I'm going to confess something here I probably shouldn't, but I think it's important to talk about these sorts of things, so here goes:
I get jealous of other authors.
I know that doesn't seem groundbreaking and maybe some of you are even laughing right now or, if not laughing, wondering if I made a joke that fell flat. But, no, this is a serious discussion.
You see, authors are not supposed to get jealous of other authors. I've even talked about it before on the blog. We're supposed to be good members of a small fraternity and celebrate one another's successes and commiserate in one another's times of tribulation.
We're supposed to know that a rising tide raises all boats and that what's good for one author is good for all authors and that we're not in a competition for readers, because readers buy lots of books and not just one book in a lifetime.
And I do know all of that. I know the hell out of it. I grok it even. I've cheered and raved and shared in the successes of other members of my tribe and I've held their hair back while they puked their guts empty of all the sorrows they drowned. And I've never shit on another author (in public) and I've never been anything but welcoming and supportive to the other members of my community, my tribe, really.
That doesn't really change the fact that I'm jealous. And I don't mean like, I'm jealous of J.K. Rowling's millions and movie deals and world-changing impact. I mean, I am, sure, in an abstract way, but really people like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are the people I'm least jealous of. Because they may as well be quasars, or quarks, or, I dunno, some other obscure astronomical q-word. Their success is miraculous essentially, the one-in-a-million shot wrapped in an unheard-of burrito, with a squirt of creamy once-in-a-lifetime brand sour cream on top. What's even the point of being jealous of someone like that? You may as well be jealous of the King of England.
No, I mean I'm jealous of my peers. And midlist authors. And debut authors. And complete fucking n00bs. And it's not just once in a while. It's constantly.
I'm jealous when I see someone has better reviews than me. I'm jealous when I see they have more reviews. I'm jealous when I see they have more books out (how dare she be more productive than me?)
I'm jealous when they get an agent. I'm jealous when they get interest from an agent's grad school assistant. I'm jealous when they get a book deal. I'm jealous when they get a book sale.
I'm jealous when they meet a hero. I'm jealous that they have heroes. I'm jealous that they're better read than me.
And, yeah, sometimes I'm jealous that they're dumber than me. I'm jealous they don't know how hard this fucking row is to hoe. I'm jealous that they don't know how hard it is to sell a book. I'm jealous of their never-say-die, never-give-up pluckiness. I'm jealous of their youth. (Sometimes I'm jealous of their age and wisdom, too.)
Sometimes I get jealous of stupid shit, too. Not that anything I just mentioned is particularly germane, but I mean especially stupid shit. I'm jealous when somebody else's name get mentioned. Or they get called "a great person." Or that they have a better haircut than me. Or that they have cute kids. Or that they have a better day job than me. Or that they have some other talent, some actual talent that isn't just putting words together which essentially everybody can do, like art or something.
So why am I admitting all of this? Why am I essentially putting myself out there as a pariah and confessing that as much as I toe the line (and tell other people to toe the line) of love, peace, and respect in my behavior, in my heart I feel differently?
Because I think it's natural. And I think it probably happens more than we expect. In fact, I think it probably happens as constantly to other people as it does to me.
And I sort of wish in a way that there was a word for "jealousy" that didn't carry those negative connotations, but I couldn't think of one. "Envy" is just as bad and "admiration" doesn't really capture the point. Because even though I'm jealous of you doesn't mean I don't still love you and want the best for you and revel in your successes and weep over your losses.
In fact, I think there's a certain amount of healthy jealousy that all authors feel and that, in fact, we need. It prods us on. It encourages us to do more, write more, write better, beat the odds, beat that other guy (even if I love him and his stupid awesome haircut.) Maybe make him a little jealous no matter how perfectly coiffed he is, and maybe make him secretly weep into his booze a little later tonight.
We're running a race and other racers make us better. We want to pass the one in front of us, and then the new one in front of us, and then the new one in front of us. But that doesn't mean we should be tripping the other racers, and it doesn't mean we should be spitting in their Gatorade at the end of the race either.
Because there's also unhealthy jealousy. There's also poisonous, venomous, dripping toxic jealousy that gets into your pores and drives you nuts. It's the kind that turns a writer into a has-been, or never-was, who dismisses the whole community as Philistines. It's the kind that turns a writer into a basement-dwelling troll who has nothing better to do with his time than to harass other people. It's the kind that holds you back instead of inspiring you forward. It's the kind that stymies your career, stymies even your capability for human interaction. The kind that makes you give up because "how could I ever accomplish that?"
I guess really jealousy is like the Force. There's a dark side and a light side. And you can end up a Sith Lord, dealing only in absolutes and cackling over the villainy and cruelty you've spread. Or you can end up a Jedi, fighting alongside thousands of other Jedis, but not being able to marry for some reason. I guess the metaphor kind of falls down at the end, but there you go.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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