OK, I’ve managed to retain my precarious position as junior apprentice co-blogger for THROWING UP WORDS for another week, though Carol and Andy have informed me that my actual title is assistant junior apprentice co-blogger. “You gotta pay your dues, kid,” said Carol. “Every wanna-be mountain climber starts at the bottom,” said Andy.
So I’m going to share some things that you can do when you’re writing a novel—actually for when you’re supposed to be writing a novel—but you don’t feel like it, the muse is sleeping, the brain is cramped, the writing blocked. You can be an optimist and write some of the front and back matter for your as-yet unwritten book.
There’s a great article, “How to Dedicate a Book,” by Louis Phillips that appeared in the March 1987 issue of English Journal. It’s a whimsical piece that looks at a variety of actual dedications (“Note the element of desperation or weariness in F Scott Fitzgerald’s dedication of The Great Gatsy:”
Phillips goes on to advise writers about the necessity of writing dedications to the right people. Of course, he provides plenty of examples of interesting dedications from famous writers.
In that spirit, here are some dedications from a stack of new books in my office:
“For Rachel Griffiths”
“To John. David. And Kate”
“To my dear friend Merle, for turning her home into a writer’s getaway. And to my family, for being so understanding and supportive while I got away.”
“For my agent, Laura Langlie, with love and many thanks for her endless patience, kindness, and most of all, her sense of humor!”
“For Mom, every great thing I ever learned from you was taught by example.”
“To my faithful readers, because a book is like a pie—the only thing more satisfying than cooking up the story is knowing that somebody might be out there eating it up with a spoon.”
“Jen, this one is for you, with love.”
As Louis Phillips pointed out in his article, dedications are incredibly important; all wise writers carefully consider the object of their dedication before composing that bit of front matter. “If you thought that the act of writing had brought you heartache before, you have not felt real pain until the moment of truth dawns like an umbrella collapsing in the wind.”
Are you married? Well, then, you have little choice says Phillips: “If you are married and do not dedicate the book to your spouse, divorce is certain.
Single? You’d better be just as cautious: “Nor is it a bed of roses if you are an unmarried writer. If you do not dedicate your book to your parents, you will be loaded with more guilt than you can bear.”
But, Phillips points out, writers have other patrons, other folks they’re beholding to: “And then there is your agent, of course. Of course. If you do not dedicate at least one book to your agent, he or she will never seek out an editor on your behalf again. . . . If you do not dedicate your book to your editor, he or she will feel that you are an ingrate for overlooking the fact that your book would have been illiterate and completely incomprehensible to the most generous reader.”
I am grateful that I read his article years ago and that I’ve spent countless hours writing dedications for imaginary books because when I finally had to step up to the plate for real, I didn’t have the decades of experience that Carol Lunch Williams has or the crackling, sharp wit that Andy Ellis has. But I did have practice, loads and loads of it. And so, dear reader, I advise you to go and do likewise, to put away that book project for a while and spend a few contemplative hours writing carefully crafted dedications for books yet to be born. It counts as writing, honest.
My newest book, Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game, comes out on January 24th, and I gave the dedication to that book my best shot. You see, I have a gorgeous, smart, and long-suffering wife, and I needed to score a few points to make up for the many times I caused her to practice that long-suffering part.
Here’s the dedication that appears in the book. I’m hoping it’ll impress her, even a bit:
“For Elizabeth: Marrying you was better than a World Series game-seven walk-off grand slam!”