Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Imitation Dedication Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

(Thoughts on the Dedication Page…sometimes also known as “How Could You Say Those Things About Me In Public?”)

          After my novel was accepted for publication, the publishing company sent me several documents to fill out and return.

          Besides the actual contract and an “Author Information Sheet,” I also received a “Manuscript Information Sheet.”  Among other things, it asked for both a short excerpt and an even shorter blurb to include in the book, along with a brief author’s biography for the back cover.

          I was also asked to describe the main characters, the time of year when the story takes place, the location where it occurs (big city; small town; jungle; Medieval England; post-apocalyptic Outer Mongolia in the twenty-ninth century; etc.) and to provide any ideas I had for what the cover art might contain.

          All of those questions were to be expected, and dealing with them is definitely a good way to focus your attention on how you envision your book and hope to present it to a potential reader.

          But then there was the unexpected question, the one that asks for something to include on your dedication page.

          Dedication page?


          For some reason, that was something I hadn’t considered.

          Describing your main characters in a few brief sentences is certainly straightforward enough.  I mean, if your hero has spent several hundred pages being a five-foot-ten-inch, dark-haired, 26-year-old musician, suddenly turning him into a six-foot-three-inch, red-headed, 58-year-old banker for the “Manuscript Information Sheet” is obviously dumber than dumb. 

The dedication page, however, can present a whole other can of worms.

First, there’s the matter of who receives the dedication.  Then the even more complicated question of content and tone.

Many writers will keep it simple and happily noncontroversial.  They’ll use initials (“For X.Y.Z.”) or else something along the lines of “For My Parents.”

Then there’s the slightly more effusive dedication: “To my dog Spot for his unfailing love and loyalty lo these many years.”

And, of course, there are those wonderfully memorable dedications, where the author either settles old scores or reveals just a little too much about either him/herself or the recipient.  Think Mark Wahlberg’s dedicatory shout-out to his penis during his Marky Mark days.  Presumably, his male member wasn’t embarrassed by the accolade, though Mr. Wahlberg later admitted that he himself was. 

Of course, there’s no way of knowing whether V. V. and Mme. A were similarly embarrassed when Patrick Dennis of Auntie Mame fame called them “the worst manuscript typists in New York” on his dedication page.  But, presumably, P. G. Wodehouse’s little girl knew her dad was only joking when he dedicated “The Heart of a Goof” to “my daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”

In the age-old tradition of the lord (all right, in this case, the writer) giveth and the lord (sorry…the writer) taketh away, you have Albert Malvino’s dedication to “my brilliant and beautiful wife without whom I would be nothing.  She always comforts and consoles, never complains or interferes, asks nothing, and endures all.  She also writes my dedications.”

In the second volume of his Skullduggery Pleasant books, Derek Landy performs the same deft maneuver, giving with one pen stroke, then quickly and humorously taking away with the next as he informs the world that “this book is dedicated to my family—because otherwise I’d never hear the end of it.”      

In my own case, I decided to dedicate the book to my sister and immediately began checking out the internet for quotes on sisterhood in general and older sisters in particular.  Not surprisingly, the quotes ranged from Pam Brown’s sweetly sincere “An older sister is a friend and defender—a listener, conspirator, a counselor and a sharer of delights…and sorrows too” to Charles M. Schulz’s deliciously snarky “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”

The first dedication I managed to cobble together went something like this:

For L.R.
Who thinks too much, worries too much and eats too much hard candy, but who also puts up with a great deal without complaining (too much).

Then I decided, no, not quite what I wanted and scrapped it in favor of extreme no-frills: “For L.R.”

Scrapped that in favor of something marginally more elaborate: “To L.R.  For everything.”

And finally scrapped that for the following, a salute that is in equal parts snarky and sincere:

For L.A.R. --
Someone once said that "families are like fudge…mostly sweet with a few nuts."  With that undeniable truth in mind, this book is dedicated with love and gratitude to my sister, the greatest pistachio of them all.

And that’s the one I stayed with, the one that will appear on the dedication page of the book.

What does my sister think about it?  Well, she does have a good sense of humor, but actually there’s no way to know.  I still haven’t gotten around to telling her, and since my novel is an e-book, which will never be converted to the old-fashioned paper variety, chances are she’ll probably never see it.   You see, my sister still firmly believes that Guttenberg got it exactly right all those centuries ago.  Print on paper is the only way to go.  So she doesn’t do digital.  Which means I may just keep it to myself unless she finally decides to go Kindle or Nook. 

Of course if I someday have a book that does go to print, one I’m pretty certain she’ll actually see, I may use it again in that venue.  After all, as every committed environmentalist knows, recycling is always the best policy.