Showing posts with label in-jokes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label in-jokes. Show all posts

06 July 2013

For Your Amusement Only

by John M. Floyd

Just over a year ago, Rob Lopresti's story "Shanks Commences" appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Besides being a delightful whodunit, Rob's story was even more fun for those of us who were once his co-columnists at the Criminal Brief mystery blog. Why? Because we were characters in his story.

If you didn't see that story, let me explain: Rob gave our names to seven of the main characters in his mystery. He probably enjoyed writing it that way, and we darn sure enjoyed reading it. (Thankfully, the guy with my name didn't turn out to be the murderer.)

This was of course not the first time an author has included friends, family, colleagues, or others in his or her fiction. Bestsellers Nelson DeMille and Elmore Leonard have even turned it into a way to raise money for noble causes. DeMille's most recent novels featured characters with the full names of dozens of real people who, in return for the honor of seeing themselves in his books, made generous donations to charity. Leonard's fans have done the same via auctions.

Namedropping

The first time I used a real person's name for a fictional character was in a story in AHMM called "The Bomb Squad," years ago. At the time I was working with a consultant named Dan Wellborn on a project at a local bank. Dan and I both enjoyed books and movies, and since we had probably spent as much time talking about fictional matters as about work-related matters, I allowed a police chief named Wellborn to head up the city's PD in that story. I got a chuckle out of it, Dan liked it, and I suspect that no one else noticed or cared. It was just an easy way to surprise (and amuse, I hope) a fellow mystery reader.

A few months ago, I needed a name for a fictional island in a story which is featured in the current issue of The Strand Magazine. (Or at least it's supposed to be; I haven't seen the issue yet.) My fellow writer Larry Chavis came to mind, so the boat on which my two main characters meet became the Chavis Island Ferry. I went on to mention the name several more times in the story, even though--once again--I doubt anyone noticed. But I had a good time with it, mostly because it was just fun to insert something real into something imaginary. And to those who might know Larry and know about our friendship, I hope it served as sort of a private joke, a signal that fiction is not, after all, something to be taken too seriously. Like Hitchcock and his cameos.

Even more recently, I included in a Woman's World story an English teacher named Teresa Garver, who is a real person and a good friend although she lives a thousand miles away. Teresa is not really an English teacher but she is an avid fan of WW mysteries--she e-mailed me afterward to say that discovering her part in the story delighted her. (I think she told everyone she knew to go out and buy a copy of the magazine.) The fact that it pleased her made it worth the effort.

For friends' eyes only

Have any of you been the subject of this approach to naming characters or places? Do you approve of it? Have any of you writers used the names of relatives or acquaintances in this way? If so, what were the reactions of the real-life people who experienced the "identity theft"? 

There are probably writers and readers who feel that doing this is silly at best and unprofessional at worst. Their argument would be that it might "suspend disbelief" a bit too much, and distract the reader from the story. That is indeed a risk--but I don't think it's a big one. It's especially harmless if the name you use isn't well known, and/or if the author using it (like me) isn't well known, and/or if the reference is not too obvious, and/or if the story's mood is lighthearted anyway.

On a larger scale . . .

As I'm sure you know, movies and TV shows do this kind of thing all the time, usually as an in-joke. Examples:

- In the recent film Jack Reacher, the cop who gives Reacher back his personal belongings when he gets out of jail is his creator: author Lee Child.

- The seaplane that rescues Indiana Jones from the headhunters in Raiders of the Lost Ark (three years after Star Wars) has the letters OB-CPO printed on its side.


- Sean Connery delivers the very same reply ("But of course you are") in three different movies: Diamonds Are ForeverRising Sun, and The Rock.

- A small replica of R2D2 can be seen welded to the back of the mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- The teddy bear that Alec Baldwin is holding near the end of The Hunt for Red October (a film by John McTiernan) is the same one that Bruce Willis is holding at the beginning of Die Hard (the next film by John McTiernan).

- In the Bond movie Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan is seen browsing through a book called Birds of the West Indies, which was written by ornithologist James Bond (and which Ian Fleming said was the source of his secret agent's name).

- In an episode of The Avengers shortly after the release of Goldfinger, John Steed receives a postcard from his former colleague Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman, who later played Pussy Galore). The postcard is from Fort Knox.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- In His Girl Friday, Cary Grant mentions a guy named Archie Leach, which was Grant's real name.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom begins in a Japanese nightspot called Club Obi-Wan.

- In The Last Stand, when sheriff Arnold Schwarzenegger's group is gathering weapons from an armory to confront the bad guys, one of his deputies holds up the same broad sword that Ahhhnald used in Conan the Barbarian.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Danny Glover appears for a moment as a bank robber in the movie Maverick, and he and Mel Gibson exchange a surprised look before the film continues.


I can't speak for all moviegoers, but I love it when things like that happen (which is often), and when I'm alert enough to catch them (which is not often). There are of course many such examples, and I'd like to hear from you about others.

Guilty pleasures

As for stories and novels, the fact that I can occasionally use something that's real and outside the bounds of the story in a piece of fiction that I create . . . well, at times the temptation can be hard to resist. At the very least, it's a way that I can fool myself into thinking I'm doing something subtle and playful and clever.

It's also another way to keep this whole writing thing from being boring--to the reader or the writer.

Anybody out there want to be in my next story?