Nicknames, Easter Eggs, and the Joy - Dundurn
Oct 05, 2022

Nicknames, Easter Eggs, and the Joy

I’ve always been one to recount tales using descriptive character nicknames. I always did it with my tongue firmly in cheek, but at some point, realized that descriptive but corny character names aren’t "too much", and in fact are often overlooked, yet they describe subliminally. A lot of beloved stories use a similar technique. I mean, good heavens, George Lucas made billions out of the most cornball character names. Skywalker? Yeesh.

One of my major characters in The Vicars Knickers has a nickname, and he’s very proud of it. Ross Poutine is a former Montrealer, with a body odour problem that makes him smell like a goat. I took from history a similarly scraggly character, Rasputin, and adapted it into Ross Poutine. No one has ever seen my character in real life, but they’ve seen a picture of the mad Russian monk. One glance at a tintype of him practically imparts his smell.

Not as wry, but hopefully every bit as illustrative, is C. Jacqueline O’Neil, known to all as Jacquie O. My hope was that the name would sketch her approximate look, and I could tweak from that foundation.

I have used a character name that might be too obscure, even for me, but I went with it because it made me snicker. My character ‘Chief Hank Wheat’, a retired sailor, is stout, beefy, powerful. If the reader is willing to wade into the weeds to find the hidden meaning… Hank = Henry, Wheat = Huit (Eight in French). He looks like Henry VIII. About as clear as mud, arguably ridiculous, and a total delight to me. I figure if you can’t chuckle while you’re writing humour, you might be missing the point.

The name of character Ann Tenna was inspired by women I have met whose married names are jarringly ‘non-musical, perhaps along the lines of Aphrodite Yablonski, or the like. I composed a long passage that explained the evolution of Ann’s name and painted her as the last person you’d expect to be receptive to the supernatural. But of course, in the end, she is more than receptive, a real antenna in fact. I do love a good ol’ yuk now and then. It is one of the few advantages of getting older. 

The character Handlanger, a minion of a nefarious gossip columnist, was given his name after a pretty thorough brainstorming session. I wanted to capture the flavour of a Bond villain’s henchman – not too finely drawn but with a menacing sounding handle. I thought of ‘Vargas’ – ‘Vargas does not drink, Vargas does not make love… What does Vargas do?’ I eventually used my kindergarten level German skills to come up with Handlanger, which quite literally means ‘minion’ in Deutsch. It sounded right, and so another aptronym was born.

As I release the second book in The Mildly Catastrophic Misadventures of Tony Vicar, The Vicar’s Knickers, and I chop away at number three, I am finding myself more comfortable leaving multiple layers of Easter eggs for the reader, not only kooky names, but historical references, winks to older, more established literature, and occasional turns of phrase or unique scenarios that are universal but are meant with one specific person in mind. My hope is that everyone finds a few, gets a laugh, and my most hidden ones gleam out to the people that they were meant for. Getting my books out into the world is, after all, a great joy to me, and I want to share it.

Spotify Playlist

I have compiled a list of music that serves as a soundtrack to my new novel, The Vicar’s Knickers, and gives a bit of colour and background to the story. Some of the songs listed are mentioned in the text and so are included here, but others are pieces that I thought captured a mood or a moment, to give readers the gist. Some songs are throwback, because the story time-jumps, occasionally, to 1970.

I hope it fills in some detail for any readers interested in that sort of immersive experience. This was most enjoyable, and I have discovered that finding the right song for any moment is harder than it seems. I hope you enjoy it and laugh along with me!

Warning: Eclectic as all get-out. If you have violent reactions to variety, steer clear of this playlist.

