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.

Introducing Author Aditya Deshmukh

Dragon Soul Press presents creator of dark tales Author Aditya Deshmukh! Ranging from poetry, short stories, and novels, all contain elements of spine-tingling horror. Continue reading to see our interview with the author.


Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Pseudonyms are useful when an author writes in a variety of genres. Yes, I’m a multi-genre author, but because the tone of almost all my stories fall under the same, wide umbrella of dark fiction, I never felt a need of a pseudonym. Psuedonyms are also used for hiding. I want to own everything I write. Putting pieces of my own soul under a fake name just doesn’t seem right to me. So unless I start writing something completely different than I’m used to (like children fiction or romance) and I don’t want that (delicate) audience going on a hunt to find my other (traumatic) stories, or unless I write something against powerful and corrupt entities which will put me on their radar, I have no plans to mask my identity.Aditya Deshmukh Website Logo

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? 

I’m not a psychologist or a brain-scientist but I don’t think one needs to be an expert to understand that brain is a complex thing. And every person behaves differently when exposed to a certain situation. It’s a part of who we are, and every person is unique and so is their behaviour.

To answer this question, I’ll use myself as an example. I joke about being soulless (we dark fiction authors find it cool) but in truth I’m a sensitive person. I may not have a strong memory but I remember things. One never forgets the bad moments of one’s life. I believe crying helps. It’s kind of magical. The haunting memories surfaces, the pain erupts, you cry and you forget. That’s what I used to do. But my complex brain developed another layer of complexity. Now the bad things don’t quite affect me as strongly as they used to. It’s like there are walls around my heart filtering all the bad things. I willfully ignore them and it’s working pretty great.

I was a writer back then and I still am a writer.

It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel emotions. As long as you feel something (and you do because you’re a human), and you’re able to focus on that emotion, you can write that scene. In fact, even writers who feel emotions strongly sometimes struggle in writing that perfect scene. Writing is difficult. It’s a long process and there are no short-cuts. There are so many dimensions to it that frankly I think writing should be the most paying profession. It’s too much work and we’re expected to be good at everything. Don’t worry about any of your shortcomings. You can work on it and master it (and it’s going to be sooner than you think).

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Oh God, so many things! Because I just took my tea, I’m high on energy, so I’ll take the time to list them and elaborate on each point.

1) Just write it

This is perhaps the most popular writing advice ever. When I read it for the first time, I pictured a writer with black circles under their eyes staring at the blank screen, a pile books on writing on either side of the laptop and screaming, “Come on, just fucking write it!” There’s just so much advice available that it’s very easy to get distracted. We read so much about writing that we forget our topmost priority: writing. The worse thing is we actually feel satisfied after spending our hard-earned time (from work or college or family) on the articles and books and podcasts and YouTube channels and Twitter and Facebook and whatever. We feel happy about ourselves because we think we learned something new.

It’s just an illusion. Congratulations! You learned the same thing you read yesterday, or the earlier week, or the past month. I think if you read every day religiously for a month, most of the stuff you come across is a repetition. You still might learn something new. But is it worth your writing-time you spent on it?

That said, you should have some basic knowledge. Remember those 100,000 words of crap you wrote with zero writing wisdom which is so bad you cannot salvage anything? Yes, no one wants to read that shit. Spend a month in reading basic things. That will get you started.

 2) Discipline

Writing might have been your hobby. But now it’s a profession. Treat it like one. Set a routine and discipline yourself. Set small goals. Make them bigger as you progress. You must have a daily word count goal (it doesn’t have to be big. Mine is just 500 words). But you must strive to maintain the streak. Don’t think you can make it up on weekend. If you miss your daily goal, it will definitely kill your confidence.

3) Read

Once you’ve finished your word count goal, read books on writing. No, don’t roll your eyes. I’m not contradicting my earlier point. Read those books only if you’re sure it’s about something you don’t already know (and trust me there are many things you haven’t even heard. Don’t forget being a writer no longer means you just need to write. Today a writer is also a businessman. Learn about social media, marketing strategies, book distribution networks, how giants like Amazon work). Why not just skip “Just write it” and learn all this stuff first? That’s one way to do things, but then expect to spend at least a decade. As I said, these things take a lot of time. And the most effective way to learn is to learn in steps. It’s fortunately also the most fun way.

