Interview with S.M Douglas, author of “Apex Predator”

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

Though a part of me want’s to say Jaws by Peter Benchley (I am an avid scuba-diver, love sharks, and owe my initial interest in both to Benchley) in my heart of hearts I must say The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber. It’s just such a perfect horror story. It has plausible elements and really captures the feeling of being stalked by a monster with nowhere to turn for help. I first read it as a teenager. Even when I went back to it a couple of years ago it terrified me almost as much as the first time I picked it up. Just a great read.

What makes this particular genre you are involved in so special?

People want to feel alive. Few things make you feel that more than being terrified. There is little that matches that feeling when your heart gets pumping, the adrenaline flowing, and you find yourself lost in a story that completely captures your attention. Good horror does this, and if done right it also provides the reader with a deeper look at what it means to be a person. Much like science fiction it’s just a great genre for making you think about the world around you.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

 

Most people think fiction authors don’t have to do much research. That’s simply not true. First off, you need to know not just your larger genre, but your sub-genre. That takes a ton of reading and analysis. You need to know what kind of stories have been published and seek to provide something new and exciting for the reader. For instance, if you go back to Gary Brandner’s novel “The Howling” (another Michigan based werewolf author like myself) it was quite ground-breaking. Up until his book (released in the mid-1970’s) most depictions of werewolves were of anguished individuals afflicted with a horrible curse and trying their hardest to not give in to the beast inside. Brandner threw all that out the window. His werewolves were lusty, murderous creatures that reveled in their animalism. In addition, The Howling was not just about a single werewolf but an entire village of them. Thus, he gave readers not one but two significant twists on the werewolf legend. In doing so he opened up an entire new world for werewolf enthusiasts. But I wouldn’t know that if I wasn’t well-versed on the literature of my genre. An author is first and foremost a reader. If you want to write you need to read everything you can about your genre, and that is a form of research. From there, it is important to get the details right. There is no question a horror writer can get away with more than a science fiction writer in terms of grounding their work in actual fact. However, if let’s say you create cops that don’t act like a cop in terms of investigating something that won’t jive with the reader. So, you’ve got to do some research on police procedures. Or you can just wing it, but then you take the risk of jarring the reader out of the story with some glaring error – and you do not want to do that.

 

What works best for you: Typewriters, fountain pen, dictate, computer or longhand?

When I first get an idea I will write it down as quickly as I can on whatever is available; in my house that means most commonly on a notepad or sticky note. If I am not at home, I am a big fan of Evernote (a note writing app on my smart phone). From there I do everything else on my laptop.

When did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

I wrote my first book in fourth grade. I won a Young Author’s award for the book, and as part of my award was able to meet an author who gave me a signed copy of his book. It was quite an experience. From then on I was hooked on storytelling.

How often do you write?

At least two or three times per week. I would like to write more but between my day job and my young children I don’t have the time. For instance, it took me three years to write Apex Predator. I learned quite a bit that will cut that time down for follow-up books, but I don’t ever see myself being able to crank out book’s in less than a year like some authors.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

 

Not hard at all. The ideas just flowed out. The harder part was editing everything down into something readable. I have enough ideas for books that could keep me busy for the rest of my life. Right now my biggest hurdle is carving out the time to bring those ideas to life.

 

Writers are often associated with loner tendencies; is there any truth to that?

Somewhat. After all, reading and writing are incredibly time-consuming and solitary activities. However, if you want to be a good writer you need to get out and see the world. You need to do and experience things. For instance, many of the events and characters in Apex Predator are based upon actual things that happened in my life, conversations I have had, and people I have met. Furthermore, many of the places in Apex Predator are based on places I’ve lived in or visited. I love to travel, and am especially fond of Central and Eastern Europe. There is a delightful medieval town in the Czech Republic that served as the inspiration for the town of Dibrovno and its castle – where much of Apex Predator’s second and third acts take place. Had I not been an ardent traveler it is likely I might not have been so inspired, and Apex Predator would have been poorer for it.

Do you think writers have a normal life like others?

 

Sure. I have a day job and a family. The only difference between what I do and what other people do is that instead of mostly watching TV or playing video games in the evening (though I love doing both) I instead make time to read and write.

 

What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

Learning the craft. Being a good writer takes time and dedication. It’s not enough to say I have these great ideas and thus I’ll have a good book. It’s in the execution of those ideas that a good book is made, and that’s harder than it looks. This harkens back to the question about research. Though it’s possible to get better as a writer through copious amounts of reading and writing there is a certain amount of study that you must do as well. That means picking up some good books on plot, story, character development and the like. As much as possible learn from the best. To that end, I can’t recommend enough Stephen King’s book “On Writing”.

