The Schizophrenic Writer

I’m starting to wonder if there are several very different writers living in my brain.

Seriously, I know it’s important to brand myself and concentrate on one area, but I have sooo many different interests — as my widely varied backlist implies. Hello, I have a Civil War story coming soon! Sitting there beside my zombie romance horror, dragons, dark fantasy, Maya thriller, and sexy contemporaries.  *gulp*

It’s just like in college.  I had at least 30+ credit hours above and beyond my degree requirements, and ended up with both a BS and AS in undergraduate school, and an unofficial minor in English.  My senior year, I signed up to take Russian.  *boggles*  Ever since The Hunt for Red October, I wanted to learn Russian.  Heh, what can I say–I love Sean Connery!

Reality prevailed and I did drop that class, but I always mourned it.  I knew I couldn’t handle it and the senior-level Romantic Period class I took, even though I was not an English major, on top of my math, chemistry, and physics classes.  I was totally insane and obsessed with my GPA, too, but that’s another blog post.

I’m an emotional writer and always have been.  I can’t write cold and analytically, even though I have an analytical brain.  I’ve learned over the years how to use my analytical side to help plot and set up the groundwork structure for a story, but when actual words begin to flow, it’s all heart.  The problem is that analytical side of my brain looooves research.  It loves to learn new things, and all too easily, I find myself sniffing down a sparkling shiny trail that I never expected.

So there I was, knee deep in contemporary romance with Conn chasing Rae through the trees and Victor not-so-patiently tapping me on the shoulder with his riding crop, when I stumbled across a very innocent article posted on a cross-stitch forum about a tapestry woven from spider silk.  Cool, right, but there’s not a story in that.  Is there?  But a few weeks ago I was thinking about antique samplers and how they can tell us so much about life back in the 1700 and 1800s.  How the selection of silk, fabric, and motif told a very deliberate message.  How specialists today will study “mystery” samplers, trying to decide what certain crooked or reversed letters or symbols might mean.  Was it a mistake–or deliberate?

Oh, and did you know that only one other spider-silk tapestry was ever known to exist, and it was “lost” after a brief showing in Paris in 1900?

These tidbits collided and set off a very strange detonation in my brain.  I believe I have the beginnings of another thriller.

Just what I need right now.  Le sigh.

So I did what any semi-self-disciplined writer would do: I jotted those ideas as feverishly as possible, allowed myself a few hours last night for research, and now today, I must return to my planned work.  Or else Victor might crack me across the shoulders with that crop.  Now *that* would surely help me focus.

October and November are Victor’s.  I’ve already promised him my full concentration.  If he’d only cooperate just a little and help me decide what sort of clothing he prefers to wear!  All I have right now is a very ostentatious, expensive pair of boots for him.  I suppose he could sit behind his desk stark nekkid in boots and holding that wicked crop…

Now that’s inspiration.

Bloody 13

I grew up by a highway we called “Bloody 13” because of the many accidents.  My Mom worried about us kids driving back and forth on the highway all the time, and for good reason.  Highway 13 is the main road from Kansas City south to Springfield and Branson.  Back in the good old days, it was single lane most of the way — although now it’s a nice four lane.

One time in high school I was taking a friend home after school in my trusty blue (heap of junk) Firebird that I’d proudly bought myself.  I was sitting in my lane on Highway 13 waiting to make a left-hand turn through traffic.  Finally I saw a break — a semi truck was at the top of the hill, but I had plenty of time.  I gunned my car.

It died.

Yes, in the middle of Bloody 13 with a semi-truck barrelling down the road at me, my car died.  With my friend screaming, I slammed the gear back into park, started the car, and frantically got off the road, then we collapsed on each other in tears, relieved that we’d escaped.  Definitely the worst driving experience of my teen years, although the time a semi-truck ran me off in the grass the first time I drove in Kansas City traffic is a close second.

I realized that this month has been my Bloody 13 as far as writing, too.  Usually my trusty old writing car goes and goes.  It doesn’t need much maintenance.  The paint job might be kind of crappy, but as long as it gets me there, I don’t care much.  However, I sat down to write a novella this month, and my writing car died in the middle of Bloody 13.  I gave it gas, and it croaked.  There wasn’t anything there.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t blocked.  I had the idea, the characters, and the plot.  I just couldn’t gun the engine to get the words.  The poor old car just choked and spluttered.  The more I floored it, the harder it choked, until it simply died with the semi-truck deadline zooming down at me.  I could write, and did, but each word was like pulling teeth.  The magic was gone.  My normal “spark” just wasn’t there.

