Stephen Kozeniewski is a horror and science fiction author. His last name is pronounced “causin’ ooze key.” He is an Iraq War veteran and was awarded the Bronze Star, which is no small feat. Stephen has published numerous books and short stories. His work includes The Hematophages, Hunter of the Dead, Every Kingdom Divided, and The Ghoul Archipelago.
CHHR: How long have you been writing horror? How many books and short stories have you written?
Stephen: I’ve been writing since I was 6 and writing novels since I was 12. But I wouldn’t say I started writing horror until my first published novel, which would be about age 26. So at least…mumble mumble…years.
The second part is easier. I just released my sixth novel (which we’ll talk about in the next question) and earlier this year my seventh short story was published in a horror magazine called “Unnerving.”
CHHR: What influenced you to write The Hematophages? Did your military experience influence this book?
Stephen: THE HEMATOPHAGES emerged as a result of my work on the seemingly unrelated novel HUNTER OF THE DEAD. I first wrote HUNTER as a screenplay in the early ‘00s. When I sat down to rewrite it as a novel all I could see in the original was a juvenile story about über-macho cool guy vampires. I spent nearly three years trying to come up with some twist on the vampire formula to make HUNTER interesting again.
One of the ideas I came up with was a breeding pair of lamprey-like monsters infesting a human’s skull and emerging from the eyes to devour the blood of others. It made for a unique take on the vampire myth, certainly, but it necessitated a space story and would’ve eliminated virtually all of my characters. So I shelved that concept and revisited it as more of an “Alien”-esque piece, which you all now know as THE HEMATOPHAGES. Besides, how could I pass up a title like that?
My military experience absolutely influenced this book. I lean on my martial background whenever I write about authority figures or officials in any capacity, really. So characters like Diane and Helena especially are based on the sorts of people I dealt with in the army. But much more so I relied on my experience as a civil servant, working within a bureaucracy. In fact, life aboard the RV Borgwardt very closely resembles my actual current day job.
CHHR: Will you expand this futuristic universe that you created in The Hematophages?
Stephen: I think that would be interesting and I can definitely see stories hiding in the crevices of THE HEMATOPHAGES. I usually start from a hook or a concept and then build a world around that. If a story presents itself to me in that universe, sure, it would be nice to revisit it, but I’m not going to force a square peg into a round hole.
CHHR: Will there at least be a sequel to The Hematophages?
Stephen: Now, Curtis, you’ve read THE HEMATOPHAGES. Wouldn’t a sequel just be terribly depressing? :)
The real answer is the same (sort of) cheat I always give: if the market demands it. I tend to take the same tactic with all of my novels: write a standalone story with openings for a sequel. If THE HEMATOPHAGES turns out to be wildly popular, of course I’ll write sequels and take movie deals and all that sort of thing. If it doesn’t, well, I’m also happy with it just as it is.
CHHR: What does your writing routine look like? Any habits?
Stephen: I’ve really been a mess lately in terms of routine. (Going through a divorce will do that to you, I suppose.) Having deadlines, as I did with my last three novels, is definitely a motivating factor. But I also dislike deadlines because they turn the pleasure of letting a story and a world unfurl into a chore.
I can write almost anywhere, provided there’s a computer. I have an office at home, but I can also plop down in front of the TV in my living room, or splay out on a hotel bed, or even (don’t tell the boss) write at my day job, as I’m doing now. When everything’s lined up I do like to have a candle burning and a window open and something to drink, whether coffee or a more adult beverage. But I’d be lying if I said I got all of my writing done under those ideal circumstances.
CHHR: Do you have any advice for writers that are just starting out and trying to get published?
Stephen: There’s a lot of writing and publishing advice out there, and I’m happy to give anyone specifics. All you have to do is reach out. The reason for that is that I owe a lot to a lot of authors who came before me, and the only way to pay that debt is to give a hand to the ones coming after me. You’d better do the same, especially if you’re about to take the advice I’m about to lay down.
One thing that I think a lot of people don’t mention in writing blogs, etc., is to remember that you’re joining a tribe now. And like any tribe, there will be Barney Fifes and Gilgameshes in equal measure. Nobody minds helping out the Barney Fifes, even if they’ll probably never amount to much, as long as they’re kind and helpful in return. But if you’re a jerk and you alienate people, expect this to be a long, fruitless, pointless venture.
Remember your fellow authors are going to be your greatest assets as you enter on this journey, so make yourself an asset to them as well. Other authors, even the James Pattersons and Stephenie Meyers of the world, are not your enemies or your yardsticks. They’re just fellow human beings trying to make it in a rough-and-tumble business, the same as you are. So don’t bother with jealousy or envy or snootiness. Be welcoming and useful and kind and you’ll be all right. All the other stuff – success and money and adoring fans – it’ll come or it won’t. But you’d damn well better be good to the people around you while you’re waiting for that.
CHHR: What are you currently working on?
Stephen: I’m working on a couple of things so bear with me. First of all, I’m in the final editing stage of a collaboration with Stevie Kopas called SLASHVIVOR!, which is a sort of blend of “The Running Man” and all the best ‘80s slasher movies.
I’ve finished up a sequel/prequel/sidequel-type deal to THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO which I’m tentatively calling NOTES FROM THE UNDEAD. That manuscript is finished and in author edits, so I’m hoping to have it out later this year.
And as for new work, I’m working on a haunted house (sort of) story. I’m thinking right now this one will be called THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE, but it’s still in a very preliminary stage, so we shall see.
This is my first author interview. Stephen, thank you for doing this interview! You can learn more about Stephen Kozeniewski at http://manuscriptsburn.blogspot.com. You can also visit his Goodreads and Amazon pages. I will definitely be reading his other works!