Earlier this year, I spent nine weeks compiling a glut of information that would serve as a cultural backdrop for the story. I wanted to make sure the story felt real, tethered to the life of the times. So I made a spreadsheet. It included a row for:
- every year from 1870 through 1923
I wanted to establish a genealogical history before his parents were born, as well as listing important events (news stories, book publication dates, scientific discoveries), that would ultimately shape the Traveler’s life and his family history.
- every month from 1924-1960 (from his father’s birth through the Traveler’s birth)
A more detailed account of all things culture, as well as personal history, that would have shaped the lives of the Traveler’s parents. That way, I could have a realistic idea of what sort of emotional environment and context the Traveler was raised in, and what sorts of ideologies and tastes his parents would have had that influenced his upbringing.
- every week from 1961-1978 (from the Traveler’s birth through the start of the story), AND
Throughout his actual life, I thought it was important to have an even more detailed, week-by-week breakdown of every aspect of the world that was changing around the Traveler: cultural context, world/national/local events, personal history, etc. That way, I could develop his tastes and personal growth from birth through the end of high school.
- every day from 1979-2005 (from the start of the story through the end of the story).
And finally, I expanded the spreadsheet to account for every single day over the course of the story - 365-1/4 days per year for 26 years of everything that happened in the Traveler’s world - for the masses, and tailored to the characters’ individual interests:
- music (radio charts, album releases)
- movie releases (in theaters and on video)
- television (regular programming, major televised events)
- book publications
- sporting events
- milestones in art
- inventions and scientific discoveries
- costs of various items
- general culture (fads, slang, trends)
- everyday fashion
- the state of the economy
- who held major national, state, and local office
- local events
- U.S. political events (important legislation, elections)
- international events (major conflicts, etc.)
- national/local weather (averages, major events)
- major disasters (natural and manmade)
- major crimes
- and holidays/birthdays
Our story begins in August of 1979:
Jimmy Carter is president and the economy is still treading water after a decade of recession and stagnancy.
For a few years now, NASA’s Voyager space crafts have been sending back the first close-up photos ever captured of bodies in our solar system. Laboratory production of human insulin has begun. The world’s first test-tube baby has been born. The first PC has been on the market for two years. Apple II Plus PC is on the market.
Robert Ludlum, William Styron, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stephen King are on the bestsellers lists.
Just two years earlier, violent protests to desegregation busing programs for public schools plagued Boston.
ESPN is about to launch on cable. Muhammad Ali has just retired. In March, a young Magic Johnson outscored a young Larry Bird as Michigan State beat Indiana State in NCAA Championship game. It’s Lou Brock’s last season in Major League Baseball. It’s Rickey Henderson’s first. The Baltimore Colts, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Houston Oilers are all NFL teams.
New music: Sex Pistols, Chicago, Sammy Hagar, