Friday, May 09, 2008

Pop Culture in Fiction

Okay, first of all, because Alice is gone and she didn't get a chance to share, I'm doing it for her. She sent me the new cover for her August 2008 release, BODYGUARD FATHER, and I want you all to see it. If you scroll down, you'll find it in the "coming soon" section as well, just below her July release, which is connected. I love that these two connected books have very similar covers. Isn't it gorgeous?

********

On to my post...

Speaking of Alice The Great, Wed. night she saved my bacon (yet again...you're da bomb, Alice) and helped me work through a section of my revisions. You see, I LOVE to add in popular culture bits in my books. I think it's fun and that it gives readers a way to connect with the characters on a more "real" level. So I'm always looking for a way to sneak a short reference to pop culture in somewhere.

One of the things my editor asked me to do in revisions for my first book, STOLEN FURY, was beef up a secondary character who ends up being the hero in the next book, STOLEN HEAT. So in a scene I added, this guy's sitting at his desk (he owns an antiquities gallery) reviewing an inventory list of his holdings. He gets to the last page and stops cold because it's a list of all the Egyptian pieces he's collected over the years. You see, years ago, he fell in love with an Egyptologist and she ended up dying and he was partially responsible. Over the years, in his guilt, he's been collecting Egyptian pieces and shoving them in storage. He has no intention of selling them or even looking at them, but even he realizes it's turning into an out of control obsession, and though the goal was to originally feel closer to her, it's taking him farther away.

Now, the pop culture reference came in because as I was writing this, I saw an analogy. Mel Gibson's character in Conspiracy Theory. He couldn't walk past a copy of Catcher in the Rye without buying it. And that's what my hero was doing - in a sense. I considered using that pop culture reference, and mentioned it to Alice. The problem with this, however, is two-fold. One, Conspiracy Theory is an old movie from the 90's. Will many people remember it? if so, does it date me? And two, considering all the flack surrounding Mel Gibson, will the reference to him turn off readers? Of course, I don't want to turn off readers, so that's something to take into consideration.

As it turned out, I think I got the point across without the pop culture reference, so in this case it wasn't needed, but that doesn't mean pop culture references are taboo. I love reading them in books and though some may say you should avoid mentioning them, movies and TV characters live forever. Laura Ingalls Wilder will always have braids as far as I'm concerned and Indiana Jones will always be the sexiest archaeologist I ever saw. In my mind, references don't necessarily date books but give you a way to identify so long as you pick references that span several years and aren't fads that come and go.

In the last scene of the paranormal I just sent my agent, the "mentor" is talking to the hero, who's wavering on his duties and being the man he wants to be vs being the one he's afraid to be. At one point she says to him, "This is your Star Wars moment. Stand up and do what you were born to do." I love this line for two reasons. One, who doesn't love Star Wars, know it and identify with it? And two, this line is particularly touching for me because when I was considering running for president of our chapter, Alice muttered almost the same exact thing to me. So now you all can blame her for my being president ;) But seriously, it did help me decide what I wanted to do, and I will never forget it.

I'm curious. Do you use pop culture references in your books? If so, can you give an example? If not, how come?

8 comments:

Lisa Pulliam said...

Ummm I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure I use them. I love to see them in books too because if I know what it means, it ties me that much closer to the book. I loved some of the references you used in your para, especially the Criss Angel one.

It's also why I love the TV show Family Guy so much. There are two very meaningful aspects of my childhood. The book Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip and the song and video for Take on Me by A-Ha. Both of those made an appearance in Family Guy episodes and sealed my adoration for the show.

On the other hand, I know that pop culture references can put a shelf-life on things. But I don't think that's too important because you want a book to be super popular when it's released and when the references are timely.

Cool topic!

Paty Jager said...

Great blog, Eli.

Well... it's kind of hard to put pop culture into my western historicals. LOL
But I did mention and use a Shania Twain song in Perfectly Good Nanny.

A reference to something pop culture in a book doesn't really matter to me. And as far as the Star Wars stuff- I saw one of the movies, eons ago(when the kids were small) and all I know about the movies I pretty much learned through commercialism and not watching the movies. I'm a really bad person to try and use pop culture with because- I am totally lacking!

Karen Duvall said...

Eli, I love Pop Culture references, too! They're so fun and really make me feel connected with the characters. I'm unfamiliar with the Conspiracy Theory so that reference wouldn't have done anything for me, but I of course know of Mel Gibson.

