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Become a fictional character for free speech

November 30, 2010 |  8:55 am

Bestselling mystery writer Thomas Perry is just one of the dozens of authors who will name characters in their books after you -- if you are the highest bidder, that is. It's all to support the First Amendment Project, a Bay Area nonprofit. Other authors involved include writers Dave Eggers, Francine Prose, Joshua Ferris and graphic novelist Chris Ware.

The auction went online on Ebay on Sunday and continues through Dec. 20. Each week features a different set of authors, with slightly different offerings. Perry -- whose auction ends Dec. 6, with the others in the first round -- writes:

I'm working on the seventh Jane Whitefield novel, untitled at the moment. In it there are a few villains of both sexes, and several murder victims of both sexes, as well as several other characters. I expect the book to be finished in time for publication in the spring of 2012. I will give the name of your choice to a villain, a victim, or a character who is neither, and mention it at least four times during the book.

As of this writing, being a murder victim, villain or other character in Perry's book is going for $275.15. Suzanne Brockman's auction has gone even higher, to $500. Perhaps because her book, the next in her Troubleshooters thriller series, is coming out sooner, her character options are more specific -- a Las Vegas-based FBI agent or a "stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold."

Authors really do make good on their promises. A lead character in Rick Moody's sci-fi doorstopper "The Four Fingers of Death," Montese Crandall, was a previous character-name auction winner. Moody wrote Montese as Monty, a down-on-his luck baseball card collector and aspiring writer -- discovering much later that the real Montese, the winning bidder, was a woman. Moody is currently auctioning off a character name in his next book -- and is making no promises about gender.

San Francisco-based novelist Andew Sean Greer has sorted out gender: a male name will be "a soldier who has lost his hands and sight in WWI" and a woman will be "a drunken bohemian at a party in 1918 Greenwich Village." He also cautions, "It is possible you may also die of the Spanish Flu." Greer's auction, like a few others, includes a Skype chat and a signed copy of the book, which is expected to be published in 2012 (current price: $305).

Southern California authors who are or will be auctioning character names include Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum, Mona Simpson and Jenji Kohan, creator of "Weeds."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Thomas Perry in 2000. Credit: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times