by Stephen Herczeg Insects. After decades of Hollywood telling us that aliens were little green men, they finally arrived. And they were insects. Bigger than rhinos. Tougher than cockroaches. And hungry. The first wave hit New York. Ripping apart people like they were dolls. We deployed within hours. Thousands swarmed the streets; the sound […]
What’s your background, what compelled you to start writing?
I think I’ve always been a writer, or at least a creative in some respects. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started taking it seriously. Around that time, I was in a couple of bands, so was writing songs and poems. Inspired, I wrote a few short stories and actually wrote two novels (about 70,000 words). I’ve reread parts of them and lets just say they are staying hidden for now. I did rewrite one as a screenplay, and more recently a twelve-thousand-word short story, which was published this year.
After the two novels, I felt that I couldn’t get my ideas down on page quick enough and turned to screenplays. I’ve completed sixteen and have another couple in pieces. I managed to win an international contest with one script, and three others placed pretty highly as well.
It wasn’t until a friend sent me a link to a local callout for prose submissions that I turned my hand back to short story writing. I managed to have two stories accepted, and since then a new world has opened up to me and I haven’t stopped.
I think there’s just an innate need to tell stories. I have a highly active imagination and having spent the last twenty-five years writing scripts and short stories, I can now back it up with the tools to tell a story cohesively.
Which other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you be a better writer?
There’s an incredible world of talent and enthusiasm out there. Gone are the days where amateur and emerging writers were stuck in their own secluded world. The interweb and social media have been a boon to enabling writers to find each other, share ideas, work out their frustrations and collaborate.
After the first stories I had published, I was invited to join the Australasian Horror Writers Association, from there I’ve made heaps of contacts and found more and more submission opportunities and writing groups until I have an incredibly wide and energetic network of friends and contacts.
I’ll give special mention to Black Hare Press and the Australian Speculative Fiction Group who have been the mainstay of my story acceptances over the past couple of years. Both groups are incredibly supportive, and I feel pretty blessed to have their confidence and help.
I will also give a shout out to a couple of close friends I’ve made over the last few years who have helped me. First is Steve Dillon from Things In the Well, who has published almost a dozen of my stories and has never been afraid to offer support or a sharp critique when needed, which has only made me a better writer. Sadly, he has made the decision to close Things In the Well as a publishing house, but you never know, the urge will always be there and he might get back on the horse.
The other person is Lee Murray, who is possibly responsible for the genesis of After the Fall. I met Lee at Conflux a few years back, here in Canberra, and we hit it off straight away. About a year later, I floated the idea of writing a novel with her and Steve. My intention was to turn one of my award-winning screenplays into a novel, but Lee convinced me to try a new idea completely, rather than rehash something. I toyed with several ideas and had a short story version of After the Fall sitting around, but it was when I saw the Deep Underground call that I finally hit the ground running.
The intention was a novel but moving from short stories to novels is a major leap of faith. Moving from shorts to a novella seemed like a brilliant steppingstone.
So, long story short, thanks to Lee for the inspiration to write this novella.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t give up, don’t stop creating. And stay away from so much beer.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve always been creative in one way or another. Be it drawing, Lego, writing. In High School, I wrote a lot. I created my own comic books, I even toyed with writing a novel at one stage. I’ve still got the handwritten pages somewhere.
But I stopped. University got in the way, along with girls, beer, cars, etc.
It wasn’t until about eight years after I graduated that I finally put pen to paper again. Given I’ve had about sixty stories published in just the last five years, I want to go back in time and kick myself up the bum. All that lost time and effort that I’ll never get back.
It’s also advice I’d give to any aspiring writer. FINISH IT.
Nike says, “Just do it.” There’s a reason for that. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done.
Finishing something is half the journey.
I once met a guy at a film group who stood up and said he’d spent the last two years writing the first forty pages of a script (normal scripts are between 80 – 120 pages).
He’d edited and rewritten those forty pages until they shone. In that same two years I think I’d written three screenplays.
His question to the group was what he should do next.
I shouted out, “FINISH IT!”
I’m not sure it was taken in the spirit that it was offered, but what the hey.
To beat my own drum, I was asked to stand up and explain myself.
I mentioned I’d written a few scripts. When people asked how many, I said ten. A few fell of their chairs.
What does literary success look like to you?
Ultimate success has always been a glassy eyed view that one day I’d be a full-time professional writer. I’d sit in my house in the country, looking out across the sea or mountains while I tapped away at my keyboard, printing out my completed manuscript at the end of a hard day, while the royalty cheques flooded my mailbox.
Years of hard work, and a patina of cynicism, have changed my view. I realise that is highly unlikely, but a level of it can be achieved.
Nowadays, I reckon I’ll be a literary success when I find myself in a second-hand bookstore or opportunity shop and spy one of my own novels for sale on the shelf.
I don’t care if it’s only selling for a dollar, because it represents the fact that – I actually wrote a novel; I got it published; someone bought it; they probably even read it; and they thought enough of it to donate or sell it instead of just tossing it into the recycling bin.
Stephen King said a great line in On Writing:
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
That’s a quote to live by, in my book.
Besides hard work and talent, what other traits has led to your success?
As I said earlier, just finish it. If the story sucks. Write another. There are always more ideas, and if you’re stuck, use an old idea, and write it a different way.
