Today is day 20 in our countdown to the publication, August 25, of Gone From These Woods. In honor of today, I’m going to talk about the dedications page. Here’s what it says: “This book is dedicated to the memory of my second-grade teacher, Dycie Hancock Schneider. Also to the memories of her first husband, William Campbell; her nephew, David Hancock; and my uncle, Terry Bailey — three men who left this world too soon.”
All four of the people I dedicated my debut novel to are dead. But they are remembered here in the Athens area where I live. Dycie Hancock Schneider was Mrs. Campbell, my second grade teacher at Oconee Street Elementary School. I remember her encouraging smile, pats on the back, and those Friday Bingo games in our classroom. She was the kind of teachers all kids should have. A few years after I was in her class, I heard that her nephew, David Hancock, had accidentally shot and killed her husband, William Campbell. That’s all I knew about her real life tragic story until I visited her after my book was written and purchased by Random House, about three weeks before she died (at age 90). I had used the tiny bit of her story that I knew before that visit as a “jumping off point” or a spark to ignite my own fictional tale of Daniel Sartain, an eleven-year-old boy who accidentally shoots his beloved uncle, Clay.

The other person on my dedication page, Terry Bailey, was my own uncle who died at age 34 from complications of an automobile accident. Terry was suffering from terminal cancer at the time of the accident, which may or may not have been accidential. No one knows for sure. Several years earlier, when Terry was 23, he had survived a near-fatal bike accident on Baxter Street in Athens. I grew up with Terry, who became a counselor and assistant director of admissions at Columbus College. Since he was only five years older than me, he always felt like an older brother.

All these years later, I still miss Uncle Terry. What would he say about Gone From These Woods? What would Dycie, William and David say about Daniel Sartain’s story? We’ll never know. But I do believe they’re all in my book in spirit. And I hope they approve.

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