Luckily this project was not under contract — else I would have killed myself to finish it on time.  Since it wasn’t contracted, I had to make a tough decision.  I had to actually give my old writing car a break and a tune up.  I had to give myself a break.

Looking back, I can identify numerous reasons for malfunction.  I had a huge project at the Evil Day Job that was stressing me out.  The monsters are out of school so our schedule is completely out of whack.  I always feel a significant slow down in the summer months.  For whatever reason, July and August are historically low production months for me.  I knew that, but thought a challenge would help me beat those dog days.

Plus, we just moved!  Every single time I go to cook something in the kitchen, I still have to go searching through the cabinets to find what I’m looking for.  We only got the car in the garage this past weekend, and none of my books are unpacked yet.

I’m feeling a bit better. I’m doing more creative work to refill the well.  This weekend, I’ll sit down with my calendars and decide what I want to work on in August.

Have you ever had your writing car die in the middle of Bloody 13?  If so, what’d you do to get that engine started again?

LB&LI: The Ten Commandments

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(Click the image to visit PBW for more great workshops!)

As a writer, I hate rules, especially Romancelandia Rules, like:

“The heroine and hero must meet in chapter one!” or “The heroine must be a virgin, a virgin widow, or has experienced nothing but horrid sex with any man except the hero!”

But let’s face it — as readers, we all have lines that we don’t want an author to cross, else their book may very well end up denting the wall. 

Here are a few commandments, either based on my personal reading tastes or something I’ve learned from my lovely talented evil editors!

 

  1. Thou shalt not lie to the reader and call it “a plot twist.”  Grrr, there’s a highly popular author to this day whom I refuse to read because of a little lie she told in a novella I happened to pick up.  I can’t stand “surprise twists” that are basically lies.  I feel totally betrayed when this happens.  (Not talking Sixth Sense sort of plot points here — which I loved — but deliberate lies told through the POV character and only revealed at the end with a flourish.)  For a twist, the little hints should be there for me to follow like a trail of bread crumbs.
  2. Thou shalt not beat the reader over the head with “foreshadowing.”  Personal taste, but I hate “Little did she know…” or “Unbeknownst to her…”  These are author intrusions and pull me immediately out of the story.
  3. Thou shalt not make the reader dizzy by headhopping.  As my dear friend Wanda said once, headhopping makes my skull crack open.  I just can’t tolerate blatant hops back and forth, paragraph to paragraph.  (Straightfoward shifts once or twice in a scene don’t bother me as much.)
  4. Thou shalt NEVER be kind and gentle to the characters.  Torture them!  Throw more rocks!  Put them in an untenable position, not once but over and over!
  5. Thou shalt not “lathe” any tender body parts.  See the Smart Bitches’ Crimes Against Woodworking for some laughs.
  6. Thy hero shalt not flex his “bicep.”  It’s biceps, even if the heroine is looking at a specific arm.
  7. Thou shalt not rely on “fateful” to describe a character’s day.  Lazy!  (I was guilty of this in Dear Sir, I’m Yours, until Angie got ahold of it.)
  8. Thou shalt not use the word “sag” anywhere near a sentence mentioning the heroine’s breasts.  This one was caught by the copyeditor.  I said her dress “sagged past her breasts” and this was his comment.  Totally cracked me up!  Changed it to “slid.”
  9. Thou shalt NEVER take the easy way out, especially in the climax!  And I mean that both ways.  *winks*
  10. No Romancelandia hero ever need Viagra. Obviously.  He’s also got the biggest tool in the shed, but that goes without saying, right?  :mrgreen:

So what are some of your commandments or readers’ peeves? 

Share them in comments (or simply throw your name in the hat) to be entered to win Patti O’Shea’s three Light Warriors books (unsigned), including In the Midnight Hour, In Twilight’s Shadow, and Edge of Dawn, and winner’s choice of any book from my backlist. 

