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 like 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 like 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. But here we are, huddled for warmth in a box made for animals for 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 again. 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 halleluiah, 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 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 head 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.

Everyone knows that Candy knows Dr. King Schultz is playing him. When Candy returns, 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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

NOW in Print! Scandalous Endeavors

NOW in print!

Scandalous Endeavors
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Publisher: Three Worlds Press
Length: 42k/about 137 pages in eBook

Lady Amelia’s willing to create a scandal to stay in her beloved England. A Scottish duke ignites her passion, but will she abandon her endeavor for love?

Lady Amelia has only known the comfort of life in mid-eighteenth century English aristocracy. But when first her mother and then her father die, she finds herself alone, grief stricken and….. not of age. Her appointed guardian, an American uncle, has ordered her travel to his plantation where she must remain for at least two years when she will come of age.

With the help of Lady Grace and Lady Sarah, Lady Amelia gets her uncle to agree to give her four weeks to settle her affairs and unbeknownst to him…find an English lord to marry so she can remain in her beloved England. Despite her mourning period she endeavors to trap one of London’s eligible bachelors in matrimony.

Lord Goldstone, Lady Grace’s nephew is devilishly handsome, but a Scottish Duke and so entirely unacceptable as a possible husband. After all Scotland is not her beloved London and environs. He also has a nasty habit of showing up at all the wrong moments and thwarting her carefully laid plans to ensnare a suitable husband. Sparks fly as the pair find themselves at odds with each other and drawn to each other at the same time. Can they find a way to stop arguing long enough to explore their growing passion? Is it strong enough to make Lady Amelia give up her English home after all? Or will Lady Amelia find a suitable English lord and avoid social exile in America? Time is running out.


Lord Roseington wrapped his arms around her and stood up, setting her on her feet. “Yes, Amelia, everything is okay now.” He reached up and removed her arms from around him, then took a step back. “We must stop winding up in these situations before we cause a scandal.”

She looked at him through hooded eyes. “‘Tis a wonder we haven’t already.”

A man cleared his voice behind her.

Amelia turned her head, already knowing who had caught them. “Lord Goldstone, you mustn’t trouble yourself with keeping our secret.”

“What she means to say is that there is no secret to be kept. Amelia carelessly got close enough to the hearth to catch her skirts ablaze. I could not very well let her burn up.”

“No, Roseington, you were obliged to help. I am glad to know that you were not taking advantage of our dear Amelia.” He glanced at her and flashed a rakish smirk. “Indeed, you are a hero. Let us go share the story while Amelia changes her charred gown.”

She tried her hardest to shoot daggers at him from her narrowed glare. His grin only deepened at the attempt, which increased her ire. “Don’t you dare tell a soul. I would most definitely perish from the embarrassment!” Amelia spat the words out with anger and annoyance. How dare he ruin everything for a second time, and then jest about sharing her humiliation. If he were not Scottish, she would trap him instead. That would teach him a lesson.

“Do not worry your head over it, Lady Amelia. We will not breathe a word of this little mishap,” Lord Roseington said. “Right, Goldstone?”

“Of course not. All of your secrets are safe with me.” He winked.

Amelia blushed at what he had implied. “Thank you. Now that it is settled I am going to retire for the evening. Enjoy the rest of the party. Lord Roseington, Lord Goldstone.” She inclined her head to them before spinning on her heels and speeding from the room.

Sneak Peek:

When I wrote Scandalous Endeavors I had no intention of writing anymore books in Amelia’s world. I even told my family and friends that I was moving on to a new idea. Scandalous Endeavors released on December 12, 2014. Within a week it became clear that people wanted another book. I aim to be a crowd pleaser, so I started working on Scandalous Arrangement. I plan to have Lady Sarah’s story ready for my publisher this spring and it is expected to release early this summer. Here is an excerpt from my rough draft.

“I do not believe that you have any honor and am not fool enough to believe this to be an innocent dance. You want something from me.” She peered up at him.

He grinned. “Perhaps I do.”

