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DarkEcho Horror Death by Rick Berry
The DarkEcho Files

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

For more than six years Paula Guran published -- in email form on a weekly basis -- an eccentric newsletter for horror writers and others. This commentary came from it.

DarkEcho
02.03.00
V.7 #3

There you are in your own living room looking at a milestone of sorts in your life as a writer: your first set of signature sheets for a limited edition book. Oh sure, maybe some friends have asked for an autograph on a magazine or something just to make you feel good. But, hey, this is closer to the Bigs, right?

Maybe. All I know is that I had some strange thoughts last weekend as I plowed through about 625 of the signature sheets.

Signed limited editions and even more limited "lettered" editions are, for better or worse, part of the economics of the specialty press. They literally allow some fine books (and some not-so-fine) to exist. The book I was signing, IMAGINATION FULLY DILATED 2, is a good example of a good book that probably would never be published if not for this now-established system/ IFD2 is a big, thick (500 pages) original anthology with full-color tipped-in art reproductions -- not exactly the sort of thing a major publisher is interested in doing. There will be 600 signed (by ALL 30 contributors) and numbered hardcover copies for sale at $75.00 a piece and 25 "Deluxe Lettered Editions": leather-bound, signed and traycased copies, each with some sort of original "remark" from artist Alan Clark plus a matted set of the four metal plates used in the printing of one of the illustrations.) These 25 rarities will sell for $225 --money that goes along way toward making such publications -- and sometimes other more affordable versions or even other books from a publisher -- possible at all.

Who pays $225 for a book? Hey, I don't know, but God bless them every one. For that matter, who pays $75 for an anthology no matter how worthy or beautiful? I'm not sure of that either, but in a world where Donkey Kong 64 by Nintendo lists at $64.99, maybe I shouldn't even ask the question.

Do thirty or so signatures really add to the value of IFD2? Not for me. I don't understand the value placed on autographs. For me, the value lies in the stories, the art, even the design and smell of a book. But, hey, I don't understand why my ten-year-old spent all his allowance for month on Pokeman cards.

Certainly MY signature added nothing to the value of the book. All I did was write the introduction, something I was honored to do. Tim Powers wrote the introduction to the first IFD. It's probably the only chance I'll ever have to follow Tim Powers, right? But, I was a contributor, so I had to sign.

With so many signatures, there were two pages to FedEx around the country to various authors. My sheet had already gone -- in a geographically logical pattern -- to Hugh B. Cave, Jeff VanderMeer, Poppy Z. Brite, Randy Fox, David Conover and Gary Braunbeck. I read the precise instructions, flexed my fingers and got ready to write. First I had to find a pen...

How do these people do this? Look at these signatures: one after another they look very much alike. My signature changes constantly. Is this some indication of multiple personalities? Hugh B. Cave! Gosh, this man is 90! HE can produce over 600 perfectly clear autographs without a tremor, I can't spell my name right... And Braunbeck, geez! He DRAWS his name so artistically...and consistently. So does Poppy...and in purple ink...she has fans out there who would get sexually aroused knowing they were signing the same piece of paper she has...me, I can't figure out how she keeps making her signature look the same.

I shoo some cats away and worry about cat hair. As I progress, I notice some other cat hairs already in the stack. What a relief! Wonder if collectors get excited about a stray cat hair or two? Probably depends on whose cat it is...I bet there are people who get sexually aroused thinking about Poppy's cats...

I settle into a pretty uniform "Paula" after awhile, but the "Guran" veers from a looping "G" and a wiggle to a more precise G and more clearly formed small letters. All unsatisfactory. There's obviously something psychologically meaningful in this, but I ain't going there...

"Mom? What are you doing?" I try to bribe the 13-year-old into forging my signature on a few pages...nothing doing, guess I raised him right..."Mom? Do you get PAID for this?" Well, no, not exactly...The ten-year-old says, "Duh, Mom, don't you know how to make a proper cursive 'G'?" Sure, you know it all when you are in fourth grade...

My hand gets crampy. I get grumpy. Again I marvel at these folks who seem to have accomplished this with unwavering and exact ease. I think of people like Clive Barker who I have seen cheerfully sign book after book. I appreciate their stamina, but I doubt that I am building a loyal fan base by doing this.

I work on the project in short bursts when I get the chance. This helps. I wonder if other people just signed endlessly...I have dialogues with myself: 'This is sorta cool, this is a sign that you are somebody...sorta...what you bitchin' at, girlfriend?'...' Well, yeah but really it's meaningless...'Don't get existential, sign the damned pages...'

I discover that I sign differently depending on the music I have playing...this is the Iggy Pop signature, here's the NIN one...I think this is 16 Horsepower...I think I signed these when the kids were watching wrestling...ugh.

As the to-be-signed stack shortens I notice that MAYBE I'm not the only psycho on this page. VanderMeer shows definite signs of losing it. He signs one page Jeff "Ambergris" -- a reference, I suppose, to his hilarious and bizarre chapbook THE EARLY HISTORY OF AMBERGRIS. There are a couple that he's signed as "The Author Formerly Known as Jeff VanderMeer," one that says Jeff "I-Wanna-Be-Charles-De Lint" VanderMeer. Well, at least I am not alone in my possible descent into madness...

Finally finished, I repackage it all and prepare to ship to the next signer, Michael A. Arnzen...Pennsylvania? Arnzen when did you move? With any luck, a lot of ink and cooperation, the pages will progress from Mike to Chet Williamson, Rich Chizmar, Paul Wilson, Dallas Mayr (signing as Jack Ketchum, of course), Alan Steele, Brian Hodge and eventually be back with Alan soon in Oregon. He already has the other page -- with signatures from people like Ramsey Campbell, Richard Laymon and John Shirley -- back. In about a month there will be a beautiful book with some great stories -- I know, I've seen all the art and I got to read most of the stories in manuscript. The best part of the deal is that I get a copy of the book. So maybe it was worth it after all.
----
You can find out more about IMAGINATED FULLY DILATED 2: The Literated Works of Alan M. Clark, edited by Elizabeth Engstrom at the IFD Web site Information about the first volume (the one WITHOUT my signature) can be foundnearby or through Cemetery Dance Publications.


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