I sat and wrote something yesterday that I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few months: acknowledgements for Wildfire.  A list of names just didn’t seem to be enough.

I’ll be updating the book with them soon.  Long overdue.

In the meantime, have you read Bitterblue?


Most acknowledgement sections seem to start off in the same manner.  The author generally says something to the tune of, “I could not have done this alone.”

Barring any aversion to cliché, this is how the acknowledgements should start.  Because that’s what it’s for, right?  We thank those who contributed to the journey, because the compilation of a book in its entirety is not possible without help.

I started this book when I was young; a starry-eyed college student with dreams of sitting in a room for hours, rapping away at a computer, spinning words of importance and revelation.  But I also went to a party school.  And I had daft priorities.  And a vastly good time.

After college, I waited tables (because I had a journalism degree and no predilection toward journalism).  I wrote by day and served food by night and I remember this as a very freeing time.  I was living in St. Louis, in an old, cold stone house.  I’d make a pot of tea and sit in a tiny office off the kitchen, and write.  Everyday.  At night, I’d go to work, swelling with what I’d accomplished during the day, filled to the brim with story lines and character arcs and dialogue.

Michelle Foupht, Hannah Korner and Maggie Chandler were the first readers of that early manuscript.  Michelle and Hannah, both talented writers themselves, were instrumental in pinpointing errors and false truths. Michelle, with her keen insight into the human psyche, helped me understand my characters.  Hannah, a passionate, sage soul, was angered when I later decided to cut half the manuscript and one character she had become particularly fond of.  The ache she showed for that character and the work in general will always be a source of pride and amusement for me.

Maggie, a shining example of a true friend, kept me from giving up.  I remember a phone call in particular, in which she grumbled at me for my choice to return to graduate school, but not to pursue creative writing. “That’s a cop out,” she said. “You have a job you don’t love, and your free time should be spent working on your writing, not working toward something else you won’t love equally.”  At first, I was angry with her audacity.  I was trying to find myself, I told her.  Trying to figure out what would make me happy.  But she already knew the answer to that.

Kristen King and Lara Pitts were first readers of the next iteration of the manuscript.  Kristen, my friend since my freshman year of high school, does not shelter her friends with good opinions unless she truly has them, so I took her approval with gratification.  (Sometimes, an honest grievance is more comforting than a false compliment.  And Kris has never once given a false compliment; which has made our relationship challenging at times.  But also makes it real.)  To clarify, Kris did not love it all.  Her one negative comment was the shoulder touching.  “Why is everyone always touching everyone else’s shoulders? Is that necessary? Do people do that?”  I reduced the number of shoulder touches in the book, but have to admit that my characters do have a fondness for often touching people they care about on the arm or shoulder.  As do I.

Lara married into my family and, at some point, inexplicably, became my biggest fan.  An avid reader, who talks swiftly and loves deeply, her affection has been a vessel, holding up my head in times of doubt and grief.  She and her husband (my beloved cousin) Jeremy commissioned an early copy of this manuscript, made with care by a man who stitched the pages together by hand, bound it in the most beautiful blue, and added the title and my name across the front and spine in gold lettering.  This gift, given to me on the day our grandfather (my favorite storyteller) died, is a treasured memory and a constant reminder that there are those who love and believe in me without question.  I am often brought to tears as I brush my fingers along its spine.  This is the only printed copy of my book so far, and it sits on my shelf between Franz Kafka and Jules Verne.  And whoever thought my name would be there?

The third treatment of the manuscript traveled to a scenic, wooded mountainside in Colorado, where Serenity King, in her quiet wisdom, edited with a green pen and a vast wealth of grammatical and structural knowledge.  She encouraged me to explore the layers and complexities of the story, and urged me to bring more of both Angela and Max into the dialogue.  This was an essential change that created more depth and vulnerability in the book.  Serenity, who is now a very important leader in a richly academic environment, no longer has time to write fiction. But one day, I anticipate a work of astounding clarity and vision will be published in her name, and the world will be better for it.

The final revision of the manuscript, which is unrecognizable from the first writing, would not have been possible without Janet Rucka-White.  Janet and I first talked together as we watched our boys play from the side of our neighborhood pool.  I don’t know who suggested we get together to have writing meetings.  But the first time she came to my house, I made her coffee and then cried for an hour.  It was a lost time for me.  I was questioning everything in my life, certain I was failing at it all, and I vomited these dreadful feelings to this person I didn’t know, who seemed to have it all figured out and together for herself.  I was certain she would never come back.

I cannot be more thankful that she did.  Her honesty and encouragement were instrumental in the completion of this book.  She read every chapter as I completed it, then she dared me to do more.  She challenged me to strengthen Savanna into a more likable character.  She questioned my methods, she demanded more from me.  And she directly influenced Max’s fate.  “Tell me he doesn’t die,” she said to me in a Starbucks parking lot one day.  Her eyes were cut into slits and her face was stern.  “Tell me.”

After the final structure of Wildfire was complete, new editors were called in.  Kim McCullough, my childhood friend, who long ago introduced me to the world of Fantasy fiction and the genius of R.L. Stine, was tracked down through Facebook and asked for input.  Maggie Mills, a colleague who edits professionally and reads voraciously, provided me the compliment of her time and notes.  And said Drummond evoked “a young Matthew McConaughey,” which is exactly how I see him now, and wonder why I didn’t before.

Cristina Riera, whose family name I used, found worrisome repetitive phrases and actions, which I eliminated.  But her real contribution to the book was deeper than that.  Cristina is a beacon of authenticity.  She knows precisely what she feels and wants, and presents nothing less to the world, regardless of acceptance.  And she is purely lovely, from the tips of her long, elegant legs, to the jet black hair on her head, to the cavernous depths of her soul.  And when she reads this, she will scoff and tell me to f— off.  Just knowing her makes me better, and more honest, and a writer is nothing without truth.

Any errors left in the manuscript were likely something one of these women pointed out, but I stubbornly chose not to correct.  Such is the arrogance of a writer.

Fundamentally, I want to thank my parents for always wanting more for me than they want for themselves.  For my father, who worked his fingers raw so he could see me attend college, who would not accept any alternative.  For my mother, a beautiful and demure woman, who didn’t really know what to do with the imaginative little tomboy with stringy hair who refused to wear the dresses and pink jeans she bought her.  My mother would glance at the cover of the books I read, splashed with zombies and monsters and screaming women, and would sigh and say, “I worry about you, Kimberly.” But she never asked me to stop reading.

And finally, I have to thank my O’Brien boys – all three of them – for making my life what it is today.  The comfort and pleasure of home is a warm blanket I know I can always wrap around myself in times of pain.  And that is no small thing.  Thank you for loving me for who I am.

Leave a comment


  1. Lara Pitts

     /  January 25, 2013

    You know how much I love something that seems to touch my soul….something that is beautifully written…
    your above post is very touching…brought tears to my eyes reading..

  2. Yikes. That is some very, very good writing. How is it that your acknowledgements sound amazing….your acknowledgments! Thank you for the shout-out; I’ve loved reading your drafts and feel so honored to be able to do so.

  3. What a lovely set of acknowledgements!

    • Kim

       /  January 28, 2013

      Thank you Gabriela! They sat inside me for a while before pouring out. So glad they are free and loose now.


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