10 Questions with Stephen Herczeg
Stephen’s feature length screenplays have found success in international screenwriting competitions with TITAN winning the Sci-Fi category, and Dark are the Woods placing second in the Horror category, in the 2017 International Horror Hotel screenplay competition. Over recent years, Stephen has concentrated more on prose writing, and so far has had over eighty short stories and a further 100 micro-fictions accepted for publication.
He lives by the creed "Just Finish It" and his is first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, The Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes, was published in mid-2021 by MX Publishing. His first novella, After the Fall, will be published by Black Hare Press in July of 2021.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
I’m originally from Adelaide, Australia, but moved to Canberra over thirty years ago. The capital had jobs, my home city didn’t. I’m an IT geek working in the architecture space for a company that provides consulting services to the government.
Over the years, I’ve dabbled in script writing and film making; I’ve been a singer in several rock bands and performed in a dozen stage musicals; plus I’m a Third Degree Black Belt in Taekwon-Do, though injuries and Covid have sapped my fitness and virtually destroyed my training regime of late.
After all that, I believe I’ve finally found my niche in prose writing.
I generally write adult horror but had dipped my toe in the sci-fi and fantasy ponds. I’ve even had a kids fantasy story published in an Alice in Wonderland anthology. To this point, I have over eighty short stories and a similar number of 100 word drabbles accepted or published across dozens of anthologies.
Of late, I’ve been drawn into the world of crime, with over a dozen Sherlock Holmes stories to my name, and another few that include a pastiche on Holmes called Solar Pons.
2. What drew you to that particular genre?
I’ve always loved horror. If I were to lay the blame for that at anyone’s feet, it would be my maternal grandmother’s.
My parents separated when I was young; Mum was still in her twenties and according to many sources, quite hot, so she’d be out on a Friday night, and I’d be stuck at home with my Grandma watching that week’s featured Friday Night horror movie.
I also saw the Exorcist when I was ten (I was smuggled into a drive-in), so you can imagine what sort of effect that can have on you. My all-time favourite movies are Alien and Jaws, so I do like a good creature feature, and have written quite a few myself.
3. What’s your best known work? (Alternative option: What are you currently working on?)
Time for some shameless self-promotion. UK based MX Publishing recently published my first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, called The Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes. The two volume anthology features stories that have been published in MX anthologies, and their kindred spirit across the Atlantic, Belanger Books, plus two previously unpublished stories.
I’m incredibly proud to have produced enough quality stories and to have garnered enough confidence and support from MX Publishing for my collection to become a reality.
The Kickstarter campaign ran through March, with over 80 backers, and two thousand dollars raised. The book is currently available through MX and will go live on Amazon in July (Volume One - paperback), September (Volume Two - paperback) and October (Combined hardcover).
4. What inspired you to write it?
That’s probably the freakiest part about the whole process. There I was a happy horror writer, getting the odd acceptance amid heaps of rejections, when I saw a request, from Belanger Books, for stories involving Sherlock Holmes in the worlds of H.G. Wells.
I thought I’d have a crack and choosing a lesser-known work called The Sleeper Awakes, wove a tale around Holmes finding a dishevelled man who seems to have come directly from the 18th century.
It was heaps of fun to delve into the world of Victorian England, and indeed into the antics and quirks of Sherlock Holmes (there was a lot of reading involved). From there I received more invitations to submit to other anthologies from Belanger and MX, and I haven’t stopped since. In fact, the last two stories I’ve worked on are Holmes tales, with another five slated up until the end of August.
5. Tell us about your writing process. Are you a plotter, panster or somewhere in between? How do you research?
As I mentioned, I’m an IT architect with a background in programming, system analysis and design, so it’s in my nature to research, analyse and design stuff. The same process has skipped over into my writing.
Before I came back to prose writing, I spent about twenty years writing screenplays in the hopes of getting a feature film made. Still waiting. I did gain a few placings in screenplay competitions, and I’ve made short films from my own scripts, and written some for other producers, so not all wasted.
What this leant me was a method for building up a story. I always followed the Syd Field process of story structure and a lot of that flows into prose writing.
My analytical brain needs to have things organised, so I use a technique called mind-mapping, whereby I throw ideas into a map to organise characters, setting, structure, and other details that are required for the story telling process.
