Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Where's Waldo?

When I was a kid, I was watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie with my parents when my dad casually mentioned that we were supposed to look for Alfred’s appearance somewhere in the film. I had no idea what he looked like, so I didn’t know what I was looking for, but sure enough, both of my parents noticed him at the same time, so I was pretty sure they were being straight with me. In a couple of future movies, they pointed him out again. I thought that was pretty cool that he made the cameos. It was something unique by which he could be remembered.

This is neither here nor there but I used to enjoy the Where’s Waldo books with my kids. Finding a nerdy guy in a red and white striped shirt shouldn’t have been so difficult. I was with a bunch of eighth graders in Washington, D.C., in Arlington National Cemetery a few years back. We were in the middle of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers when a colleague of mine whispered, “Where’s Waldo?” I temporarily focused my attention in the direction of his head nod, and sure enough, there he was, red and white striped shirt and all, except this Waldo had a big belly, and he was a she, but it didn’t matter because my head nearly exploded as I tried to keep the laughter bottled up inside. 

One book series that I grew to like an awful lot was the Clive Cussler/Dirk Pitt series. I began to notice that Cussler often slipped in a scene in his books where Dirk Pitt ran into an old drifter by the name of Clive Cussler. He always seemed familiar to Dirk when he saw the man, but Pitt could never place where he’d seen him before. 

When I was writing Loving the Rain, I wanted to be unique too, so I began the process—which I continued in each of the Clay and Tanner Thomas books as well as my upcoming time travel adventure, Jumper—inserting a few unique things in each book. For one, each of my books had at least one character with a name very close to a friend of mine. People who know me and my friends would know that. There was a Mr. Henson, a Verne Gilbert, an Eric Haynes, and a Bonnie Webster.

Also, each book mentions one of my favorite authors, and Clive Cussler got to be the first. Skeleton Key and Bulletproof mentioned Harlan Coben and John Grisham. In Jumper, I actually mentioned six of my favorite characters from my favorite authors' books. In Loving the Rain, I started the tradition of including a small animal. A porcupine was a predecessor to an annoying squirrel, a skunk, and finally a small shih tzu. In each book, I have at least one character whose name I have a little fun with. In Loving the Rain, I have two detectives named Hutch and Janski, so I made a dig about Starski and Hutch. Luke Hopper, the police detective in Skeleton Key with copper-colored hair, was nicknamed “Copper,” and most people thought his name was Lew Copper. I had some fun with that. In Bulletproof, my policemen were Butch Casserly and Micky Kidder. I couldn’t help referring to them as Butch Casserly and the Sundance Kidder. I also had Sherman Tankersley who, of course, was as big as a Tank—a Sherman tank—and a Sparrow Nester. In Jumper, Hannah Carpenter moves to Montana, so there was no getting around the Hannah Montana reference, and I also had a little fun with some bouncers named after the Three Stooges. Here’s a scene from Skeleton Key where I had a little fun with the names of two attorneys:


The cold of early December was upon them, so Marshall buttoned up his coat and departed down the street toward Nickel and Sons Attorneys. He stepped into the offices, a few minutes early for his appointment, and found his attorney, Toni Nickel, refilling a cup of coffee in her mug. “Hey, Morty. Come on right in. How’re you doing?”

“When’re you gonna change that sign outside?” Marshall asked. “Don’t you think that when clients come calling that they’ll notice that Oscar Nickel’s ‘sons’ are female? Just ’cause your names are Toni and Andi Nickel doesn’t mean that people aren’t gonna notice you have breasts.”

“Have you ever seen an attorney’s office called ‘Blank and Daughters,’ Morty? How ’bout you, Andi?” she called into her sister’s office. “You ever hear of an attorney’s office with the word daughter in it?”

“Nope,” Andi called back to her sister. 

“We were thinking of changing the name, though, Morty.” She raised her voice so her sister could hear. “How about ‘Daddy/Daughters, Attorneys at Law’? Or ‘Nickel and Double Nickels’?” 

“I like ‘Nickel and Dames,’” Andi called from her office. 

I also always have characters who speak bad grammar, and I make at least one correction in each book. Here’s an excerpt from Bulletproof:  

Clay and Tanner once again walked into the Speedway Gas Station. A female with a badge that said “Connie” was restocking candy. Clay approached her. “Is there any way we could pry Eddie, over there, away from the counter?” Clay pointed his thumb in Eddie’s direction as he spoke. 

“Who are you?” she asked.

“We’d like a few minutes to talk to Eddie about the robbery about a week ago.”

“Are you cops? ’Cause if you’re not, he’s workin’.”

“Is there a manager here?” Tanner asked.

“I’m the assistant manager. Eddie said the cops said not to talk to no one.”

Tanner shook his head sadly and then controlled Connie’s mind. “Well, if he can’t talk to no one, he must be able to talk to someone. I happen to be someone. Tell Eddie someone’s here to talk to him. It’s okay for him to talk to someone, Connie.”

“Eddie, take a break. I’ll cover for ya. Someone’s here to talk to you.”

“And, Connie?” Tanner smiled and pointed to his dad. “This man is nobody. If any cops come here and ask if anyone came to talk to Eddie, don’t tell them someone was here; tell them nobody was here, okay? You can’t remember someone. You’ll only remember that nobody was here.” Tanner was enjoying slinging indefinite pronouns around. 

She went off to work the cash register. Clay smiled at Tanner’s sense of humor. “Do you think Eddie’ll be as weak-minded as Connie was?”

“More’n likely.”

Eddie slowly approached the men. “Who are you?”

“We’d like to talk to you a few minutes, Eddie, about the robbery about a week ago.”

“Are you cops? ’Cause if you’re not, I have work to do.”

“We asked your manager,” Tanner said.

“She ain’t the manager—she’s just the assistant—and the cops said not to talk to no one,” he replied.

Tanner looked at his dad. “Do you think I saw into the future? I’m pretty sure I already had this conversation. Does everyone in Fenton speak in double negatives?” Tanner rolled his eyes and shook his head again and then controlled Eddie’s mind. “You can’t speak to no one, but you can speak to someone. I’m someone. He’s nobody, so don’t concern yourself with him.” He looked at his dad who was shaking his own head with a grin. “Let’s go into the office.”

I figured that even though writing is a fantastic hobby, sometimes it’s just plain hard work. I wanted to have some fun. I assume other authors do the same thing, but whether they do or not, it’s my thing to do--my own Where's Waldo?--and it’s one way for me to get some additional enjoyment from my writing. My writer’s tip for the day is to do something creative and express yourself in a unique way. I’m curious to hear other stories from my blog followers.