S.M. Douglas

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In Search Of, Bigfoot, and Apex Predator

Over the past few years I have often discussed my greatest influences as a writer in the horror genre. This week I would like to discuss another one: an oft neglected TV show entitled In Search Of. Airing from 1977 to 1982, In Search Of was narrated by the regrettably now deceased Leonard Nimoy, In Search Of proved not only entertaining – but also surprisingly scary. Especially for young children at that time, such as myself. I loved the show (particularly it’s first few seasons), so much that I couldn’t resist finding a reason to briefly mention it in my new werewolf novel Apex Predator.

Whether consciously or not writers often interject aspects of their own personality into their characters. Though I didn’t shape my novel’s protagonist nor the other characters upon myself, there is a bit of me in each of them.  Before anyone says anything about the villainous Jimmy Donnelly,  please don’t worry. I’ve never done anything remotely approaching the savagery unleashed by that character’s particular appetites. However, parts of my past show up in other characters; including the book’s protagonist – William Brody.

During Apex Predator’s first act Brody is investigating a gruesome murder that happened in the same metropolitan area where he grew up. There is a forest bordering the suburban neighborhood where he was raised; and this forest had an impact on his character’s development, as it did on mine. As a child I spent countless hours in that forest and in front of the television. During those years the forest taught me something, and at times the lessons it taught inspired me to become a horror novelist.  One of those instances occurred when my childhood best friend and I swore we found Bigfoot prints in the mud along the tree line. Now, where do six year old’s get such an idea? Why, the television of course.

Some of you might remember that it once seemed as if Bigfoot was everywhere. In Search Of spoke of him; the Six Million Dollar Man fought the creature; and the Saturday afternoon horror special’s eerie Led Zeppelin scored intro all too often led into another showing of the Legend of Boggy Creek.

In Search Of’s creepy take on the beast might have been the scariest. The first three minutes of Season One’s Bigfoot episode led to several nights of nightmares for my young self. Those minutes reenacted a Bigfoot attack on some miners in the Pacific Northwest. The rest of the show (included below) isn’t bad, but I encourage you to watch at least those initial scenes. Try and overlook the show’s groovy title music. Consider what a young child who watched the episode might have been thinking the next day when he or she ventured into the woods. What might that child have been imagining was also out there in the trees – watching and waiting for a chance to strike:

Check Out My Latest Author Interview

Last week Serious Reading published their author interview with me. It’s a bit longer than past interviews I’ve done, but it’s fun and goes deep into numerous topics. These include: my take on why horror is a special genre, the role of research in horror writing, tips on getting started, early writing projects, what’s hard versus easy about being a writer, and some fun stuff on public perceptions of writers – as well as much more!

Please look over the interview. In particular, aspiring authors will find it interesting. For everyone else Serious Reading does a good job of asking thoughtful questions. I hope you enjoy it.

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Werewolves, Nazi’s, Archaeological Excavation, and the Horror Writer’s Journey

I have previously examined several issues horror writer’s must address in their work. This week I offer further tips to aspiring authors, as well as bonus backstory for fans interested in the mass grave at the heart of Apex Predator’s pages.

For those that haven’t yet picked up a copy of my book, it features two sets of investigators whose work brings them together. One set of investigators is actually a group of researchers exhuming a mysterious Eastern European mass grave. Found in a foreboding heavily forested valley, the mass grave contains what appears to be an entire squad of Second World era German soldiers. The researchers, who comprise several of the book’s primary characters, struggle to understand how and why these German soldiers ended up in such a grave miles from any known WWII battlefields; albeit located in the heart of Europe’s bloodlands.

Archelogy German Skull

As part of the investigative process these researchers (a group of historians, historical archeologists, and one dogged forensic biologist) form a site plan to determine their methodology. This initial process is only alluded to, as it would have slowed down Apex Predator’s pace to have been described in detail.

In planning how to exhume the human remains our researchers are motivated by one early concern: getting initial impressions of the bones without unduly disturbing the state in which they were found. For that reason, as well as the fact Apex Predator’s researchers were dealing with relatively few bodies, they chose a stratigraphic method for excavating the grave. Unlike using, say a pedestal methodology, a process that starts the dig at the grave’s perimeter, working in, and collapsing the grave walls – the stratigraphic approach allowed the researchers to excavate in reverse order. They could thus exhume the bodies beginning with the remains closest to the surface then moving down to the deceased first put in the grave when it had been originally formed.  Not only does this provide insight into the process behind the grave’s creation, but via maintaining intact the site walls the researchers could also better identify those elements that created the grave – such as marks from tires or the types of tools used.

Note to aspiring authors; this is swiftly discussed in the book. I didn’t want to turn this explanation into a proverbial “info dump”. In horror writing, and in contrast to non-fiction, it’s more important to keep the tension and suspense high – as well as to keep the story moving. To that end I also trimmed up passages from the manuscript’s initial drafts that went into detail concerning the type of equipment used to uncover and analyze the remains.