I was watching a preview for the next episode of Bones when Booth mentions Kelly Clarkson and American Idol to Dr. Brennan. She, being the social and pop culture retard that she is, has no idea what he's talking about. The moment is just precious because it illustrates one of her most endearing traits. And that was just a preview! Very effective.

I use pop culture references quite often. Everything from books and movies to fashion and advertising. A lot of times I make stuff up just to make it different, especially when it comes to fashion. Everyone knows Gucci and Manolo and Versacci; they've become cliche. But how about expensive designer boots from Jose Gutierrez? Fake. But he's my heroine's favorite footwear designer.

As for the real stuff, my heroine makes a lot of references to popular television shows. She watches so much tv because she lives a sheltered life under the thumb of her slave-driving master, a cruel sorcerer who finds any excuse to punish her. She has a hard time lying, so when she remembers the famous saying by George Costanza from Seinfeld -- "It's not a lie if you believe it" -- it literally saves her life.

Fun blog, Eli! 8^)

Alice Sharpe said...

LOL, Eli, thanks for putting the second book cover up for me. I'm glad you like it, too.

As for being responsible for your being president ... when exactly will I live that down? I'd like a date, please.

I like pop references. I read a lot of mysteries, however, and since mysteries can have a very long shelf life, I've noticed the references are timely without being exact. I like the way Karen made up a designer shoe. I think a Star Wars reference is now part of American lexicon and is timeless -- except to Paty.

As for me, I don't think I use many. My characters are always on the run it seems, so they wear a lot of jeans. A woman might put on a cashmere sweater or a soft yellow dress with a skirt that wraps around her legs when the wind blows, but I don't go into specifics of cuts and makes. I mean there are always going to be swirly yellow dresses, right?

As for pop references -- they don't bother me at all to read but I don't use them either, not that I can think of anyway. I like literary references, too, even when I'm not positive what they mean -- I'll go look it up if it intrigues me enough. When I think of this subject, I think of Sex in the City and Disney, both big on product placement and pop references.

I saw the ad for Bones, too, Karen, and that is a cute line.

Neat blog, Eli. And Lori -- you were right about the refinishing floors and the dust and chemicals smells and whatever else you said or didn't say and someone else said -- ack!

Genene Valleau said...

Very interesting topic, Eli! I guess I could argue either side of this question.

I try to avoid specific popular culture references in my books even though they are contemporaries. At least so far. :)

In SONGS OF THE HEART, the hero and heroine met fifteen years before the story starts. However, it took me fourteen years to rewrite and rewrite and sell the story. If I had put in specific references to popular culture when they first met, those references would have been thirty years old by the time I sold the book. Soooo, from that experience I decided to be really careful about what references to popular culture I put in.

However, I did watch the Star Wars movies when they first came out and they have become classics, so most people understand what you mean when you refer to them. However, ask me about current TV shows and movies and I haven't much of a clue. I haven't watched TV for years and rarely make it to the movies. Yeah, in that area, I'm pretty much like that clueless character, only it's probably not an endearing trait for me.

I really like Karen's idea of making up your own popular cultural references. You could start an entire new trend that way.

Do pop culture references in books make me put the book down? It depends. Like other things in writing, if it's well done and feels like a natural part of the story, great.

Hey, Alice, when are you coming back from the coast? Should be nice to have beautiful floors once again!

Genene Valleau said...

Very interesting topic, Eli! I guess I could argue either side of this question.

I try to avoid specific popular culture references in my books even though they are contemporaries. At least so far. :)

In SONGS OF THE HEART, the hero and heroine met fifteen years before the story starts. However, it took me fourteen years to rewrite and rewrite and sell the story. If I had put in specific references to popular culture when they first met, those references would have been thirty years old by the time I sold the book. Soooo, from that experience I decided to be really careful about what references to popular culture I put in.

However, I did watch the Star Wars movies when they first came out and they have become classics, so most people understand what you mean when you refer to them. However, ask me about current TV shows and movies and I haven't much of a clue. I haven't watched TV for years and rarely make it to the movies. Yeah, in that area, I'm pretty much like that clueless character, only it's probably not an endearing trait for me.

I really like Karen's idea of making up your own popular cultural references. You could start an entire new trend that way.

Do pop culture references in books make me put the book down? It depends. Like other things in writing, if it's well done and feels like a natural part of the story, great.

Hey, Alice, when are you coming back from the coast? Should be nice to have beautiful floors once again!

Genene Valleau said...

P.S. to Alice, love both of the covers for your upcoming releases! CONGRATULATIONS! You are really getting beautiful covers.

Paty Jager said...

PS: Alice, Forgot to say I like your latest cover! Very nice!