Sunday, October 1, 2017

Damien Graves -- Guest Post -- Hineni

 Damien Graves here!
I haven’t yet set up a blog of my own, but as this is “Disturbed Graves” I figure I fit here as well as anywhere. While this is my mother’s blog, I will be doing the occasional guest blog, sharing writing exercises I have completed and every now and again a short story.

Below is a writing exercise I did in my Holocaust course, where we were meant to become a person being sent on their way to the death camps of Auschwitz. My professor was very pleased with the result of my exercise, so I wanted to share it. Now, while I am studying the Holocaust and WWII, I am by no means claiming to be anywhere near an expert, so if I got details wrong, I apologize.

For your consideration,



The smell that hit us when they opened the doors of the cattle train was a physical presence—the tang of soured bleach, old death, and defecation. Like a maw of some great beast gaping in the darkness, its perfumed promise of sorrow swallowed us up as we were herded as livestock into its unkind gloom.

I settled myself as well as I could in the corner of the car, propped against a water bucket. The available space was eaten up quickly by body after body forced into the car, packed like maggots in a wound, with scarcely a breath of distance between us. Men with overgrown and unkempt beards, women with tangled hair and fussy children, all scattered the interior of the train car now. They are people. I am people. Yet here we are, huddled for warmth in a box made for animals to the slaughter. I prayed the train would stop, the doors would open up, and we’d be released somewhere warm and dry, somewhere we could begin anew. Somewhere that hope still lived. Somewhere the children these women held might have a chance to smile again.

But I knew of the rumors. I knew where we were going. I knew where we were going and what was to come, and still I prayed. I prayed to God, as I always had done, to protect us, to help me see it through. I prayed to God even though it seemed so long since God had listened to any of us. God wasn’t in this place anymore. He seemed to have turned his back, shut his eyes, or perhaps just grown so weary of the human capacity for greed and cruelty that instead of sending flood or fire he’d decided to let us be the device of our own destruction. Would the war leave any who knew his name, to praise it, to raise it up with a hallelujah, or to curse it for his apparent cold indifference?

Would any of us on this train even make it to our stop? Its wheels rolled on and on for an eternity, and even in the ceaseless night within our car I could see most of us were but fading ghosts of ourselves. Fathers’ brows furrowed with worry for their children, daughters whimpered about the cold, mothers struggled to keep everyone together and put on the bravest faces of all of us to calm the little ones. Would I die when those wheels came to a halt? Or was I going to be put back to work, like in the ghettos? Was it selfish to think of what was to come for me when so many hollowed out and terrified faces surrounded me? Was it wrong to think of my own fate when looking into the eyes of a cold and hungry child who had not yet begun to live? Probably, but my fear was beyond my control now.

The train’s wheels slowed, screeched against the rails, and eventually those doors opened once more. The SS greeted us, harbingers of doom in snappy black uniforms. A larger officer stepped in front of me, his boots shining. He grabbed my shoulder and shook me hard before pushing me toward the exit. I landed awkwardly on my feet and shuffled aimlessly for a moment, and then the officers began barking orders. They divided us up, left and right, pushing people into different lines. I was urged to the right; I wasn't sure why they divided us up this way, many women and young children found themselves going left, older men, graying in hair were also sent to the left. We were ushered toward a gate with a sign that declared “Work Sets You Free.” We marched our way over to a building reminiscent of a barracks, long and made of brick, gray in every sense of the word. I was forced to undress, as we all were. I removed my scarf and coat, and more slowly my under things; the closer I came to being completely undressed, entirely on display, the more shame I felt. I was reluctant to part with my fragile armor, and clutched my shirt to my chest, imagining that maybe this one strip of cloth could spare me some dignity. It was ripped from my hands, and I was shoved, herded along with the others to be shaved.

I shambled along my course like a creature with no mind, deaf and blind and numb to the cries around me, to the slaughter I felt sure was to come. When I sat to be shaved, my mind was somewhere else, somewhere green, but the putrid stench of unwashed bodies and human waste wouldn’t let the fresh meadow in my mind persist. My hair was taken without ceremony, damn near half my scalp going with it, making me truly as naked as the day I was born, hairless and exposed. We were then given garments, prison uniforms, because that was what we were now. Prisoners. Criminals.

