An author’s dedications are often personal and sometimes cryptic. Usually they just consist of a simple sentence naming someone who is special to the author or whose influence helped in the writing of the book. Asking an author to explain his or her dedications can be tricky business. Writing is generally something that is done alone with only your own imagination and sometimes some old ghosts to keep you company. So sometimes the messages in these dedications tend to be meant for only a select few to understand. Other times the message is crystal clear.
Figuring out a dedication can be a difficult decision. Usually there are a lot of people an author wants to include, and distilling this down to a one or two individuals can be an arduous task. You don’t want any of the people close to you to feel slighted, but writing a book often takes on a life of its own and someone might contribute or have contributed in a significant way that makes the dedication more obligatory. Luckily, you usually have an Acknowledgments section in which to recognize the other people who helped you along the way.
My own experience with dedications has been problematic. My first one, however, was a no-brainer. I dedicated A Killing Frost to My father and the memory of my mother. My mom died of cancer just before my first short story was published. Even though she never saw my name officially in print, I was able to tell her the story, “All the Players,” had been accepted for publication in Hardboiled Magazine.
The dedication for my second book, Windy City Knights, was more problematic. My original dedication was to my first readers, Julie, Mike, and Len, who helped me make the novel the best it could be. Then, a few weeks later a fine young officer on my department was killed in the line of duty. I remembered the last time I’d talked to him, and mentioned that my second book was coming out. “Man, I’ll have to read that one,” he said. I immediately contacted my publisher and was able to get the dedication altered to include him.
And to the memory of Officer Eric DeWit
Rest in Peace, Brother.
Freeze Me, Tender followed. It was a standalone thriller and the first book I wrote without a detailed outline. I had it all in my head and every time I sat down to work on it the story appeared, clear as a bell. Right before I got started on it I was discussing the plot with my writing partner, Julie Hyzy.
“What’s it about?” she asked.
“A reporter’s en route to Vegas to cover the fifteenth anniversary of the death of the king of rock and roll (renamed Colton Purcell in this roman à clef) who was cryogenically frozen after his death, but now is rumored to really be alive.”
Julie listened to my summary and said, “Freeze Me, Tender?”
Right then, I knew I had the title.
So the dedication for this one was easy: For Julie --- Thanks.
A Final Judgment was dedicated to Andrew Vachss, a real life hero and one of my greatest friends and mentor. I am honored that he calls me a brother. And Hostile Takeovers was dedicated to my buddy, Big Wayne Dundee, who gave me my start in fiction writing as the original editor of Hardboiled. This was right after Wayne lost the love of his life, his wife Pam, to cancer. The dedication reminded him to stay strong. Random Victim was dedicated to Len Jellema, my mentor and friend who helped me become a better writer both by his teachings and example. Len is also a combat vet from the Korean War and one of the finest men I’ve ever known. The secondary dedication in the Acknowledgments sections also recognizes all those who have served.
I’ve managed to put special dedications in my other books too, and each one has its own special meaning for me and to those people mentioned, but none more so than The Heist. A while back I used to have Thursday morning breakfasts with my dad and a bunch of his old navy buddies when my schedule would allow it. One of them, Tony Carduff, was a retired Chicago copper. He knew I was a cop and every time I showed up Tony would give me a wink and a smile and ask, “How’s things on the south end?” He was referring to the area where I worked. I came to respect this group of old vets immensely and listened in awe to the stories they told. When I was formulating the plot for The Heist I used Tony as the basis for one of the character in the book. Thus, my original dedication was clear:
To my Dad, to the memory of the real Tony Carduff (CPD), and to all the rest of the brave men who served on the USS Fuller, APA 7 during World War II.
But just as with Windy City Knights, another tragedy befell a police officer whom I knew just before The Heist was set to be published. Although I’d only met him a few times, his in-the-line-of-duty death affected me greatly. After a few quick calls, I was able to add his name to the dedication.
To my fallen comrade, Detective William “Wally” Rolniak, Jr., Riverdale Illinois Police Department
Rest in Peace, Brother
Tony passed away just before the book came out, but I like to think that both men would have appreciated the nod of respect. I gave copies to their families.
Dedications --- like I said, sometimes they’re very personal.