Guest Post: Stranger Things, the Boys of Summer, and the Long Road Back to the 80s, by Richard Cox

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Today—on the date of the premiere of Stranger Things, Season 2—in a special guest post to discuss his book, the show, and the recent wave of 80s nostalgia that bound the two together, we welcome Richard Cox (@coxric), author of last year’s brilliant the Boys of Summer.

 

Stranger Things, the Boys of Summer, and the Long Road Back to the 80s

   BoysofSummer_Updated_Cover_rgb    richard cox author photo

by Richard Cox

Author Photos Copyright Kimberly Cox

As the release date for season two of Netflix’s Stranger Things nears, legions of fans are ready to once again fall into a magical world created by the Duffer brothers, a period piece so startlingly effective that fans could be forgiven if they believed the series to have been filmed during 1980s. From the opening title sequence Stranger Things makes its intentions clear, which is to blur the line between fantasy and reality, both in the presentation of the series and the content within it.

When the series first premiered last year, my novel, The Boys of Summer, was less than two months from publication. The success of the series drove fans to seek out other stories with a similar vibe, leading many sites to post lists of books that evoked an 80s supernatural feel. This fortuitous timing brought new readers to my novel and inevitable comparisons to the famed television series.

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[Editor’s Note: He’s not kidding; over twenty different outlets made the comparison. Here are a few examples, and we’ll link to lots more below Richard’s post: 

B&N Sci-Fi Blog: “The Boys of Summer is a Darker, Edgier Stranger Things

The Verge: “Finished Binging Netflix’s Stranger Things? Pick up these 12 books next”

Bustle: “20 Books For Stranger Things Fans To Read Before Season 2 Comes Out”

The Booklist Reader: “Stranger Things: 13 Supernatural Stories for 80s Horror Fans”]

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I didn’t set out to write a novel meant to evoke 80s nostalgia when the idea for The Boys of Summer first came to me. Mainly because in 1993, the culture was running from the previous decade at warp factor 9. Nirvana headlined “Saturday Night Live,” we said goodbye to “Cheers,” and Bill Murray was spending something like 30 years reliving February 2nd over and over again. Working on The Boys of Summer sometimes felt a little like Groundhog Day, since I rewrote the entire novel no less than eight times, but 23 years after I sat down to type the first word, The Boys of Summer was published in a world where the 80s had become hip again.

 

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The original idea was to honor the structure of It, an iconic 80s novel about a group of friends who return to their hometown to confront the demons of their past. I saw in my own group of childhood friends a fraternal similarity to King’s Loser’s Club, though I imagined my characters would fall into a summer where they became consumed not by a malevolent force but their own internal demons. In fact I pictured acts of arson so severe their entire town might burn to the ground. Fortunately, I abandoned that idea early in the process, but the title from this mental image remained, and The Boys of Summer was born.

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Originally, I didn’t imagine the song from which the novel took its name would have anything to do with the story itself. And when the music did finally make its way into the manuscript, it was mainly a device to demonstrate a time anomaly our characters don’t understand.

Gradually, though, the theme of the song bled into the story, because Don Henley’s single evokes the same feeling of nostalgia I wanted to capture: melancholy for a past that can never be relived.

Stranger Things has been lauded for its careful inclusion of 80s culture and artifacts, and rightfully so. It takes a lot of work to so thoroughly evoke the feeling of actually being in the past. In The Boys of Summer, the past and present bleed together in strange ways that often allow the reader to see reality more clearly than the characters. When Todd Willis is inspired to write a song the rest of us know belongs to Don Henley, and when he does so a full year before the song is released, the reader knows something weird is happening. Todd and his friends play Dungeons & Dragons, they love Star Wars, they call girls on the phone and hang up before anyone answers. They’re consumed by Atari and Intellivision and riding everywhere on their bikes. But in my novel, it becomes apparent to the characters that what they remember from their childhood may not be what really happened.

Perhaps the most iconic line in Don Henley’s single is “I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac”, where he realizes the innocence of an earlier time has been lost forever, replaced by gaudy and brash consumerism. And as my understanding of the characters grew, as they found themselves overwhelmed by an economy that caters mainly to the rich, I realized the novel’s connection to Henley’s song could be deepened further. Which is why, when you look past the high concept plot, you’ll find in The Boys of Summer elements that allude to income inequality and the limitations of capitalism . . . complications that can be traced back to the tax cuts and supply-side economic theory championed by President Reagan.

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“By now all this should have been ancient history,” thinks Jonathan when he prepares to confront his demons directly, but of course it’s not, because the past has a tendency to reach through time and grab us when we least expect it.

So whether you remember the 1980s as the innocent years of your childhood, or a decade of excess that has come back to haunt us many years later, the iconography of the time is familiar to almost everyone . . . especially fans of Stranger Things.

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So there you have it, folks. Pairing Stranger Things and the Boys of Summer was never part of our original plans (we had no idea the show even existed when we first acquired Richard’s novel), but hey, stranger things have happened!

Plus, even after being caught up in the whirlwind of buzz around the show, it never bothered Richard in the slightest:

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More praise for and comparisons of the Boys of Summer and Stranger Things:

Book Scrolling: “THE BEST BOOKS FOR FANS OF STRANGER THINGS

PopSugar: “13 Books to Read If You Love Stranger Things

Geeks: “Must Read Books for ‘Stranger Things’ Fans”

Yahoo: “10 really creepy books to read if you’re overly obsessed with “Stranger Things

Signature Reads: “The 10 Best Books for Fans of ‘Stranger Things’ to Read Before Season 2″

TrendChaser: “Reading List: For Those Obsessed With Stranger Things

Nerdy-but-Flirty: “11 books for Fans of Stranger Things

LitReactor: “Bookshots: The Boys of Summer: A Novel by Richard Cox”

#AmReading: “‘Stranger Things’ Fans: Here Are 8 Books To Tide You Over Until Season 2″

Tales of the Ravenous Reader: “11 Strange YA Books to Read While Waiting for Stranger Things

Seattle Public Library: “Stranger Things Read Alikes”

Vaughan Public Libraries: “Stranger Reads

LibraryPoint: “The Boys of Summer by Richard Cox”

File770: “Richard Cox: The Boys of Summer

Texas Book Lover: “Review: THE BOYS OF SUMMER by Richard Cox”

Dread Central: “Let The Boys of Summer Warm Up Your September”

TulsaPeople: “”The Boys of Summer” book launch”

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Buy the Boys of Summer now, and follow Richard Cox on Twitter for more updates on his future projects!

And follow us on Twitter (@NightShadeNews) to stay updated with all our cover reveals, excerpts, and other interesting content.