Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wearing of the Green

Sharon Wildwind

Dia’s Muire agus Padraic duit.

Of course I’m jumping the gun by starting a conversation with that sentence. According to my Buntús Cainte: a first step in spoken Irish, the first person to speak simply invokes God’s blessing, “Dia duit.” The second person takes it up a notch with “Dia’s Muire duit.” The third person builds to, “Dia’s Muire agus Padraic duit.” I think—don’t quote me on this—there is a fourth form, which invokes not only God, Mary, and St. Patrick, but St. Columba as well. Perhaps Bishop Blackie Ryan would know.

Anyway, you get the idea: each person speaking has to add a little, not only to get the last word, but to make sure that each response tops, ever so slightly, what the previous speaker said.

Sure and could I be doing a St. Patrick’s day blog without mentioning the green? Only I’m not going to write about any of those forty shades that supposedly dot the Emerald Isle. Let’s talk about that green-eyed . . . monster. Jealousy.

I spend a lot of time being jealous of fellow writers. There is a high correspondence between who I’ve just finished reading, or am currently reading, and the jealousy quotient. Except some time the jealousy lingers far after I’ve scarfed down everything a writer has to offer.

Take Stephen Booth. He was one of the authors I picked to read in 2007 and two years later, I’m still green-pea jealous about his skill in making geography and atmosphere characters in his novels. I can’t say that his books made me immediately want to book the next flight to Great Britain’s Peak District, but that’s not what he’s after. He’s writing terrific police procedurals, not travelogs.

Ditto on the jealous side for Margaret Maron and Vicki Lane. Their geography is North Carolina: the Piedmont for Maron and western North Carolina for Lane. They not only have that the land down pat, but the culture and the rapidly-disappearing historic speech patterns.

Traveling in time rather than space, I put Anne Parker and Jana G. Oliver at the top of my people to envy list. Parker sets her books in the Leadville, Colorado of 1879-1880. I confess that I’m a real historical novel snob. If I know something about a historical period, and the writer gets details even a little wrong, it diminishes the book’s pleasure for me. I haven’t caught Parker out yet and I don’t expect to. Oliver anchors her time-travel mysteries with one end in 2057 and the other in 1888 London. I feel as though I am watching her characters flit from the future to the past and back again like a spectator watching world-class tennis at Wimbledon. Game, set, and match.

My husband and his friends who compete in western martial arts have a saying, “On any given day.” What it means is that, on any given day—usually o-dark-thirty on a Saturday—when packing to leave for an event, a competitor know that today’s outcome will be decided, in part, by today being a spectacular day for him or a rotten day for the other guy.

When I think about all of these writers, I know—on any given day—that I’m just as good as they are. I can turn out a line, a paragraph, sometimes even a whole chapter that could proudly stand beside one of theirs. I’m jealous because I want to be, all the time—every line, every paragraph, every book—as good as they are. I want other people to read something I’ve written and say with a groan, “I wish I’d written that.”

Isn't it lovely the way writers are always pushing the quality of the writing up a notch, playing off of the strengths of other writers!
Quote for the week:
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?
~Robert Browning, poet

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Sandra Parshall said...

Ah, Sharon, we share so many of the same jealousies! I'm also wildly jealous of Thomas H. Cook and Ruth Rendell, and reading their writing pushes me to make my own better. Our admiration for other writers can either crush us or give us a boost, and I feel fortunate that I've never been so jealous of another's talent that I felt I might as well give up.

I don't think I have a single drop of Irish blood, but happy St. Pat's day nevertheless. (Hey, didn't the Vatican decree a while back that Saint Patrick never actually existed? Does that matter?)

Vicki Lane said...

God and Mary and Patrick be with you for those kind words, Sharon!

Jana Oliver said...

Blush. Thanks so much for your kind words, Sharon. I'm currently wending my way through Elizabeth George's LYNLEY books. Her use of description is incredible. I'm so wishing I could tap into her brain for a couple of hours and download that ability. Other authors always raise the bar for me and I do so love a challenge!

Sharon Wildwind said...

Sandra, I don't think it makes a bit of difference whether Padric existed or not. He exists in our hearts.

Vicki and Jana, thanks for stopping by.