This Is Dedicated to the One I Love

October 17th, 2008

If you’ve dreamed of being an author, you’ve probably dreamed about writing a dedication.  In fact, the dedication-writing part may well have inspired the book-writing part.   Long before I had a book agent and even longer before I had an editor, I used to daydream by writing imaginary dedications in my mind.  They were kind of the literary equivalent of a rich old lady’s will: “She was nice to me today so I think I’ll dedicate the book to her . . . I can’t believe he said that–I’m never dedicating a book to him . . . ooo, that was nice–she’s in,” “ow, that hurt, he’s out,” and so on.  

It gave me the feeling I had power: one day I would be able to publicly acknowledge anyone who’d been good to me, and punish (by pointedly ignoring) those who’d sinned against me. 

Unfortunately, it took me so long to get an actual book out in public that by the time I did those childish dreams of punishment and reward had lost their power to entrance and instead I experienced a much more adult feeling of panic that I might hurt someone’s feelings either by not acknowledging him–or by acknowledging him in a clumsy way.  (Speaking of acknowledging, acknowledgements are the paler cousin of dedications, stirring up the same issues but in a slightly less overt way.  And now I’ve written variations of the word “acknowledge” way too often and must stop.)

Anyway, about seven years ago, I started actually getting books published.  (I’m still sort of amazed that happened.)  Each time, once production on the book has begun, my editor has said to me, “Will you be needing a page for a dedication?” As if I might say no.   I’d worked too hard for that dedication page–no way was I going to pass on it, even if I had no idea what I wanted to put on it.

It seemed obvious to me that I would dedicate my first novel to the people who loomed largest in my life: my kids.  My every day revolved around those four little people (now significantly bigger), so it seemed like a no-brainer. I also included their dad in the list, figuring that without him, there was no them.  Plus, you know, I like him. 

The kids enjoyed seeing their names in print (at a book party, a couple of them insisted on signing the books too, right next to their names in the dedication), and it felt like I’d made the right decision.

Until my mom started dying. 

If she had lived as long as she was supposed to, there would have been plenty of time to dedicate a future book to her.  But as things worked out, I was only able to tell her that I intended to dedicate a future book to her, and she didn’t live long enough to see it for herself.  She took my word for it and even said something about how lucky she was, a feeling I couldn’t buy into, since she only had a few weeks to live and that didn’t seem all that lucky to me.  I did sell another book and I did dedicate it to her, but it sucked then and it still sucks now that she never actually saw it.   Not that it would have made a huge difference in her life or anything.  But it would have been nice.

Anyway, having dedicated a book to my kids and husband and another (too late) to my mother, and having learned a lesson about parents the hard way, I knew the next one was destined for my father.  If you pick up a copy of The Smart One and the Pretty One  (In stores now!  Hurry, supplies may be limited!  Not really!), you can read it for yourself.   He was able to read it for himself, which was definitely reassuring given what happened with my mom.

Now, as I get to work on my fourth novel, I’m beginning to realize that if you keep writing books, dedications stop feeling heartfelt and meaningful and start feeling more like items on a checklist.  I’ve done my children and my parents–what comes next?  Siblings, I guess.  Then what?  Friends?

Friends are scary, though, because you can’t thank everyone you like, which means you’re forced to start ranking your friendships.  Plus no matter how many people you list at any given time, you run the risk of leaving someone important out.  Better not even to try–even though my friends are my life support and if anyone deserves to be acknowledged, it’s the women who scrape me up off the pavement on a weekly basis and let me lean on them until I’m up to walking on my own again. 

So, if not them . . . then who? 

There’s always the dogs, I guess, but I don’t feel they’ve been very supportive of my career, since they’re always trying to get me to stop working and come play outside with them.   The turtles and mice are more mellow but less involved in general.

On the plus side, scrounging around for a dedicatee is a good problem to have: after all, if you’re contemplating thanking your doctor or your hairdresser for “all they’ve done for me over the years,” then that probably means that your writing career is going pretty well. 

Frankly, I’d be thrilled if figuring out future dedications becomes a huge problem for me.  I should be so lucky.