Sunday, June 5, 2011

Have you read a good Acknowledgment lately?

By Judy Pace Christie
The first time my name was mentioned in a published book was in 1975. 

I, college student Judy Pace, was included in the acknowledgments of a hefty biography called "Audie Murphy, American Soldier" by Harold B. Simpson.

The author thanked me for my assistance at the Texas Collection at Baylor University -- where I worked for minimum wage to help pay for college. My scholarly contribution mostly involved hauling materials up and down from the archives.

I was so touched that I paid an outrageous $12.50 for a copy of the book. In a normal week (i.e, one when I hadn't seen my name in a book), that money would have bought three-for-a-dollar tacos or  ten-cent Dr Peppers and convenience store hot dogs.

I was hooked on acknowledgments.

While normal readers scan the first five pages of books, I look for the lists of friends, family members, pets, teachers, agents, publicists and editors it took to bring a book to life. 

You can tell a lot about writers' voices from acknowledgments, even if they're quite brief. It's a bit like a chat with authors, often telling you more about who they truly are than their bios.

As a novelist, I'm hungry to learn about what goes into great books -- and acknowledgments offer clues. Plus, they provide a potent reminder. No book, no matter how famous the author, is created in a vacuum.

When I embarked on the book-writing life a few years ago, I envisioned solitude with tons of time to stare out windows and debate passive verbs versus active.
Instead, I've encountered a life that revolves around community -- family, friends, spouses, children, grandchildren, readers, other writers. This is where ideas, energy, and the right words often come from.

While I savor quiet moments, quite a web of cheerleaders make it possible for me to write. 

Acknowledgments even contain themes: Great teachers. Mentors. Agents and editors who improve work and push for it to be published. Pals who listen to whining. Spouses who laugh at bad jokes. Children who are patient. Readers who spread the word and come back for more.

For fun on a hot summer day, pull a few books off your shelves and read their dedications and acknowledgments. Perhaps they'll remind you to run out and thank those who make it possible for you to put words on paper or those who helped make your favorite book come to life.

At-a-glance from my bookshelves:
  • "To My Mother." That's the simple dedication for "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger. Many books, including my first, the nonfiction "Hurry Less Worry Less," are dedicated to moms. Most of us know if we have the good fortune to have a book published, we owe a lot to Mama. Wherever you are on the writing journey, give her a call and say thanks.
  • Teachers of writing love to talk about the first line of "Moby Dick," by Herman Melville. This is the dedication for that classic: "In Token of My Admiration for His Genius, This Book Is Inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne." One of my great joys of becoming an author has been the help and friendship of other writers.
  • Acknowledgments are friendly and affectionate -- and often fun and inspiring. Steve Martin's acknowledgments in "Pure Drivel" are as funny as his essays. In "Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller," Marshall Chapman starts her acknowledgments with simple phrases that remind me of a chat with her.
  • Most writers owe much to teachers. Friend John Corey Whaley's debut novel, "Where Things Come Back," was just released. I loved the book (a great southern YA tale), and he dedicated it to a "teacher and friend." His acknowledgments make me want to have dinner with his parents and listen to musician Sufjan Stevens.
  • I can never thank my husband, an eighth-grade science teacher, enough. He cooks for me, doesn't roll his eyes when he finds Post-it notes in our bed and laughs and cries at the right places in my manuscripts. I've had nine books published, and I mention him in each. Plus, I immediately sign the first copy of each book to him -- one small thanks for helping those pages appear.
Who did you dedicate your first book to? Who is your favorite book dedicated to? Please comment! Happy Summer!

About Judy Christie: Wrote my first novel when I turned 50. Longtime newspaper journalist. Appreciator of porch swings and primitive antiques. My fourth novel, "Rally 'Round Green," part of the Green series, will be out this summer. (It's dedicated to my good friend and fellow journalist Kathie Rowell.)  My first YA novel, "Wreath," will be released in October (dedicated to my 13-year-old niece, Mel, an avid reader). For more info, see or say hey on Facebook. Thanks!


Augusta Scattergood said...

My first novel is coming in January and I've written (in my head, of course) my acknowledgements for the entire (numerous) years I've been working on it! Once I sent it in, I remembered one more person I truly felt helped. Maybe it's not to late to add her.

Thanks for this! Loved it.

Leslie Davis Guccione said...

Hope this posts!

One of my first novels was written while a fellow writer cheered me on and a dear friend shared kid duty.

They got the dedication: "For Dorrie Arnold who kept the kids and Carla Neggers who kept the faith."

Love your blog!

Judy said...

Thanks for your comments! Augusta, my acknowledgments for my first book were just about longer than the book. I know what you mean about writing them for years. And Leslie, I love your dedication -- an example of how a few words tell a lot about a writer's life! Have a great week!
Judy Christie

JLC said...

I, too, treasure my first credit in someone else's book: as the photographer who supplied the author's portrait.
If only my humble efforts to date could shed a little glory on those to whom I've dedicated them!

Judy said...

Thanks, JLC, for your comment. I try to make sure the photographer always gets a credit for my author portrait! (I was a journalist for many years and appreciate photographers greatly!)
Happy summer! JPC

Book Publishing said...

I will dedicate my first book to my own life,
This is such a great post to read,

Thankyou to share this.