The Help Desk: When it comes to autographs, this author is all thumbs

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I’ve published a couple of sci-fi novels — probably nothing you’ve heard of. But every once in a while I’ll do a reading, and then comes the time to sign the books. This always stresses me the fuck out.

Cienna, my handwriting is awful, and my signature is ugly. Every time I sign a copy of my book, I feel like I’m defacing it. I’d probably feel more comfortable if someone handed me my book and asked me to burn it.

I’ve tried to practice my autograph, but that makes me feel like a pretentious jerk and my handwriting just goes back to unreadable anyway. Is there anything I can do about this?

Bob, South Park

Dear Bob,

Perhaps a corpse hand would boost your confidence? Unlike its cruder cousins – the lobster hand and hook for hand – a repurposed corpse hand would complement the mystique of your chosen genre. A writer friend of mine has corpse heels in place of his original ones – they are the consolation prize he won for jumping out of an apartment window onto a school bus because someone dared him to. As far as I can tell, they don't work any better or worse than his original heels but they are now his most popular feature (the parts of him that are alive are swell, too).

I doubt you or your fans would care much about your penmanship if they were given the opportunity to gladhand your corpse hand while earnestly telling you about the subtle inconsistencies they've detected in the worlds you've created. Even just replacing your thumbs for big toes would be a real treat.

So here you go: I dare you to get handsy with a live blender.

If light body modification is beyond the limits of what you're willing to do for your craft, I pity you, but I understand not everyone has what it takes to be successful. If it helps, authors like Kurt Vonnegut and David Sedaris often signed their works with doodles and compliments to their readers instead of signatures, and they seem successful enough.

You could also just bring a pad of ink with you and stamp fans' books with a thumbprint, nullifying the need to write anything at all. That would be novel. It would be more novel if that thumb were also your big toe, but I won't be pushy about it. Your body, your choice.