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Pro Tips for Inscribing Books

If you are ever lucky enough to find yourself in the position to be signing books, you may ask yourself the question, "What in the world am I supposed to write?" Now that I am faced with this question myself, I wanted some answers. After a little bit of research into what some famous authors have inscribed on the title pages of their books, I discovered the following patterns:

1. Less is More

If you can’t think of anything witty to say, then don’t. No one will mind. Scribble your signature on the page and leave it at that. Or, if you must inscribe it to a particular person, you can keep it as minimal as possible. Basically, if it works for a gift tag, it will work for a book signing.

2. Locate and Date

Add the city and date to your signature. In a hundred years when you’re dead and your book is worth a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation, of course), then the recipient will be very glad for some additional identifying information that adds to the book’s value. Also, this will help time travelers locate you so they can take you on a wild adventure.

3. Trite is Fine

If you absolutely must add some extra words, they don’t have to be earthshattering. Let the thousands of words you wrote in the book speak for themselves. Some common phrases from the great bastions of Western literature include:

  • To my friend,
  • Best wishes,
  • All my love,
  • Affectionately,
  • With the writer’s compliments,
  • With admiration and affection,
  • Warmest regards,

4. Draw a Picture

You could draw a self-portrait or a character from the book or some random squiggles with your signature. Drawing skills are a plus, but not necessary. A picture is a worth a thousand words, so doodle away and save the words for your next book. Bonus points for incorporating your publisher's logo in your design.

5. Apologize (Medium-Level Difficulty)

Self-deprecation is usually charming. You'll probably be feeling like a fraud during your book signing anyway, so why not use that emotion?

Some examples:

  • To Herb Yellin - I've been reading this over. It's not such a terrific book, is it? Thomas Pynchon
  • E.G. Eliot from T.E. Lawrence with apologies for the troubles it is going to bring you

6. Personalize (Expert-Level Difficulty)

If you are feeling confident and bold, then add some personal details particular to your reader. Show off your razor-sharp wit! However, this will take more time and attention than a simpler inscription, which your poor brain may not be capable of doing on the fly. But, it will make your readers feel quite special.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is the master of personalization. Behold some of his best work:

  • For the unknown, unmet parents of Clare. Knowing her, I hope you will find something to like in this present. Best wishes, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • For Jim Hurley, adhesive tape expert ('May every tape-writer ribbon prove to be an adhesive tape' Dorothy Dix) From his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald Ashville 1936
  • For Edward Everett Horton, Page 74 et sequitor may interest you to dip into if you like cathedral tours – and my daughter's evidence is that you do. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Encino, 1939
  • For Isabel Owens Hoping we'll both be able to look back to this winter as a bleak exception, in a business way from F. Scott ("Old Scrooge") Fitzgerald.
  • For Alec McCaig, who once wrote a ▲ show and now writes short stories. Gawd help him – from F. Scott Fitzgerald April 1920 New York.

7. Ask for Favors or Reviews (Not Advised)

When all else fails, do something radical. You are an author. Live it up. Big risk = big reward. Ask for a five-star review on Amazon or Goodreads, propose marriage, or request a baked good. I personally think that asking for a favor is a terrible idea for an inscription, but it has been done. AA Milne asked artist E.H. Shepherd to decorate his tomb in a book inscription. Maybe save this one for people you know well so they don't think it's creepy.

A.M. Morgen
Present Thoughts About the Past and Future

There are some exciting things happening this week in my writing career. In a few short days, the cover for INVENTORS AT NO. 8 will be officially unveiled. Advanced reader copies are also on their way. However, there are even more exciting days to come in the future once the book is released and it’s in the hands of readers.

Thinking about the future is both fun and a little scary, but I actually spend quite a bit more of my time thinking about the past. The INVENTORS is set in 1828, a time so far removed from life in the modern world that I had to stop and research a million little details while I was writing it.

But what exactly is the past? Why do we love reading and writing stories about people long-dead and places long-gone? I don’t know the answer, but this is my favorite quote about the past:

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)

I love this quote! It so perfectly describes what I enjoy about reading and writing historical novels. It helps explain why authenticity and research are so important to the experience of novels set in the past. We want to feel the differences, but also notice the similarities between our time and another time.