However, I also want readers who enjoyed my book to have a source where they can learn more about what was going on “behind the scenes”.  As such, note that Owen (a historian and one of the book’s main characters) found a particularly important (as it would turn out) human femur. In the book we see him uncover it, but we don’t know how he removed it from the ground without damaging it. Here is what he did. Once Owen realized he had found a potential human remain he progressively switched to several different brushes to feather free the remains. This included a hand brush manufactured with soft coco bristles capable of moving significant quantities of loose soil that, nevertheless, was still a rather blunt instrument. For greater precision Owen also used a small ox hair artist’s brush that, with its even softer bristles, would allow him to work without fear of damaging the femur’s cylindrical shaft, spherical head, collum, trochanters, and two stubby condyles that provided the structural basis for the bone’s integration with the knee joint.

In Apex Predator’s pages Owen turns the femur over to Cindy (another main character and our forensic biologist), who has set up a field lab at the dig site. The field lab’s interior layout is partially described in the final manuscript. Initial drafts had provided more detail but, and another tip for aspiring authors, I had cut most of that because the lab did not feature as a prominent physical location in the book. It was an important location, but not enough that I needed to spend several paragraphs describing it. This is a point many authors forget. When you spend time describing a place to readers you are signaling that it will be crucial for the story. If it subsequently is not, then you have wasted the reader’s time. In Apex Predator, the town of Dibrovno, it’s castle, the valley surrounding it, and several other places are described in lavish detail – but that’s because they are critical locations to the story. Please, strive to avoid wasting the reader’s time.

As for my dear readers, who might be looking for more about the world in which Apex Predator unfolds, let’s take a closer look at Cindy’s field lab. On the outside it was a huge canvas tent, with special access doors to limit the chance of contaminants getting inside. The interior featured gleaming stainless steel tables on top of which a series of pans had been set and labeled in order as follows; detergent, 5% bleach, sterile distilled water, and 100% ethanol.  These materials were used to help clean the bones for analysis. A rack allowed remains to air dry in place. Dremel multi-function rotary tools with attached grinding stones could also have been used to sand from the bones any soil and remaining tissue not sampled for DNA evidence and subsequently stored in a custom deep freezer. The results of Cindy’s research, particularly into DNA fragments pulled from the remains, form part of a key conversation in the book’s first act.

Organizational skill and analytical ability was supposed to be the research team’s edge, allowing them to identify how and why the German soldiers had ended up in a mass grave. Nonetheless, the plan fell apart. One of the issues stumping the research team revolved around the reality that the more remains they took from the grave the fewer secrets it gave up. Most problematically, there had been no signs of tool usage. How did the bodies get there? Moreover, there was a total absence of ballistic or projectile damage on the remains. This begs the question as to how an entire squad of murderous, well-armed Nazi soldiers ended up meeting their demise. It was as if the bodies had been dropped into a pre-existing hole, with no explanation as to what had killed them. The reader ultimately gets a first hand look at how that happened. Of course, the researchers would end up getting their answers as well – but for them it would occur in the most horrifying way possible.

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HorrorNews.net Publishes Glowing Review of Apex Predator

I am absolutely ecstatic to say HorrorNews.net has just published an enthusiastic and positive review of my new novel Apex Predator, offering the following praise:

“It takes mere paragraphs to become addicted to author’s unique style and infectious story telling prowess…pace is swift… rare commodity for one to stumble across… mesmerizing conclusion… vivid description… pulse pounding action… borderline poetic and the crystal clear imagery inspires the suspense fanatic in each of us… eloquent grisly, gory and gruesome prose. Douglas evokes an unsettling level of skin crawling hysteria for even the most cynical of readers…one cannot help but squirm with unease and maybe double and triple check that the locks have been secured for the night. Rest assured Apex Predator is not your Uncle Ned’s Werewolf story. It’s invigorating, innovative and refreshing to see an age old premise composed with a brand new edge…will jump at the chance to embark upon another S.M. Douglas odyssey.”

Needless to say I am beside myself at landing such a wonderful review (though for some reason they refer to me as “him” and not “her” but whatever, I’ll take it in exchange for an endorsement like this from such a highly regarded publication). For those that don’t know, HorrorNews.net is perhaps the number one website for all things horror. It is consistently ranked by Alexa as one of the top four horror related websites as well as one of the top horror websites of all time. This is so cool.

For more of the review see here – http://horrornews.net/117285/book-review-apex-predator-author-s-m-douglas/

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Here’s my recent interview with werewolfbook.com

Yesterday I did a short interview with fellow horror author Brian Ferenz over at werewolfbook.com. We touched on several topics. These include: where my initial interest in werewolves arose from, the role both World War II and the city of Detroit play in my book, some modest tips for aspiring authors, my take on the importance of cover design, and more! What other authors might also find notable is that I did the entire interview via Twitter (where Brian found and contacted me) – a lesson in and  of itself regarding the importance of social media in terms of getting the word out there about your work.

Please check out the interview. It’s a short read and Brian also has interviewed several other author I think werewolf fans will find interesting. These include one from yet another Michigan based werewolf author – Joshua Werner. There seems to be a bit of a werewolf renaissance in the mitten state, so don’t forget to keep your silver handy if you come to visit!

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