Once I’m happy that the skeleton is there, I’ll begin the writing process, but there will often be reworkings of the structure, plus the introduction of elements that weren’t there at the beginning and then have to be worked in to make the tale make sense.
Google is also my friend. I do remember writing before the Interweb, and that meant a lot of reliance on an ancient place full of dusty tomes called a library. I would hate to think how hard it would be to write a Sherlock Holmes story, set in Victorian London without the Internet. It would be horrendous.
6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
So many things to name really. To give a hint at the sort of stuff popping up on my search history. Just from the last Holmes story.
How long before blood pools in the lower parts of a dead body?
What types of women’s shoes were worn in London in 1885?
Where did women buy shoes at that time?
Where were the morgues located in London in 1885?
What did Grosvenor Square look like in Victorian London?
Did they use ear tags on sheep in England in 1886?
What did the British Museum look like in 1886?
For one of the last horror stories I wrote, I did a massive amount of research into the Legions of Hell, including the established hierarchy of Satan’s generals and lieutenants. I coupled that with the layout of Long Island in the 1960s, plus the prevalence of heroin addiction at that time. Add to that a bit of research into the Popes of the last couple of centuries, and you’ve almost captured the tabs on my web browser at the time.
7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
I’d say that the most personal thing I’ve written was many years ago, when my kids were very young, I wrote a feature script called Phoebe. It was about a martial artist that accidentally kills his young daughter and is dragged off to prison on a trumped-up murder charge brought in by a corrupt politician. The story examines the main character’s reactions to having accidentally killed his daughter through to his redemption to unearth the politician. The personal nature of the story was that I basically used myself and my family as the source material. I included actual events from our lives and reworked them into the framework of the tale. From a personal perspective, the abject horror of contemplating the events leading up to the killing, let alone the harming, of your own child even if it is through a freak accident is something that would haunt any father for the rest of their days.
8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?
I think I have three main influences. Stephen King, James Herbert, and Terry Pratchett.
King’s influence comes through from the way I try to concentrate on good characterisation, not from any descriptive bent but from the emotional and personality side of things. King’s brilliance is in building relatable characters that the reader can empathise with. If you can crack that, you can lead the reader down any path you choose.
James Herbert is actually my favourite writer. His earlier works are incredible tales that start with series of vignettes, almost short stories in their own right, that introduce characters, build them up to the point of interest to the reader, then he kills them off in the most gruesome of ways, all the while building the narrative flow of the whole story. I’ve applied that technique heavily in my first novella, After the Fall, which will be published in July by Black Hare Press. I include a series of stories that weave the opening sequences together and complete the narrative, before launching into the actual guts of the story. I hope it works, cause it’s a damn fun way of writing a longer story.
And last but not least, Terry Pratchett is just brilliant at building up a world that is almost the same as ours, but throws our foibles and failings to the fore, usually in the most humorous way possible. I was blessed to have met him a couple of times. A wonderful man, and sadly missed.
And a big nod to Arthur Conan Doyle. All of my Holmes tales use his characterisation as the basis, and I try to never waiver from that.
9. What books are on your bedside table right now?
We brought a puppy home about a year ago. That has changed my routine so much that my TBR pile is growing massive. I used to spend about half an hour a night reading in bed but no more.
Currently, I have one of the anthologies I feature in, Sea of Secrets, lying dormant and half read in my top drawer. We brought home some kittens a couple of weeks ago, so nothing stays on the bedside any more. I’m also forcing myself to read on the couch but have an intense fear of putting anything valuable there that the dog might eat. So, have a copy of Fractured by Karen Slaughter, bought in an op-shop, out there at the moment. Next to it is a copy of The Institute by Stephen King, which I started at Christmas but stopped reading for some reason.
My bookshelves are lined with unread anthologies featuring my stories. Slack, I know. I received a copy of Two Lost Mountains by Matthew Reilly for Christmas. I’m desperate to get to that one, but it’s a hardcover first edition and I’m still wary of that dog’s teeth.
10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
I’ve included my Amazon and Goodreads page links below. I’ve kept the list of anthologies I appear in as up to date as I can. I’ll admit I have gotten way behind with that, the last two years have been incredible with multiple acceptances and you need to keep on top of Amazon/Goodreads cause the publisher can generally only include about five contributors.
Also, The Curious Cases of Sherlock Holmes can be bought from the MX Publishing site. Link is here:
Follow Stephen on these platforms!
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