Thursday, February 18, 2021

With Many Thanks ... A Guest Blog

Catriona writes: We've got guests today at Criminal Minds. Four authors from Level Best Books are launching novels and celebrating them this month: one debutante - Mally Becker; two sophomores (right? that means second-time round (still assimilating)) - Cynthia Tolbert and Kerry Peresta; and our old friend Liz Milliron who is two books deep in her second series. Welcome, everyone!

Liz, Kelly, Cynthia and Mally have gamely pitched in to answer a QotW. “How do you decide who to acknowledge and who to dedicate a book to?”

And now over to our guests:

Mally Becker:
Blog posts and articles claim that acknowledging gratitude improves our mood and health.

In that case, I should have felt a blast of mood-boosting endorphins when I opened a new document on my laptop to craft a book acknowledgement for my soon-to-be-published mystery, The Turncoat’s Widow.

But I didn’t.

I was knee deep in other publishing deadlines by the time I sat down to write my “thank yous.” I frantically pulled books by favorite authors off the shelf to read their acknowledgements for inspiration. I worried about how many people to thank and in what order. I worried about whether I’d inadvertently offend people I left out.

I missed the chance to treat the process of writing acknowledgments as what it is: an act of gratitude.

I’ll let my fellow authors provide how-to advice here. My short post merely asks you to take a breath–maybe three–to appreciate all the people who have made your writing journey so much richer as you write your acknowledgements. I didn’t do that then, but I’m doing it now. 

My husband gets major props for keeping me company at Revolutionary War sites up and down the Mid-Atlantic. (He comes last in the acknowledgements but is first in my heart.)

The mystery writing community, including Criminal Minds, has been incredibly generous and welcoming to this new author.

Catriona writes: If I may, Mally, you've got this! You've clearly got this! Welcome to the tribe.

Liz Milliron: For my very first book, Root of All Evil, I knew immediately who I want to dedicate it to – my parents, who gave me my love of books in general and mysteries in particular. But the acknowledgements, ack! I think I agonized over them for a week. Were they too long? Too short? Had I forgotten anyone? It felt like I spent as much time over them as the story. 

Now I keep notes so I remember who helped me with a particular book. Makes the process much simpler and lower stress.

Catriona writes: it's such good advice, Liz, and yet and yet, every time I find myslef scrabbling through piles of notes for the bit of paper that happened to be on my desk when I got the name of the person who happened to be on the phone . . . 


Kerry Peresta: It’s a quiet afternoon, and I only have two things left on the information sheet that is patiently staring at me as it displays itself on my laptop. The Acknowledgments. The Dedication.

Dedication is easy. My mother. She died in 2014, I miss her intensely, and she was the biggest champion of my book. Even in the throes of dementia during her final months, she somehow remembered my first book and clung to it angrily if someone tried to pull it away. She’d shake her head and yell, “MINE.” Easy decision for the dedication. On to Acknowledgements. 

I sigh, and bite my fingernail, thinking. Should I cast my brain like a net over every, single person that helped me along the way? Do I include all the writing and critique group members and people I’ve met at conferences? My heart rate speeds up. I close my eyes. No. Impossible. Do I even know where those people’s business cards are? Their emails?

No, I cannot sprawl the Acknowledgements over the vast array of mentoring, hand-holding, detour-laden, groups and writing events I’ve been a part of, so scratch that. I cock my head and place my hands on the keyboard. Just start typing, I tell myself, and it will come.

I sit there for five minutes, hands on keys, staring out the window. A few names bubble to the top of my mind. I type. More names bubble up. I type faster. Angst begins to pour out of me, and before I know it, my fingers cannot keep up. Yes, there are individuals to thank, but also communities too. These communities molded and directed me with patience and generosity of spirit. Some of them inflicted pain in ways that strengthened my writing chops and taught me endurance. In short, to keep writing, keep learning; even in the midst of adversity. I end up with eight individuals and a shout-out to these wonderful communities.

