Friday, May 23, 2008

To Everyone I Have Ever Met In My Entire Life.

from Jacqueline

I’ve a confession to make. Before I begin reading a book, I go straight to the “Acknowledgements” page. I love those pages because, more than a biography, more than anything else I find out about an author, that page intrigues me, helps me to build up a picture of the person behind the writer. And I like knowing who writers really are, outside their books. I feel more than a little shortchanged if the only acknowledgment is a short thank you to the editor.

There are writers who have penned particularly good acknowledgements. I remember in one of her books, Susan Isaacs thanked the local chief of police, the fire chief, the Rabbi and several lawyers – a raft of insider knowledge was represented in this list of thanks. Then she wrote (and I am paraphrasing here), “Where their fact doesn’t fit my fiction, I have jettisoned the fact!” That’s my kind of writer. In that one sentence, she acknowledged that we are storytellers, and that any research we do, no matter how painstaking, is there to support the story we’ve created – otherwise we’d all be writing narrative non-fiction.

I am often taken with the words people use in their acknowledgments. Long before I became a published author myself, I read a memoir where the author thanked her “wizard of an editor.” It had never occurred to me that an editor might be something akin to a wizard. Now I know better – wizard, seer, psychic (the better to see inside my mind) ... there’s a lot of things you could call an editor. Many years ago I worked in academic publishing, and in my role was also a “field editor.” Sounds important, and I suppose it was in a way – it meant that if we needed a new book on microprocessors, or some big breakthrough in physics, I was the one who found the academic with the credentials to write the book. When I’d sold the expert on the idea of writing a book for the company, the project was handed off to the editor – the real editor, who saw that book through every stage in the painful process to publication. Having brought a couple of crusty professors on board to write a book on software engineering (I know, that dates me, doesn’t it?), I handed the project over to the in-house editor, a studious type who should have been a professor himself. Imagine my surprise when, in their acknowledgements (where I received fleeting mention), they thanked that editor and waxed lyrical about the many pints of Tetley’s Ale consumed together as the book was knocked into shape. Who would have thought it? I had taken them for a "sherry in the staff common room" pair of chaps!

In one of his books, Garrison Keillor touched upon the more touchy-feely acknowledgment, the sort that begins – and this is my creation, not Mr. Keillor’s – “To Bunty, who cared, and to Russell, without whom both I, and this book, would be incomplete ...” You’ve read ‘em, I know you have.

I’m always curious about the authors who have connections in high places, or those who have friends with aristocratic roots. “Thanks must go to the Contessa Cecilia de Rothschild, for her unwavering support, and to Sir Marcus Cholmondeley, without whom this book might not have come to fruition.” I always envisage the author wafting into a palace in Cannes, holding a perfectly turned out manuscript in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other, and saying, "Darling you're too kind - have a little gander at this for me."

Acknowledgements can cause as much trouble as the dedication – ah, the dedication, subject of another post completely. One of my friends failed to mention a man he considered to be a friend, who had completely ignored the manuscript he’d been sent, and had never offered comments or any response regarding this all-important (to my friend, the author) first novel. When the book was published to critical acclaim, the unacknowledged one became rather stroppy with my friend when his name did not appear on the acknowledgements page. They haven’t spoken since.

I’ve tried to keep everyone happy in my acknowledgements. I’ve thanked everyone who offered advice or information. I’ve drawn attention to my wizards, saints and seers, and I have made sure the people close to me are mentioned, especially considering the times they’ve had to put up with the odd pre-deadine, “No one will ever want to read this load of c**p,” as I fling myself onto my manuscript-strewn desk, my head in my hands. Ah, thanks must go to John, who cared - enough to say, "Come on, Love, you say that about every book."

In the grand scheme of things, the “Acknowledgments” page is a new phenomenon. There was an era of literary endeavor when the only time you would include an acknowledgements page, was if you had written a non-fiction book and needed to thank your sources. You never heard of Jane Austen acknowledging anyone – she was too busy ripping them to shreds in her stories. I can’t imagine Ernest Hemingway acknowledging, or F. Scott Fitzgerald (“Thank you to Zelda, who poured ...” ).

So, what do you think about all the acknowledging, and what does it say about what we write today, or how we want to be seen, as writers?

And in closing, to my fellow Naked Authors, and to our faithful readers – thank you for caring, for being there, for your wizardry with rhetoric, your insightful commentary and for laughing, crying, and just being with us. Thanks must forever go to ... you.

Have a lovely long weekend!

PS: One of my personal favorites among acknowledgments was not taken from a book. Remember Kim Basinger when she received her Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role? She got up there, bless her, smile plastered across her face, and said, “I want to thank everyone I have ever met in my entire life.” Can’t say fairer than that, eh?


