But since it is the day of the year we indulge in camp scares, let's examine something TRULY unsettling, something that all writers (except Julia Spencer-Fleming) experience, even if they won't for one second admit it, even to themselves. (You might want to avert your eyes if easily unnerved.)
I'll tell you right up front: When I see another mystery writer has won an award, made a bestseller list, gotten a big contract, been reviewed (positively or not) in the New York Times Book Review, my first thought--whether the other author is a total stranger or a close friend--is, "Why wasn't that ME?"
I know; I'm a terrible person. I freely admit that. But here's the thing--I think EVERYBODY has a certain amount of that feeling inside them (except Julia Spencer-Fleming). And furthermore (which is redundant), I think it's a helpful emotion that can spur the writer along.
Yes, I want that NYTBR review. I do. I don't care if they hate my book; I just want Marilyn Stasio (or better, Janet Maslin) to ACKNOWLEDGE that it exists. I want an award, pretty much any award (but mostly the Lefty or the Agatha) before I reach the end of a career (by the way, Agatha voters, "The Gun Also Rises" is a short story that was published in 2011; just saying). I want that enormous book contract, albeit mostly because I'd like to be able to pay my bills without taking a Tums.
And when someone else achieves one or more of those things, I get pangs. It doesn't mean that I don't like the other author, or that I think I'm a better writer than they are (I'm better than some, not as good as others), or that I begrudge them the accolades they have undoubtedly earned with at least as much hard work as I've put in. None of that would be true.
I just want it more for me than I do for them, that's all. I think that's human. (Except Jula Spencer-Fleming.)
Envy serves as a powerful motivator: If I want all those secondary things (except the contract, which is fairly essential unless you're self-publishing), I need to work harder. Think harder. Write more cleverly. Push myself into new areas.
So the old green-eyed affliction can be a positive force if it moves a writer to do better work. And if noticing that I have such feelings means I'm not as nice a person as I like to think I am, so be it. Ballplayers talk about the need for a feeling of competition. Even as gentlemanly a figure as Mariano Rivera says without question that when he's on the mound, the batter is his target, his goal. He's going to get that guy out, even if it's his best friend.
I'm not ashamed of my envy. It usually passes after a moment or two, and I'm honestly happy for the author who received the coveted (by me) prize. Unless I have met that person and don't like them at all, but that is a very rare occasion. Most of the time, I'm glad someone worthy has achieved some success. But do I wish it was me? Yes, I do. We all do.
Except Julia Spencer-Fleming.