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Authors raise $90,000 through auction

Fans bid for a chance to become characters in their books
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ray. Joyce. Linda-gail.

They are just three of the 19 lucky bidders who raised $90,000 by paying for the right to be named a character — or a place or thing — in works by such authors as John Grisham, Stephen King, Amy Tan and Lemony Snicket.

The money goes to the First Amendment Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting freedom of information, expression and petition. It’s the group’s single-largest fund-raising event.

David Greene, the organization’s executive director, said the auction “did better than we ever expected.” He thanked the donors and the authors, “who sacrificed a modicum of their own artistic freedom to help preserve freedom of expression for all.”

The winning bidders were even more excited.

“I’m thrilled to death,” said Joyce Generali, 48, of Leawood, Kan., who paid $6,000 to appear in Michael Chabon’s next novel, due out spring 2006. “I was thinking of remodeling my bathroom, but this is a lot better than some Italian tile. The bathroom can wait.”

She was even more thrilled to learn that Chabon’s dad lives in the same town as she does.

The auction, which began Sept. 1 and ended Sunday, offered up 19 authors and attracted bids from hundreds of fans across the country, said Eric Gazin, president of Auction Cause, which ran the event for the First Amendment Project.

Gazin, a self-proclaimed Internet auction expert, said he’s never seen a contest quite like this.

“People usually sell things on eBay,” he said. “This is intellectual property.”

Will Ray Huizenga be a King zombie?King drew the largest bid. Pam Alexander of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., spent $25,100 to get her brother’s name, Ray Huizenga, in King’s upcoming novel “Cell,” which King calls “a violent piece of work.” The new horror story focuses on a set of rampaging zombies controlled by cell phones.

Grisham was the next biggest draw at $12,100. He was the only author to promise that “the character will be portrayed in a good light.” That didn’t matter to winning bidder Barbara Mellinger, a 33-year-old real estate developer who lives in Ponce Inlet, Fla. She can’t wait to see her name in her favorite author’s forthcoming novel.

“It was an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “You can’t put a price on it.”

While Mellinger has taken part in other fund-raisers involving celebrities — she spent $3,000 for a pair of singer George Michael’s jeans — she said the honor of seeing her name in a Grisham novel is “the most expensive single item I’ve ever bought.”

Linda-gail Case, 51, calls herself a “tried and true” Nora Roberts fan. Case proudly proclaimed that she owns “all 157 of her books” and has read several of them more than once. She spent $6,844.69 to be a character in Roberts’ next book.

The most unusual offering was probably from science-fiction author David Brin: “How about something original? Let the bidder choose between: The name of a rogue moon on a collision course with a doomed planet, an exotic and gruesome disease of unknown origin, or an entire species of wise, ancient extraterrestrials.” The winning bid: $2,250.

And Lemony Snicket offered bidders the chance to be “an utterance” by Sunny Baudelaire in the 13th book of his “Unfortunate Events” series. “Pronunciation and/or spelling may be slightly ‘mutilated.’ An example of this is in ‘The Grim Grotto’ when Sunny utters ‘Bushcheney.”’

The utterance cost the unidentified bidder $6,300.