This Writing Life--Mark Terry
Thoughts From A Professional Writer

Author Envy
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August 4, 2005
I noted that Sara Weinman's ( guest blogger today is Barry Eisler. ( Barry, for those who don't know, writes thrillers featuring John Rain, a half-American, half-Japanese assassin. The titles all have Rain in them, like Hard Rain and Rain Fall. I met Barry at Magna cum Murder last year and had a brief chat while he signed a copy of his first novel for me, which I a short time later read.

Here's a puzzle of sorts. Author Envy takes a few strange forms. There's the one where we envy other author's success--presumably the obsession here is their book advances. I've more or less gotten over this one. I may wish for the money and the success, but I no longer get upset, saying, "Why did he get that 6-figure advance? He's not so great! I'm as good as he is!" It's counterproductive, it's unhealthy, and it's a bit like ranting over it, um, raining. It's out of your control, it's a function of how many books they sell and how many books their publisher thinks they can sell, and has very little to do with quality and a great deal to do with marketing and the nature of commodities. It's a sure road to unhappiness--stay off it.

Then there's the inspirational sort of Author Envy. I'm prone to this all too often. I read a novel by somebody I like and I'm impressed by the novel and I say, "I should try to write a book like this." Realistically speaking, the technical aspects of writing these books are well within my grasp. I've been inspired by Joe Wambaugh's "Finnegan's Week" to try comic capers, Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels and Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone novels to write things P.I.-ish, and succeeded with both Catfish Guru and more importantly, Dirty Deeds. I very much had Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme novels in mind, mixed with my own spin on David Morrell's thrillers when I wrote The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss--meaning I wanted very compressed timeframes and a breakneck pace. Stephen King's "Bag of Bones" made me want to try a sprawling supernatural novel, but luckily I overcame the desire and moved on. Ultimately it's better to write YOUR KIND OF BOOK, but I'm not sure it hurts to try different things. The point here is that I'm capable of writing these types of books that inspire me, and ultimately inspiration is a good thing.

Then there's that other Author Envy. I experienced this like a sharp blow to the head when I read Barry Eisler's first novel, Rain Fall. I got to the end and I remember sitting there, the book held in one hand, thinking, "I couldn't have written this."

You see, I often read a book by an author on the bestseller's list, whether it's Nelson DeMille's "Nightfall" or even Dan Brown's "Angels & Demons" and think, I COULD have written this. (Admittedly, Brown's books are more on the outer edge of my technical envelope, more because of reseach issues than anything else). And in reviewing mysteries, I'm often given to thinking, "I could have written this, but why would I have wanted to?" [This is a sign I need to broaden my reading, when I start to feel the repetitive and not dazzling qualities of many of the published mysteries out there at the moment. They're competent, but they don't stand out.]

I'm just going to throw out a thought here. I rarely read historical mysteries, but Eric Mayer and Mary Reed write a series I like quite a bit, but I don't finish them inspired to try my hand at historicals. I do actually have an idea for a historical mystery series, but it's not really my cup of tea and I should just stay the hell away from it. Go check out their books, though, they're good.

Anyway, back to Barry. Barry's got an unusual touch. His writing is lyrical. His sense of place is astonishing, and to most Americans, Japan would be pretty exotic, and Barry's "insider" point of view makes them even stronger. The book's politics can only come from somebody who's paid attention to the inner workings of Japanese culture and government. In short, I just sort of sat there, taken-aback. And wondering how I could bring that "uniqueness" and singularity to my own books.

Mark Terry

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