Articles are good, but I encourage getting a book (don’t just randomly pick any book. Go through lists of recommendations, compare them, see if they provide exactly what you need and only then start reading. This will save not only your money but also time.) You can then treat it like a subject and study every single element with dedication. Good articles are hard to find, and most of the stuff is repeated. When you finish a book, you’ll have more solid knowledge on that subject.

4) Have fun #1

Don’t expect your writing to get better just by reading about writing. Yes, it will certainly develop. You will not hesitate from calling yourself a good writer. But good is not enough. You want to be the best. You want to become a champion. And for that you need to read other champions’ books.

Read a lot and read widely. I cannot stress enough how exponentially your knowledge boosts up when you make this a regular habit. You get exposed to new writing styles, better dialogue, action, plots, fighting scenes, descriptions, pace, character development, you understand every little thing there is to writing just by conscious reading. Ask questions like why the writer didn’t write it this way? Why is it that the writer decided this ending when other endings are possible? Why did the writer trade good dialogue for what could have been an epic fight scene? Why these characters feel like real people? Why do I love this story so much? Yeah, analyze everything about your favourites. Go crazy!

5) Have fun #2!

There’s another way to have fun and sharpen your writing skills simultaneously: watching movies and TV shows. Yeah, don’t blink, don’t reread that sentence. I mean it. I don’t understand why it isn’t a very commonly heard advice. It has worked like magic for me. I’m a terribly slow reader. If I cannot finish a book in reasonable time, how can I learn from it? And on the contrary, I’m a binge watcher. I can devour an entire season in a night. Most of my understanding of fiction came from the shows I studied. All those questions I listed in the above paragraph can be applied here also. Remember that literature, films, all these are just different mediums of the same thing we want to tell: stories. As long as you actively observe and study, you can derive knowledge applicable to your writing from any source.

6) Build a platform

Internet is crazy. Make use of it. I’m an introvert and if you ask me to give a speech I’ll melt before your eyes. And yet here I’m, still talking something that (hopefully) makes sense. If you can socialize in real life, that’s great! But internet helps you reach audience who perhaps haven’t even heard about your town. Isn’t that great? Just imagine how wider your reach is now. What’s that smell? Something is burning. Must be our jealous writer-ancestors. 

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

Research is a very important step in the writing process. It plays a big role in making stuff sound realistic. I do most of the research during outlining. I add comments to the document explaining the research elements and include links to the websites from where I got the information for future reference. I note down things which are yet to be researched.

I understand the importance of research, but I do not give it priority in case I’m writing a short story on a short deadline and lots of stuff is remaining. But I do make it a point to ensure that my guesses are reasonable. If you’re short on time, you can still create a realistic environment provided you haven’t included stuff that your audience know is 100% false. If you have time, don’t be lazy. Research matters. Now information is available easily and it’s everywhere. Books are still the best resource, but there are tons of blogs and vlogs and YouTube channels you can explore. Don’t forget to compare facts. If you can compare with standard sources, that’s good. Otherwise simply go with the widely accepted idea (facts many sources state in similar manner opposed to something only one source claims is the truth)

For my longer works, I spend months on research. My dystopian novella “Black Veins” is coming out this September, and for it I had to read about philosophies on society and recent development in robotics. Yeah, it’s going to be fun!

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

 I don’t suppose I can name one thing. Either they all are equally easy or equally difficult.

But yeah, diffidence is definitely something that bothers me. And I’m sure many writers face this problem. I stress a lot on quality. To the eyes of others the stuff I write is good, but I think it could be better. I know nothing can ever be perfect. But this knowledge is not enough. It’s kind of like a staircase with no end. You can climb it, every stair making your story more beautiful. But you have to stop somewhere and it’s hard to decide when. Fortunately my mind is not always bleak. The confidence returns. I just say fuck it and type ‘END.’

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Depends on the book. Few months back I finished a book in just two months. My very first attempt at novel-writing is four years old and nowhere near completion. As I said I focus on quality, not speed. If I write faster, I can see my quality deteriorating. So the wait doesn’t bother me much.

What’s the best way to market your books?

