously. It’s a fun ride through a nightmarish hellscape and back, but what I loved about it and what I would love to emulate, if the right idea arrives, is the fact that the first quarter of the book is more or less a short story collection. Herbert devotes each tiny section in the first few chapters to one character whose entire journey is played out before your eyes. Few get out in one piece, and on the first reading you can’t even figure out who the protagonist is until you’re well into the book.

The other aspect is the level of unbridled freedom in the book. This was written in 1975 well before splatter-punk was a thing, but it’s just so intense and graphic. I read it when I was a teenager and it was like reading a Playboy, it felt like I was doing something rebellious.

I try to keep that style of writing myself. I don’t want to be held down by what is considered “correct” for the day. Writing should be a pleasure and not constrained by the tenants any other person’s subjective opinion.

What genre do you consider your stories? Have you considered writing in another genre?

I mostly write in the horror genre. It’s what I’ve always enjoyed reading and especially writing. I mostly blame my grandmother for introducing me to the horror genre. I lived with her from a young age, and on Friday nights when my mother was out, we’d sit down and watch the Friday night horror movie of the week. Between the ensuing nightmares about werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster, I developed a taste for it.

I also let the story decide where in the horror genre it lives. Some tales lend themselves to abject depictions of gore, while others move themselves into the more gothic and atmospheric side of the genre.

I have dabbled in some dark Sci-Fi and even a little bit of fantasy.

Lately, I have found that I’m a dab hand at writing Sherlock Holmes style pastiches. I was lucky enough to be involved in a Sherlock Holmes / H.G. Wells crossover anthology and that has opened a new world of crime fiction where dwells an insatiable lust for new Sherlock Holmes (or similar) stories. I’ve so far managed to have around eight stories accepted, both within the Holmes canon as it’s called and as part of various cross-over anthologies. My latest work-in-progress, in fact, is a Sherlock Holmes / Edgar Allan Poe cross-over involving one of Poe’s earliest stories.

What book that you have read has most influenced your life?

This may seem crazy, but it’s not a book but a series of comics. I love Batman. I grew up reading comics, mostly DC (Batman, Superman) and 2000AD (Judge Dredd, etc).

As I grew into adulthood, those things that I loved most about Batman, (i.e. he’s human, he’s trained himself to be the best, he never kills, he’s the world’s greatest detective, etc), are probably what influenced me the most.

I’m an unashamed IT geek, not nerd – let’s be clear on that and I’ll explain in a minute.

I work in a world where detective skills are paramount to being on top of your game. I started out as a programmer, investigating bugs in programs and using detection to get to the bottom of problems. As I’ve journeyed through my career that set of detective skills has stayed with me.

I now sport a Batman tie clip and cufflinks, drive a black car (it’s a Ford Focus ST, not quite the Batmobile but it goes fast), and I’m a Third-Degree black belt in Taekwondo (hence why I’m a geek, because nerds don’t have black-belts in martial arts).

So apart from the extreme wealth, I’m almost there.

What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you?

Possibly, the most amusing and most amazing thing (apart from being married and having kids, that is) that has ever happened to me was “I won a car.”

Not just any car, an $80,000AUD Mitsubishi Evolution VII.

And not just in a raffle either.

Back in 2002, I was living in England and watching a rally on the TV. An advert popped up for a competition. I logged onto the super-fast internet of the day, watched a video of a car driving a rally course, chose the track map that I thought it was following and thought nothing more about it.

Two weeks later I received a big silver envelope inviting me to Cardiff to vie for the chance to win a car.

24,000 entered, 24 were chosen.

We spent a day at the Rally of Great Britain, meeting the Mitsubishi team, dining out at a nice restaurant, and generally having a good time.

The next day, complete with hangovers, we fronted up at the permanent track in Cardiff. There, all 24 of us were given a “how to drive” lecture and undertook four events:

  • Simulate changing a wheel during a stage of a rally;
  • Co-drive for a proper rally driver around the Cardiff track;
  • Do some actual driving in a modified rally car; and
  • Drive the Cardiff track on the simulator.

Each event was given points depending on how well you did.

At the end, my name was announced.

I won the car, I was on the Telly and I appeared in Rally XS magazine.

I drove the car around Europe, visiting sixteen countries and heaps of racing circuits. I brought it back to Australia with me and kept it for fourteen years.

