Monday, August 25, 2014

Easter Eggs

I don’t know Nic Pizzalatto, so I didn’t use the Easter egg defense in my comments about the True Detective plagiarism controversy. It might be 180 degrees off base. In fact, it probably is. So, never mind about that. There you go. Shortest blog post ever.

“What are Easter eggs?” you ask? (Yeah, you did. Don’t try to deny it now that it looks like I’m going to go into something and you’re afraid people will blame you. I promise I won’t say any more than I have to, if that.) Easter eggs are little bits, often humorous, (hopefully) always entertaining, that are dropped into a story like inside jokes. The secret to an Easter egg is, those who don’t get the joke should not be aware of it, and their understanding of what has been written must not be diminished. It’s strictly a bonus to someone on the inside.

I don’t like to use my own stuff as examples, but I don’t have the time to do a lot of research. Grind Joint has several. The Chinese restaurant where Doc and Nick eat lunch is called Lee Ho Fuk’s. Fans of Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London got a smile. Everyone else thought it was the name of the Chinese joint. It had to be called something. (I needed a storefront Chinese place for a gag I wanted to use. Most Chinese restaurants have names like, “House of Peking Choice,” and “Happy Garden”, or “Hunan Pleasure,” so you can’t tell by the name whether it’s a restaurant or a whorehouse. So, Lee Ho Fuk’s. Which actually suffers from the same problem, but at least it’s funny.)

About once in a PI book I’ll make mention of people who are “nibbling” drinks. I’ve only ever seen that term in Raymond Chandler’s work. Using it is my bow—my homage—to Chandler. Chandler’s characters also sometimes “used” their drinks. So do mine. If you catch it and recognize it, good for you. If not, context makes the meaning perfectly clear.

It’s yet to be proven, but I believe the conscientious and judicious use of Easter eggs can help to create reader loyalty. If some subset of readers are getting the obscure references, there may be a bit of a bond there. I believe this because I’ve seen it work on a micro level.

A friend, a former employer of mine, called one evening. The first words out of his mouth were, “You immortalized me!” I asked what he was talking about, and he had the Grind Joint page number at the ready. The sentence that set him off was:  Showed like he spent his days talking you into the Impala instead of the Cobalt, or explaining why ventless dryers were the big thing. My friend sells ventless dryers, he knew I wrote that for him, and he was right. It made his day. Mine, too, after he called.

There’s a scene in Grind Joint where Nick Forte chases a bad guy through the woods:
Benny knew these woods better, but Nick knew enough. They’d played here as kids. Army and cowboys, practiced their Scout trailblazing skills when it seemed to them the trees went on forever and getting back wasn’t a foregone conclusion. A mound of dirt might be the foxhole they’d dug, parapet and firing step and all. Benny and Russell’s old tree house was off to the left somewhere.
That prompted a call from my brother. His family had read the book, but he told them they couldn’t appreciate that scene quite as much as he did—no one could—because it described things he and I had done as kids. (The whole climactic scene of Grind Joint takes place at my parents’ house and yard, and the woods behind. Nothing was made up, though a couple of things were re-arranged as needed.)

So, if you’re lucky, Easter eggs may allow you to bond with a few readers who will get the inside joke, so they might want to keep reading to spot the next one. Worst case, no one but you and a few select friends care. Even then, no damage has been done. Those on the outside didn’t miss anything important to the story. They won’t even know they missed anything at all. The worst that can happen is, you’ll have some fun. You might as well, since you’re not going to make much money.

(Commenter Bonus: A free, signed, copy of Grind Joint will be sent to the first person to identify the Easter egg in this post, not counting those I specifically called out.)

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