 I may not be the best person to answer this question. But I know that there is no universal best way. What works for someone may not work for you. The best thing to do is to attempt everything (social media, ads, mailing list, book tours), analyze the data, and then create your own strategy.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Oh no I can’t answer that question. Oops, by saying that I’ve already answered, haven’t I?

Yeah, each book stands on its own unless its a part of a well-defined series, but there’s definitely a common element regardless of the genres. It’s very subtle. And it’s going to be super fun when it becomes obvious. So let’s not ruin it now.

Where can readers learn more about you?

My Facebook page is pretty active. Do subscribe to my Newsletter and join my Facebook group. It’s a fun place. And yes, you’ll get free stories! DSP has added an author page to their website. Also check out my website. You’ll find free stories and poems from not just me, but also other talented writers I invite every week for a chat. Feel free to message me. I’m always finding new ways to procrastinate and will chat on almost anything.

Why Beta-Readers and Critical Feedback Matters

You finally finished your first draft of that novel! It took you months, maybe years, but you did it! Congratulations, bucko. Treat yourself to a double-shot peppermint mocha with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles.

While your sipping on your eight dollar drink, you crack open your laptop, run your novel through a spellchecker, send it off to an editor, get it back, and then upload your work on Amazon.

You generated interest for your book through your newly minted mailing list, conducted a well-marketed launch party, sent out dozens of ARCs to reviewers, and overall felt a great sense of pride. You buy yourself another mocha.

Until the reviews start coming in…

“This plot made no sense. 1/5 stars.”

“I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me. I even begged customer service.”

“Seriously? Reading should be considered an Olympic sport because I just broke world records after reading this crap.”

“I need bleach for my eyes.”

You had planned a whole series with at least six books. You don’t buy yourself a third mocha, but a bottle of whiskey this time and you don’t drink.

One of the activities I like to do when I hear about an “up-and-coming” hot author is read the well-written negative reviews first. Why? Because they point out all the serious problems the book had, but it offended the reader so much they had to give the work 1 or 2 stars. The comment, “I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me” is so commonly written, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a meme somewhere.

So, let me ask you? Would you have like to have gotten those negative reviews in the form of feedback instead of actual reviews?

Enter the alpha and beta readers.

There are several types of critiques you’ll need to perform on your work before it’s ready for publication or submission.

The first is self-edit. If you hate the editing process, you need to either endure it or learn to love it. After you finish your work, set it aside. Dragon Soul Press has blogged in the past to set aside your work about two weeks for a full novel. This will give your brain a break from your work, purge your thought processes about your book and then when you go back to it, you have a fresh mindset. You will find a ton of errors. As you read your own work, you realize you may have missed certain elements and issues. Get those fixed.

Another option is to utilize an alpha-reader, but these people are completely optional. Some authors use them quite religiously. I don’t. An alpha-reader is there to critique your work as you write it. You finish Chapter 4, you run it through spell-check and then shoot it off to them. But your overall work is not finished. The alpha-reader helps you with grammar and then checks for things like pacing, characterization, tension, etc. Create a questionnaire for your alphas or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. Then you can go through and address the comments one-by-one to tighten up the story as it comes to light.

After the alpha-reader is the beta-reader. You should always have these people ready in the wings to review your work. After you’ve completed your first draft, ran it through the spellchecker and/or Grammarly, these readers will evaluate your overall story for plot, tension, pacing, POV, characterization, climax, hook, etc. The primary goal of both the alpha and beta-reader is to point out problems. It’s okay to get praise, but if someone reads a full-length novel from you and they found no problems, they didn’t do their job. You’re not that good. I’m not good. Stephen King is not that good! If you write a full-length novel, you should have at least six to a dozen betas reviewing.

As with alphas, you can create a questionnaire for your betas to fill out or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. After you have received all their comments, go through and evaluate them, fixing the errors they’ve pointed out.

Some authors will employ as many as fifty reviewers. That’s great if you can get that many, but expect a lot of work if all of them point out fifty separate things for you to work on. Some authors will also go through a second or third round of beta-readers too and I knew one guy who was working on his fifth round of beta-readers. If you’re a well-established author, a second round would be helpful, but anything else beyond that is likely to put you through analysis-paralysis–a common term among day traders who overthink a situation instead of making the trade.

You will not eliminate every 1-star or 2-star review, but you will mitigate many of them if you utilize proper methods for obtaining feedback.

Happy writing!