The day I got The Call, there was a distant cry of distress somewhere in the back of my mind as I faintly realized that sooner or later, I was going to have to sign my book for someone.
This prospect might delight some; who wouldn’t want to put their John Hancock on the book they slaved months or possibly years over? Who wouldn’t want to brand their masterwork with their autograph?
Here’s my confession: I can’t sign my name for nuts. Not even my real name. In fact, the government office that issues my driver’s license and health card commanded me to return twice to re-sign my name because my signature was “too easy to forge.” I ended up scribbling something that looked nothing like my original signature, and now I can’t reproduce it. If a police officer ever pulls me over and asks me to walk a painted line, touch my nose, then sign my name, there’s a 33% chance I might end up in the slammer.
So now I face the challenge of signing my pen name a dozen, or a hundred, or maybe—if I’m lucky enough—a thousand times over. And a big fat X isn’t going to cut it.
Like any good researcher, I went to that most reliable of internet forums, Yahoo! Answers, seeking a solution to my dilemma. Legibility, style, character and an inability to forge the signature were the top discussed attributes. I thought a happy face might suffice—apparently not.
I took one responder’s advice and started by practicing my name in cursive. I quickly realized that after decades of being glued to my keyboard, I’ve forgotten how to do curly script. (Lowercase B continues to be my least favourite letter.)
I tried to write my name out fast and with my eyes closed. I figured I should be able to do it by feel rather than by sight. Besides, if I have hundreds of people lined up to see me, I’m going to have to do things fast, right?
Wrong. I ended up with a page that looked like something from a college notebook at auctioneer school. And it was pretty clear with every ill-placed stroke that I couldn’t remember what my name was.
No matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t reproduce the same signature twice in a row. I tried giving it more style, with big letters and squigglies. Then no letters, and just random peaks and curves, as if my hand were a seismograph measuring a tremor in Los Angeles beneath a highway underpass. Nothing worked for me.
So I sought the guidance of the pros, and started laying out all the signed books I owned. The signatures ranged from simple (Tamora Pierce) to deluxe flourished (Heather Graham). Both seemed natural, and I assumed they were consistent, too. I had to be confident that my autograph would come with the same organic ease. Practice--even if it's of a scribble--would make perfect, right?
And then I realized that in order to make up for my terrible penmanship, I would have to personalize every signing in some way. My spirits sank to a new low.
In my signed book collection, some variation of “All the Best” seemed to be popular, but I wanted something that said “This is Vicki, and she’s sorry her handwriting looks like chicken scratch.” I looked up other celebrity autographs: Tina Fey signed her book, Bossypants, with “Help, I’m stuck in a Korean Tina Fey autograph factory.” In a friend’s account, author Neil Gaiman signed The Graveyard Book for each of his fans by drawing a little tombstone with their name on it.
So special! So memorable! So perfectly suited to their personalities and books! I wanted to do the same. I wanted to wow. Or at least make sure people were walking away with some kind of impression apart from “I can’t read her name at all. And how come your autograph looks totally different from mine?”
I started coming up with a rotating list of endearments, but it soon became apparent that, despite being a writer, I was no good with succinct platitudes. Thinking back, most of my high school yearbook epigraphs described my morning routine. And those inscriptions were to my closest friends.
Since my book is about mixed martial arts, I tried to go with that theme. Unfortunately, “I hope this book is like Superman punch to your heart!” and “Enjoy this book like a kick to the head!” aren’t quite the sentiments I wanted to convey.
Maybe I should forget about signing books and just stick to just writing them.
Vicki Essex will be signing her debut book, Her Son’s Hero, alongside author Mary Sullivan July 16 at Coles Bookstore at Cloverdale Mall (Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada), and at the World’s Biggest Bookstore (Toronto, Canada) on July 23. Check out www.vickiessex.com/events for more details.
Leave a comment below for your chance to win a signed copy of Her Son’s Hero. I might even sign it with something legible! Draw will take place on Saturday, June 11, 9 p.m. EST.