Saturday, September 10, 2016

Author Interview: Steve Herczeg, Screenwriter and author of two stories in Sproutlines

Welcome Steve Herczeg to the Blog this week.

Can you tell us a bit about you as an author?
I have been writing creatively for as long as I can remember in one way or another. As a teen I wrote dodgy heavy metal lyrics for a garage band I belonged to. In early adulthood I moved from writing short fiction into a couple of full length novels. Reading those now, I cringe, but they were a learning curve and have proved useful since.

I turned to writing feature film screenplays as a way of getting my thoughts and ideas down on the page quicker and in a more concise way. I found the visualisations that can be achieved in a script to be more effective than the stunted prose I was writing at the time.

I have so far completed fifteen feature film scripts, and numerous short scripts. Two of my scripts, “Death Spores” and “Control” have placed well in some international screenplay competitions, and I am working on developing “Control” into a fully realised feature film.

Working on “Control” has made me turn from a simple writer into a film maker, and I have taken the helm as a director to bring three of my short scripts to the screen.

Last year I had the opportunity to turn back to prose writing and was fortunate enough to have two of my short stories accepted into “Sproutlings: a compendium of little fictions” that is being published through Hunter Anthologies.

What are the hardest part of being an author?
I think the thing that holds most people back is self-doubt. Everybody you mention to that you are an author or writer answers with “I have this great idea for a book/movie”. When you then tell them to sit down and write it, they invariably answer with “oh, I could never do that”.

It’s the same with more established authors and writers. Even George R. R. Martin expressed the sentiment in a recent interview with Stephen King. He asked King “You don’t ever have a day when you sit down there and it’s like constipation - you write a sentence and you hate the sentence and you check your email and you wonder if you had any talent after all and maybe you should have been a plumber?” he asked, incredulous. “Don’t you have days like that?” To which King replied “No”.
But for the most of us, the answer is “Yes”. The real answer is to ignore the question in the first place and just get on with it.

I’ve talked to people that have spent years writing a screenplay. They’ve got to page forty and no further. They say they’ve polished those forty pages until they gleam. My advice to them is finish the bloody thing. It doesn’t matter if the end result sucks, at least it’s finished. Then you have the choice to re-edit it or start on something new. The act of writing is all about the creation not the polishing.

What do you enjoy most about being an author?
The physical act of losing yourself in the creation is the most enjoyable aspect of writing. It’s sort of like being a long distance runner. At times it is almost impossible to break through the inertia, but once you achieve a level of momentum and the endorphins kick in you can achieve a sense of euphoria that is unlike any other experience. The same happens in writing. The blank page can be as scary as any horror movie, but once you begin to type and words appear and multiply, you get sucked into the act of creation and lose all sense of time and space. It is drug like in its attraction.

What authors/books have had an influence on your writing?
I write horror. I have dabbled in science fiction and action, but will always return to what I like best. My favourite authors are James Herbert (R.I.P.) and Stephen King. Herbert always inspired me through his use of small vignettes or short stories at the beginning of his books as a mechanism for setting up the main plot lines of the story. He could breathe life into his minor characters, give them a history and personality before obliterating them completely, often in the most grotesque and left field way. King is the master of taking the mundane and turning it on its head.

My one true passion is collecting Herbert and King hard cover first editions. I have about forty Stephen King HC firsts, and about ten of Herbert’s (including a signed copy of his last novel Ash). Other notable influences have come from the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. For just pure unadulterated entertainment I can never go past a Terry Pratchett novel. I have a large collection as well.

Do you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, how do you deal with it? Do you believe there is such a thing?
Most people think that Writer’s block is a complete shutdown of ideas flowing into the writer’s imagination. To me I think it is more a lack of motivation or even interest centring on the work that the author is concentrating on at the time. As George R. R. Martin said in the interview with King, it comes from that growing self-doubt or sense of worthlessness that comes when a writer loses motivation or interest.

To the part time writer it manifests itself as a symptom of life. The inability to find time to write, time to prepare, time to oneself. Family, jobs, life in general just gets in the way.

One way I’ve found to deal with it, came from a talk that I saw Terry Pratchett give a few years before his death. He said that before he sat down to write he would play a few minutes of Doom. He reckoned that there is no better way of clearing out the cobwebs that day to day living spins in your mind than to blow the crap out of a few zombies and monsters with a double barrelled shotgun.

Admittedly, there can be a downside to this when you realise after a few hours of playing Assassin’s Creed that you’ve now run out of time to do any writing, which is what you were preparing for in the first place.

Do you have a particular place that you like to write?
Again, life has got in the way. I haven’t managed to set myself up a nice, cosy area to while away the day forging pages full of words.

I did have a brilliant opportunity afforded me last year though. I found myself unemployed for a couple of months. This period coincided with a need to perform a full rewrite of my feature film script “Control”. I managed to spend a lot of time visiting coffee shops and cafes across the city in between appointments and job interviews.

I found one cafĂ© that was nestled in the basement of a local shopping centre and was part of a large second hand bookshop. I was able to hijack a table on a couple of occasions and write to my heart’s content while bathed in the odour of old books and fresh coffee. It was bliss and highly productive.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
Again, life. I generally fit in some writing around what I am doing. I have found that if I can lock myself away at lunch time (whilst at work) I can be quite productive, or I’ll snatch some time in the late afternoon before leaving work for the day (there’s a little trick with Outlook that you can answer whatever emails need your attention and forward them on with a time delay). At night, once the kids go to bed and the dishes are done you can generally find some more “me” time to get more words on the page.

