Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Green Eyed Monster

Courtesy Essdras Suarez
Hank Phillippi Ryan:  Someone asked me once if I could write a mystery without a romance. I said: not if the characters are real people. Then they asked: could you write a romance without a mystery?

This one was tougher. "Well, I asked, if there's no mystery to solve, what would the characters DO?"

(Now you probably know too much about me.)

Anyway,  the real point is, authors are always contemplating the work of other authors. And Samantha Wilde has been looking at us! Well, at mystery authors. And she says:

Everything I Learned About Writing Came From Mystery Authors (Almost)

SAMANTHA WILDE: One day I sat staring at a mostly blank page, some distance through a novel, and thought, what would a mystery author do? I grew up the daughter of a novelist. My mother, Nancy Thayer, saturated my childhood home with novels. What’s a room without a bookshelf or a stack of books? What’s a room without floor to ceiling bookshelves? And among those thousands of stories, some of her most favorite, most absorbing, most addictive reads, heaps upon heaps of them: the mysteries.

I can’t be the first person to write that no one can plot like a good crime writer. You pick up the novel, read the first line, and for the next twenty-four hours your children run around screaming and begging for food. When you remerge, it’s like you just got off a plane from a trip abroad. You take a big gulp of air and remember your actual life.

I try to engage that genius of plotting I learn from suspense, although when you’re dealing with cranky mothers and envious friends and you can’t kill someone because it’s not that kind of book, you sometimes wish for another genre. In my most recent novel I wrote about envy. This led me into some research on envy, one of the seven deadly sins. I won’t say that envy makes the world go round (it doesn’t sound very good, does it?), but what’s a good story without it?

Shakespeare was the one who coined the phrase “green-eyed monster” in Othello: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/ It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on.” Envy is so powerful, so universal, that I decided it must have plagued even the dinosaurs. One can only imagine the envy Tyrannosaurus Rex experiences looking at his long-armed companions.

I asked an artist friend of mine, Sara Prentice Manela, to draw a cartoon of the envious T-Rex to accompany some of my essays on envy; she drew him “losing his envy.” Self-love for dinosaurs!

It should be a surprise than that I, writing about envy, would have to wrestle my own green-eyed monsters, particularly when reading other novels or finding out about the successes of other authors. It has always struck me, subtly, and without malice, this small pinch of envy, when I read mystery, as I follow an incredibly orchestrated and executed plot that literally bewitches me out of my life and into the pages. I do want to plot like that, and, of course, it’s not impossible, even in my world of women’s fiction, writing as I do about the ordinary lives of women.

In the end, the cure for envy lies in one’s willingness to learn, to appreciate, admire and be a beginner. Of course, I don’t read books to learn how to write. I read books because I love to read. But any good book I read, particularly when I recognize a gift in the author I feel is weaker in me, offers a good education. Which is why, as my mother knows and certainly taught by example, a good writer always reads. And reads. And reads.

Tell me what you envy. Have you ever read a book that awakened your green-eyed monster?

HANK: And Sam is offering a copy of her book (in the US. only, okay?). How about--what--if anything--are you envous about?


 Samantha Wilde is the author of I'll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home (both from Bantam Books).  Here's the trailer!
 The at-home mother of three young children, she moonlights as a minister and a yoga teacher. She's the graduate of Smith College and Yale Divinity School and lives in Western Massachusetts.


In I'll Take What She Has... Best friends since kindergarten, Nora, a reserved English teacher, and Annie, an out-spoken stay-at-home mother, wrestle with the green-eyed monster when the new history department hire at the suburban Boston prep school where they teacher, Cynthia Cypress, arrives on campus. A missing grandmother, depressed sex therapist, and a financial crises add to the comedy in a novel about imperfect friendships, mixed up families, messy motherhood, and the quest for the greenest grass.


  1. Now I have another author to add to my t-b-r list. Thanks, Dee

  2. What a wonderful essay, Samantha--I envy this writing already:). I've tried a couple of times to write a non-crime novel and ran into the same wall...I think it's much harder to plot without a murder!

    And yes to envy, all the time. I'm reading a book now by Kristen-Paige Madonia. I would kill to write like that--you'll see week after next, because I invited her here:)

  3. Plot envy, to be sure. Especially in these two favorite genres: Mysteries and the so-called women's fiction. Who wouldn't?

