O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey’d monster,
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
Since recently inking a publishing contract with Eleventh Hour Literary Press for my debut novel, Dear Miss Moreau, I am gradually becoming Anna James Zeigler, author of romance for the grammatically inclined. Or something like that.
In 1996 Natalie Merchant released the song “Jealousy.” I have always loved this song. It joins “Lyin’ Eyes” & Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise” on a short list of songs that, to me, tell interesting stories in a minimalist way. You’re likely familiar with “Lyin’ Eyes.” If you’re not, I don’t know what to say to you (revaluate, maybe?). If you’ve never listened to “The Promise” (or “Jealousy”), you should do that.
I’ve been thinking about jealousy a good deal lately (the song & the feeling). When I wrote Dear Miss Moreau, the song was constantly in my head, & in fact steered the plot in significant ways.
The lyrics are as follows:
Is she fine / So well bred / The perfect girl / A social deb
Is she the sort / You’ve always thought / Could make you what you’re not?
Is she bright / So well read / Are there novels by her bed?
Is she the sort / You’ve always said / Could satisfy your head?
Does she talk / The way I do / Is her voice reminding you
Of the promises / The little white lies too
Sometimes, tell me / While she’s touching you
Just by mistake / Accidentally do you say my name?
Natalie of course intermittently breaks into Ooooh la la la la jealousy throughout the song. And by Natalie I mean me & Natalie.
It’s good stuff, right?
I picture a bitter, vindictive woman when I hear this song. She didn’t truly love the man she’s lost (& likely lost through her own doing), but she is not content to move on with her life & let him move on with his. She whispers to him about his insecurities, suggesting in that final line that he is unable to move on from her, which is likely a fantasy of hers rather than a representation of reality.
In my book, this woman’s name is Shannon. She emerged in part from the lyrics of this song. A few chapters take their title from other snippets in the song (like what is at present Chapter Two, “Accent” . . . Does she talk / The way I do / Is her voice reminding you . . . ).
I am going to tell you two things; you simply may not believe them but they are the absolute truth (a friend can vouch for me on the second one).
On the day I was offered a contract for the book, I heard “Jealousy” while driving home from work, on 90s on 9, naturally. I really did. I was like, Whoa. Wow. Wow. Okay. Maybe this is a sign. I never hear that song on the radio, even on 90s on 9. They tend to focus on awful, awful music that ought to be left in the 90s, turning their back on a lot of the legitimately great music of the 90s.
When I met with my book club a few weeks ago, the ladies offered their congratulations on the publication offer. A friend told me she is happy for me, & then said she is also jealous. That’s what she said. I love her, & this is one of the reasons why. She’s just an honest person . . . with a healthy appreciation for sarcasm that calls to me. If I were rounding up women with whom I’d like to reenact the Golden Girls, she’d be at the top of the list.
I told her what I’ve told others, & that is that writing a book is not what I’d call easy, but it is doable, particularly if you just write when you can, & write what you want. I finished the book because I wanted to sit down & read it once it was complete. Why there was no book about people who’re obsessed with Hemingway was beyond me, so I wrote one. My next novel is going to tell the story of a woman who becomes emotionally crippled from repeatedly listening to Adele’s music. Not really, but goodness, there are a few songs on her recent album that could inspire novels. Maybe if I listen to them for twenty years as I did “Jealousy,” inspiration will strike. “All I Ask” (it’s Track 10!) is an emotional minefield. Have you listened to this song? Maybe we’ll talk about it next week.
Okay, moving on.
One of the traps I had to crawl out of, & am again wrestling with at the moment, is the idea that the writing has to come chronologically. It does not. I wrote several conversations between Edie & Dr. Foster before I wrote anything else. I didn’t know where they’d fall in a completed version of the book, but they were conversations I knew I wanted them to have, so I wrote them, & then wrote around them, & the whole thing slowly grew.
Needless to say when someone takes an interest in what you’ve written (I mean other than your mom), it gives you a reason to work a little more diligently on other manuscripts. As I tinker with Edie & her professor again, I am hyperaware of how I have changed as a person since I begun writing them.
The sequel I’m flirting with right now (we’re sitting at @ 12,000 words) picks up about a month after Dear Miss Moreau ends; obviously there is a need for consistency with the characters. I am, in some ways, a different person than I was when I wrote the first book. It’s not like eons have passed, but I’ve read a lot of books (& had another child) & thus am not the same Anna who sat down to write Dear Miss Moreau.
Characters, if they are to come off the page for the reader as believable people, demand consistency. Consistency can mean always taking their coffee the same way, or it can mean how they react to stress. A lack of consistency needs to be explained by something that happens to the character, some perspective-altering event, otherwise, it’s just inconsistent writing.
