Curing Author Jealousy

In some parts of the world, people check their shoes for scorpions. In my house, you must check under the couch pillows for attack kittens.

Yesterday, I had a minor attack of author jealousy. I don’t like admitting it, but I consider this part of my therapy. I saw someone else’s book praised – a book that’s gotten several forms of praise that mine hasn’t – and the emotions rushed up and stabbed me. Calling it the Green Monster is a good analogy because that’s just how it feels, that toothy, nasty creature gnawing at your gut.

So, I sent an SOS to a good author friend, to talk me out of my tree, which she did immediately and admirably. She also asked, “could this be PMS?” (Sorry guys out there – just cover your eyes.) And I realized, to my great chagrin that, oh yes, the timing was exactly perfect for that.

How I hate being cliché.

Still, regardless of my personal hormone levels, the point is well taken: jealousy is an internal thing, not an external one.

This is easy to confuse, because it always feels like an external trigger. Why does HER book get attention that MINE doesn’t?? Never mind that I like her, love her book and truly wish her well. No matter the awards and love showered on my book in other ways. She has something I don’t and suddenly I’m five years old again and wailing over the one dolly some other kid has.

It’s baseless and childish, but still a real feeling.

That’s something I’ve learned from David, who just graduated with a degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, is the perspective that emotions affect our health. I guess we all kind of know this already, but sometimes I know I don’t take it seriously. But bottled-up emotions, in particular, eat at us – much like that toothy green monster – creating conditions for pathologies to set in. The trick is to accept the emotion and let it flow, through and out, where it can’t poison anything.

So, how did I release my stupid fit of jealousy?

1. Acknowledge that it’s real that I feel this way.

2. Vent to a friend who validated that it’s real and who loves me anyway.

3. Take positive action to get myself what I want.

What kind of action did I take? Well, I could have done any number of things – sent my book to a reviewer, entered in for an award, gone on a promo bender. All of those things have rewards that are outside of my control. And it’s really just jonesing for that chocolate-covered heroin of attention.

So what’s the one thing I can do, that I can always control as a writer? That is the fundamentally most important thing for me to be spending my time and energy on?

That’s correct.

Say it with me, kids: WRITE.

That’s what I did. I spent an hour writing on the new novella my editor asked me to write. Which I need to work on anyway.

And afterwards? I felt ever so much better besides being a few steps closer to my goal.

How to Become a Phenomenon

We got snow. A lovely, soaking snow that started in the afternoon and continued through the night. The ground is busily sucking up the much-needed moisture. Don’t worry – the spring flowers are fine. I only wish you could hear the birdsong soundtrack that goes with this photo.

Also, big shout out to Marcella Burnard, friend and critique partner, whose sexy novella Enemy Mine releases today! She’ll be visiting the blog tomorrow, when she plans to blame it all on me, as I understand. Despite that threat, I plan to give away a copy to a carefully chosen commenter.

But that’s not why you’re here, is it? You want to know how to become a phenomenon.

Don’t we all.

I’m hearing this discussion a lot lately, especially with the sudden frenzy over 50 Shades of Grey. My mom sent me this link the other day, to the Fifty Shades Frenzy video. It’s not that long and kind of fun to watch, if only for the sheer enthusiasm of these women, lighting up over the book. My mom then commented, “she stole your idea!”

This is why we love our mothers.

Indeed, author after author on Twitter has been reporting various family members contacting them, asking if they’ve hear of this book. Suddenly what a lot of us have been writing for some time has been catapulted into the public eye – and approval, even. Suddenly people have heard of what we write.

And people are working the angles.

Some writers are tearing out their hair that this particular book is the one to hit, analyzing its many flaws. Others are talking about how their genre is HOT now and how to capitalize on that. Mostly what everyone wants to do is figure out is the magic formula. Why THIS book??

Mostly, we are jealous.

I mean, I am jealous.

I know it’s low of me, an unflattering insight into my less than sterling character. But there it is. I want for my books what this book is getting. The love, the notice. Chocolate-covered heroin, doncha know. The money would be nice, too.

The thing is, though, I think this is an impossible question. A while back I posted about the interview between JK Rowling and Oprah Winfrey, where they discussed what it’s like to become a phenomenon and why it happened to them. They don’t know either. They were right there, creating the thing and they have no idea. If you watch the Fifty Shades Frenzy video to the end, you’ll see an interview with EL James. SHE has no idea either. You’ll see – this is not a woman who’s a sharp marketer or calculated her way to the hearts of the ladies in the video. She simply started writing her spin-off fantasy of Twilight and BOOM!

(It should be pointed out that, despite its apparent sudden advent into public awareness, this is not an overnight boom. I read the book over a year ago.)

So, even as I rummage in my desk drawer for chocolate, because there is no chocolate-covered heroin available, stewing because other people have what I want, I know it’s all the merry-go-round. It’s all lights, tinkling music and fake horses. Up and down, round and round. Until you’re vaguely queasy and wondering why the ride sounded so appealing in the first place.