“You are wasting your time sir.”

“Unless, of course, this is simply a dance.”

“You just stated that you wanted something from me.” Sarah balled her hand in the fabric of her skirt. If she were less of a lady, she would smack him for toying with her.

“No, I said perhaps I wanted something. That means I could very well want nothing.” He arched one dark, brow and a chestnut lock of hair flopped onto his forehead.

Bloody hell the man was attractive. Sarah stared into his shamrock eyes. “Enough with the games. Tell me what you want with me, Lord Luvington.”


“Yes, tonight.” Sarah bit out through clenched teeth.

“Tonight I want to hold you.” He grinned.

Sarah blushed at the implication and turned her head to look out into the crowd. She had enough of talking to him. Clearly he did not plan to tell her anything of importance.

He pulled her closer and leaned in close. “Tomorrow I want to get to know you better.” He whispered.

Her breath caught and she fought the urge to slap him. The waltz ended and he released her. Before she could form a thought, he walked off and left her standing there alone.

Author Bio and Links

Amanda Marie dreams of days gone by when life moved at a slower pace. She enjoys taking pen to paper and exploring historical time periods through her imagination and the written word. Her hobbies include reading, writing, crocheting, traveling, photography, and spending time with her family. Some of Amanda Marie's favorite places in the continental U.S. are Harper's Ferry West Virginia and Sea Brook New Hampshire. She loves the history that surrounds them and visits them every chance she gets.

Amanda Marie lives along the Lake Huron shore line in northern Michigan with her husband and two kids. She holds a Master of Liberal Arts Degree with a concentration in literature and has a long standing love affair with sugary junk food.

Join Amanda Marie on Facebook at!/AuthorAmandaMarie1
Write to Amanda Marie at
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Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Seer by Cynthia D. Witherspoon

Wow! have I got a good one for you.

The Seer is the third book in a series, sent to me as an ARC. I expected to be confused, maybe even a little uninterested because, let's be honest, picking up with the third book in a series is like trying to watch a movie in the third act. You know what though? It didn't matter. From the first line I was engaged and by the end of the first scene there was no way I was putting the book down! The writing is beautiful, tense, and before you realize it you've stayed up all night reading. I have found my new paranormal series to love and a new author to stalk. 

Wolf Love Rating: 

      Blurb of The Seer by Cynthia D. Witherspoon

       The past will foretell the future.

       Eva McRayne has seen a lot during her short time as the Sibyl. She's spoken to        
       the dead. Fought against the Erinyes. But when she is faced by an entity no
       one dares to speak of, Eva must strike back or lose the only thing she has ever


Excerpt of The Seer by Cynthia D. Witherspoon –
Available March 1, 2015

I ran as if my life depended on it. Somehow, even in this twisted nightmare of mine, I knew that it did. 
Branches snapped back against my skin as I pushed through them. Leaves were crushed beneath my boots. The silence was the most unnerving part. I could feel. I could see. But there was no sound whatsoever. 
Gone were the usual whispers which haunted my dreams. Gone were the voices of those long dead who clamored for my attention. 
I was more alone than ever. Abandoned and discarded by the gods and dead alike. 
I pressed against a tree in an attempt to hide long enough to catch my breath. My lungs were on fire. My legs ached from my run. Yet the moment I stopped, all hell broke loose. The silence was shattered as my hearing returned. 
Dogs howled as they closed the narrow gap I had managed to make. Men shouted words I couldn’t understand as they gave chase. Hooves pounded against the forest floor and I knew they were coming for me. 
This was it. The end. 
And it was all for nothing. 
I was convinced my heart was going to burst out of my chest as I resumed my flight. But to stop now would be my downfall. To slow down would be my demise.  
Even as I ran, I understood my enemies’ fear. I was an unnatural. A monster made by a vengeful god. And I had done something horrible. Unspeakable. I knew this. I could feel my victim’s blood stiffening my clothes as each minute passed. 
I just couldn’t remember what I had done. Had I struck out against Cyrus? Elliot? Joey? 
Impossible. I wouldn’t hurt them. Hell, I wouldn’t hurt anyone without justification to do so. 
Would I? 
Flashes of memory flickered behind my eyes in a blur that matched the trees I was passing. Cyrus’ golden sword slashing downward. Hazel eyes widening with surprise. The sword coming down once more before the life in those eyes diminished. 
I stumbled as a loud explosion knocked me forward. I slammed against the ground with a plea for mercy as dogs circled around me. The first rider slid his horse to a stop just short of where I had landed. 
“You will murder no one else in this land, Skinwalker.” 
Skinwalker?  I felt relief despite the fear gripping my heart. They were after someone else. Of course I wasn’t a murderer. I could be freed from this if the man would listen to me. 
“No, please.” I managed as the man pressed the muzzle of his gun against my temple. “You’ve got to believe me. You’re wrong. I am not a Skinwalker. I don’t even know what that is. I am the Sibyl.” 
“Either way, I will see you dead for what you have done.” 
The resounding shot was deafening until the silence returned and with it, an eternal darkness my soul was all too familiar with. 


