Easter Eggs

I was reading a status update from the wonderful Jeff Mann the other day, and he mentioned that Travis, the fantastic character from his YA/NA novel Cub makes an appearance in his upcoming novel about a gay country singer. I said something about loving Easter Eggs like that, and it led to a fun conversation.

I’ve always called those little throwbacks to other novels Easter Eggs after the same idea in television, movies, video games, and computer programs. The basic premise is this: they’re a little detail or a character or some other “nod” to another work. They can be tiny and unimportant or significant and plot-related, but they’ve always struck me as a small reward for readers, too.

I love them. I love finding them, recognizing them, and – as a writer – I love including them.

I generally approach Easter Eggs from two directions. One is the more direct route, and I admit it’s also a crutch for something that always gives me difficulty when I’m writing: character names. A significant majority of my characters, whether they be in short story format, or my novels, are in fact named after people I know, or “know” online. I have an entire album on my author Facebook page devoted to pictures of the pages where those character names appear. When my trick of looking up name meanings to have the character names suit some part of their personality or plot-point fails, I often post something on Facebook along the lines of, “who wants to be a vampire snack?”

Yep. High qualifications to get name-dropped in my work, I tell you.

On one notable occasion, I misread a submission deadline date, reversing numbers. I was – I thought – well ahead of deadline when I went back to the page to see what formatting the editors would prefer the document to be in when I saw the deadline was not weeks away, but hours. I hadn’t named a single character in the entire story. Everyone was still [Sister] or [Husband] or [Doctor]. In a near panic, I wrote down the names of every current employee I had at the bookstore where I worked at the time, and it worked out to fill every character naming need. I even used the bookstore as a surname for the main character. When that story was accepted, that little naming anecdote became my go-to introduction to the story whenever I get to do a reading from This is How You Die.

Oddly enough, the staff were really open to trying to hand-sell that book, come to think of it.

I also hat-tip to other authors like crazy, especially authors I adore or who inspire me on a near daily basis. I’ve named characters after many of my author friends, and sometimes there’s a little “extra” inside joke there, too, if it makes sense. I may or may not have named a character after Michael Thomas Ford and had a misunderstanding about the character’s potential clown fetish. If you’ve met Michael Thomas Ford, or have seen his feed on Facebook, you won’t find that as odd as it may sound.

The second type of Easter Egg is a little more involved, and is an Easter Egg more in line with the media version: you can blink and miss it, or if you didn’t already know the connection, it won’t really come across as one. I have a few staples – there’s a small chain of fictional coffee shops in my various stories set in Ottawa called Bittersweets, and a few scenes have happened in one of those shops in my novel, Light, as well as in more than one short story. I actually have an idea bubbling in my head for a story set that features the coffee shop, too, and if I do, I’m pretty sure I’ll pepper the customers that may walk through the door from various other tales.

I named a seedy bar the Brass Rail as a tip of the hat to Greg Herren‘s awesome mysteries – he told me once it’s his “go-to” name for a bar, and I was writing a mystery for the first time to submit to Men of the Mean Streets, which he was co-editing.

One of my most purposeful Easter Eggs was to have Kieran, my hero in Light, go to an author reading during pride week and pick up a bunch of books. At one point, he sits down to read, and finds himself lost in a great book about “the joys and plights of a gay man who was getting himself messed up with the mafia by falling for a mafia don’s son.” That’s a shout out to The Night We Met by Rob Byrnes. That book inspired me to try writing seriously, as it was the first gay book I’d ever read that was fun. I wrote a review of that book, which led to an e-mail with Rob, which led me to meeting Timothy James Beck (all four of them) and if it hadn’t been for that, I would never have been published at all.

I could go on and on. I think the Easter Egg thing happens more in series, too; there’s a joke in “Possession” that refers to the set-up in “Three.” As I was writing Triad Blood, I was well aware I was building on something that already had four stories worth of “canon” to work with, and it was quite enjoyable. Oh, and there’s also a reference in the novel (and one of the stories) to the aforementioned Jeff Mann, come to think of it, to bring this back to where the conversation started.

So, do you write Easter Eggs into your work? How purposefully? And what have been your favourites, whether in your own work or the work of others?

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