Interview With Jeff Tompkins, Author of 49 Mix Tapes
just finished the novel, 49 Mix Tapes, by
Tompkins and had the pleasure to talk with him about the book and
its 80s context. Set between 1985 and 1989, this is the story of Will
and Abby. Will wants more, but Abby has him stuck in the “just friends”
zone. It is a fun story about not just their relationship, but coming of
age in the late 80s and all the culture that goes with it. The book is
loaded with the music, movies and TV of the 80s and is a fun trip down
memory lane for any 80s nuts. Throw in a good story with interesting
characters, and it was the perfect pick for my recent trip to the beach.
You can connect with
Jeff at his
blog or buy the
ebook) on Amazon. It is also available for
1. What sparked the idea for "49
I had been thinking about this story in very general terms for over twenty
years. I graduated from high school in 1989, so all of my teen years
were in the 1980s, and ‘80s culture has always stuck with me. So did the
idea of writing about Will and Abby. They didn’t have names until the
summer of 2011, when I started to work on the book. But I knew them very
well, and I knew I wanted to tell a story with a soundtrack. It seems
strange to try that in book form, but it’s what I was going for and I
hope it worked, and maybe it will introduce younger people to some of
the music (and movies) of that era. I spent two months writing about
Will and Abby, figuring out how I wanted the story to go, but most
importantly really knowing who they were as characters. Those two months
yielded about twenty-five pages of character notes and plotlines, and I
spent the next three months writing the book.
2. Do you see yourself in Will? Did
you have a best girlfriend relationship that went unrequited?
There’s a little bit of me in all the characters, but more so with Will,
of course. Especially the writing aspect, and how he keeps his writing
to himself. I didn’t have a best girlfriend situation that went
unrequited. Abby’s character is largely based on an ex-girlfriend who
started off as a girlfriend, not just a friend, and it was a
relationship that I never wanted to end. I didn’t want to tell that
story as it actually happened. It would have been more autobiographical
than I wanted. So I put Abby in the role of a friend, and approached the
whole thing from a different angle.
3. The book is chock full of 80s
references to movies, TV, and music. What were your favorites?
Like so many other people of our generation, I’m a huge fan of John
Hughes. The word “genius” is probably overused in our society, but I
believe Hughes truly was one. I also think Cameron Crowe’s “Fast
Times at Ridgemont High” was a masterpiece. I watched most of the
popular sitcoms in the 1980s, but my favorite was definitely Cheers.
When it came to hour-long shows, I don’t think I missed a single episode
of Moonlighting or a href="miami-vice.html">Miami Vice. As for
music, it was mostly the new wave stuff for me.
4. How do you feel about all the
remakes of 80s movies that are happening now? Compliment to the 80s, or
ruining the classics?
I cringe every time I see something about a remake. To me, those movies
are perfect the way they are. They’re time capsules of sorts and I just
can’t imagine other actresses and actors playing those parts.
5. I was intrigued by the
characters' fixation on the impending doom associated with nuclear
holocaust. I certainly remember that as a part my 80s childhood. In what
ways do you think it affected us? And, do you think today's kids feel
it, perhaps related to different threats?
I think it affected us negatively, but not as negatively as it did our
parents’ generation. They made it into adulthood believing that the
Soviets were going to obliterate us one day. In 1989 (when I was 18 and
just out of high school) we watched the Berlin Wall come down and I
think that’s when most of us started to figure out that it was the
beginning of the end of this mysterious “evil empire” on the other side
of the world that collapsed from within and might not have been worth
all the worry in the first place. But we sure had the fear drummed into
us, not only from our leaders, but also from the pop culture. But, hey,
we got some great songs out of it. As for today’s kids, I’m not very
familiar with their movies, TV, and music, so I don’t know if
geopolitics infects their entertainment. Even if it doesn’t, their
generation is growing up with the fear of terrorism. That is, if they’re
listening to politicians and the media. I kind of hope they aren’t, and
that they’re just having fun and being kids. So each generation had/has
their own fears. The main difference is that, unlike today’s kids, we
had good music and movies. Kidding! (Sort of...)
6. It was neat to look back on a
time when teenage life was unplugged. If someone wasn't at home, they
were just unreachable. Crazy stuff. How do you think today's technology
has changed the coming of age process?
I think it’s probably a lot more difficult for kids these days. Looking
back on the things my friends and I got away with, I know we wouldn’t
have pulled them off (or even tried) if our parents had a way of
tracking us like parents do now. An electronic trail of my conversations
and whereabouts? No thanks!
7. If Will and Abby had made it to
the 90s and gone to college together, would they have stayed together?
If you were to write an epilogue, what comes next?
I’ve thought a lot about this. In an earlier draft of the book (which I
jokingly call the “director’s cut”; it’s about fifty pages longer)
there’s an epilogue. It’s Will, at age forty, talking about getting
older and looking back on his entire life from the viewpoint of a
middle-aged man. I decided to cut it because like so many teen movies of
the ‘80s, the book is a fairy tale, and I wanted it to end where it ends
in the final version. More importantly, though, I was trying to leave it
where it was because at that age you really have no idea where your life
is going. I think the ending as it is wraps up the story of that period
of Will’s and Abby’s life, so not hinting at the future was a deliberate
decision I made.
8. Do you still have your mix tapes
from the 80s? What's the song list for your favorite?
I don’t have a single mix tape left from the ‘80s. But I do have hundreds
of ‘80s mp3s. In fact, they probably make up 95% of the songs I have
loaded on my mp3 player. (I use the Sony Walkman mp3 player simply
because the original Walkman meant so much in those days so even that’s
a bit of nostalgia to me.) For a while in the ‘80s I was a huge fan of
The Police. But now, all these years later, I’ve realized that the songs
I really loved (and still do) were mainly from two bands: The Cars and
The Go-Go’s. That’s why they’re so prominent in the book. Those bands
had a number of hits, but it’s interesting to go back and listen to the
songs that weren’t as well-known and rediscover how good they are. I
don’t think there’s a song by The Go-Go’s that I don’t like.
9. I loved that the climactic scene
at the end was tied in prom - so very 80s. Some of my favorite 80s
movies feature plots that hit the crescendo at the prom (thinking of
Valley Girl and
Just One of the Guys among
others). Was that on purpose?
It was sort of a nod to the prom scenes from ‘80s movies, but it didn’t
start out that way. I first had the climactic scene happening entirely
on Abby’s front porch. But the ending as it is in the book just came to
me one day. It seemed like something Will would do. He’d been getting
braver and more impulsive, so the scene just kind of played out like
that. And without giving too much away, the problem they run into at the
end was something I added to set it apart from how those scenes usually
played out in the movies.
10. What's next for you? Do you
have another book in the works?
I have a few notebooks (much like Will does) that are full of ideas. Some
are just one-line thoughts, some are pages and pages of dialogue between
characters I might use in the future, and I have a couple of outlines
and character sketches for future books. One of my writing goals in 2012
is to complete the screenplay adaptation of 49 Mix Tapes.