I woke up screaming. Grabbing for anything steady enough to make the shaking of my body stop. Before I could collapse into the tears threatening to overwhelm me, Cyrus pulled me into his embrace. 
“Hush, Little One. It was only a dream. You are safe.” 
I buried my face into his chest as I willed myself to calm down. He was right. There was no gunman here. No one was chasing me. I was secure in my condo on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the arms of a man who would go to Hades before any harm came to me. 
I knew this. I relished in the sweet security Cyrus provided. But now, it did nothing to stop the pounding of my heart or my head. I was still in the grip of my nightmare and it did not want to let me go. 
I had to get ahold of myself. I breathed in Cyrus’ scent of old liquor and counted to five. It didn’t help. All I could see was the man on horseback with his gun. 
“Here.” Cyrus pulled away just enough to press a glass between us. “Drink this. It should do wonders to calm your nerves, Eva.” 
“One, I am not awake enough for whiskey. And two,” I pushed the cup away. “I’m fine. Just a little rattled.” 
“Rattled, is it?” Cyrus put the glass down on my bedside table. “You’ve woken up screaming for the past three nights. Each time I end up having to change shirts because your tears have soaked them through.  That is not what I call fine.” 
I shuddered as he reached out to brush my hair away from my face. After a moment, Cyrus broke the silence between us.  
“The Erinyes?” 
“No. Worse.”  
I thanked Apollo that the nightmares of little girls with demon eyes had not made an appearance tonight. I could still hear them giggling over the fight I had been forced into over Elliot’s soul. I shook my head to get rid of the memory as I switched on the lamp beside my bed with a glance over to my alarm clock. It was just after six in the morning. 
 “Look, you know I’m no good at talking about things I don’t want to. Don’t push me, Cyrus.” 
“Will coffee help?” Cyrus gave me a crooked smile as he offered me his hand. “I bought a new bag yesterday for you.” 
“Coffee always helps.”  
I took his hand and let him lead me into the kitchen. Once Cyrus had deposited me at the table, he busied himself with my coffeemaker while I tried to forget the images trying to return to my head. 
Running through a forest. Chased down by men on horseback. The sound of the final gunshot. 
My nightmare was always the same. There had been no fluctuations to it over the past three nights. No break in the action. Cyrus had tried to calm me before by saying the bad dreams were nothing more than a workplace hazard. Images born out of the horrible stories of death I had to tell on my television show. But I knew better. What I was seeing wasn’t just the product of haunted houses. They were either memories or premonitions. 
And I didn’t believe in premonitions. 
“One mug with enough sugar to put you in a coma,” Cyrus sat my favorite yellow coffee mug in front of me. “And just enough coffee to give it taste.” 
“Bless you, Cyrus.” I cradled it in my hands. The warmth was soothing. The smell alone was enough to chase away the rest of my lingering fears. “You are the best keeper ever.” 
“I know.” He grinned. “I’m also your only keeper, so you better take advantage of it.” 
Cyrus switched from playful to serious in two seconds flat. He tapped his fingers against the tabletop as he spoke. “Come on, Little One. Talk to me. Perhaps we can find a way to put a stop to this dream of yours.” 
“It’s not just any dream.” I shrugged as I swallowed my drink. “Besides, can you even stop such a thing? I’m sorry, Stick, but I don’t think you can protect me from this one.” 
Cyrus awarded me with another crooked smile at the use of my nickname for him. But what I had said was true. As my keeper, Cyrus was bound to protect me from any spirit who wished to do me harm that I came in contact with as the Sibyl. That was his duty to Apollo just as mine was in using spirit communication to bring him followers. But dreams were different than ghosts.  
No. This was a battle I would have to fight on my own. 
“During my time, it was believed that there were two types of dreams.” Cyrus leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. “The insomnium, which could be interpreted, and the somnium which foretold the future. Do you believe this is a dream of prophecy?”  
“No.” I snapped before I could stop myself. I took a breath, muttered an apology, and started over. “At least, I hope to the gods it’s not.” 
“Because it is horrible.” I muttered again as I stared into the remains of my coffee as if it had the answers. “I die, Cyrus. Shot in the head.” 
My keeper didn’t argue with me. He didn’t need to remind me that I had no need to fear death. As the Sibyl, I was an immortal until I chose to relinquish my role. But since I’d broken the ancient mirror used to pass the powers of my position from one girl to another, I knew there was no way I could ever be replaced.  
No, instead of arguing, Cyrus did the most annoying thing. He went silent. It was up to me to fill in the gaps as he waited for an explanation. I didn’t know why I couldn’t talk about what I’d seen. And I couldn’t explain my reaction to it. After all, it was just a stupid dream. So I gave in to his silent treatment and started talking. 
I told Cyrus everything; from the forest to the murder to the gunshot which never failed to wake me up. When I was finished, I glanced over to see that his expression had gone dark.  
“Well, oh wise one?” I took the final gulp of my now cold coffee. “What do you think? Is this some vengeful spirit looking to find the men who killed him? Is it indeed a prophecy and I am killed somehow? Or have I finally gone completely insane thanks to this whole talking-to-the-dead business?” 
“Alright, Eva.” Cyrus held up his hand to shush me. “I get your point. Yet despite your sarcasm, you may just be correct.” 
“That I’m insane?” 
“No, silly girl.” Cyrus clasped his hand over mine. “Remember, if you will, that even in your sleep the spirits can still contact you. It is when you are the most vulnerable. I do not believe that this is a nightmare at all. I think it is a memory.” 
“So do I. But who does it belong to? And why do I tell the shooter that he has the wrong person? That I’m the Sibyl?” 
“I do not know.” Cyrus shook his head. “I think we are asking the wrong questions though. I am curious as to what this monster is. What was it called again?” 
“A skinwalker.” 
“I will see what I can find out while you are in your meeting this morning. What time do you have to be there?” 
“Eight-thirty.” I stood and rinsed out my coffee mug. “Since we are finished with the contract negotiations for season two, Connor wants all the paperwork signed by the time Joseph gets into the office.” 
I was drying off the mug when Cyrus came up behind me. He took the dishrag away from me before putting his hands on my shoulders. My keeper turned me to face him before he wrapped his arms around me. I closed my eyes as my heart flipped at his touch. Say what you will about Cyrus, but he was good to me. And he had the most amazing ability to raise my blood pressure. I felt myself blushing as he brushed a single kiss of my ear before he whispered. 
“I will keep you safe, Little One. Monsters or no, you will have nothing to fear in this life.” 

*** End of Excerpt ***

Author Bio:

Cynthia D. Witherspoon is an award winning writer of Southern Gothic, Paranormal Romance, and Urban Fantasy. She has been published in numerous anthologies since 2009. Her work has appeared in several award winning collections including Dark Tales of Ancient  Civilizations (2012) and PellucidLunacy (2010).