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!


Rick Barry said...

I suspect you're correct about such insider jokes occurring more often than any of us realizes. Another spin on the name game comes from some authors who offer to name a character in their upcoming novel after a contest winner, or after a donor to some particular charity. It's always fun for the author, but occasionally an astute reader can get in on the humor.

Linda Glaz said...

Hmm, if it adds to the mystery, I'm all for hunting for "eggs".

Terry Burns said...

I've done the name bit before as a fundraiser for the scholarship fund of a writing conference. But more common after I named a character for one of my cousins is family members wanting to be in a book, is other family members wanting their turn. I only use the first name, of course, and make it clear that the character will not resemble them in any way but will only be a namesake. One of my cousins ( a preachers kid) asked if her character could be a prostitute. I nearly fell down laughing, but told her sorry there was no prostitute in the story.

Davalyn Spencer said...

While reading Randy Ingermanson's Double Vision, I felt like an "insider" at the mention of a certain neighbor in the book who was a writer with a scholarly wife and specific breed of dog. I knew that Ingermanson had included himself and his family in the book because I had read tidbit information on his website--and heard him teach at several conferences.

I also remember Frank Peretti admitting that Tal in his Darkness novels was the name of a good friend.

Fun discoveries.

Katherine Hyde said...

Not sure if this qualifies as Easter eggs, but I love discovering characters from other (non-series) books by the same author. Madeleine L'Engle did this a lot, for example, using characters from her Austins series in the Murry/O'Keeffe stories and vice versa. It's like running into an old friend you haven't seen in years. I'm doing that a little in my own books.

Jeanette Levellie said...

What fun! And when you recognize the name, it makes you feel special.

I had the opposite of fun happen to me recently when a friend named a character in her newest novel "Jeanette." I got excited until I read further, discovering that the character was impatient and rude. Ouch!

Timothy Fish said...

I never really thought of them as Easter eggs, but on my first novel I spelled “Mom” with the first letters of each paragraph on the back cover. And for my last book, the publication date is my mother’s birthday. But I hesitate to put real people in there.