    I like that you differentiated between envy and jealousy, Samantha. They are so different, but so often the word jealousy is used for what is actually envy. Will most definitely add your book to TBR Mountain!

  4. Oh, how it makes me feel better to hear you, Roberta, and Hank say it is hard to write without murder!
    Can't wait to see who you'd kill to write like!

  5. Karen, I did some actual research on envy while working on the book and it's fascinating how it gets used interchangeably with jealousy though they aren't the same. Envy: wanting what she has. Jealousy: wanting what you've lost.

  6. I've dealt with disappointments accompanied by envy of those who seem to have what I can't seem to attain, for example, a place on the main stage of our local storytelling festival. One help was going to other cities for a few events. Another is focusing on other events locally, ones that I can attain and enjoy. The best of all is reminding myself of the difference between NEED and WANT.
    Finally, an unexpected twist came when the Y hired me to teach the aqua-aerobic class I was taking for my own physical well-being. A friend calls it my "fun, little job" -- and none of my high school P.E. teachers would probably believe it . . .
    . . . and I'll be checking out that book soon. Reading is a NEED as well as a WANT . . .

  7. Hey, good morning all!

    Yes, plot envy. YOu know that new show The Americans? I could have thought of that. I COULD have! And yet, I didn't.

    That's what makes me stamp my foot. If I would NEVER have thought of it, I say--good for you! Brilliant. And kudos.

    But if I could have thought of it, and didn't? Grrr.

    I was gong to write a Casey Anthony is innocent book..didn't. I decided the world was not ready, even in fiction. Then someone did..wonderfully, I hear. I can't bear to read it. (BUt, James, I will...)

  8. Off to give a speech...back later this aft.

    Can't wait to hear what you're all envious of! (My producer can eat anything, and does, and is still a stick. How about THAT?)

  9. Hi Sam! Oh, envy, envy, envy, all the time. But in a good way, I think, because it spurs me to be better. When I read great writing I do a get a stab, but I'm excited, too.

    And I really envy people who can draw, sing, dance, play instruments beautifully--none of these are talents I was blessed with. So I write about them...

    Your books sound wonderful, by the way, and are going on my to-read list. I'm a little envious:-)

  10. Envy--I was in Meryl Streep's class in high school. When she began to "hit it big" and was in every periodical one could pick up, I was getting a bit tired of it all. After all, she had been in the school musicals (always the lead), but never tried out for the school plays (which I was in).
    Then I saw her in The French Lieutenant's Woman. She was great, has continued to be great, and my jealousy and envy have vanished. She is brilliant and has managed to keep a level head in the midst of what must be great chaos and pressure.

  11. It's easy for me to tell you what I'm envying right now. Finally managed to make it to my bookstore and pick up Red Debs' new book. (Had to have someone give me a ride--car still locked in ice and snow.) Got home and Ben stole it out from under me and is reading it first! I call that grounds for divorce!

    Envy for me is a spur to work harder, do better myself. I read a great writer and want to write as well myself. Great essay! And your book, Samantha, sound so fascinating!

  12. Yes, I agree with the envy as inspiration idea. Or really, in that case, it's much more a kind of admiration with a hint of envy. Good books always fire me up to write better.

  13. Libby, that is such an interesting story! Fascinating how you watched Meryl Streep grow from good to great!

  14. I am so late! No need to waste anytime getting straight to the point. I am jealous of anyone who can track time. I sit down to do something, say write, and get totally absorbed by it. Sucked right in. Everything else falls off the importance chart, which I do not write – obviously.

  15. Back from RHode ISland!

    Yes, I agree..sometimes talent, and the envy of talent, makes me wonder what would happen if I --push more.

    Oh, Libby, Meryl Streep. I would LOVE to hear more! But hey, that; is a very very high bar.

    And Reine, there's something to be said for losing yourself in what you are dong. That's a talent in itself.

    Sam, thank you! YOu are always welcome at Jungle Red!

  16. Thank you! So fun to hear your thoughts on envy.

  17. Deb, we picked your name from a hat to win a copy of I'll Take What She Has for your envy story! Tell me where it should go: sam (at) samanthawilde (dot) com!