Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Finding and Hiding Easter Eggs by Andy Scheer
Yes, Easter eggs—but not the kind in pastel colors.
I first encountered the metaphoric term from my son, who majored in college in “electronic game design and development.” It seems that creators of computer games often include surprise bonus material, hidden messages, or insider jokes—“Easter eggs.”
A couple weeks ago, driving across Kansas and listening to the audio version of the adventure novel “Arctic Drift” by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler, a couple such eggs distracted my driving.
As they tried to find the Maguffin, the story's characters encountered a century-old journal by arctic explorer Stuart Leuthner. Easter egg! As a member of a group that collects Cussler's books, I recognized Leuthner as the art director of a lifestyle magazine for people who appreciate high-end wristwatches. In the pages of the magazine he occasionally writes about Clive Cussler's rare autos.
Several chapters later another Easter egg surfaced. The commander of a submarine traveling under the ice was none other than Barry Campbell—another member of the collector's group. In real life he's a former arctic submariner and now a voice actor for audio books.
Belonging to the collector's group gives me insider information. So in the book “Corsair” I recognized that the name of the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Mideast Affairs was the same as the wife of the group's founder.
Occasionally all that's needed to find Easter eggs is just careful reading. In Cussler's “Dirk Pitt” series, almost every book includes a character named Leigh Hunt who gets killed off in the prologue. Turns out there really was a Leigh Hunt—a longtime friend and former neighbor of the author.
If you've ever visited the website of author Ace Collins, you can't miss the photos of him with his two classic autos: a 1936 Cord and a 1934 Auburn. But if readers bypass his website and jump directly into his suspense novels “Farraday Road” and “Swope's Ridge,” they may not realize the antique cars the protagonist drives are vehicles the author actually owns.
I suspect most fictional Easter eggs remain hidden, known only to the author or a close circle of associates. Too obvious and they're counterproductive—distracting readers from the storyworld.
But every novel demands dozens of characters and locations, most of which need a name. If ordinary readers won't get distracted—and your family members, friends, and neighbors will still speak to you after the book is published—why not?
In the case of “Farraday Road, ” Collins had to give his crime scene a name. In a series of emails we exchanged about his books and his cars, he mentioned he was a big fan of the old time radio detective series “Boston Blackie.” And in that program a recurring antagonist just happened to be a policeman named Inspector Farraday. Eggs-actly!