Sally is the author of the intriguing and fun mystery THE BAFFLED BEATLEMANIAC CAPER, the first installment in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol Mystery Series. Here’s a brief synopsis: Sandy Fairfax, former teen idol and star of the hit TV show “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth,” is 38 years old and having a mid-life crises. His ex-wife won’t let him see his children until he sobers up and starts working. He stops drinking and takes the only job available, a guest appearance at a small Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Ind. What looks like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is shot. When the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect and Sandy’s forced to fill in for the dead musician at a concert, the boy sleuth is back in action. But can he find the killer before the Apple Bonker and Blue Meanie stop him?
Thanks to Sally, I have 1 copy of THE BAFFLED BEATLEMANIAC CAPER to giveaway to one lucky visitor who comments on this post between now and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 26. The giveaway is open to residents of U.S. and Canada. Be sure to include your e-mail address if it’s not included in your profile.
Now Sally is here to talk about a ‘Blast from the Past.’
One of the first questions facing a writer when she sits down to begin a new mystery is: When does the story take place? How old is the protagonist?
Many writers, particularly of cozy mysteries, automatically place the story in “modern day”—or rather, the age of the author at the time of writing. Any story written today will appear dated in 20 or more years down the road, and with the rapid change of technology, “modern” stories may seem “old-fashioned” in less time than that.
Should a story always take place in the “now”? Not always.
My debut book, THE BAFFLED BEATLEMANIAC CAPER, is set in 1993. How did I ever come up with that fairly uneventful year? My protagonist is a teen idol, or rather, a former teen idol. Since I was writing my book for adults and not young adults, I didn’t want a protag in his teens or early 20s.
Also, a teen idol at the peak of his career would not serve well as an amateur sleuth. Teen idols are busy nearly every minute with concerts, television and promotional efforts. They have no free time for sleuthing. Teen idols are also too well known to mingle easily among the “common folk” for an investigation.
A reader may say, “This is fiction, the writer can do anything she wants.” Well, yes and no.
Yes, fiction gives the writer some leeway but events must still be rooted in reality. The writer can’t bend the character so far that the story is no longer believable. I could have a teen idol blow off a rehearsal, or put on a disguise so he can infiltrate a crowd, but he cannot tell his manager he’s taking a week off to go sleuthing halfway through a concert tour.
My teen idol has had his “glory days” and is no longer on a busy recording scheduling, giving him plenty of time to sleuth. But how old should he be? First I had to decide when he was popular. Teen idols of the 1950s starred in beach movies; those of the 60s and 70s appeared in their own TV series. Idols of this era were largely naïve about industry contracts and the studios made far more money than their performers.
Teen idols of the 1980s gained fame through short MTV music videos. This era also saw a proliferation of “boy bands” manufactured by a producer who selected four to six singer/dancers through auditions, provided music and choreography, and established the group’s “image” which was promoted through heavy media saturation. (The first boy band was The Monkees in 1968. The creators of this band, Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson, set the template that was followed by the groups that followed).
In the 1990s, idols sang in shopping malls, appeared on reality TV shows, and were far savvier about the music industry—they came armed with lawyers and shrewd managers.
Idols of 2000 and beyond generally rose to fame through shows on kid-friendly cable channels such as Nickelodeon and Disney, outlets specifically geared for the target audience. Social media allowed idols connect directly with their fans through Facebook and Twitter instead of the outdated fanzines (fan magazines) sent through the mail.
I made my protagonist, Sandy Fairfax, a teen idol of the late 1970s. His teen idol career began when he was 18. His peers (and competitors) were Donny Osmond, Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett and David Soul. I wanted my idol to have starred in a TV show, specifically one about a young detective—“Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” The running joke in my books is that because of the TV series, people expected my hero to actually solve crimes.
I also had fun writing about the culture of the late 70s—disco, polyester suits, smiley faces and holdovers from the swingin’ 60s. The culture of the 1980s isn’t as exciting or interesting except maybe for glam rock (which started in late 70s).
Perhaps my biggest reason for setting my hero in the late 70s was so that “Buddy Brave” could compete against “The Hardy Boys Mysteries” which ran from 1977 to 79 and starred teen heartthrobs Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. Placing my fictitious character up against real-life counterparts added to the authenticity.
Since my character is “grown up,” how old do I want to make him? If I gave my book a contemporary setting—I started writing in 2008—a young man from the 1970s would be nearly 50 and his children would be adults. No offense to anyone over 50 (which includes me) but I wanted my hero younger. I needed him physically capable of doing heroic action stunts and not losing his hair or dealing with major health issues. I wanted his children young enough that he would be involved in their upbringing. I wanted him still working and not ready for retirement.
I also liked the idea of my hero facing mid-life crises and attempting a career comeback. Nearly all teen idols faced “fallow years” out of the public eye after their teen idols years and some encountered an uphill struggle to re-enter an industry that had moved on without them. Sandy also looks back reflectively on his teen idol years with more insight into what was going on than he realized at the time. He’s dreading the big “Four-O” milestone, partly because in the entertainment industry, age 40 is the kiss of death for performers who are now “too old.”
For the first book in the series, my hero is 38 years old with children ages 13 and 10. This makes my protag considerably younger than myself and that’s okay. The only catch is I have to think back to when I was that age and have him act and talk accordingly. Since he’s 38, that places him in 1993 (his birthday is at the end of the year, so he’s a year younger than one might expect).
In writing I had to be careful not to insert technology that had not been invented yet. In 1993, people had computers but no MP3 music downloads or Facebook. Videotape but no DVDs. Cassette tape players but no iPods. Cell phones were rudimentary, large, and not in wide use yet. Cameras used film and did not fit in stamp-size cell phones.
Actually, I like the technological limitations. When my hero is in a pickle, he can’t simply whip out a cell phone and call for help. He has to pound the pavement instead of looking up everything on a computer. He can hop on an airplane without going through extensive security procedures (expect for a metal detector) or putting liquids in small containers. He has to talk to people face-to-face instead of texting.
Some scenes are set in the 70s as my hero talked about events that happened during his “heyday.” So I’m working in two time eras, 70s and 90s.
I’m having a blast writing about the past and I hope readers will enjoy the nostalgic ride as well.
Sally, thanks so much for guest blogging. I also enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Sometimes we take for granted that much of our technology hasn’t been around forever. I miss my cassettes (and 8 tracks).
Now for a bit of background on Sally. She is native Hoosier now living in Southern California and has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school two of her plays, “Star Collector” and “Common Ground,” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award. The plays received staged readings and productions in New York City.
Sally also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked a variety of jobs including actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio as well as for a community newspaper. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles Chapter.
THE BAFFLED BEATLEMANIAC CAPER is available in both trade paperback and Kindle through Amazon.com and the publisher, www.oaktreebooks.com. For more on Sally and her writing, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you enjoy stories that are set in the era of your youth? Thanks so much for stopping by today.