Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The People Behind the Book : : Anne McAllister

Last week Natasha Oakley wrote a piece about Dedications for The Pink Heart Society blog. It struck a chord with me because sometimes I like reading dedications as much as I like reading books.

Well, maybe that's an exaggeration, though sometimes -- albeit rarely -- the dedication is the best part.

Still, a lot of work goes into a book that readers never see. And while some authors habitually dedicate their books to their spouses or their cats, others often use them to connect to people who are significant either specifically to that book or to them in their lives at that moment.

Dedications are connections. They tie the book to the larger world. They tie authors to people beyond the characters they create. Sometimes dedications are simple and straightforward, sometimes they are moving, sometimes they are funny.

Whichever, they are a little extra bit of insight into the author's life. Lots of readers may not care about that. As a reader, I do. As a writer, I like the opportunity to mention people who matter.

And my experience is that people like having books dedicated to them. It says to them, You matter. You're special.

When I was writing The Santorini Bride, I made contact for the first time in forty-odd years with Haine Crown, a friend who was dear to me in junior high school. It was a joy to have her in my life again. And besides the other wonderful things she brought into my life on her return, she brought a knowledge of French bulldogs.

As it happened, I needed a dog for Martha, my heroine, to bond with while she was on the outs with Theo, the hero. She ended up with a French bulldog named Ted.

Every time I finished a scene with Ted in it, I would send it to Haine for vetting. And she would write back and say, "French bulldogs don't do thus and such. They do so and so." She was quite adamant.

"French bulldogs have Opinions," she told me. And they aren't reticent about expressing them. So when Ted peed on Theo's foot -- his first impression of Theo not being the best -- and my editor suggested maybe he shouldn't do that for delicacy's sake, I said, "But he has to. Ted would!" For the sake of authenticity (and because both Haine and I both thought it was exactly what Ted thought of Theo -- and because the editor was kind) it stayed in.

For that and for many reasons, I dedicated that book to her.

We were both crushed when the book appeared and the dedication didn't. Through some mysterious glitch, it got lost from the front matter. "We can put it in the next one," my editor offered. And they did.

No French bulldogs in the next one. But we both knew life wasn't always fair.

And I couldn't let it go without having the dedication somewhere. I wouldn't have had the same book without Haine's input. My life as a whole wouldn't have been as rich without her.

I'm sorry the dedication didn't get in the book where it belonged, but I'm glad it got there eventually. It mattered.

Dedications are a way of saying thank you to people, of remembering people -- like Nancy the cat slayer with whom I visited Ireland, or my son Patrick who, at age 14, was deputized to make a list of details for me about a wilderness camping expedition to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan so my wildlife biologist could know what she was doing, or my daughter the athletic trainer who has mended so many heroes.

They are a chance to say how much I've enjoyed Kate Walker who has shared so many adventures with me and bull rider Brett Leffew, who got my hero and heroine down the road in The Eight-Second Wedding, or Ronnie Rondell, the stunt coordinator, whose knowledge helped me realistic write a disaster for my hero to spend years having to deal with in Cowboys Don't Quit.

They are a way of touching base with people who have mattered along the way, of saying, "I haven't forgotten."

Sometimes I think I write books so I can write dedications in them. In writing there are always so many people who are behind the book, who helped to bring it to life, who should be thanked.

I'm thinking maybe, since it takes so long to write a book, I should start putting dedications on blogs. What do you think?

It also occurs to me that I don't think I put a dedication into the last book I sent in -- and it's probably too late now. So I guess I'll have to say it here: Thank you to my friend Jason who lent me his last name for one of my characters. He never imagined I'd create a family dynasty. Neither did I, my friend!

If you're a writer, do you labor over dedications, trying to make sure you've got it right? Or does your cat -- or your husband -- get it every time? If you're a reader, do you read them? Do you care? Have you ever had a book dedicated to you?

I have. Thank you, Anne Gracie! You just made my day.

Stop by my blog and take a look at Anne's new cover and her book -- dedicated (in part) to Yours Truly (by another name).


Anna Campbell said...

Anne, what a lovely post. You're right - the dedications and acknowledgment pages are among the nicest parts of any book. I love writing dedications - it's nice to thank the people who helped me with the book or just with life in general!

Estella said...

I always read the dedications. It makes me feel like I know a bit more about the authors road to the book.

Anne McAllister said...

Anna, totally agree. It's a small way of acknowledging people who have made a difference. I wish I could simply carry dedications around on my t-shirts or something to say thanks to everyone who has been a part of my life. Not to mention my books.

Estella, I'm glad you like the dedications, too. I enjoy that part of learning about other authors' books as well.

Anne Gracie said...

Anne, thank you so much for the lovely comment. You utterly deserve that dedication and more.

I, too, love reading dedications in books, and imagining the story behind them.

I love the t-shirt idea, too. I've often thought I'd love to write a letter to all the people who've made a difference to my quality of life -- many of them strangers -- writers, artists, musicians, cartoonists -- all sorts.
A few weeks ago I saw a wonderful Australian comedian and political satirist, Max Gillies, on a street corner and without thought I said hello to him. Well, I'd been going to his shows since I was a student. So then to cover my embarrassment (or add to it, maybe), I thanked him for all the wonderful laughs and happy times he'd given me.
He probably thought I was a loonie, but he told me I'd made his day. Even if he secretly thought me a nut, I was glad I'd said it.

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

I agree with Anna a lovely post. A few years ago a Presents author dedicated a book to me and I was so emotional, you can't imagine.

Anne McAllister said...

Thanks, Anne and Marilyn. I'm sure Max Gillies was delighted to hear he'd made an impact on your life, Anne.

And lucky you to have a Presents dedicated to you, Marilyn!

Rebekah (the_littleminx) said...

I always try to read the acknowledgements and dedications in a book because that's where you find the lifebreath behind the scenes. An author is nothing (well, not nothing, but you know what I mean) without the support of his/her family and friends to help get him/her there.

Thanks for sharing what's behind your dedications. :)