  1. My acknowledgment: Jackie, thanks for being back in usual form with your regular thought provoking post.....without which I would (fill in your greatest anguish here). Seriously, glad to see you survived the litany of the deadline pressures,etc....I missed you last week.
    OK, this is day late but not a dollar short. I saw this in the NY Times and thought that even though this was a question posted a week or so ago, this theme seems to goes: Peter Boxall “1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”

    Noticeably absent for the past several weeks has been the usual quips and clips from "Lefty Levine."
    The leaves me with the impression that perhaps he's not feeling so well. Jim, had did the "event" go last night?


  2. Lovely post, Jackie.

    I've always wanted to include in my acknowledgments one to Miss Kahlil, my high school guidance counselor who said she thought I should pursue a career in retail.

  3. jackie, last weekend wasn't the same without your post. i kept looking for it, but......!
    i always read the acknowledgment halfway through the book just to get to know a little bit about the person who accompanies me while i'm reading their book.
    by the way - funny enough, jackie, i can still hear your voice after all these years and when i read one of your books, it seems to me as if you were reading them to me.
    oh, i know i'm weird. but you're safe - i'm far far away...........


  4. "Thanks to Zelda, who poured..."! Wonderful.

    I got an online review in which the critic bashed me for having such long acknowledgements, saying he thought it was rather rude that I thanked so many people. I wanted to leave him a comment that no one forced him to read them, and that I thought it would've been rather more rude NOT to thank people, but it didn't seem worth the trouble.

    My attitude is that it takes a village to raise a child, but a good-sized city to write a novel.

  5. The best acknowledgments I have read appeared in Nelson DeMille's WILD FIRE. I won't even attempt to paraphrase what he wrote. If you don't own a copy of the book, pick it up next time you're in a bookstore or library. It's very funny.

  6. from Jacqueline

    Thank you, Jon, for your comment, and for looking out for me last week. There was just so much on my plate, I didn't even have a chance to pen a few words, such as, "Back next week!" I've seen Boxall's book and have thought about buying it, but it's another book on the TBR pile, though it might help me to get them in some sort of order.

    Yes, where is Our Paulie?

    Louise, retail's loss is our gain, and somehow, I cannot see you behind the counter at Macy's, though I am sure with your lovely smile and manner, you would do very well indeed. But I'm glad you kept at the writing.

    Sybille, thanks to you, too, for looking out for me - and I am so glad you turn up at our blog here, it's been lovely being in touch after so many years.

    Cornelia, you're right - it would be ill-mannered not to give thanks where thanks is due. By the way, two thumbs up from my mum, who has just read Crazy School - "tell Cornelia this is very, very good." So, here I am, telling you.

    Jeff, I've always liked Nelson De Mille, so will definitely procure a copy of that book - and as always, will start with the Acknowledgments.

  7. I, too, read the acknowledgments. I read Wild Fire. Will confirm that the front matter was funny as was the main character's dialogue and POV. First novels seem to have longer acknowledgment pages. By the time you get to novel 45 (if you should be so lucky), a "whatever" probably covers everything.


  8. from Jacqueline

    Yes, I think you're right, Patty - that page can start to get thin, not least because you are able to go back over notes you made for previous books to provide you with all the facts you need for the next book. And perhaps we start to have more confidence and don't need to ask advice of so many people, or we realize that so much gets taken care of as you go through the revision process anyway. That's why I may quote Kim B. at the end of my next book - just thank everyone you have ever shared air with. Hey, it worked for her!

    I think I'll whizz off to Barts Books this pm and procure a copy of Wild Fire.

  9. "To Jackie, who (usually) begins my weekend with a smile." :o)

  10. Our J, please thank your mum for the kind words, and tell her she's made me very happy this evening.

    I also like Harlan Coben's acknowledgments. He always says something to the effect of "I consulted a number of experts while writing this book... all errors are their fault."

  11. Lovely post Jacqueline - it made me laugh out loud.

    There, isn't that more satisfactory than 'LOL'?!


  12. I read everything in a book. From all the comments on the front and back covers to the page that explains about the type used for the book. Perhaps it's my way of getting my money's worth. I always find it interesting to see what other authors they have been able to get to read and comment on the book. Also reading the acknowledgments can also be highly entertaining. Sort of like staying for the ending credits when sometimes a joke is slipped in at the very end. I also have to admit that there is one author whose books I enjoyed, but when I read his comments all I could think was what a pompus ass. I haven't picked up another of his books since.

  13. Aw, Jeff, you're too kind - and you, too, Robert - glad it made you laugh.

    Gayle, you are not the only one who reads every word in a book - I read a book right down to the "Set in Garamond, a serif typeface named in honor of Claude Garamond, 1480-1561 (etc)." And I'm now curious about the pompous author and his comments.