I was curious to see if there were any other quotes I could find about the collective past. How do other people see it? It’s a ghost, a memory, a date on a calendar. And here, paraphrased, are some of the more unusual metaphors for the past:

The past is…

… the ornament and food of the mind of man. (Leonardo da Vinci)

… the beginning of the beginning, …the twilight of the dawn. (H.G. Wells)

...[the layer of an egg that is the present] that had the future inside its shell. (Zora Neale Hurston)

… the only dead thing that smells sweet. (Cyril Connolly)

… indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities. (Stephen Hawking)

It’s interesting that the past most often referenced is your own immediate personal past. “The past” as a concept separate from history is perhaps too big to be contemplated often. I know that if I were asked to explain the past in my own words, I would come up empty-handed.

However, if you cram all of those other brilliant ideas together, then maybe the past is…a dead ornamental chicken that lays eggs in the indefinite twilight.

Yep. You can quote me on that.

 

 

 

 

A.M. Morgen
My Childhood Bookshelf: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

My favorite color is blue. My favorite food is chocolate. But if you ask me what my favorite book is, I'm not sure I could pick just one. Even as a kid, I loved reading all different kinds of books: historical fiction, fantasy, nonfiction, biography...pretty much anything I could get my hands on. 

But even though I don't have a favorite-favorite book, one of my most beloved childhood reads was The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. It was the abridged (bowdlerized) version published in the 1980s that edited out most of the overtly racist, imperialistic passages from Lofting's original book published in the 1920s. 

The book begins when a young boy, Tommy, finds an injured squirrel. Tommy meets Doctor Dolittle who can talk to animals and is able to treat the squirrel. With the help of a parrot named Polynesia, Tommy learns how to understand animal languages and becomes a sort of apprentice to Doctor Dolittle. Together, Tommy and the Doctor go on voyage both above and below the sea.

Even all these years later, I can remember the feeling of delight I had while reading this book. I can clearly see the influence of the fanciful adventures in my own writing now. It was whimsical, but not juvenile. Tommy was a curious and caring main character, often times taking charge when Doctor Dolittle got too distracted. Despite not having a favorite book, I do have a favorite character in this book, and it's not Tommy. My favorite was Polynesia the Parrot. She's very witty, smart, and cranky.

As much as I loved this book, I wouldn't recommend it to kids today without lots of guidance and discussion. It's so steeped in the attitudes of its time that even substantial editing can't remove that worldview entirely. Part of growing up is leaving things behind, and this book is one that stays on the bookshelf of the past for me. 

 

A.M. Morgen
Flaming Pants

One of the more distressing aspects of suddenly becoming guardian to my young ward is the lies. So many lies. The depth and breadth of the lies a parent must tell are astounding.

I lie constantly to her about matters big and small – the origin of her Christmas presents, the destination of her lost teeth, the reason why she can’t have a toy, and, worst of all, that everything will be okay.

Of course, I was told many of the same lies during my childhood. I hold no grudges against the liars – except one. Roald Dahl, the author of some of my favorite books. He told a lie in The BFG that has haunted me to this day.

Here is the lie: That human beings are the only animals that kill their own kind.

The BFG excerpt

I believed this lie for many years. I thought that human beings were monsters, unprecedented in the animal kingdom. But of course, this is not true. Chimpanzees wage wars against other tribes and kill rivals in gruesome ways. Animals of all species kill their own young. Bees kill each other within the same hive. Human murders are the rule, not the exception.

As a reader, I despise deliberate untruths in books. As an author, do I now have a greater responsibility not to lie to my readers? I believe so. And yet, there are lies throughout THE INVENTORS. They may be necessary for the plot, but they are lies nevertheless. The first lie is that Ada Byron did not build a working airplane. Even if she had, her mother would never have let her take it on a trip without supervision.

I don’t know if it’s possible to write a fictional book that tells only the truth. No one is perfect, after all. However, I will catalogue the lies in THE INVENTORS somewhere so that readers will know what of the book is not historically accurate. As for the lies I tell as a parent, I have no doubt that one day when my young ward is a mother with her own children, she will tell the same ones.

 

 

A.M. Morgen