I’ve dined out on that story for seventeen years and never get tired telling it.

Sadly, I sold the car three years ago. It was getting old, much like its owner.

What gives you inspiration for your stories?

To be honest, anything.

I try to look at the world with one question in mind “What If?”

My very first published short story “Death Spores” was based on the opening scene of my screenplay of the same name, and had its origins in me walking around at lunch time and asking myself “What would happen if someone was walking along and their head exploded?”

From that simple question came a rollicking tale of a galactic fungus that crashes to Earth and turns all and sundry into flesh eating zombies.

The screenplay came top ten in the 2012 Horror Screenplay competition, and the short story was published in “Sproutlings: A compendium of little fictions.”

The way I approach it now is to map out the closing dates for submissions to anthologies that I’m interested in and use the themes to inspire my mind.

“Angels of the Deep” was no different. The “Sea of Secrets” anthology had hints of the sea, creatures from the depths and fantasy about it.

I wanted to stay away from the standard creatures, i.e. Sirens, Mermaids, Kraken, etc, and researched strange and unusual myths associated with water. From that I discovered the Rusalka from Russia.

They were said to be the spirits of drowned women who were scorned by lovers and had turned malevolent towards humans. I already had my “mermen” creatures from another story and came up with the concept of a group of men in the worst possible situation (stranded at the bottom of the sea) being attacked by beings that resembled their loved ones. It is virtually a Greek tragedy played out during World War II at the bottom of the ocean.

What tactics do you have when writing?

I’m a planner. In fact, I’m an over-planner.

I start any new story with the germ of an idea, then I create a mind-map in a software tool, to which I keep adding more and more ideas. Fleshing out characters, their arcs, their interrelationships with other parts of the story.

When I’m planning a story, the mindmap is generally open on my computer desktop (at work), and any flash of inspiration goes into the map.

I also have a small database, that I wrote, which keeps a log of the characters and their place in the story. It can map the overarching character arc of the protagonist. It has a name generator, which can then link characters to the story.

I spent several years writing feature length screenplays, and through that I came across the Syd Field method for screenplay writing. A lot of the same concepts can be applied to prose, and I have used them from time to time.

The main thing I always keep in mind, is using the concept of “Setup” and “Payoff”, especially in Holmes story. Any little nugget of information that is needed at the end of the story must be planted somewhere along the journey.

Though I must admit that the level of planning is dependent on the length of the story. I do hate it when I start to plot out the bones of a story and end up having more words in the crib notes and internal dialogue than ends up in the finished story.

Have you written any other stories that are not published?

Tons.

I started writing in earnest back in the early 1990’s (yes, I’m that old). I still have some of those early stories, and the two shortish length novels that I hammered out as well. I cringe when I read them now.

I figured my problem was I couldn’t get the stories down quick enough by writing prose, so I then spent the next twenty years writing feature length (and a few shorter) screenplays. I’ve finished sixteen in total (with a couple unfinished). Four of them have won awards in various International Screenplay writing competitions. I managed to win the 2017 International Horror Hotel competition in the Sci-Fi category with “Titan” and came second in the horror category that same year with “Dark are the Woods”.

I also spent about seven years and several thousand dollars trying to get my ghost-serial killer film “Control” made, but at the end have nothing to really show for it other than a lot more experience. That whole raising money to make a movie thing is a lot harder than you think.

In terms of my recent prose writing, yeah, still have heaps of stories that haven’t found a home. Some I revisit when I see a submission opportunity that might suit, some I rework into shorter or longer versions, some I just forget about.

I think I’m up to about eighteen rejections for this year with various stories, so there are a heap in my “bottom” drawer, so to speak.

In fact, “Angels of the Deep” grew out of a different story that I wrote that never found a home, where the creatures are awoken from their icy slumber by a meteor strike. I’m seriously considering turning that one into a full-length novel.

What do you love most about the writing process?

Just the getting down and doing it.

I don’t mind the planning, I don’t mind the research, but I just love getting lost in the creative process when the juices are running hot. I’ve had days where I’ll sit down, with the intention of writing for half an hour or so, and by the time I reach a natural lull in the process I find that two hours have flown past and I’ve put several thousand words down on the screen before me.

It’s like a drug when that happens. It’s similar to the narcotic effect that long-distance runners feel.

Even at that stage, when you know you should be getting on with the dull day to day activities that make up life, all you can think about is going back to the computer and pushing ahead with the story.

I find that with some of the Holmes stories, I’ve done so much research and planning that the story just screams out of my brain, through my fingers and up onto the screen.

In fact, I find that when I type “The End” it’s almost like coming off a drugged out high. There’s a moment of denial, a feeling of being let down, and you almost have to drag yourself away in case you go back into the work and try to add something just to regain that feeling. Those moments are when you need to let the work sit in its first draft state until you’ve regained enough composure to revisit it with a clear mind.

What do your friends and family think of your writing?

My wife and kids are a little non-plussed. They see the anthologies arrive in their cardboard boxes. They help me take a photo with them, but they’ve never read anything I’ve written.

I’m hoping that Stephen King had the same problem when his kids were younger, not so much now I assume. To be honest, I wouldn’t let my kids read half the stuff I’ve written anyway.

I did manage to convince my daughter to participate in a Sherlock Holmes for younger readers anthology. I helped her come up with the idea and plot it out, but she did most of the writing. It gets published later in the year, though I think I’m more excited than she is.

My Mum loves my writing. She waits on each Facebook post and shares them with her friends. She’s also bought a few of the magazines and anthologies herself. She recently visited for a week and spent most of the time going through my vanity shelf and reading my stories.

Friends and work mates are simply amazed when I tell them I’m a published author.

It’s sort of the same reaction you get when you tell them you’re in a band (which I’ve done) or you’re a Black-belt in a Martial Art. To the average person those things are pipe dreams and supposedly unachievable, so it’s always nice to prove to them it can be done. I’ve been lined up to present a talk on story telling in the workplace later in the year. Have no idea what to talk about, but it’s an opportunity to promote my writing to my colleagues.

Where can we find you online? 

I must admit I’ve been really slack in setting up a Facebook page or a website to promote my writing.

It’s on my list of things to do but is stuck behind the ever-increasing list of submission opportunities that keep presenting themselves.

I have set up an Amazon author’s page and a Goodreads Author’s page.

Creating Worlds of Wonder (3 of 3)

In the previous two posts (One and Two) regarding world-building, we discussed the rules on maintaining consistency and the tools you’ll use to craft your world in order to keep it all straight. But what if you’re in the middle of your series, and then suddenly you’re hit with an awesome inspiration, but it requires a fundamental change?

Here, we discuss what to do when you need to make a change that essentially violates the rule of consistency in your world-building.

Evaluate the damage if you just make a change and not expect the reader to notice. For example, if you have some far-off country named Ko-Astera, you’ve never used it in your series other than make a couple of references to it, will your readers notice if you introduce a character who is from Astera, not Ko-Astera? It depends, if you’ve been providing the reader a glossary and it specifically names the nation and inhabitants as Ko-Astera, you’ll need to come up with a justification. You can write the minor change as part of a dialogue:

“Hey, I thought you were called Ko-Asterans?”

“You thought wrong, fool. We changed and dropped the name of Ko the Usurper back to its proper name. We are Asterans. Get it right before I take my blade and butcher you like I’ve done my cows at home.”

“Excuse me, wolf-biter. It was just a dancing question. No need to get bloody Six Flames bent over it.”

Then, in this book, you’ll have a revision and a note about Ko-Astera now changed to Astera.

You’re literally changing the look/feel of a particular species. This one is a bit harder to do. Say for example you have a race of demon-touched humans who you never really took the time to describe other than they are humans with demonic tendencies, but you saw a super-awesome picture of a succubus with demon horns, furry goat legs, the whole nine yards. You want your demon-touched people to have this look and feel. Congratulations, make it part of the plot. Bad Stuff is happening and guess what—it’s changing the demon-touched more like into actual demons. When the book is concluded, the process is not reversible.

You need to add a new magical ability/spell/power. Just add it, and make it seem like it was part of the plot/story arc all along.

You need to “break” a rule in your world because you realize it will be totally awesome. You’ll need to work this into your story as part of the dialogue or an event. For example, you have a water mage and you want them to cast fire spells. You need to work out a method or something in the plot so it makes sense you have broken this rule. In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, it was long established men could not channel (use magic) without going insane, so the theme of one of the books was to overcome just this problem.