And now I have to ask myself, who am I? I’d been reduced to a man in stripes with a star pinned to his chest, my identity corrupted into something horrible, into something to be ashamed of. At least I was not alone. None of the men here looked as they had when we arrived, but rather the army of once unkempt men now resembled shaven rats. My father crosses my mind then; he’d always had long hair and a beard. Would I even recognize him if he were in the room with me now? Would he recognize me? I hope that he is not here, that he is never here, or any place such as this. I wouldn't want him to see me this way, and as much as I wanted to see him and Mom again, never, ever, here. What was is now gone, and I could not look to the past for comfort. All that was left was God’s will, and an uncertain future, however long it might last. I would face it as bravely as a man with no other option could be expected to. “Hineni…” I whisper. Hineni.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Boring Dialogue and How to Fix It

As an editor, I run across boring dialogue all the time. I consistently advise my authors to study "micro tension" and often to look into some of Donald Maass's books where he discusses it.

Good dialogue has good tension. Sometimes all that is needed to build tension is to give your audience an expectation of a negative outcome (they know something the characters don't or are pretending they don't), and then delaying that outcome while often teasing its arrival. Watch a few Tarantino films--the man knows his dialogue. Check out this scene for instance.

Warning: This scene is a bit graphic and the language gets offensive. It's a Tarantino film, and that's just how he rolls.

UPDATE: This particular video with the full scene is no longer on YouTube, so I have removed it from this post. You can however find the full movie online and look up the scene in parts to get the full visual of what I am discussing now. 

Everyone knows that Candy knows Dr. King Schultz is playing him. When Candy returns to the room, the audience expects Schultz to be confronted. That doesn't happen, not immediately. Instead Candy engages the men he knows are trying to cheat him, appearing affable, all while telling a story that grows increasingly more threatening. The audience very quickly realizes that Schultz knows that Candy knows, and so throughout the entire nine minute scene we're expecting violence and a full confrontation. At multiple points it looks like the situation is going to explode into real violence, but it's not until about eight and a half minutes in when we're made to, for just a moment, think Django's wife is certainly going to be killed, and yet even in this expectation we're denied. The dialogue and interactions set up expectation, deny it, set it up, deny it again--this is tension.

An alternative scene that does nearly the same thing, but isn't quite so NSFW: 


Inglourious Basterds Analysis — The Elements of Suspense

But you don't always have a gun pointed at a character's back, and you don't always have imminent doom you can use for a scene you are writing. When that happens, micro tension is king, but even then it works on the same general principle of setting up expectations and then delaying them. Every scene should have a purpose, and every character in a scene should have a goal--what the character wants in the long run, and what the character wants RIGHT NOW. Tension in dialogue is created when the wants/needs of one character are at odds with the wants and needs of the other character. It can be as minor as a man really needing his morning cup of coffee, and a barista who really just wants the morning rush to clear out, so she can check Facebook on her iPhone. As both of these characters stand in the way of the other's needs, and the author delays fulfilling those needs, you create tension.

Micro tension at its finest! 

Check out these links for more information on micro tension:

Pick a passage of dialogue. Strip it down. Increase hostility between the speakers. It can be friendly ribbing, worried questioning, polite disagreement, snide derision, veiled threats, open hostility, or any other degree of friction.

You can add micro-tension in dialogue in two ways.

1. Escalate the language. This doesn't mean tossing in a bunch of F-bombs or otherwise. That's just trying to be edgy and failing. But don't let characters use wussy words or vague phrasing. Make their statements direct and strong. Use harsher, more meaningful words.

2. Have the dialogue create friction. Besides the composure of the dialogue, consider the content as well. Are people kitten footing around the issue when they talk to each other? Get them to call each other out. Perhaps one character uses a word the other might consider blasphemous or insulting. Don't let them become so diplomatic (unless it's that vitriolic diplomacy where tension is simmering below every nicety).

