S.M. Douglas

Welcome to the home of author S.M. Douglas.

Tag: Apex Predator (page 2 of 5)

Character Influences, Apex Predator, Werewolves, and Tanya

As my readers know, the co-protagonist in my werewolf novel Apex Predator is an irredeemably wicked hot woman by the name of Tanya. What follows are some of the influences that went into creating what is one of my favorite characters.

At the top of the list would have to be the character Marsha Quist/Marcia Lura – from the book and movie “The Howling” (played in the movie by Elisabeth Brooks as pictured here). Though I generally prefer the movie over the book (minus the outstanding prologue to the book), if I had to pick between the two I lean toward the book’s original rendition of Marsha.

Elizabeth Brooks_Howling

This is by no means meant to be a slight against Elisabeth Brooks. She did a wonderful job as Marsha, both visually and emotionally capturing much of what a reader would have conjured up in their brain as they read author Gary Brandner’s work. However, in terms of being an influence on my own Tanya the book’s Marsha was more sophisticated (though nowhere near as formidable as Tanya). The movie Marsha tended more toward the feral and barely under control. Though my Tanya is not one you would want to provoke, she is more multi-dimensional with greater depth to her character.

Nevertheless, multiple influences were behind the concepts that became my Tanya. For instance, the character Sarah Conner (played by Linda Hamilton) from the now iconic Terminator and Terminator II movies is another of those big influences.

Sarah Connor_Terminator

I loved the way the original Terminator showed Sarah Connor’s evolution from vulnerable victim, to resourceful survivor, to victor. Then sometime between the first and second film, and as happens to most heroic champions, she had her downfall. Ironically this happened in spite of her doing what she believed she must – in becoming a survivalist and warrior – to protect her son and humanity. Yet this self-sacrifice had a huge downside for her and her child. In the second film he had become a teenage malcontent hardly worthy of being humanity’s future savior. Meanwhile Sarah Connor had become radicalized to such an extent that she spent much of the same film acting as a sociopathic terrorist who came across as a paranoid schizophrenic at best – before vindicating herself and rising once more to heroic status.

Similarly, Tanya’s tragic background – forged in the cauldron of war – helps my readers understand how a once innocent peasant girl became a destructive killing machine ranking as perhaps the most cunning and violent of Apex Predator’s major characters. Throughout the book Tanya wrestles against her violent nature. She does the right thing in some instances and in others gives in to the monster within – producing horrific results for the unfortunate targets of her predatory instincts. This leaves the reader wondering whether she will be able to truly become a hero, or revert to the bestial nature that has allowed her to do more than just survive in a harsh and unforgiving world – but to thrive as well. Though my Tanya is different than Sarah Connor, I owe a debt of gratitude to those writers, directors, and actors that gave The Terminator such a complex, interesting, and inspirational woman as its central star.

Now, let’s talk about the ladies of Alien/Aliens; beginning with Ellen Ripley. The character played to brilliant effect by Sigourney Weaver – beginning in 1979 with the now classic “Alien” and continuing for nearly two decades thereafter. Though I could go on and on about Ripley and how much of a strong role model she is for women the world over – I would much rather hone in on something else about the character and the work she appeared in: the 1986 sequel to Alien.


James Cameron’s “Aliens” is unquestionably a different movie than Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. Most people remember the sequel for its military style action sequences involving Ripley and Colonial Marines facing off against hordes of xenomorphs. However, in addition to Ripley’s stirring role in besting the xenomorphs, there was something else that made Aliens such a great squel. That being another of the film’s great characters and of them all, who can forget Vasquez. The presence of Vasquez (played by Jennette Goldstein) alongside Ripley makes Aliens not just a great sequel, but perhaps the ground breaking female dominated action/military/science fiction/horror movie of all time.


I dare anyone to find such a popular box office smash as Aliens that features a better pair of ass-kicking ladies. They influenced my Tanya in so many ways. Yet, Tanya is a unique personality. However, she in many ways combines the best and worst of each of them; the toughness, intelligence, resourcefulness, sheer will to survive, and strength alongside the stubbornness, disdain for authority, self-destructive, and at times violent impulses that get her into trouble. All of which leaves my readers wondering which tendencies will Tanya give in to next – the good or the bad?

Speaking of bad I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another horror movie icon who influenced my Tanya. The one and only Sybil Danning.

Sybill Danning Set of Hercules

That’s right, Stirba the werewolf queen from Howling II; Eva and Gretchen Krupp (The She-Devils of Belzac) from Grindhouse’s Werewolf Women of the SS; vampiress Frau von Hess; and co-star to Lou Ferrigno in Hercules (she’s seen here back in 1983 with her sword) – as well as so many accolades I can’t even begin to list them all.