As Lynn always says, anyone on the planet can enter, even if you’ve won something from me before.  I’ll accept comment entries through midnight CST Friday night, July 17th, on this post, or you can e-mail me ONCE (joely AT joelysueburkhart DOT com).  One of the monsters (my kids) will draw names on Sat. and I’ll post all winners then.

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Temporary AWOL

I need to get a LOT done this weekend.  If I have any hope at all of hitting both deadlines by July 31st, I need to finish the first story by Monday.  I’ve only got 3K of a 10-15K story, so yeah, I need to really crack that whip.  Then I’m going to have to pull some kind of Fast Draft out of my ass for the other story, which needs to be 20-30K.  *headdesk*  Anyone want to participate?  Shout out in comments.

Plus, next week is Left Behind and Loving It, so I need to get my posts written, which requires some research, and of course, re-reading of some of my favorite sex scenes.  For research, I swear!

So don’t expect another update on the blog until Monday.  I’ll report then whether I was successful or not.  I’ll tweet my progress on Twitter if you want any updates.  Gregar’s just about got me dragged into the Well, so I’ll leave you with a single line from my WIP.  After all my stewing about “branding,” I find it highly ironic that I’m writing in yet another genre.  *snort* 

“Well,” Abe drawled out, “I got to wonderin’ exactly why we never saw you take a piss.”

Re-Visioning the Writing Plan

This month has not gone as I expected and June is far from over. 

I’m thrilled that I made the 50K mark for MayNoWriMo, but with preparation for Dear Sir, I’m Yours release next week, I lost all momentum in Arcana.  I’ve actually written a bit this month — already 15K for the prequel Letters — which reminded me of how much I love the Connagher family.

Victor, Conn’s older brother, has been on my mind a whole lot.  I’ve already got him cast as Adrian Paul.  I know some of his history (thanks to Conn) and I already know who his heroine is, although I don’t quite know enough about her to say I could write in earnest.  However, I do have about 10-20K or so of “pre-notes” — loose scenes that may or may not fit the story, etc.  I have the “hook” and it cracks me up.  Now, I have sooo many ideas to make that story deeper, richer, a killer fun story.

So here I am, dreading trying to get back into Arcana after it went totally cold.  Dreading having to re-evaluate my outline and figure out what I can cut since I’ve only covered 30 of a planned 100 sections (and already sitting at 50K).  Meanwhile, I’ve got a handful of revisions I need to do on the Maya story so I can get the next round of queries out.  I’d really really like to get cracking on the next Connagher story for Samhain to keep that pipe filled, especially now, while the ideas and voices are hot in my head.

And I realized that I really should probably shuffle my projects around.  The Maya story has a timeline built into it because of the whole 2012 end of the world thing.  I’m not using that at all — the story could be set at any time — but I like the idea of this book coming out BEFORE then to take advantage of all the hype.  I was really stressed out mid-May, wishing I could get those revisions done but I didn’t dare stop working on Arcana at the time.  Now, I might as well take advantage of that coldness and rip up the Maya story.

So for the rest of this month, my priorities are:

  1. Revision Xibalba II and return to queries.
  2. Prework on Victor and Shiloh’s story.  I don’t know what the title is, but I know the theme song, so I’ll refer to it by that:  Time is Running Out by Muse.

Pulling Punches

So yesterday, I worked every free moment I had on the “final exam” of the Letters prequel.  It was exhausting.  I wrestled a paragraph and rested.  I wrote in the morning before work, over lunch, after work before dinner, and finally, stumbled over the finish line. 

After I tweeted about how exhausted I felt, May and Soleil kindly offered to read, and while I felt like I’d been rolling around in broken glass to finish it, I took them up on that offer.  The last thing I want to do is post something that’s not good, really good.

And darn it, May thought it had some problems.  Oh, it was written pretty well, I think, certainly overwritten–it needed to be trimmed and tightened–but there was a really big problem lurking in those pages.  Although it was pretty hot, it was too clean.  Too tidy.  Or in other words, it wasn’t rough enough.  Maybe that’s why I was so exhausted–I was fighting the story.

See, I’ve been working on a tricky balance in this Prequel.  It has to be good.  It has to be something people will read and want to continue reading Dear Sir, I’m Yours when it releases.  I mean, that’s the whole point, really, to hook people into buying it who may be on the fence.  However, the reality is that the upcoming final exam has to be so bad that it sends Rae running for five years.

