Tuesday, January 12, 2021

This one is for...

How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to, and have you ever had an awkward moment in making an “in” or “out” decision?

From Frank

There are really two possible reasons to dedicate a book to someone. Or rules. Let's call them rules.

Rule Number One is because someone lent themselves to the book's completion. An editor or friend who got the story over the hump, or helped flesh out a character, or discover the secret that lies at the heart of every good book. Sometimes these assists are too monumental for just the acknowledgements.

For example, The Last Horseman took off in my head because of a conversation I had with Steve Wohl about the frustrating failures of the criminal justice system when it came to career bad guys. His joking solution led to me asking what would happen if a vigilante group formed and operated in Spokane. Then the more interesting question came - what if that group deteriorated and ended, leaving a single man to bear the burden?

So when it came time to dedicate that one, Steve was the obvious choice. He was there at conception.  

Another example of this is my most recent River City novel, Place of Wrath and Tears. As you can read in the afterword, Spokane Police Officer Zac Dahle had a lot to do with that book coming to fruition. He brought a critical character and a significant storyline to the table. His contributions made the book immensely richer. I should have dedicated the book to him. I mean, he did way more than Steve, and Steve got a dedication.

But I didn't.

Because of Rule Number Two.

Rule Number Two says you dedicate a book to someone who is meaningful to you, regardless of any relationship to work itself. In the case of Place of Wrath and Tears, this is what happened. My grand-daughter Harriet was born while I was working on this book. Like the previous River City novel, The Menace of the Years, which I dedicated to her brother, Linus (or An Unlikely Phoenix, which was dedicated to their brother, Malcolm), I dedicated the newest one to Hattie. 

Why? Because rule number two is a powerful one. It should probably be called rule number one, in fact.

Actually, forget I said "rules." It's your book - do what you want.

To address the other part of the question... I've never had an awkward moment when deciding whether to include someone or not. Zac's a dad himself, so he had no problem understanding the reason PoWaT was dedicated to Hattie. Besides, I acknowledged his contributions at length in the afterword.

There are more than a few people who are secretly "in the queue" for a dedication when it's the right time and the right book. How will I know? I'll know.

There haven't been any of awkward moments due to a dedication, but in one case, an homage caused one. 

I named a sympathetic character in The Last Horseman after my step-mom, Gail. It was a minor character, but very likable. Then, as the story evolved, it turned out Gail got killed (sorry for the spoiler). The development was a late first-draft change or probably a second draft revision, if I remember right. By that time, the homage wasn't even something I thought of - the character of Gail had her own identity by then. So it wasn't until my Gail read the book and then asked me about it a little hesitantly that I realized the way it could be taken. I mean, you hear writers all the time say they exact revenge on people by killing them in their novels.

Anyway, I explained, and Gail understood. But I dodged a bullet there. And Gail got a rule number two dedication later - At Their Own Game.

Sometimes a dedication comes as a combination of both rules. My wife, Kristi, could easily qualify for this on virtually ever book I've written in the last twelve years. She's only received two dedications, though - one from Frank Zafiro and one from Frank Scalise. This is largely because I've sort of instituted a former champion rule where she's concerned. 

Otherwise she'd be the Wayne Gretzky of book dedication records.

You never know how people will react to a book dedication, or if they will at all. But that's okay. Because regardless of the wording, a dedication is to someone but it is, on some level, for the author, too.


Blatant self-promotion, you ask? Why, certainly!

My short story collection, Sugar Got Low will be out on 1/18/21. It's already available for pre-order.

SUGAR GOT LOW contains a tale of grifters, a prequel story to the well-regarded Ania series, several trips back to River City and one to La Sombra, Texas. Enjoy a Walter Mitty homage set in San Francisco and a deadly day in Roman Britain, the heartbreaking story of a junkie and the suspenseful one of a murderer in a black car. And at the end of it all, you’ll experience the dark but inspiring title story of perseverance that was only made possible because of a misunderstood lyric.

Four-time Derringer finalist Frank Zafiro weaves a lucky thirteen tales drawn from throughout his career with one thing in common – characters you may love or hate, but will certainly feel.

Also, if you dig audio, I released my short collection, The Cleaner in that format about a month ago. I took the daring (perhaps foolish) route of producing and narrating it myself. Is it any good? You can be the judge. 

Kristi helped me out by narrating a pair of flash fiction stories that are included, though. I could have dedicated the book to her for that, but I didn't. It was dedicated to Teresa O'Halloran, also know as La Bruja Vieja, my high school Spanish teacher (and champion).


Catriona McPherson said...

I am trying so hard not to comment this week - so I don't write my blog before Thursday. (But I loved this, Frank.)

Susan C Shea said...

I loved all of your examples, and I am thinking you think about this seriously, as do I, and get real pleasure from the ways we can thank people or shoot out little love-hearts to them!

Frank Zafiro said...

CATRIONA - thanks! Looking forward to your always entertaining takes!

SUSAN - You're 100% correct. Thanks!