The Shortest Page, the Longest Struggle
In high school, I always thought one of the best parts about being in a band would be getting to write the “Thanks to” sections for each album. It was a chance for the band members to give shouts out to friends, family, and colleagues. I loved reading them because it made the musicians I so admired seem more human. They would also drop inside jokes I didn’t get but still laughed at because people in bands are cool.
Book acknowledgements and dedications are similar. A short list of people who helped make the book happen plus an personal italicized message. Just give shouts out to your friends and family, maybe name drop a few, be funny. Work up a sweet nothing if you (like me) are dedicating the book to a significant other. When you’re done, pour yourself a glass of something, lean back, and cogitate. Like train etiquette, it seems like super simple stuff.
At least not for me. I’m sure other authors have a much easier time of things like that. And, to be honest, the acknowledgements didn’t take me all that long. I had a good idea of who I wanted to include by name, and I kept it short so as not to bore the few that might read it. One or two inside jokes for good measure, and I’m done.
The dedication, on the other hand, was a monster. I spent a full month trying to come up with something absolutely fantastic, something beautiful and stirring, something that might approach the level of meaning I wanted to infuse into the few words I was permitted. Something perfect. Having written poetry long before trying my hand at prose, I am familiar with obsessing over word placement. Yes, fiction writers do it, too, but as someone who has successfully composed both, I can say the process is different. My poetry subscribes to the “economy of words” philosophy; I don’t blather on in my stanzas, preferring to keep them tightly-focused and potent. With that sort of background, one might think I’d be well-equipped to tackle something like a novel dedication.
Well, one would be wrong. I spent more time trying to come up with a single line than I spent drafting the synopsis of She Returns From War. You only get to dedicate a first novel once, after all, and I wanted it to be perfect. However, after spending many weeks working and reworking various ideas in my head, I finally had to go with something I fear falls short of that goal. Really, though, how do you sum up the entirety of a loved one’s undying belief and support in a single line? If there exists such a level of writing prowess, I have not attained it. So, much like the larger work of the novel, the single line of dedication is something that may never reach the divine ideal hoped for at the outset.
It somehow feels like a greater failing, though. Sure, nobody can ever write the perfect a novel. It’s big, it’s complex, it has all of those stupid words in it. A beast of many backs that can never truly be domesticated. A dedication, on the other hand, is just one line. One. Line. If you can’t perfect that, perhaps you should give up the whole writing gig altogether. So say the whispers of insecurity, and who’s to say they’re wrong?
Anyway, the deadline for the dedication came upon me last week, so I went with something I hope serves as a portal into the universe of gratitude I feel. It’s something of an inside joke, but it isn’t the kind that makes every other person return their breakfast to the earth via the most direct means possible. I’m not perfectly happy with it because it isn’t perfect. In fact, I’m more apprehensive about how Tori will like it than I am about how book critics will view the novel itself. Perhaps my priorities are askew. Then again, it’s highly unlikely I’d have ever written the book I did without her support.