Five years!

So you see my dilemma.  If my hero comes off as an asshole in the freebie prequel, who’s going to buy the book?   

Conn will be the first to admit that he can be an insufferable bastard on occasion.  This is one of those occasions.  Yet I realized that in trying to keep him from coming off as a total bastard, I’d made him a different kind of bastard all together.  I pulled his punches.  Hell, I even pulled Rae’s punches.  I cleaned them up and dressed them in their Sunday best and sat them all prim and proper to eat vanilla ice cream with his big desk between them, and they are both so pissed at me that Conn is contemplating throwing his biggest anthology at my head and Rae has the shotgun out that she reserves for her ex-husband.

Self-editing at its worst. 

I was afraid of what people would think.  I was afraid of the very characters that I’d created.  I was afraid to crack open that door to their darkest moment and let all that ugliness spill out.  I did the same thing with Gregar when he finally approached his heart’s desire.  I took away his ivory rahke and told him to go forth and be good, and he tried, bless his heart.  But it wasn’t him. 

I created a dark, larger than life character, and then in his spotlight in the darkest hour, I flinched.  I took away Dr. Connagher’s mask but slapped another one in its place.  I didn’t let the real Conn–who Rae loves and fears–show through.

So no snippet today and maybe tomorrow.  I need to rework what I have.  I need to let Rae begin with the power she thinks she has, and then bring her to the realization that she has none whatsoever.  And then  I need to let Conn get that pretty white skirt that she wore to tempt him just a little bit dirty.

RX: 3/4/2009

So yesterday and today I got up semi-Dark & Early to continue working on Revision Xibalba.  It’s still slow going.  Taking a couple of weeks off certainly didn’t help.  I reread the last chapter first, smoothing a few more things (can any writer read a “complete” chapter and be 100% happy with it?) and then edited the three sections I had finished but not connected to the main draft, which is now just under 70K.

Yesterday, I grabbed the next few sections in Jaid and Ruin’s POV from the first draft and began polishing.  I think I did 2.5 pages yesterday, and finished the rest of the section this morning.  Bad things, dude, very bad things.  Hopefully I’ll build some momentum and grind through these last few horrible scenes quickly.

Tally: 

  • 14 13 revision sections
  • 4 new sections to complete Tara and Quinn’s threads.

That’s it!  I know I can do this by the end of March.

However, I did receive the first pass of edits on The Road to Shanhasson last night!  Wheeeeeee!  They’re pretty light, thanks to the terrific job Soleil, Ann, and Bethanie did of beta-reading.  I’ll get those back to Deena by Monday.  She didn’t even kill me for all the horrible things I did in that story. *wicked laugh* Although one comment totally made me laugh out loud about increasing the boys’ ages…

I also have to get the blurb and tagline stuff filled out on Dear Sir, I’m Yours (the story formerly known as Letters).  That will be tougher.  So that’s my first goal.

RX Snippet:  This section takes place in a cave, so it’s absolutely dark.  They’re in an underground pool of water.

“Which city is this?”

“Iximche.”

Surprise splintered through her, followed by a tsunami of dread that nearly dragged her back down to the depths of Lake Atitlan.  This is where her father had made his greatest pre-Chi’Ch’ul discovery.  This is where her mother died.  “Why?”

A new voice echoed in the darkness.  “Because he knew I’d come here.”   

Ruin tensed and whipped his body around toward the speaker, pressing her back from the threat.  Something slammed into him with the dull sound of flesh on flesh and ripped him away.  Water splashed violently, but she couldn’t see what was happening.  If she charged after them, she’d be killed, yet standing here, doing nothing…

She heard a wet, heavy thunk, and Ruin grunted.  God, he must have been stabbed.  Who was it?  It didn’t sound like a demon.

“At last.”

Involuntarily, she backed away into the water.  That voice did sound like a demon.  Her teeth hurt and her muscles tensed so hard and fast that she shuddered.  She couldn’t even call it a “voice” when it grated like metal on metal, screeching to the point of pain.

“Give me the White Dagger, lady.”

Until then, she didn’t even remember that she held it in her hand.  The thing felt slick and foul on her palm as though it were coated in rotted, feculent scum.  Gritting her teeth, she forced her fingers to grip it, not to sling it away.  It pulsed with a heavy, steady throb like a living heart.