In conclusion, when you discover you can writing something really cool and awesome, but it will violate the rules regarding consistency, a bit of creativity and stepping back to alter the direction of the story can be yours.

Happy writing!

Creating Worlds of Wonder (2 of 3)

In the last post of this series, I discussed the rules of about world-building. In this post, I will discuss how those rules are applied into actual tools and what said tools consist of.

First, why have these tools to begin with? For one thing, it will help you maintain a level of consistently. Not every author can keep track of every alien/foreign element in their world. The stranger you have something referred to using oddly spelled-out words, the harder it gets to keep all of it straight. For example, in my portal fiction, Fallen From the Stars, the elves referred to marriage as the “reading of their oaths.” They don’t have the words “married” or “marriage” (though the humans from the valley do). I have to have this written down somewhere because I have other cultural references, greetings, salutations, etc I need to keep track of. So there are two tools that you’ll commonly come across to help you keep all of this in good working order—the story bible and the glossary.

  1. Overview of the world
  2. Primary Religions / Gods
  3. Special Geographic Locations (floating islands, etc)
  4. General System of Magic
  5. The Races and Cultures (orcs, gnolls, humans, elves, etc.)
  6. Individual Nations
    1. Nation One
      1. Culture
      2. Politics / Government
      3. Special Laws / Taboos / Customs
      4. Special Notes
    2. Nation Two, etc…
  7. Special Terms / Terminology
  8. Technological Levels
    1. Medicine
    2. Warfare
    3. Transportation
    4. Communication
  9. Special Artifacts (magic swords, rings, crowns, etc.)
  10. Historical Timeline (go as far back as need to)

The story bible is more than just an outline (though it can contain it). It is the author’s comprehensive system of how their entire world works. It’s a behind-the-scenes toolkit that details the magic system, the religions, cultural nuances, nations, geography, races, all the way down to curse words to the name of the world/universe itself. It is as detailed as you need it to be (key word: need). When crafting your fantasy world or world that uses some form of mystical elements, take the time to put some effort in it. Start with a big overview, then work your way down like this:

As you can see, we can get quite detailed on just the list alone. An article I read some years ago (don’t quote me though) about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is that his story bible was as thick as one of his books. If you’re not familiar with his work, his series was fourteen big books weighing close to an average 1,000 pages.

Now the important caveat is you should only create what you need to completely tell your story in its entirety. If you wrote out your outline for all six of your books and you never have your characters go to the nation of Ko-Astera, never interact with the djinn-like humans who live there, never use a Fire Summoner in your stories, don’t spend a lot of time detailing that nation and everything within it. The same with Conjuration magic. If you don’t have anyone who is a Pact-Binder with a demon from the Eternal Abyss, you don’t need to detail this system of magic.

Will you be laying this out to your reader in your books? I hope not unless it’s critical to your story. But if your characters are following the rules you outline in your story bible, your reader will note the consistency and detailed world-building. They will appreciate that—greatly (assuming your readers like world-building).

There are many articles on world-building and building your story bible. I (personally) hate most of them, because they are very generic. If you want an actual live example, there are books that give just that to you. They are called campaign guides or campaign settings. If you ever played Dungeons and Dragons or similar table-top rpgs, you’ll be familiar with what a campaign setting is. Video game guides to popular fantasy worlds are also great resources and examples. Essentially, they are the “story bible” for the game master to run such games that keep everything in a logical manner. Some of them are quite detailed and beautifully written. Here is one of my favorites, though it’s nowhere close to comprehensive:

Pathfinder Campaign Setting

The second type of resource is a glossary. This is for your reader. It goes at the beginning or at the end of each book of your series and pretty much is what you’ll use as your own story-bible. Whatever is in the glossary is all you’re using to tell your story. It’s a “story bible lite” per se. This is great if you don’t have a lot of different detail in your world, such as an urban fantasy set in modern day Seattle, but you just need to advise the reader of the different names of werewolf clans, their powers, their blood magic, and their weaknesses.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what do when you run into problems. Until then, happy writing!

Interview with Author Casey L. Bond

Dragon Soul Press had the chance to interview award-winning author Casey L. Bond for the blog this week. Stay tuned with this amazing woman via her Amazon page and website.