When I am finished, I sit back in my chair, cross my arms, and smile. Staring at the finished 500 words or so, I get a little misty-eyed.

Catriona again: Kerry, you've made even the account of your acknowledgements-day into a gripping read! It augurs very well for the book . . .


C.L. Tolbert: I write my books in phases, and, on top of that, I’m something between a pantser and a plotter. I’ll outline a few chapters, write them, and go forward similarly until the book is written. Since I write mysteries, I concentrate on the plot during the first draft. In doing so, I leave out important attributes of many of the characters, and even significant emotional reactions. I concentrate on character and touch up the action during the second draft. My writing group is accustomed to this quirk by now, and as a result their criticisms have become honed and invaluable. I always mention them in my acknowledgements because the book would not be the same without them.

I also rely on my group of beta readers who offer thoughtful insights. My ninety-two year old father is one. He reads Baldacci as well. If he says something isn’t suspenseful, I listen. Old high school friends, friends I’ve have for the past twenty years, and even mothers and husbands of friends are on my list of beta readers. I’m incredibly thankful for the time they take to read my books, and always acknowledge their help.  

I’ve dedicated one book to my children, and mentioned them in another, indicating that they’ve always inspired me, because they have. But I like to mention anything that has inspired me. My love for the city of New Orleans was one of the inspirations for The Redemption, which I indicated in the acknowledgement section of that book. Inspiration is what causes us to pick up a pen in the first place. There should always be space to acknowledge that.

Catriona writes: hear, hear. What a lovely idea - to acknowledge the places as well as the people. On behalf of all of us Minds  . . . congratulations on your books and all the best with many Acks and Deds to come. 



Mally Becker became fascinated with the American Revolution when she peeked into the past as a volunteer at the Morristown National Historical Park, where George Washington and the Continental army spent two winters. A former attorney, advocate for foster children, and freelance writer, Becker and her husband live in Warren, NJ, where they raised their son. The Turncoat’s Widow, featuring Becca Parcell, is her first novel.

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries series, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo, NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Pennwriters, and International Thriller Writers. A recent empty-nester, Liz lives outside Pittsburgh with her husband and a retired-racer greyhound. 

Kerry Peresta’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper and e-zine humor column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011); The Hunting, women’s fiction/suspense, Pen-L Publishing, 2013; and The Deadening, Book One in the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Kerry is the mother of four adult children. She and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island, SC in 2015.

In 2010 Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of Out From Silence.  Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled The Redemption, which is set in New Orleans, will be released in February of 2021.  Cynthia has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.


Catriona McPherson said...

Hi all, Listen, *all* the names are live-linked at the top here, as you;ll see if you hover over them. For some weird reason only two are giving that up and the other two are keeping it under wraps. Its a mystery ...

Liz Milliron said...

Thanks for giving us time to talk to you, and the other CM folks, Catriona. Believe, me, my process *sounds* smoother than it is. Inevitably, I think, "Wait, did I talk to X for this book? Or is it the other book?" And since I'm five books (total, between both series) out now, I wonder, "This sounds exactly like the Acknowledgements I wrote for the last that okay?"

Always something to worry about, right?

Kerry Peresta said...

Thanks for having us Catriona, and I loved the way you put your personal stamp in between each author. An entertaining, fun question.

Mally Becker said...

Hi, Catriona - Thanks for the warm welcome and for posing such a cool question! Answering it was a feel-good exercise, since it really made me think about all the people (including you!) who help us along the way.

Annette said...

Such a timely piece for me today. I'm giving a lot of thought (overthinking?) to the acknowledgments for my next release, which has gone through too many rounds of revisions, critique groups, and beta readers to count since I first wrote the thing in 2005 (ish). The fear of leaving someone out is always there, but this time? Ack!

Great post, ladies!

Liz Milliron said...

Annette, I can only imagine. "Somebody helped me with this thing fifteen years ago. Now who the heck was it?"

J.C. Kenney said...

Wonderful, thought-provoking post, ladies. Thanks so much for sharing. Cheers!