“Jaid, don’t you dare–“  Ruin’s ragged voice cut off on a strangled, bubbling sound.  She didn’t need to see him to know that his throat had been slit.

 

02/16/2009

I’m so far behind it’s not even funny.

I can’t really blame it on any single thing.  I just lost my groove.  I got out of “work mode” and I’m struggling to get back to that place that doesn’t mind getting up at 5 AM and has no interest in doing anything but writing.

Certainly not watching Phantom of the Opera AGAIN like I did last night, this time with the monsters.  Then I watched it again after they went to bed, only I fast forwarded through everything to hit only the scenes I wanted to see.  I had to quit listening to the sound track, because those songs are still pounding in my head this morning and I can’t seem to think of anything else.

So this is a rather sorry update.  I will not be finishing 7Crows by the end of the month.  I’ve finished one scene of 20+.  It’s not going to happen.  That’s fine.  I’ll take my time and do it right the first time, AFTER I finish the Maya revision, which I haven’t touched for days.

My first order of business today (2/17/2009) is to finish the next new scene in Tara’s POV.  I’ll report back tonight on how I did and where I stand in Revision Xibalba.

2/9/2009

A most excellent day of revision.  Dark & Early this morning, and then quite a bit tonight, despite parent-teacher conferences for Princess Monster.  She also conned me into reading a book she checked out from the school library that had me bawling like a baby.  Wenny Has Wings by Janet Lee Carey.  I don’t know how any parent could read that book and not cry.

4,382 in revision.  I told you it would be bam, bam, bam action from here on out, which means a lot of these sections should fly.  I do have a few research holes to plug as I go, especially once we get to Iximche.  Luckily there’s not a lot known about that ruin, so I can make up a lot.

No work on 7Crows today.  That deadline is looking pretty impossible.

Snippet:

A demon howled, a cry of derision or glee that skittered down [Ruin’s] spine.  His sense of time told him it should be high noon, but no sunlight reached the waters.  Clouds roiled in the small circle of sky, darkening the sun.  If he failed, if he allowed a demon to reclaim the White Dagger for the might of Xibalba, the sun might never shine again. 

Yet dread at what he needed to do twisted his gut.  What he needed from her now might be the final thing that drove her to turn her face and heart from him forever.

Terrified but calm, she smiled with relief as soon as he joined her.  “Where are we going?”

Solemnly, he traced the curve of her cheek with his thumb.  “Do you trust me?”

She stared at him, her chin trembling slightly. 

“Priest!”  The demon screamed above.  “Surrender the White Dagger, or I’ll slice the woman’s skin from her body in thin strips and feast on her flesh!”

She paled and her pulse thumped in her neck.  Staring at him, she weighed his many sins against the night they’d spent together. 

Carefully, he kept his mind closed and his face shut down.  He would not accidentally use the mental connection he’d forged through healing to sway her.  Steeling himself, he prepared to make the most difficult sacrifice of his life.  His heart rebelled.  A knife cracked open his chest and exposed his frantically pounding heart. 

How could he leave her to a fate worse than death?  Did he dare force her?  His mind and heart raged at one another in the everlasting battle he could never seem to escape.  This was his true curse, this desire to throw all caution away for his heart. 

For his love.

“I would die to save you,” he whispered raggedly.  “I love you.”

She trembled.  “You barely know me.”

“I know your heart.  I touched your soul when I healed you.  I love you like no one else could.  I cannot harm you, Jaid.  Trust me.  Let me save us.  I’ll pay the cost myself.”

A splash told him the demon had jumped into the cenote, willing to risk that he’d send it back to Xibalba in order to gain the greatest prize of all. 

Ruin clenched his hands into fists.  Choose, choose, he screamed silently.  Don’t make me force this choice upon you.

