We welcome to the blog today science fiction and fantasy writer, J. Kathleen Cheney. In honor of yesterday’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” she’s posted a free pirate story. You can get it here, or get it through Smashwords here. The Smashwords version also has the shorts "Masks of War" and "Fleurs du Mal."
J. Kathleen Cheney is a former teacher and has taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, with a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. She is a member of SFWA, RWA, and Broad Universe. Her works have been published in Jim Baen's Universe, Writers of the Future, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fantasy Magazine, among others.
When not writing, she likes to don a mask and get sweaty fencing, both foil and saber, or put on her Wellingtons and get her hands dirty in the garden. Quieter hobbies include quilting and taking care of her husband and dogs–big hairy dogs.
Take it away J. Kathleen...
Back in college, I read C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine books. One of the things I loved about them was my perception that the author didn’t feel the need to supply me with extensive backstory about Morgaine. Instead, she left most of the woman’s history to my imagination.
I read those books many times and, through those readings, my brain collected a series of small tidbits about her relationship to a long-deceased character: Chan. She called him ‘the dearest of my companions’, she recognized a piece of jewelry that might have been his at one time, and what was with that ring she traded away? Never in those books did Cherryh have Morgaine say anything conclusive about Chan, and the POV character, Vanye, never knew Chan.
But as a reader, I felt like I’d found an Easter Egg, a hidden bit of information that only the slickest of readers would have caught.
In reality though, that may not be the case. In reality, there are several ways the author may have approached this:
- The author put all those little hints in so that the wise reader would figure out the truth.
- The author put in those little tidbits randomly. Perhaps they were a subconscious expression of what she knew the backstory to be, but she never had the clear intention of supplying it to the reader.
- The author had some random details in there which didn’t mean anything. The reader is reading into the story what they want to see. (Rather like hearing my white-noise machine talking to me.)
Well, it depends on whether the perceived Easter Egg was intentional. I’ve included two Easter Eggs in my current WIP, one that foreshadows information in Book 2, and one that will open out in Book 3. I believe I included enough information in the book to make the inferences, but I have to accept that most of my readers (who won’t read my story over and over again) will miss the Easter Eggs completely. Nevertheless, some won’t , and we’ll have a little secret we can share together. Ooh!
But what about the Easter Egg that’s case # 2 or 3?
I’ve had this happen to me before. Readers have seen a deeper secret in my lines that, um… I didn’t put there. Readers like to do this. But sometimes, as Richard Adams said, it’s just a bunch of stories about rabbits.
For example, I once wrote the tale of the transformation of a young English seaman. By the end of the story, he’s become a pirate. The supposed Easter Egg? Well, I named that character Jonas Davies. And almost immediately readers told me that I’d written the origin story of Davy Jones. In actuality, though, I’d used filler names while writing the story and only selected final names after it was complete. I chose the surname Davies because it was the surname of the captain of the Dulce Bella in Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands. Since that was a Welsh surname, I needed a given name to go with it. I was then watching Season 6 of Stargate SG-1, which includes a new character named…Jonas. I liked the character, so I stole his name and slapped it onto my Lieutenant Davies.
One of my first readers contacted me and told me the name was brilliant! I thanked her politely, but had no idea what she meant. It took me 3 days to figure it out. I was amused and decided to leave the name in the story. So was that #2 or #3? Did I subconsciously set out to write a Davy Jones story? I’m sure I didn’t--the date is wrong. (Davy Jones appears in literature as early as 1750, but my story was set about 1825.)
The truth of the matter is that, as a writer, I can’t control what readers find when they read my story. I can intentionally put in an Easter Egg, but have to accept that most readers won’t look under the shrubs for it. If I don’t hide any Easter Eggs, I have to understand that there are some readers who will find the darn things anyway…and I need to be polite when they congratulate me on my supposed cleverness.