Maass says earlier in the chapter: Micro-tension is easily understood but hard to do. I know this because when teaching it in workshops I watch participants nod in understanding when I explain it, but see them stare helplessly at their pages when they try to do it themselves.

Dialogue becomes compelling when the two speakers are emotionally at odds with each other: perhaps one is dubious of the other's argument. The reader reads on, wanting to know -- needing to know -- if, at the end of the conversation, the speakers will be reconciled.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Free Preview - Look Back in Anger

I uploaded a FREE Preview of Look Back in Anger (the first episode) to GoodReads, and thought I may as well share it everywhere. :)

Click to Download the Free Preview - Look Back in Anger

This Omnibus Edition collects the six Look Back in Anger episodes into a single volume for ease of reading and to provide an alternative way to read the serial for those who aren't using Kindle Unlimited.

If you’d like to know as soon as a new book goes live, please sign up for email ALERTS!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Look Back in Anger Omnibus

I have reduced the price on all parts of my serial, so if you are well into it already it should be much easier to finish reading it! Also, if you haven’t started yet, or have only read one or two episodes, I have now put the whole serial in a collection so you can buy it all at once. If you have read the whole serial already, and you want to help me out, you could add a full review to the collection at Amazon and on Good Reads. 

The print version of Look Back in Anger, and the second part of the series is coming soon.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Episode Five is Live!

Episode Five is live and waiting to be read by you, and I have lots of discounts to get you started in the series...cuz, that's just how much I love you guys. :)
Get Episode Five Now!

Episode One FREE today ONLY! 11/10

Also, to celebrate being so close to the end (one more episode left!), I have dropped the price on half of the series to 99 cents each episode. I may discount the rest of the serial if the response is good enough. It’s also available on unlimited. I would LOVE feedback in any form!

Find all Episodes here!
Look Back in Anger is a paranormal/urban fantasy with high levels of romantic suspense.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Episode Five - Cover Reveal - Paranormal Romance Blog Tour -- Final Day

Hey all!

For the final day of the blog tour, I thought I would share the rough cover of my upcoming Episode Five for Look Back in Anger. It will probably undergo some changes before I finalize it, but this will give you an idea what to expect. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don’t blink! Authors Don’t Look Away. (Part One of My Unsolicited Advice Series)

Well, some do, and when an author blinks an angel eats their soul with spidery mandibles and coughs up a hairball of mediocre prose that gives us all a bad name. Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but it can take a potentially amazing work and make it blah.

As a professional editor, I've found the advice I end up giving to my authors more often than not is to get deeper into their character’s POV, and to not be afraid to type the words that make them cringe. Good writing comes from the heart. Awe inspiring comes from the gut, particularly if you’ve torn it out and drizzled it all over the paper—go there, say it, write it. The more difficult a scene feels to approach, the more important it is that you free yourself to write it.

Let the bad guys be BAD.

One of the worst lit crimes I see, and I see it often, is when authors write jerks. Jerks, asses, and douche-bags get no love in most books. They may get a lot of screen time (probably not) but they don’t get the TLC of a protagonist. This is a problem, because you could have a book with really well developed protagonists,but when you pit them against their jerky rival, the scene loses balance and authenticity—it’s hard to take a hero seriously when he’s fighting a cardboard cut out of a cartoon bad guy. If you really want to make that “bad guy” believable, and the threat to the protagonist genuine, you need to employ the same sort of deep POV and characterization you use with your protagonists.

I know it feels icky and you want to distance yourself from feeling like an ass as much as possible—nobody wants to get under the skin of a character no one is supposed to like—but you will thank me for it later if you really give yourself over to it…and so will your readers. What’s the worst that could happen? A reader picks up your book and makes the mistake of thinking some part of you is just like the jerk in your story? Well, yeah, that may happen, but it’s better than the reader thinking some part of you is a cliché, mustache twirling, drama hound, right? Give yourself permission to say all the vile, awful things that little dark part of your heart has always wanted to say. Give yourself permission to slip into the shoes of your berating father, your overbearing mother, that jackass at work who doesn’t know his sexist jokes aren’t funny and spits a little when he talks. These wonderful models of terrible people in your life are not contagious—you can wear their skin for a scene and go right back to being your usual pleasant self…after you show your ass in the scene and make your protagonist really uncomfortable. Don’t hold back. Don’t parrot the words of bad guys from TV—it comes off sounding like a bad high school play—get real, get ugly, and go there.

