When people hear “the 1980s,” they may think big hair, synthesized music, day glo fashion, MTV, Reaganomics, consumerism, and the dawn of the personal computer. It was the decade of decadence. Everything was bigger, brighter, and louder. Oliver Stone’s Wall Street became the movie of the 80s and Gordon Gekko told us “greed is good.” People were spending money like crazy, Michael Milken was the Junk Bond King, and BetaMax and VHS were duking it out as the VCR of choice so you wouldn’t miss a single episode of Miami Vice.
For me, it was the decade of discovery. I started high school in Southern California in the mid-80s and graduated just before the 90s. I will always look back on the 80s with a fond nostalgia as these were the years I discovered booze, pot, sex, and true love. I became the proud owner of a Ford Escort. I drove that car to the border and back more times than I can count (sorry, Mom, if you’re reading this, but seriously, Tijuana wasn’t as scary then as it is now). I became obsessed with music, TV, film, and pop culture. I assume every high school kid goes through similar experiences, but perhaps the 80s just made it more intense. Everything was a big deal back then, you know?
So when Michael Pool of Crime Syndicate Magazine / Short Stack Books approached me about contributing a short story to FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS, an anthology about the 1980s, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. For one thing, it was the first time someone asked me to contribute to a short story anthology. Up to this point, I always submitted a short story and prayed they would like it. I had some good luck with short story publication but I’ve never had an editor approach me first. So when he asked me, I was like, “uh yeah, love to. Sounds fun.” Okay, huge understatement! I was over the moon with enthusiasm and excitement.
I’m happy to say that this wasn’t my last time being approached to contribute to an anthology. I don’t know if that sort of paved my way or opened the floodgates or whatever, but after that, I was asked three more times. I couldn’t be more humbled and grateful to the crime fiction community for wanting to include me in their upcoming anthologies. I look forward to announcing the others I’m a part of. It’s quite a broad range of concepts and all of them so far have been a blast to write.
Anyway, back to the 80s. I had so many ideas buzzing around my brain that it took me a while to settle on one premise. I knew it had to be set in SoCal and feature a kickass young woman but beyond that, I had no idea. So I binge-watched every 80s movie I could get my hands on for inspiration. I had to admit that I’d never watched a single episode of Miami Vice. I know, does that kick me out of the 80s club or what? I watched James Caan in Thief (something I’d never seen before but it was early 80s and not the vibe I was going for but what a badass film!), To Live and Die in L.A. with William Petersen (wow, another knockout film), and then the films that I knew by heart and loved—Less Than Zero, Wall Street, and The Lost Boys. I had a poster of The Lost Boys in my room and daydreamed about being Star whisked away on Kiefer Sutherland’s motorcycle.
But then I recalled the other posters that plastered my room, Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins being the most prominent. Music was my biggest influence in high school. I was obsessed over the Thompson Twins, INXS, Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, The Smiths, The Cure, David Bowie, Madonna, Oingo Boingo, the Bangles, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I grew up listening to KROQ with Richard Blade, Poorman, and Rodney on the ROQ. Then I thought about all the concerts I went to and the one that got away: Oingo Boingo. Thus, the seed of my story was planted.
What’s so great about this anthology is the broad range of outrageous stories. We’ve got private investigators, punk rockers, wrestlers, appliance repairmen, burglars, wild Valley girls, and car thieves. Every writer in this anthology is a huge talent that I’m thrilled to be sharing pages with, and Michael Pool did a fantastic job putting it all together. Each of us has our own unique perspective of the 80s depending on our age, location, and our struggles / dreams at the time. Some of us were barely toddlers while others were slaving away at mind-numbing jobs.
For more info on what inspired each of our stories, Dietrich Kalteis put together a cool post on his blog, Off The Cuff, featuring each writer and what the 80s meant to them. We already have a nice little review up on Robert Lopresti’s website, Little Big Crimes, where he posts “the best mystery story I read this week.” He singles out Matthew J. Hockey’s excellent story, “Widowman,” unexpectedly set in 1984 Tokyo.
In my story, “Besties & Blow,” Pia is a college freshman who returns to the SoCal scene from NYU just to see Oingo Boingo at the Greek Theater. However, it’s not the easiest show to get into and she’ll do anything to see Danny Elfman live. There’s plenty of back-stabbing, bitchin’ dance music, and cocaine, because hey—it’s the 80s.
On a happy side note: I did finally get to see Danny Elfman. Just last weekend, he performed as Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas at the Hollywood Bowl for the last time so in a weird way everything has come full circle. Steve Bartek, the lead guitarist of Oingo Boingo, even briefly joined Danny Elfman on stage. When I heard the opening chord of “Dead Man’s Party,” I screamed like a teenage girl. It was the perfect preview for the launch of this totally tubular 80s anthology.
Sarah M. Chen has worked a variety of odd jobs ranging from script reader to bartender and is now an indie bookseller and private investigator assistant. Sarah’s crime fiction has been accepted for publication by All Due Respect, Akashic, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Plan B, Dead Guns Press and Betty Fedora. Her debut novel CLEANING UP FINN is out now with All Due Respect Books. Visit Sarah at http://www.sarahmchen.com