A Novel Offer: Name Your Own Character

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Amy Tan, the best-selling author of The Joy Luck Club and other novels, tells Scott Simon why she's auctioning off character names for her next work.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

What if "Moby Dick" opened not with the now famous `Call me Ishmael,' but `Call me Shecky'? Or, `Steve Tripoli'? Or, `Mitt Romney'? What if the names of classic protagonists had been open to the highest bidder? Several famous American authors have agreed to give readers the opportunity to name characters in upcoming books. eBay will hold an auction for naming rights in September. Proceeds will benefit the First Amendment Project, an organization that works pro bono to represent clients being sued over First Amendment issues. Amy Tan, who, of course, is author of "The Joy Luck Club" and many other novels, is among those authors willing to hand over some naming rights. She joins us from Sun Valley, Idaho.

Thanks for being with us, Amy.

Ms. AMY TAN (Author): Good to be here.

SCOTT: And major character? Do you know yet?

Ms. TAN: I don't know for my next book, but I have done this in the past and, yes, there was a major character named after somebody who was the high bidder. And the name probably appeared at least 200 times.

SCOTT: Well, they got their money's worth, didn't they?

Ms. TAN: They did. Well, they paid a fortune. But also, the person had a very unusual name. You know, that factors into what type of character gets that name.

SCOTT: Can we ask who it was?

Ms. TAN: Roxanne Schlirangelo(ph) is the name and it's a great name.

SCOTT: And who is Roxanne?

Ms. TAN: Roxanne is a woman who lives in New York, who bid on it--not First Amendment, but for lung cancer. And so I was happy to do it for a good cause.

SCOTT: This is your book, "Saving Fish From Drowning"?

Ms. TAN: Yes.

SCOTT: How to you ordinarily name characters? Is there any one rule?

Ms. TAN: Character names do have to evoke something, and, obviously, be a name that sounds unusual, but not strange. And it shouldn't sound too cliched. I probably would steer away from a name that is, like, John Smith, unless, of course, John Smith wanted to donate a lot of money to the First Amendment Project.

SCOTT: He could always be John Q. Smith, I suppose.

Ms. TAN: Right. Exactly, exactly. There's often ways to make a name very interesting, or the character, maybe, deliberately must be named that because he must be anonymous in this and he prefers to take that name. "Lolita" is one example of a book I didn't write, but also has unusual names, like Humbert Humbert and Quilty and Lolita.

SCOTT: Do you know, Amy--does it ever happen that somebody will give money to a good cause, but say `Please, you don't have to put my name in' or `Please don't put my name in'?

Ms. TAN: I suppose there are people who would do that, but I have never heard of somebody doing it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. TAN: I think people really like the idea that their name is going to appear in a novel and possibly that they get to lead a different life. Probably what I would do in my novel is name a character Anonymous.

SCOTT: An old Lebanese name, the Anonymous family.

Ms. TAN: Yes, yes, exactly.

SCOTT: Well, Amy, thanks very much.

Ms. TAN: OK.

SCOTT: Amy Tan's new book, out this fall, is "Saving Fish From Drowning."

And it's 22 minutes before the hour.

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