Why the ‘80s?

courtesy “SNL”/Broadway Video

This is only my third blog post (second if you don’t count my first one, which was basically just an announcement of the blog itself — and the free book! Can’t forget that!), and I’m already beginning to sense a theme: My blog so far has basically served as a FAQ about Danger Peak. Should I scrap the whole blog idea and simply put up a FAQ page? Nah. I’m too lazy to do that (it may not look like it, but it took me weeks to set up this site in the first place), and besides, I still like blogs, 20 years after they were popular.

One of the most frequent questions asked about my book is why it takes place in the 1980s. In fact, a former agent told me I would have trouble selling it with that angle. (And he was right.) To be honest, I didn’t originally intend on having my book take place in any particular decade, but once I started writing it, the story sort of took on a life of its own. So much of this story is based on my childhood, and I happened to grow up in the ‘80s, so every time I wanted to cite a song playing on the radio or a movie the characters went to see or a magazine they were reading, I had the ‘80s on the brain. That’s why you get references to Martika’s “Toy Soldiers,” 1989’s “Batman,” and Nintendo Power. I suppose if I grew up in the ‘60s, the book would be filled with references to The Beatles, bell bottoms, and “Gilligan’s Island.”

Another reason for the ‘80s timeline is that I didn’t want any cell phones, Internet, social media, etc. in this book. So many times when I’m watching a movie or reading a book, especially when it involves kids, and they get into trouble, I think to myself, “Why don’t they just call someone on their cell phone?” (The usual excuse is that they misplaced their phone or their battery died, but c’mon, how many times can that happen?) I didn’t want any modern technology intruding on my world, and once you make that decision, the latest your story can take place is the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, because when the mid-‘90s rolled around, the time I entered college, just about everyone (but me) had a computer in their home, logged into AOL, and checked their email. (Incidentally, I remember how proud I was when I guessed that the “e” in “email” stood for “electronic.”)

An unexpected byproduct of setting the book in the ‘80s was that my creative juices started flowing (ew, that sounded dirty), and I didn’t look back. On top of this, a funny thing happened: As I was writing the book, the ‘80s started getting popular again. I remember pitching an article about ‘80s nostalgia to my editor when I worked at Baltimore City Paper in 2003, and he dismissively sniffed and said, “Pfft, the ‘80s are dead. Once Rhino puts out an ‘80s Greatest Hits CD, the nostalgia train is over.” I remember being mad not necessarily because he shot down my idea but because I knew how incredibly wrong he was. I remember thinking that the ‘80s nostalgia wave barely started, and almost 20 years later, I wasn’t wrong. In just the past few years, we’ve had the following:

  • The ‘80s-set “Stranger Things” is one of the most popular shows on Netflix and will premiere its fourth season later this year.
  • The hugely successful, recent Stephen King film adaptations “IT” and portions of “IT: Chapter Two” were set in the late ‘80s.
  • “Cobra Kai,” the T.V. spinoff of the “Karate Kid” movies from the ‘80s, has had four seasons on Netflix. The last season was the number-one show on Netflix when it debuted.
  • “Top Gun: Maverick,” a belated sequel to the incredibly successful ‘80s movie, is coming to theaters later this year.
  • The successful film “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” featuring members of the cast from the original films from the ‘80s, was the number-one movie when it premiered.
  • The ‘80s-set T.V. show “The Goldbergs” is still going strong on ABC with nine seasons.
  • The recent Wonder Woman movie was titled “Wonder Woman: 1984” (also set in the ‘80s).
  • The Rob Lowe-hosted “The ‘80s: Top Ten” was a hit on Disney+ earlier this year.
  • There are two “He-Man” shows on Netflix: a sequel series written by Kevin Smith and a CGI reboot for younger people. Both are successful. Also, a live-action film is in the works.
  • The “Transformers” movies are still tearing up the box office charts each time they’re released, even given their dubious quality.
  • Ernest Cline’s brilliant, best-selling novel Ready Player One featured multiple references to the pop culture of the ‘80s (in fact, it was a major plot point), and it was turned into a hit film by none other than Steven Spielberg.

If you’re curious, references to the ‘80s in my book include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nintendo Power
  • “ExciteBike”
  • Game Boy
  • Martika’s “Toy Soldiers”
  • Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer”
  • “Knight Rider”
  • “ALF”
  • “Miami Vice”
  • Genesis/Phil Collins
  • Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
  • Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”
  • “Ghostbusters” (just the first movie)
  • Indiana Jones (again, just the first movie)
  • “Star Wars” (only the original trilogy)
  • He-Man
  • The “This-is-your-brain-on-drugs” commercial
  • “Batman” (the 1989 film version and that is all)
  • The Berlin Wall coming down

This is not to say that my book is simply a referential nostalgia fest, where I just randomly cite things from the ‘80s for no apparent reason; I incorporate the ‘80s references organically in the story (or at least I tried to!). For example, Robert, the main character, gets the idea to build a super-powered motorbike after seeing Batman’s utility belt in the 1989 film version of “Batman” and realizing he needs “better tools” to beat Danger Peak.

On top of all the reasons I already mentioned above, another advantage of setting this story in the ‘80s is its originality (again, unintended). In other words, there are plenty of nonfiction books about the ‘80s out there, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any novels set in that decade, especially middle-grade/young-adult novels. There may be a good reason for that! (I’ll find out soon enough.) The closest I can think of is the aforementioned Ready Player One, but even that story was set in the future, not in the ‘80s, with only people remembering touchstones of that decade either through their own memories or vicariously from an ‘80s artefact-seeking treasure hunt (with some ‘70s stuff thrown in for good measure); the characters weren’t experiencing the ‘80s firsthand as you read through the story.

So that’s about as thorough an answer I can give about why Danger Peak is set in the ‘80s. If you didn’t know before, now you know, and knowing (say it with me now) is half the battle.


P.S.: Next week’s blog: Is Danger Peak Middle Grade, Young Adult, or Something Else Entirely?

P.P.S.: As always, don’t forget to sign up for blog updates to get a free book! Enter your email address and click “Sign Up” in the opt-in box at the bottom of the Blog/FREE Book page, and once you confirm your email address in an automatically generated email, you’ll be sent a free PDF copy of Lists, Life, and Other Unimportant Details, an over 270-paged collection of my best blogs and published articles of the past 25 years.

2 responses to “Why the ‘80s?”

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