Don’t tone it down.
Don’t just give your readers what you think they can handle in terms of asshole people.
Don't do that! Don't write a jerk, BE a jerk.
Don't tell yourself "I can't have them say this doesn't sound like writing" or pull back because some part of you is just afraid to relive those words people have said to YOU again.
Just spill it. Let your jerk be full-on rotten.
And let him or her be inspired by the full-on rotten people in your life. It's like method acting. You channel that hateful awful person through yourself, to the keyboard. Let us see you be bad!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Official Apology : I’m sorry I broke Amazon

For years I have tip-toed around the idea of self-publishing, but for one reason or another I always talked myself out of doing it. I finally took the plunge this weekend, and excitedly uploaded my work to Amazon.

I’m sorry Amazon readers. I’m really very sorry other authors who were trying to publish their own books. I’m sorry Amazon—I didn’t mean to break you.

Apparently what had been running as a well-oiled, predictable machine totally forgot how to Amazon when gunked up with my first dip into the self-pub pool. My work got stuck in queue, under review for days when less than twelve hours was the previous norm, and I took everyone else down with me. Self-publishing message boards everywhere were filled with people  trying to figure out why their books weren’t being processed, what had happened.

I happened.

I’m cursed.

If I touch something, it breaks.
If I want something, it’s gone.
If I love something, it dies…or runs away screaming because it knows what’s coming.
If I go “Hey, that’s the best show ever!” it gets cancelled (Firefly is probably my fault too. Sorry browncoats.)
If I enter a crowded room, it clears out (although that may have less to do with my luck and more to do with an inability to censor myself for polite society).
If I join a group, a team, a movement, it self-destructs.

So yes, Amazon, and all those affected by the great end of August slow-down of the review and publish process, I apologize. I’ll try not to let it happen again, but as I have four more parts to my serial to get out, I can’t make any promises.

Find on Amazon

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Zombie Night (Review)

Zombie Night

I’m a sucker for a good B horror flick. Toss in zombies, and I have a hard time not at least giving the film a single watch through. Add in John Gulager, the man behind the Feast trilogy, and this became a must watch film. 

Let me just say, this movie was no Feast. One thing I have come to expect from Gulager is characters with a lot of bite (the puns here are unavoidable, my apologies). Characterization in this film was shoddy at best. The plot was nonexistent, explanations for the zombies nonexistent, decent acting over all pretty sparse, dialogue not remotely engaging. Even for a B horror film, most of Zombie Night was pretty disappointing, however, there were some shining moments that prove this film could have been amazing with a little focus, investment, and editing.

(Spoilers and review under cut)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Since/cents/scents/sense when?

The boy may be in college, but I can’t seem to turn off the internal Mommy editor. At least he has a good sense of humor about it.

Damien Graves
Is it alright if I take a nap?
I’m not feeling well

Shannon Graves
Sure, honey.

Damien Graves
Thank you.

Shannon Graves
All right*
Alright is not a word.

Damien Graves
Sense when?
WTF since*

Shannon Graves

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
Since is a time based indicator. As in “I haven’t talked to her since last week.”

Damien Graves
Yeah. I know. I’m stupid-ed

Shannon Graves
Sense is like "I have a sense that something bad is going to happen."

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
or "Sight is one of the five senses."

Damien Graves

Shannon Graves
Cents is a measure of money, usually in the form of coinage. As in "I have five cents."

Damien Graves
love you
and your ability to check my homonyms

Shannon Graves
Scents is something that triggers your olfactory senses, such as "The scent of the cookies and bread baking in the kitchen made me want to chew off my arm."
Am done now.

Damien Graves
Good night Sheldon!
That made my day.