Like Dee Wallace (who follows me on twitter) she is a true scream queen and star. Plus, she is hot! I would kill to have a body like hers, and I’m a quarter century younger. She was always hot and is still hot (see the recent picture of her at age 60). This leads me to wonder – maybe she’s not just acting in all those movies. Maybe she really is a werewolf, or perhaps a vampire?

Either way, she’s an inspiration. I likely couldn’t have crafted my voluptuous, strong, athletic, and bad-ass Tanya (albeit Tanya is a brunette) without such strong female influences as Sybil. If you haven’t seen any of her films, then by all means pull up the Netflix, grab some popcorn, and get watching! Or, pick up a copy of Apex Predator and see if you can spot the influence of these fantastic characters and actresses on my Tanya.



The Making of a Great Werewolf Transformation Scene: Pain

One of the things I love about being a horror author is getting to interact on social media with fans, friends, and peers. In particular, I have more great discussions about all things werewolf there than I have since I was in junior high – debating with my friends whether a werewolf could beat The Terminator or an Alien, and other such fun topics.

A few weeks back I put up on Facebook a post I did several years ago when I initially started my Random Pop Culture blog (that has since been absorbed here into my author website). The post is about the best werewolf transformation scenes of all time.


That generated quite a bit of discussion, including yesterday from one commentator who made the point that “Transformation shouldn’t be THAT painful and slow, they should just morph into a werewolf without all the drama that would bring too much attention to the transformation.

This is a valid point, and I do not at all want to be dismissive of the commentator’s viewpoint. However, I believe it is wrong. The following explains why.

To start, check out my original post, where I have embedded the transformation scenes engineered by Rob Bottin for The Howling and Rick Baker for American Werewolf in London. If not interested in the AWIL transformation scene then read on for The Howling’s. That post was part of a series I had done exploring why The Howling (the original 1981 movie) proved such a great addition to the werewolf genre.

One of those big reasons for The Howling’s success as a genre altering film came from it’s treatment of the transformation scene:

Before The Howling the classic werewolf movies tended to show the transformation scene as something upsetting to the shape shifting human, but not incredibly uncomfortable. To wit, check out the transformation scenes in two all-time werewolf classics (1941’s The Wolfman and 1943’s Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman – ground-breaking in their own right and for their time) that established what would become the key element (dare I say “money shot”) of any werewolf film:

Now, let’s return to the comment regarding why it is the transformation scenes have to be that painful. The answer is simple and two part.

First, for the transformation scenes to not jar the viewer from the state of suspended disbelief that allows them to enjoy the movie (or for that matter the reader with a book) – the scene must seem real. What I mean is this; take Mr. Eddie Quist of The Howling. He might have been all of 5’10” and maybe 165 pounds. Yet, in a few minutes he alters into a seven plus foot tall several hundred pound werewolf.

Those breaking and reforming bones, dramatically stretching muscles, skin, claws popping through fingertips, and other such changes aren’t just painful – they would be excruciating. For comparative purposes look at the pain a woman goes through pushing a baby down her birth canal. This is a process orders of magnitude less transformative in reshaping the relevant body parts, but involves hours of pain the likes of which most men can’t imagine. For my male readers who would like to imagine – envision trying to crap out a bowling ball and think of what that would do to your ass. For weeks afterward you wouldn’t even be able to pass gas without having to change your shorts.

Second, by portraying the transformation into a werewolf in such wrenching physical terms the author or director is explicitly linking that change to the werewolf’s enormous hunger that must be sated – and now! This is a key component in establishing why it is the werewolf is such a ravenous monster. This thus makes the werewolf movie more believable, and thus fun. Imagine how hungry you are after running a 10k or lifting serious weights for an hour or so. If you think that stokes your metabolism, honey I’ve got news for you – it ain’t nothing like what a werewolf goes through. Most serious artists in the genre agree. I will leave you with the last big-budget Hollywood werewolf movie and it’s transformation scene. The Wolfman remake from a few year’s back:

Though I am not particularly fond of remakes, or “reboots” in today’s vernacular, note how different this transformation scene is from the original Wolfman – not just technically but emotionally.

I hope I’ve answered my questioner who stated his belief that transformation scenes shouldn’t be so painful. To be fair his original comment added the qualifier “so” – and perhaps there we can find a common ground. Does it need to take three minutes? Maybe not. Should it take longer than thirty seconds? Hell yes. Nevertheless, I obviously tend to agree with the Rob Bottin, Rick Baker school of transformation scenes – as can be attested by readers of my new novel Apex Predator.

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.


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.


Older posts Newer posts

© 2018 S.M. Douglas

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