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Authors auction chance to name book character

Garance Burke Associated Press

It can take years of late-night navel gazing for a novelist to name a character – or it could come as quickly as an Internet auction on eBay.

Stephen King, Amy Tan, Lemony Snicket, Nora Roberts, Michael Chabon and 11 other best-selling writers are auctioning the right to name characters in their new novels. The profits will go to the First Amendment Project, which protects the free speech rights of activists, writers and artists.

“It feels a little scary for most writers because when you’re writing, you’re completely in charge – you can say this book is all mine, it’s my world,” said Chabon. “Whether giving over some of that has any monetary value or not, we’ll see.”

But bidders beware – most of the authors are retaining creative control to use the names as they see fit.

King says the highest bidder will get to name a character in a new zombie novel he describes as being “like cheap whiskey … very nasty and extremely satisfying.”

Cult comic author Neil Gaiman will let his top buyer select the name for a gravestone. Andrew Sean Greer promises the winner may choose the name of a “coffee shop, bar, corset company or other business in another scene,” but only “should it suit the author.”

John Grisham is one of only a handful promising to portray the top bidder’s chosen name “in a good light.”

On Sept. 1, eBay Giving Works, the site’s dedicated program for charity listings, will go live with the electronic auction. For the next 25 days, anyone with an Internet connection can bid 24 hours a day to insert names into their favorite writers’ heads.

The event’s organizers say they believe it will fetch well over $50,000.

The benefit was the brainchild of Gaiman, who approached Chabon with the idea when he heard the First Amendment Project was running out of money. Other involved writers include Dave Eggers, Dorothy Allison, Peter Straub, ZZ Packer, Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Ayelet Waldman, Andrew Sean Greer and Karen Joy Fowler.

David Greene, executive director of the First Amendment Project, said the money raised by the auction will go to support the organization’s pro bono work representing clients being sued over free speech, free press and freedom of expression.

One such case, over whether a high school student’s angry poetry constituted a “criminal threat,” recently went before the California Supreme Court.

Snicket, who will let the top bidder determine an utterance by Sunny Baudelaire in his upcoming 13th installment of his “Series of Unfortunate Events,” said he holds the First Amendment dear because “the only trouble I should get in for my writing is the trouble I make myself.”

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