Dedications are tricky things.
Works of art are meant to last forever, so dedicating a piece to an individual says a lot about the relationship with that person, how you feel about him or her, and possibly, the surtext of the novel.
I dedicated my first novel, State of Grace, to my father, because, as it reads in the inscription, he’d always believed I could become an author. Dedicating my first novel to him was the most natural thing imaginable to me, even though there isn’t a character or a theme that has any real connection to him.
The task was a lot harder for Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale, my novel currently in the Kindle Scout program (nominate it for publication here).
I’ve been working on this book on and off since 2003. After I adopted my daughter in 2005, I began to think I might like to dedicate it to her if I ever got it published. Like many kids in the foster system, she had a difficult start to life, and the trials my protagonist goes through in the book make me think of my kid often.
But as this final draft developed, Sally’s life looked less and less like one my daughter knew. It didn’t seem to be about my kid at all. This was a very different girl, with a very different set of problems.
Plus, LRRH is set in sixth grade. My daughter left the world of early middle school behind years ago. She’s a high-schooler now and very much a young woman — a far cry from the late-bloomer struggling to figure out how to fit in that Sally is in the novel. Somehow, it just didn’t feel right.
So I looked at other options.
My stepdaughter seemed an obvious choice. She is in sixth grade. She’s into theater, which echoes nicely with the Romeo and Juliet subplot in the book.
And she gave me the title of the book. Her suggestion of “Little Red Riding Hoodie” showed me what was wrong with the original manuscript and how to fix it. All that seemed like a pretty good reason to dedicate a book to her.
But it didn’t feel right.
I didn’t want my stepdaughter to get the idea the novel was about her, because it absolutely isn’t. Not even a little bit. And the danger is a sixth-grader reads a book about a sixth-grader that is dedicated to her and thinks this is what I think of her. That would have been all wrong.
My stepson’s inspirational fingerprints are all over the book too. A lot of his personality is imbued in various characters throughout the novel. One or two of the themes should speak to him. So he seemed like a natural choice too.
But again, the fit wasn’t quite comfortable. there are pieces of the novel that don’t fit his life well at all, and I didn’t want him to get the impression I thought they did.
So I toyed with dedicating it to all three children. They all have their hands in it in a way. And no one can get jealous of anyone if none of them is singled out.
But that’s a cop-out. Dedicate it to them all, and I’m essentially dedicating it to no one.
So in the end, I made a choice. And I came back to my original inspiration.
Little Red Riding Hoodie is not about my daughter’s life at all, but her experiences (and mine parenting her) informed my writing when I was describing the sad situations in Sally’s life. That seemed like the most powerful source.
The dedication to Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale reads as follows:
“For Onna. There’s a great, big world out there you still haven’t found. I’m sorry you’ve already seen some of the scary parts, but there is a lot of beauty too, and I hope that’s what you’ll eventually choose to observe.”
For a novel about a girl who is terrorized by bullies, an alcoholic father, and demons in her dreams, but who eventually finds the strength and courage not only to fight but to save the people she loves, that seemed fitting.
And I hope it speaks to a kid who makes me proud with the way she battles adversity to overcome a difficult start in life. The quiet heroism of everyday people who grapple with demons and somehow keep going should inspire us all.