By Dan Haag
One of my favorite things about cracking open a new book is reading the dedication. It’s for a couple of reasons. First, it’s fun to conjure up an image of to whom the writer is referring because they obviously made enough of an impact on the writer to be mentioned. The words are often simple and deeply personal.
“To Katz, of course,” writes Bill Bryson at the beginning of “A Walk In The Woods.” Carl Hiaasen opens with “In Memory of Warren Zevon” in his novel “Skinny Dip.”
Just a few words, but always enough to give me a small shiver of appreciation. It’s the ultimate love letter.
The second, decidedly more indulgent, reason I enjoy the dedication so much is that I pause and imagine who I would list should my novel ever see the light of day. I spend a few minutes putting together a few words in my head for the many loved ones who have tolerated my obsession with writing and have been forced to read and re-read multiple drafts of the same piece. The list is long and runs the entire gamut: my wife, my folks, every dog I’ve ever owned, Santa Claus, the Ramones.
But who to choose?
At this point, I’ve narrowed it down to everyone I’ve ever met and several hundred others that I haven’t. Obviously I need to do a little more editing, which is fine because a study I just read (or imagined) states that would-be authors have about as much chance of being published as Frosty the Snowman has of winning an ice cream-eating contest in hell. Or something like that.
I might have one mortal lock for my dedication, however. I even have the words ready to go for when the first edition finally goes to print: “To the Manzanita Writer’s Series. You Believed.”
Not the purest of prose, but very much to the point.
Hoffman Center for the Arts’ Manzanita Writers Series turned a robust 10 years old this past weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, it’s a year-round schedule of speakers, workshops and events designed to inspire and inform writers and readers. I’ve attended many of these over the past few years and each time I’ve come away with a stronger sense of what it means to be a writer.
The Writer’s Series has made me look critically at my work and, most importantly, instilled a confidence in my voice as a writer, something I long struggled with.
I’ve written ever since I was a little kid. Whether it was dragons and knights or monsters and aliens, I always had pen to paper. As I got older, my folks let me use their old typewriter. The click-clacking would drag on well into the night and is probably a sound that still haunts their dreams.
In seventh grade, I wrote a short story about a drug deal gone wrong that resulted in a rather graphic gun battle. I’m fairly certain that it would have made Quentin Tarantino green with envy. Instead, it resulted in a rather worried phone call to my parents from my very worried English teacher.
Creating stories – some good, most awful – was never my problem. When someone wanted to read them, however, I would snatch them away and stuff them in a drawer. Seeing my words on a page was exciting, visceral. Hearing someone read them or comment on them was vomit-inducing.
This continued for many years until, for reasons I’ve yet to understand, I found myself in a class presented by the Writer’s Series. Then it was another. And another.
Slowly, I found myself wanting feedback, needing it. For the most part, I am no longer scared of having strangers read my work.
For better or worse, I’m growing into my writer’s skin.
So here’s to you, Manzanita Writer’s Series. Your dedication inside my first novel will likely have to wait a bit longer. Instead, I raise a glass of rather nice champagne and offer you these borrowed words on behalf of everyone who’s ever taken part in one of your workshops.
I think they truly capture your essence.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start” – Stephen King