 

  1. If any, what literary pilgrimages have you gone on? Did you enjoy yourself?

I’ve been to several conferences and signings. I’d definitely consider those literary pilgrimages because they’re where I found my tribe. The writer community seems large, but it’s has a small town feel as well. Everyone’s always willing to lift as they climb (I learned that at Utopia Con). And I enjoyed meeting the writers I knew from Facebook. I’ve made very close friends on these pilgrimages and am thankful for each and every one I’ve met.

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I think every author I know is willing to not only share their triumphs but are willing to talk through tough times. Every industry changes and the publishing world’s changes are rapid. I think that by learning craft and marketing from other authors, and thinking out of the box with friends, they’ve made me a better writer. More than that, I’ve learned how to better market my work and how to push through difficulties (i.e. writer’s block, learning to write full-time, etc.).

  1. What kind of research do you do, if any, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

It really depends on the book. If it’s historical, I try to research it very well. I don’t dwell on tiny details. I think you could spend years researching if you clung to every small thing, but I definitely think it’s important to research if you write in certain genres. My favorite genres, fantasy and paranormal, lend more creativity as most of the worlds are built by the author. I love making worlds.

  1. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I do. I try to learn from any criticism and points I feel are valid. As far as good reviews, they motivate me to continue writing and bettering my writing and craft. So, I do read them. I do not comment on them or engage with reviewers unless they post it in my author group or FB timeline.

  1. Do you believe in writer’s block? If you experience it, how do you deal with it?

I do believe in it. I’ve experienced it before, but I’m weird. I usually write one story and plot two or three others. If I get stuck, I brainstorm with friends. If I’m still uncomfortable continuing the story until I work the details out in my mind, I’ll work on another book until I get it right in my mind. LOL! So, I’m always writing something.

  1. Who has been your biggest inspiration when it comes to storytelling?

I don’t know if there is one person. It’s more of a conglomeration of all the beautiful stories I fall in love with and want to re-read. Sometimes, it’s just a profound observation an author makes. Sometimes, it’s a character. Sometimes, a world.

  1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I was a mouthy teenager and my mother sat me down one day and said that my words would determine how people viewed me and to choose them wisely.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

Cool pens. I doodle notes for scenes to be written, etc. I love a great pen or pretty ink. LOL! I guess I should also say notebooks. I have a billion of them. On my desk right now, there are….eight. LOL!

  1. Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Ego is an interesting term. I tend to think of ego as being a negative thing, as if someone is being egotistical. Confidence is important, but so is humility. I think you have to have a little of both of those to be successful – in addition to writing well, of course.

  1. What is the first book that made you cry?

November Blue by Amy Harmon. Hands down. I don’t cry very often, but I bawled like a baby when I read that book.

Rowan Thalia Announces 2nd Series

Up and coming Reverse Harem Author Rowan Thalia has completed her first paranormal trilogy, Keepers of the Talisman! After her rapid releases full of witches, Fae, and mayhem, the romance author has more in store for her avid readers.

Introducing a new apocalyptic trilogy centered around a female soldier. Life is far from easy after the BioWar (World War III), wiping out most of the populace and mutating nearly everything left. Enjoy the first official book summary below.

 

BioWar, World War III
Sixty years ago, the first shot was fired.
  
In the last ten years, our country has fallen. Chemical agents dropped mercilessly on friend and foe alike have created two new species of humanoid, and the world population has been reduced to small colonies of humans fighting against them to survive.
 
Out on a routine patrol, my team and I run into the worst kind of trouble. Branded and left for dead by our superiors, we form bonds that cannot be broken and find asylum with the enemy.
 
Seeking knowledge, my sexy team of four and I race across the wasteland fighting zombies, mutants, and our own transformation for the one thing that can give us answers: a sample of untainted DNA. Aligned with vampires and on the run, we thought things couldn’t get worse until a hidden threat finds me.
 
When conspiracy is the norm, who can I trust?
 
The war is not over and the fight between the species has just begun.

 

The first of this trilogy, Rox’s Renegades, will be releasing May 20th, 2019. However, the preorder is available now for those wanting to take advantage of the limited time offer of $0.99. Once preorder ends, the price will raise to the regular $3.99.

Thankfully due to Rowan’s impressive writing speed, you will not be waiting long for the two sequels. Renegades at War and Renegades in Space will be releasing in June and July. To keep up with the author, follow her on Facebook and visit her website.

books2read.com/Roxs-Renegades