1) Everything is Beautiful – Ray Stevens - Prologue – Valentine listens happily to the song on his transistor radio as he blithely gorges on the fried chicken that will kill him.
2) Time – Pink Floyd – As Cosmic Ray hoovers so much pot that he loses his lunch outdoors and then vanishes into the night, Vicar and Farley are concerned but forget all about him when a party-goer puts on a half-speed master LP of Dark Side of the Moon. The theme of shifting and malleable time is established here and reappears throughout the book.
3) Margaritaville – Jimmy Buffet – Vicar sees the faux road sign reading ‘Margaritaville’ in the beer parlour of the Agincourt hotel, about to be gutted and turned into the Vicar’s Knickers Public House. The sign reminds him of the song, which reminds him of stark, uninspiring, even depressing thoughts. He loathes the piece. As do I, coincidentally.
4) Saturday Night’s All Right (For Fighting) – Elton John – This is the piece that Vicar, Farley and Pat Horrigan butcher when playing a gig. The ad hoc musical group is called Horrigan’s Heroes, but poor Farley misspells the poster to read ‘Horrrigan’s Herpes’. Horrigan, the keyboardist, only seems to want to play Elton John songs (some for the 40th straight year) and Vicar, on guitar, has lost heart, interest, and all focus. The event is a musical disaster.
5) You’re So Vain – Carly Simon – Yet another song title scrambled by Vicar for ‘comedic’ purposes – He lampoons it as ‘Yerrr so vein, you prolly think this song is an art’ry’. He is sure he’s hilarious.
6) Barracuda – Heart – Richard X Dick’s theme. A barracuda if there ever was one, this muck-racking gossip journalist brings nothing but ill will and bad tidings to Tyee Lagoon.
7) The Lonely Goatherd – Julie Andrews – Ann Tenna’s Theme. She is, after all, Ross Poutine’s girlfriend, the man who smells so strongly of goat that most presume he has many living right in his home. Ann Tenna is so diametrically opposite to the wholesome perfection of Julie Andrews that I immediately begin to laugh when I put the song in that context.
8) Henry the VIII, I Am – Herman’s Hermits – Theme of Chief Hank Wheat, the retired Naval Chief Petty Officer. Punnish code-breakers will no doubt discern that Hank is Henry, and Wheat is Huit (Eight, en Francaise). Ergo, Hank looks like Henry VIII. The song is almost the quintessential pub singalong, so it fits well for this sturdy character in his favourite place, The Knickers.
9) The Great Pretender – Freddie Mercury - Beaner Weens Theme – A little bit of kitsch under the scene that shows Beaner in his moose costume for the first time.
10) Dream Weaver – Gary Wright – Theme for Cosmic Ray, whose entire life seems to be half dream, and who feels summoned by a nightmare to return to Tyee Lagoon and Tony Vicar, to right the wrong he believes he has done.
11) God Bless the Child – Annie Lennox – Song to accompany the arrival of the infant, abandoned on the doorstep on a blizzardy Valentine’s Day.
12) Starry, Starry Night – Lianne La Havas – A beautiful piece that illustrates Vicar’s internal changes after the appearance of the baby, who they decide to name Frankie.
13) Call Me – Mia Sheard – A tortured and melancholy song that illustrates to us a part, but only a part, of the mind of Serena, the most dangerous woman Vicar has ever known.
14) King of Pain – Some musical background on Richard X Dick, an unhappy man driven to evil. Not a killer, but willing to capture murder on video.
15) 2112: Overture / The Temples of Syrinx / Discovery – Rush – This gives you a pretty good sense of what Vicar wanted for Hospital Fish, his ridiculous band. You might want to jump through this one on fast-forward!
16) Burning Love – Elvis Presley – Live at the Honolulu International Center – The arson, the hotel fire, the panic.
17)  Sleep Now in the Fire – Rage Against the Machine – Live at the Grand Olympic Auditorium – Los Angeles, CA, September 2000 - The RESCUE. Intense, exhausting.
18) Shock the Monkey – Remastered – Peter Gabriel – Vicar discovers who was responsible for starting the fire.
19) Home Boys Home – Shanneyganock – Chief Wheat knows what he’s fighting for…
20) Cry Me a River – Julie London – Protestations of innocence by the journalist/arsonists fall on unsympathetic ears. Vicar and Chief Wheat have taken their pound of flesh and are unrepentant.
21) Dance With Me – The Proclaimers – The aftermath of the fire, and the feeling of love and sense of family that washes over Vicar as he surveys his post-disaster life.
22) Talk to Me – Rock & Hyde – The memory of Frankie Hall, her ashes vanishing into the sea, but her memory as real as the voice in Vicar’s head.

Vince R. Ditrich is the author of The Liquor Vicar as well as the drummer and manager of the band Spirit of the West. He has circled the world, earned more than a dozen gold and platinum albums, and been enshrined in several Halls of Fame. Vince lives on Vancouver Island. Learn more here.