As I write Edie & Dr. Foster again you know what I am dying to do? Drop some Harry Potter references. Throw in a diabetic character. I hadn’t read the Harry Potter series when I wrote Dear Miss Moreau. I didn’t have a diabetic child. I have to resist those urges for the sake of consistency. The things that have happened to me have not happened to Edie.
I am about 3,000 words deep (which is not very deep) into another book that features a heroine who will, I believe, be diabetic. They say to write what you know, what stirs your passions, so I wrote a book about someone who drinks a ton of coffee & is obsessed with Hemingway. Check. So what’s next but to write a diabetic heroine?
In the publishing world there are always calls for underrepresented voices in fiction. People have different ideas about what voices are underrepresented, but I have taken part in a few discussions about the lack of characters with chronic illnesses. Chronic diseases are often misunderstood by the general public. Some people don’t even know what chronic means.
A diabetic heroine would serve two purposes, as I see it. First, she could educate people. I am not going to write a dry manual on counting carbohydrates, but via her conversations with people, she could educate them, & thus the reader. Via the type of dramatic situations typical of fiction, readers could be educated. Diabetes is not without drama, believe me.
Second, & perhaps most important to me, every mother wants her daughter to be able to pick up a book & see herself mirrored in the heroine. It’s why Disney’s princesses are no longer all Snow White (see what I did there?). It is unquestionably beneficial for kids to see themselves reflected in positive ways in the world around them, & this includes in the books they read.
I would love nothing more than to write a heroine with whom my daughter can fully identify. A heroine who not only has to slay dragons, but who bravely & responsibly checks her blood sugar before doing so. Dragon slaying requires considerable physical effort, you know, & thus the heroine would likely need a snack, preferably one with protein. I’m kidding about the dragons, of course. I don’t do fantasy stuff, but I can write a heroine who worries about her blood sugar dropping at inopportune times, like while she’s defending her doctoral dissertation or giving her closing argument to the jury or on a first date with Henry Cavill. That last one’s a joke, obviously; as I said, I don’t do fantasy.
I am considering buying this for my daughter’s Easter basket:
American Doll is now selling a Diabetes Care Kit. It’s a tiny insulin pump she can put on one of her dolls & a whole slew of other stuff that may sound odd to you but is all part of the daily grind for a diabetic. I don’t know what genius at American Doll decided to add this to their line-up, but I’d like to meet this individual & weep at his or her feet.
I thought a lot about jealousy when I was writing the book. It was fun to write the character my mind constructed based on Natalie Merchant’s lyrics. Shannon is a shrew (& I love her). Jealousy is humanity at its basest; it drives some of the world’s best fiction (Othello, for starters). And yes, jealousy is a hint of the Divine in us, for, “the Lord, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
In addition to revisiting Dear Miss Moreau & figuring out how jealousy might factor into a sequel, I deal with jealousy constantly in the real world as well. Since Reagan’s diagnosis, I have at times been tempted to unload on people (& I don’t just mean our insurance company). Sometimes I want to say, aloud (in a high-pitched, shouty voice), to other mothers that I am pea green with envy over all the insulin their child’s body produces. A pancreas, a pancreas! My kingdom for a pancreas!
Via social media, I routinely see pictures of couples taking trips without their children. My husband & I can’t do that. I can leave Reagan for a few hours, but the only time I am away from her overnight is when Trey is with her at his parents’ house. It’s just the way it is right now.
Whatever else is happening, wherever I am, my constant thought is, What is her blood sugar? A few months ago I was at the movies by myself & this guy sitting near me kept eying me when I looked at my phone, which, yeah, they tell you not to do. He never said anything, so I never said anything, but I bet it never occurred to him that I have to constantly check for texts alerting me to a low or high number, or a confirmation of how much insulin to dose for a meal. This is what chronic means. There is no stable condition for a diabetic.
Jealousy can serve a useful purpose (I mean aside from providing a delicious motive for fictional characters). I have & continue to train myself not to indulge the feeling, but to remember that we all, at times, are plagued by this feeling. I make a list (sometimes mentally, sometimes, in desperate times, I actually write one out longhand) of reasons others might be jealous of me. Maybe that is a horrible thing to do, a horrible thing to admit, but it’s what I do. I began doing this when we were in PICU, & I knew, I knew, if I were to ask them, many other parents on that hall would’ve traded places with us, because we were certain we were all going home together. We left carrying quite a burden, but it is a burden many parents who find themselves at a bedside in PICU would gladly bear, chronically, day in & day out.
A list of reasons others might be jealous of you is nothing more than a list of your blessings, & I am tremendously blessed. I am. Reagan is as well. It’s going to be a challenge at times to convince her of this as she ages & learns to care for herself & occasionally has to explain her pump to people.
Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for updates, updates on songs that send me flying to the keyboard, updates on our journey with diabetes, & of course, updates on publication.