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Spousal envy

A lot of authors are married to or in relationships with other authors.  Who better than another author understands the need to jump out of bed in the middle of the night in order to write down the solution to a tricky scene in your novel, or the misery of staring at a blank sheet or screen and feeling like you’ll never have anything to fill it with, or the fugue state you enter when the characters are racing you through the plot at breakneck speed and it’s all you can do to keep up with them, never mind eating, showering, or answering the phone.   So, yeah, we see a lot of authors who live together and work together and share the ups and downs of the writing life.

And, I’ve always wondered how it must feel to be the less successful half of one of those relationships.   Because even if both authors are supremely talented (Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne…) you know there’s always one half of the couple who garners the greater acclaim critically or commercially (sometimes both).  And, given how fragile creative egos can be, it’s gotta smart a little no matter how much you love your significant other when her book is the talk of the town while yours is languishing in the remainder bins.

This piece by Niall  Leonard, EL James’ husband, is delightful precisely because it is snarky and meanspirited in just the right proportions.  On the one hand, Mr. Leonard is doubtlessly enjoying his wife’s success (and, we hope, if theirs is a good marriage, rejoicing for her).  On the other, he’s a wee bit cranky that her blockbuster is taking over their lives and that all anyone wants to talk about is Fifty Shades of Grey when he’s got his own book to peddle.  He doesn’t come across as unduly bitter and clearly has a sense of humor about the whole thing.   Or does he?

How hard would it be for you to watch your spouse hit the literary jackpot while you’re toiling away in obscurity?  Would you be noble and selfless in your support or would you secretly be drawing mustaches or devil horns on his/her author photo?

4 Responses to Spousal envy

  1. D.C. DaCosta says:

    Great topic.

    I’m single, but it seems to me that the attitude of the less “successful” partner must be heavily influenced by his opinion of his partner’s work.

    If you think she writes trash, but it’s selling big, why are you (who write deep thoughts of great importance with much skill and elan) still flipping burgers as a day job? It may be easier to swallow if you think her stuff is not only pretty good, but very good.

    Conversely, who’d want to be married to a Shakespeare?

  2. I’m the only writer in my house and happy for it.
    Great topic.

  3. I’ve had a few people joke/suggest to me that I should marry someone else who likes to write, so this thought has occurred to me. Based on past experiences, I think I’d struggle more with feelings of inferiority than bitterness or anger toward my partner–unless it was a situation where I’d been working for years and he sits down and gets the first thing he’s ever written published. Then I’d probably be grumpy.

    Also, if my spouse were more successful at first but then I got published, I’d be worried about being perceived as using some sort of connection rather than earning it through my own work and talent. I want to make it on my own!

  4. RamseyH says:

    If I were married to another author, who would pay the bills? My ego is far to big to tolerate another writer in the house, anyway.

    In all seriousness – I married another artist. Not a writer, but someone who understands the creative impulse. He “gets” me, while at the same time having his own passion. So we’re collaborators, not competitors. This works well for us. And my ego.

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