It all started a few years ago when my good friend Ashley had no idea what to get her mother-in-law for her birthday. Knowing that her mother-in-law, Susan, was a fan of my Odelia Grey novels, I suggested that she put Susan’s name in one of my books. The price would be a donation to my nephew’s cancer ride. The gift made Ashley daughter-in-law of the year.
Since then I have probably given away at least ten to twelve names a year for various charitable causes, including five to seven names a year at $100 a pop going to the Los Angeles Ronald McDonald House Walk for Kids. Many purchase these character names as gifts. It definitely helps that I have three series to spread these names around. This year I didn’t even get a chance to open up the Ronald McDonald name slots to the general public. Five were scooped up by folks in my office, with almost all wanting to be in my second vampire book, and the other two were requested by friends. Finding the names closed for this year, one reader put himself on the list for next year’s Ronald McDonald donation, stating he wants to be in book seven of the Odelia Grey series.
A waiting line. Can you believe it?
Outside of the Ronald McDonald House, most of the other names are donated for auctions at mystery conferences and library events. They are always popular and a lot of authors do this. The most memorable donation was at an event for the Anaheim Library a couple years ago. I donated a name to be in Ghost à la Mode for a live auction. The bidding boiled down to two parties facing off, each determined to get the prize. Finally, the bidding stalled at $900. Piping up, I said I’d donate two names if each party would donate $900. They did. The Anaheim Library received $1,800 and I put the names in the book.
Along with a name in a book, the individual receives a signed copy of the book in which it appears.
A lot of authors may think using pre-set names might hamper their creativity. So far this hasn’t happened with me. In fact, a few times I’ve heard the name and knew exactly which character it would fit. And it’s funny how characteristics present themselves once the name is incorporated.
Of course, when using real names, an author must be careful. Recently, one author was sued for using the name and alleged personal history of a person she knew. The last thing a writer or publisher needs is a lawsuit claiming defamation.
I never use the individual’s real physical description, personality or personal history. I use the name. Period. If the person is going to be a bad guy or on the shady side, I might check with them first to make sure they are comfortable with it. So far, so good, with many loving the opportunity to walk on the dark side, at least in a book. One person even wanted to be a murder victim.
In auctions or donations of this kind, I generally give a certificate with the information on how and when to contact me once they have won the prize. At the bottom of all certificates is the following fine print:
Winner understands that this prize is for a character’s name only and such character may or may not bear any likeness in physical appearance or personality to the individual bearing the character’s name. Winner hereby gives consent to the use of such name and releases Sue Ann Jaffarian and Midnight Ink/Llewellyn Worldwide from any and all liability in connection with the use of such name.
It gives me the warm and fuzzies to raise money this way for charity. It’s another perk of being an author. It also makes me feel proud that so many people want their names in my books. I get just as big a kick out of it as they do, maybe more.