Figuring out how to be a phenomenon is like figuring out how to win the lottery.

My friend from college who has a masters in statistics was posting some numbers the other day. She said that the odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery were 1:175,711,536. This compared to the odds of dying in a plane crash (1:29,400,000) or being hit by lightning (1:10,000). Looking only at the number of books published in the US in 2009 (the easiest number I could find), the odds of having the stand-0ut book of that year would be 1:288,355. I’m betting that number doesn’t include self-published books either, which is how Fifty Shades started out.

How we’d define phenomena like Fifty Shades, or empires from the Twilight or the Harry Potter books, I have no idea. This is why *I* don’t have a masters in statistics.

Suffice to say, stay inside during thunderstorms and don’t worry so much about flying.

We can write good books while doing both of these things.

Before You Weep Over that Review…

I made a mistake when I took this photo. Apparently I moved the camera at precisely the right moment to create a shadow image. I had no idea I’d done it at the time. Only when I looked through the backlog of images on my camera this morning did I see it. I kind of like it.

It’s a good reminder.

The hoopla over “bad” reviews and various author reactions seems to be growing worse, not better. I put this down to several factors. Mainly, there are a lot of people who eat up this drama and love it when a new fight breaks out. These are the people who run around yelling “Fight! Fight!” while rounding up everyone they can find to scream from the sidelines. This is the reality TV of the interwebs. And, to follow up that analogy, the book reviewers and authors have discovered that this kind of fame is still fame. It’s all, as I’ve mentioned before, the chocolate-covered heroin of attention. A hit is a hit, after all. It might be the poisonous grade, but it’s better than jonesing.

At any rate, I don’t read all of my reviews. I read some, here and there. Especially if the reviewer calls my attention to it. But I’m fragile enough that I often skip the low-star reviews. I know, I know. Toughen up, sweetheart.

Eh, I’m not much for pain, outside certain contexts.

Then, the other day, I saw a book blogger on Twitter mentioning my name along with several other authors, saying she was doing a giveaway of some of her new favorite authors. I tweeted her back with a thank you and she replied that she was happy to, that she’d loved Sapphire. Surprised I’d missed a “loved” mention on a book blog – and, ok, maybe ready for a little hit of heroin – I looked at the review. Now I remembered seeing it. I hadn’t read it before, because she only gave it three stars.

Turns out, she uses a scale of zero to four stars. And she rated it low because she thought it was too short. (It’s amazing how many reviewers will do this. Feeding the Vampire gets low stars all the time for being too short. It’s one of the great drawbacks of digital presentation, I think. Had Feeding the Vampire been in a short story collection, for instance, no one would have felt betrayed by its brevity. But, because readers don’t necessarily pay attention to length when they buy and download, they settle in to read a novella or novel, only to have it end when they expect the story to be ramping up. I don’t blame them a bit – I’d likely feel the same way.)

Still, the point is, you never really know what you’re going to get and who will turn out to be a supporter. She didn’t have to include me in this special giveaway with these well-established authors. I didn’t expect such enthusiasm from that quarter.

Sometimes you look again, and see something you didn’t before.

Writers’ Heroin

These little bushtits are such happy birds. They swarm the bark butter, singing a whispery tune and vanish again.

I’m going to take a bit of a departure today from my series on How My Day Job Has Made Me a Better Writer, but I’ll be back with it tomorrow.

I was talking with a Twitter friend who’s looking at having her first book published. She’s all agog with excitement, of course. And the online community has been great to her, with congratulations and support. Now, however, it’s hitting her that by the time the book comes out, people’s attention may have drifted and maybe no one will notice at all then.

She’s actually pretty insightful to recognize this pitfall.

See, for writers, attention is our most addictive drug.

We’re like affection-starved children who’ve grown up without human contact. It sounds dramatic, but so much of being a writer, especially in the early years, involves being alone with only your words for company. Nobody else sees your work, largely because no one cares, even if you dare tell anyone about it. You begin to feel like the mad scientist hermit, muttering to yourself, chasing some ever-mutating dream of creation. You become very accustomed to not being noticed. Even if you have a regular life, with people who love you, the crazy-writer side is usually locked away where she can’t frighten people.

Then, when she’s cleaned up enough to be trotted out into polite society and people pay attention to that side of you – and bettter, PRAISE you for it – well, it’s overwhelming. It’s like getting chocolate after a lifetime of rice. It’s rich and lovely and can totally screw you up.

Because, you see, the attention is almost instantly addictive. You find yourself craving just a little more. You start doing and saying things just to elicit a little more attention. You search for reviews and mentions. You reread old praise, reliving the glory days.

Before you know it, you’re the crack-whore on the corner of Twitter offering anything if people will just throw a crumb of attention your way.

I can’t tell you not to taste the attention. After all, it’s arguably one of the few rewards writers receive, until they’re really making the money. And besides, unless you’re a total recluse, you’re gonna get it. But know that it’s addictive. That it’s chocolate-covered heroin with no nutritious value.

In the end, the only thing that really matters is the writing.