Dorothy Sayers didn’t; nor did Dashiell Hammett, James McClure, Rex Stout or Agatha Christie. These days P.D. James, Alan Furst and Marcia Clark don’t either.
But Laura Lippman, Louise Penny, Cara Black, Mark Pryor, and Craig Johnson do. And so do the great majority of current crime writers. They write long acknowledgements. They acknowledge those who helped them get background for their book, supported them during the writing process, edited the work, and helped get the book published. They name family, friends, people they’ve paid and people who helped them freely.
When the subject of acknowledgments came up for The LadyKillers, it occurred to me that writing long acknowledgements seemed like a new phenomenon. I plucked many classic mystery novels from my shelves to check my theory. I was right. Very few past writers acknowledged in any way the help they got from others for their work, much less wrote the long, heartfelt paeans we see in books these days.
I’d love to know why and when this changed. I don’t think it’s because people have become more generous, or more mannerly. Nor do I think it’s because finding a way to get published is any harder than it ever was. It may be easier than ever. Traditional publishers may be harder to find, but getting your book out in front of the public is easier than it has ever been.
Whatever the reason, I like to read acknowledgements of the professional support a writer has received. But I also like reading the more intimate acknowledgements. I like knowing that Aunt Sally gave an author her first Nancy Drew book. Like Priscilla said in yesterday’s post, I also like knowing the names of the animals who snooze patiently while an author muddles on—and who remind the author when dinnertime rolls around.
I don’t think any less of authors who don’t write them. I doubt that they eschew writing acknowledgements because they believe they didn’t get help along the way.
When asked to write an acknowledgement page for my first book, though, I didn’t hesitate. My biggest problem was paring the list to a manageable, dignified page. To be honest, I would have to have written a second book, to fully acknowledge all those who helped me on my arduous trip to publication.
I’d love to hear if anyone has any idea about why this trend has become so popular. Does it reflect badly on Benjamin Black that he acknowledges no one while super sweetie Craig Johnson does? Is Sophie Littlefield a nicer person than Marcia Clark because she writes acknowledgements and Clark doesn’t? (I’ve heard that Clark is terrific, so I think we can junk theory). But what does account for it? And as a final question, why is it mystery writers who tend to do this? Literary writers who write acknowledgements seem to be in a distinct minority, even these days.