Name That Zombie

Author Stephen King addresses the 2003 National Book Awards dinner in New York City, after being presented the 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2003. (AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
It can take years of late-night brainstorming for a novelist to choose the name of a character, says Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon.

Or it could come as quickly as an auction on eBay, and in the process, keep a nonprofit dedicated to freedom of speech from closing its doors.

Stephen King, John Grisham, Andrew Sean Greer and several other best-selling authors are joining Chabon next month in selling the right to name characters in their new novels.

The profits will go toward a campaign to defend the free speech rights of activists, writers and artists called the First Amendment Project.

"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, who sits on the project's board. "Whether giving some of that over has any monetary value or not, we'll see."

King says his highest bidder will get to name a character in a new zombie novel he describes as being "like cheap whisky ... very nasty and extremely satisfying."

John Grisham, on the other hand, is promising to portray his top bidder's chosen name "in a good light."

But bidders beware: Most of the authors are clearly retaining creative control to use the names as they see fit.

Andrew Sean Greer promises his 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."

The auction begins Sept. 1 on eBay Giving Works, the site's dedicated program for charity listings, and runs for 25 days.