A little-known fact about me is that I ran an Amway business in the ‘90s. The underlying idea behind that business was that it’s a numbers game. You may have to talk to ten people to sign one person up. To build up a significant network, you’ll need about a hundred people in your organisation—do the maths, that’s a thousand people that need to be talked to. Numbers, just plain numbers.
Keep doing it, keep churning out stories. One of them will sell.
Then you need to build up the courage to put them out there.
I think I mentioned that I’ve been in a few bands. There’s nothing worse than dedicating time and effort to a band, only to never play in front of anybody. What’s the point? The idea of forming a band is to play music for people. But that takes guts.
The same as writing. What’s the point of having a drawer full of great stories, if you are the only one that ever reads them? Get them out there. It takes guts, but what the hey—nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I’ll admit I’ve never had a lack of guts, but I still worry about what people will think of my work, I still have nerves watching my email inbox for rejections and I sometimes lie down and curl up in a ball when a story is rejected, but then I recover and go back to my previous point.
Were you an avid reader while you were growing up?
Hell, yeah. Still am.
I think I was blessed by a mother that understood the importance of reading. Even from the earliest age, I was surrounded by books.
I still remember the first set was from the Immigration Department where my Mum worked. They were simple versions of Aesop’s fables, aimed at newly arrived immigrants to help them learn English. I devoured them all.
I grabbed books from the library and consumed them as well. Mostly books about monsters and dinosaurs.
I saw the 1978 Lord of the Rings Movie and read Lord of the Rings when I was about fourteen, and again in university, and three other times as well.
I was given the entire set of James Bond novels by my uncle. I’ve read them all at least twice.
I have a library of well over four hundred books. I’d have more but keep having to free up bookshelves for my own growing vanity collection. Still, I also have about a thousand books in e-book form.
Apart from my own books, my proudest possessions are a signed copy of Ash by James Herbert, who is actually my favourite author, RIP. Plus, over forty hard cover first edition Stephen King novels.
Luckily, my love of books has rubbed off on my daughter, though she keeps wanting to own the same books I already have copies of, so it’s a little strange. She’s recently got into cyberpunk which surprised me, but luckily, I had heaps in my e-book collection.
In relation to your latest book;
What sparked the idea for this book?
The original short story came from an idea about how modern man would face an extinction level event like the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. From my reading it wasn’t the impact itself, but the lingering after-effects that killed them off. I translated that idea into the present day to see how humanity would deal with it.
Just to add a higher level of threat to the story, an ancient evil was awakened as well.
What challenges did you encounter to finish it?
I got a little lucky in that I was working from home for most of the COVID response. So, that meant I had an hour up my sleeve every day when I wasn’t driving to and from work. That hour was dedicated to writing.
To create the novella from my original story, I had to rewrite the entire thing as it was in first person. I also reset part of it to a more logical underground location to fit the theme.
That story constitutes the last part of the novella, so the extra challenge was fleshing out the events leading up to it. Which was a huge amount of fun. I took a very James Herbert approach, adding short vignettes towards the beginning that contain characters that are built up with backstories to garner empathy with the reader, then I kill them off in horrible ways.
Herbert did that in a lot of his books, and I’ve always loved it.
What’s brewing? What projects are you working on?
I have some secrets. I’ve been invited to contribute to two collaborative and connected anthologies which sound incredibly intriguing, details of which won’t be released to the general public until later in the year.
I’m also finishing off a couple of stories for a series of anthologies that revolve around the signs of the zodiac. So far, I’m featured in ten out of ten anthologies and just need to finish the last two stories. No guarantees of inclusion, so no pressure on me, much.
Plus, I also write Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Three new anthologies are accepting stories up until the end of the year.
At some stage, I’ll take a breather, but not yet. Did I mention that thing about persistence?
More Posts from the Author
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? FINISH IT. Don’t give up, don’t stop creating. And stay away from so much beer.
Knocked out of orbit by a rogue comet, the asteroid Vesta rockets towards Earth, to pass by in a heavenly display of fire. Dubbed the party of the century by the media across the planet, thousands gather in cities to watch the spectacle and party until dawn.
Technology has virtually disappeared. Food is in short supply. And when one of Lexi’s groups is kidnapped, she must steel herself for the journey to exact revenge and rescue her friend.
by Stephen Herczeg I found them at the bottom of the garden. Sparkling. Beautiful. Little winged people. They looked hungry, so I left a table covered with treats on the lawn. Mummy and I went out. Daddy did the mowing. As the garage door went up, Mummy started screaming. There was the table. There […]
Stephen Herczeg is an IT Geek, writer, actor, film maker and Taekwondo Black Belt from Canberra, Australia, who has been writing for well over twenty years, with sixteen completed feature length screenplays, and numerous short and micro-fiction stories. Stephen’s scripts, TITAN, Dark are the Woods, Control and Death Spores have found success in international screenwriting competitions with a win, two runner-up and two top ten finishes.
by Stephen Herczeg I wake. It’s dark. So dark. My bed is tight. Snug on both sides. I reach up. There’s something a few inches above me. It’s hard, but covered in soft fabric. It’s like I’m in a box, with soft silk sheets all around. I’m wearing a suit, not pyjamas. Where are […]