What would you say is the easiest aspect of writing?

Aspiring authors dealing with writer’s block and reading this are going to want to kill me for this answer, but it’s the ideas. I have so many good ideas and just need the time to turn them into published form. As I stated in a previous answer I could do nothing but be a full-time author and crank out at least a dozen more books over the next twenty years. However, I need my day job to pay the bills so unless I hit the writing lottery; it’s going to take longer to bring all my ideas to life.

Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or pay someone to do it for you?

I like to do most of it myself. For instance, I went through roughly twenty edits for Apex Predator. Only after that was done did I turn a professional loose on it. Then I took what she did or suggested and went back and did a few more rounds of edits before turning it over for formatting and distribution. Any aspiring author out there should hire a professional editor before publishing. Doing that, along with getting a pro to do the cover are make or break in my opinion.

Have you ever left any of your books stew for months on end or even a year?

Yes, and it’s been enormously beneficial. I have a book I have been tinkering with for almost four years. Where I am with it today is nowhere near where I was four years ago. As a result, it will be a much stronger work when finished, and I owe that to having the patience to think through where I wanted to go with it.

Do you believe a book cover plays an important role in the selling process?

Yes, particularly in the horror genre. The overwhelming majority of horror books are now purchased over the internet. Most readers get their initial exposure to your book via a small thumbnail image that will determine whether or not they will click on it. If your title isn’t showing the reader what your book is about then they won’t hesitate to overlook it. For instance, one look at Apex Predator’s cover and a reader knows they are looking at a werewolf book. It sounds simple, but it is vitally important that your title telegraphs to the prospective reader what they will be getting. From there, it needs to be professionally done. A bad cover can turn off a reader quicker than anything else. Some authors think that the cover doesn’t matter when their e-book is only a few bucks. In doing so, however, they are making a crucial mistake. A book isn’t just a purchase; it’s an investment in time. Time is everything. There is so much good entertainment out there; from TV shows, to movies, to graphic novels and comic books, to video games, to board games, to sporting events, you name it – we are saturated with not just entertainment but high-quality entertainment. You need to show that you have written a book worthy of the reader’s time. That starts with your writing, but the cover is a huge part of getting the reader to give your writing a chance.

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

An author should strive to engage with their readers as much as possible. For me this is done via social media. Luckily, I wrote a book about something I enjoy. I like werewolves, and I love speaking with like-minded people. In addition, if someone takes their hard-earned time and money and spends that on your book then you better be there for them when they want to tell you about it. If you have no interest in engaging with your readers then you shouldn’t bother writing.

Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?

Don’t waste time. I wasted so much time in my twenties partying and doing stupid stuff. I’m not saying don’t have fun, just moderate it.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

There is a part of me in several of Apex Predator’s characters. Moreover, several of the things that happen or are described in the book come from actual events in my life. That said, unless you are Ernest Hemmingway and lived this is incredibly exciting and interesting life, aspiring authors need to put a limit on the semi-autobiographical stuff. As interesting as our lives may be to ourselves, we still have a story to write. Doing a good as a story teller typically means going outside your own little world.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

The sequel to Apex Predator!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing good sex scenes. I struggled with that for a long time, especially because of my genre. After all, werewolves are people who have given into their basest desires. A werewolf book needs to have sex and violence, and I included both in Apex Predator. Nevertheless, there are a few basics that can help aspiring writers. For instance, describing body parts and what they are doing tends to the pornographic. Concentrating on what the characters are experiencing emotionally tends to be more romantic. Somewhere in the middle you get the divinely erotic, but that is really hard to pull off. As a result, unless you can make a compelling argument that the dirty details advance the story then less is more. Not everyone will agree. For example, pick up a copy of “The Howling”. It’s downright dirty. What’s even more surprising is that the violence comes nowhere near close to matching a particularly sordid sex scene in the book.  In contrast, Apex Predator is much more violent; though I also tried to hit the erotic sweet spot. It’s up to the reader whether I accomplished my goal.

From all that we have been hearing and seeing in the movies, most writers are alcoholics. Your views on that?

Funny you should ask. My day job is known for producing a healthy number of alcoholics in its own right. Even worse, I was a bartender in college. On top of that I love my beer, wine, and liquor. But I digress. To answer your question I would argue the opposite. You would have to be an enormously talented individual to produce quality writing while regularly inebriated. Can it be done? Sure. Do most writers fit both categories of enormously talented and alcoholic? No. Much like everything else in life most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Now, where did I put my drink?