How do you like to reach your readers? (Social media? Book signings? Blogs etc)
Social Media (e.g. Facebook) is one of the wonders of the modern world. It may be a massive drain on the collective attention span, but it is also a brilliant way to disseminate information. When my short stories were accepted into Sproutlings, I began advertising the fact on my own feed and on other pages and groups. Although it can be a little hit and miss, the word that came back to me was that it was very effective. Many of my friends and acquaintances either sponsored the Kickstarter campaign or bought pre-release copies of the book.

I have also been a member of online writing groups and collaborative sites. These are great at getting unreserved (sometimes a little too forthright) feedback from strangers as opposed to your friends who are more likely to love everything you do and not give back any useful criticisms.

Can you tell us about your latest book? (is it part of a series, genre)
Apart from my Sproutlings stories and a few other unsuccessful competition entries, my main focus has been on rewriting my feature film script for “Control”. I managed to win an Arts Fund grant through ScreenACT to help further my career as a screenwriter. The money was used to employ a script editor located in Los Angeles. Her task was to pull apart the plot of Control and provide me with the means and feedback to enable a rewrite of the script so that it would be more coherent and marketable.

Control is a horror story that centres on a young woman who is able to see the ghost of a young man and give him the power to interact with our world. Unbeknownst to her when alive he was a serial killer. He learns how to draw power from her and begins to kill those around her. To save those she loves she must learn how to stop him.

The script placed second in the 2013 International Horror Hotel Screenplay competition and was a quarter finalist and top ten in the 2014 “Search for New Blood” and “Horror Screenplay” competitions, respectively.

How long did it take you to write the book?
The initial version of “Control” took about six months to write from woe to go. The original idea came from a talk held a at local film maker’s group where a renowned script writer suggested that there was a lack of ghost stories in modern cinema. Admittedly, this was before “The Conjuring, Mama, Sinister, Ghostbusters remake, etc”. An idea came into my mind from an old article about the prevalence of poltergeist activity around teenage girls. The idea was “what if a young girl could not only see ghosts but control them”? From there the script was created.

The rewrite took six weeks from “FADE IN” to “FADE OUT”, but most of the work was done with the script editor in defining the major turning points in the plot. I only reused one scene, where the ghost animates a roomful of china headed dolls and terrorises a teenage girl to the extent that she jumps out of a window.

Do you have a favourite character/topic in your work?
I love zombies. I have seen and documented about 250 zombie movies and run a Facebook page called “The 30 day zombie challenge” where I publish movie and book reviews.
I have written three zombie scripts, “Death Spores”, “Dead School” and “Titan”, and the opening scenes of “Death Spores” were rewritten into the short story that was published in Sproutlings.
I like zombies as you can do anything with them, give them any attributes that you want as long as you are honest and set up their characteristics from the beginning.

I also find that watching zombie movies to be very cathartic, there’s nothing better than seeing humans perish at the hands and teeth of the ravenous undead to put your own trials and tribulations into perspective.

What was your process? Did you plot out the entire book, or just let the storyline flow? Do you write in chronological order?

I’ve read and listened to Stephen King’s “On Writing” about five or six times and love the process he undertakes to writing, which is come up with an overall story and then let the characters tell you where and how it will proceed.

I’ve tried to put that in action, but found the result to be an absolute mess. 
Then I found Syd Field, one of the best proponents for screenplay structure in Hollywood. Field suggests the formation of a paradigm which maps out the standard three act structure of feature films, with techniques for when and how to move from one act to the next.

Being an IT geek by trade, I have created a small database that I can input my ideas on the structure and characters and have it spit out the paradigm for me to follow.

It is all a little structured, but I’m a programmer and database developer, so it suits my thinking processes.

Do you have plans for further instalments?
I have left the end of “Control” open for a sequel, but have no plans to write one until I can advance the development of the film. My next steps are to gain a distributor and begin to put key people into roles and gather funding. I have no plans to direct the film myself but do plan to keep as close to the project for as long as I can.

Do you have a plan for your next book?
I have about ten unwritten script ideas in various stages of development. When I began the rewrite of “Control” I was about sixty pages into another script called “Exposure” which is about a young martial artist who finds himself in an underground pit fighting club and must battle to survive and to protect his lover. I am in the struggle stage of getting re-motivated to finish off “Exposure”. Life, and that Assassin’s Creed problem keep getting in the way.

Ebooks vs Physical books? Do you have a preference when reading?
I love the feel and smell of physical books. When I am reading for pure pleasure then I would rather have one to hold. My library has well over five hundred on its shelves and my love has transferred to my daughter (9) who feels the need to own as many books as possible, even if I already own them.
For convenience, happy with eBooks or even audio books. There’s nothing worse than finishing a paperback with several hours left on an international flight (it happened), and you can knock over a large number of books by listening to them on the way to and from work.

Self-publishing vs traditional publishing? What are your thoughts? Do you feel that the industry is changing?
The industry is changing and for the better. Self-publishing is a great way for people to get their work out into the marketplace. At one time this was called “vanity” publishing and cost a fortune, but a writer can spend a relatively small amount of money and produce and publish an ebook. It does mean that there will be a whole lot more garbage out there, but it also means that a lot of rough and unpolished diamonds can make their way into the collective consciousness rather than be lost for all time.

And finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Just do it.

Write. Create. Build. Paint. Sculpt. Sing. Play. Make.

Get your work out of your brain and down onto paper or into a computer. Who cares if it’s any good? 

Who cares if no one but you and your mother will ever read it?

If you never write then you will never know. And if you never write then no one else will ever know.

Once you get it out, then you can make the decision to make it better, throw it away, or move on to the next project. But if you never do it in the first place, then you will never have that chance.

How can readers find you?

Thanks for dropping by Steve. Your projects sound incredible interesting. 

Don't forget to subscribe to Killing Time Blog to see more author interviews. Please contact me if you'd like to be interviewed or have a really interesting story to tell.  Until next time...


Amanda Howard

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