2/8/2009

Last week’s goals:

 

  1. Take a look at my NSR day sheet and decide if I’m going to keep Dr. Charles Merritt’s POV or not.  I axed his POV for now; if nothing else, I’ll use these sections as “DVD extras” to give away.  I also found a way to resolve the other character’s thread that I believe will allow him to be on stage in Dallas after all.  I’m really looking forward to the way these characters will interact. 
  2. NSR:  at least another 10K in revision.  Close:  9,017 in revision.  The dreaded sex scene took longer than I anticipated.  In the first draft, I was trying for a sexy book.  After plotting these other threads and complicating the overall plot significantly, the romance is a much more minor angle.  It’s well over 200 pages into the story before Ruin and Jaid get together, which is fine.  However, the culmination of that thread just didn’t fit at all with the revision.  Frankly, it was pretty bad, one of the worst sex scenes I think I’ve ever written. :oops:  Have no fear, though, it’s much better now!  Shockingly, I think it’ll be the only intimate scene in the book.  I just don’t have time or opportunity to throw them together in a place of safety again.  From this point out, it’s bam bam bam action.  No time for nookie!
  3. Plot 7Crows.  Finished.  I have a pretty good block figured out.
  4. Begin first draft of 7Crows.  Sort of started.  I have several pages of hand written notes.  I’m oddly reluctant to begin this story.  I think I’m a little afraid of it.  If I don’t get a good start on it this week, it’ll be too late to even consider finishing the story in time.  I’ll simply set it aside and concentrate fully on the Maya story.  Once it’s done, I’ll have plenty of time to come back to the novella — I’ll just have to decide what to do with it if I miss the deadline!

Goals this week:

  1. Write up Character Clinic posts in advance so I’m not all stressed out this weekend.  I want at least 3 posts set up and ready to go.
  2. Another 10K in Maya revision. 
  3. Make final decision about whether to try for 7Crows this month or not.

I didn’t get quite as much done this week — mostly because of the good news I shared on Friday.  Ironically, good news can derail me as easily as bad news.  I was stressed out about questions and working out a possible relationship with an agent.  The latter didn’t pan out, but I was closer than ever, which makes me very happy.

Friday night, we had an unexpected get-together with That Man’s family.  We ended up shopping for a sheet (not a sheet SET which would have been much easier!) with his mother at JCPenney’s after dinner.  Standing around visiting, and bored, I might add, I didn’t realize that Middle Monster decided to race straight at me from behind and plow into me full speed.  It was like whiplash–in my lower back.  Ironically enough, the one time I was on muscle relaxers for a strained back, I had hurt myself manuevering her infant seat (fully loaded with MM herself!) into the back seat of the car. 

It’s not all that bad, yet, but I definitely feel like I’m wearing a very low-slung belt around my hip area, and after long periods of sitting (aka church this morning) that belt gets tighter and tighter.  I may have to use the heating pad to get through work tomorrow.

Tonight I wrote a quite long scene in Quinn’s POV that I didn’t expect.  Yes, I have a detailed spreadsheet.  Yes, I plotted out the rest of the block.  I had “Team Update” in this spot, and as soon as I got his team together, they informed me that the serial murderer they’re tracking had struck again, this time on the outskirts of Dallas.  This prompted a lot of Googling until I decided on the appropriate location and did enough research to get the site details down.  Then of course I had to decide WHAT happened and why that was significant.  Took me all day off and on (while we watched the NFL ProBowl, so I wasn’t fully dedicated) but I finally finished that scene.

Snippet:

“It’s getting stronger.”  Quinn’s stomach felt tight and small, clutched like a fist.  “It took time to play with them this time.”

“Why,” Ballard cleared his throat nervously, “do you say that?”

“Look at the broken vase, the disarray.  Someone came to the door, and then ran when the demon busted through.  We know how strong this thing is, how fast.  It could have killed whoever came to the door then, but instead, it played.  It enjoyed the chase.”

Sickened, Quinn led the way deeper into the house.  The first body was an older woman in the kitchen.  Her white apron looked like a gallon of ketchup had exploded on her.  Eyes wide open and staring up at the ceiling, she lay twisted on the Travertine tiles, chest flowered open as before, but…

“Where’s the blood?”  Dylan asked, his breath a loud pant in the room as he took another picture.  “There’s not a drop on the floor.”

The walls were pristine, the shining, polished cabinets clean.  The woman’s skin wasn’t slack and saggy as with the other victims.  Other than the mess of her chest, she could have simply slipped on a wet tile. 

“Did it gain some new power?”  Ballard asked.  “Or maybe it’s not as hungry.  Maybe all it needed was the heart.”

From the far end of the kitchen, Cruz stepped in and waved them toward her.  “Or maybe there were plenty of fresh, young victims waiting just on the other side of the door.”