Ever wish you could take a DeLorean time machine back to high school? Not to take classes or to pull an all-nighter to write a paper, but just to experience those memories you've tucked away for safe keeping again. That's exactly the feeling I received as I read through Jeff Tompkins' novel 49 Mix Tapes.
Picture it...high school 1985 and you've just started your freshmen year. As you step onto the bus, luckily your lifelong best friend is waiting to save you a seat and experience high school with you. Meet Will McCarthy and Abby Carlisle, "soul friends" who have no idea what's ahead of them over the next four years...other than they'll always be there for each other. Will finds out he has the gift of writing short stories, although he rarely allows even his closest friends to take a look into his notebook. What he also loves is new wave music and making mix tapes for Abby. As they journey through high school, their friendship gets pushed to the limit as decisions about social and career choices dominate their lives.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeff about his book. I was very curious to hear how much of himself is written into the story.
How many of your personal experiences did you add in the book? Is there one instance in particular that you thought would help define a character or characters?
Every time I answer this question I come up with a different number, but somewhere between 15 and 20 percent is autobiographical. I tried to make every scene advance the character or story or both. That’s even true of the secondary characters. I don’t think I could pick one instance for Will and Abby – I just hope I did a decent enough job having them grow and change as the story progressed.
As an author and writer, did you carry a notebook around in high school like the main character Will McCarthy?
I didn't do that in high school. I started carrying around little pocket-size notebooks a few years later and continued it until recently, when I started making notes on my phone using an app called Evernote, which is great. (No, they’re not paying me to advertise for them.)
The song references throughout the book really sets the backdrop for each scene. I could almost hear the songs as I was reading it! Did you choose particular songs for certain parts?
I’m glad to hear so many people saying they could almost hear the songs as they read the book. I was trying to write a novel with a soundtrack, and I wasn't sure how it would work out. But lots of people tell me they “heard” the songs, and I've had a few emails from younger readers who tell me the book introduced them to new music. Some even looked up the songs on Youtube while reading. There are some songs that were chosen for particular scenes for (I hope) dramatic effect, especially the last one.
Let’s play a little game of “more or less.” Mixtapes you personally made in high school…more or less than 49?
Less. And unlike Will, I didn't make too many of them for other people. Times you’ve watched a John Hughes movie…more or less than 50?
A single one? Less. All of them combined? Way more. Times you've sneaked into a continental breakfast at a hotel…more or less than 1?Once.
I'll be the first to admit I'm not an avid novel reader. But when one comes along that advertises itself as an 80s novel, I simple had to check it out...and I'm really glad I did. The story is one that could have easily been plucked from John Hughes' brain. Even though my high school years were in the early 90s, I could easily relate to many of Will's experiences in the book. And the music references...let me tell you, they saturate the book, but in a good way. As the songs are mentioned, I could hear them playing in my head as I read each page. Highly recommend this book for children of the 80s, whether your an avid reader or more of a movie watcher like me.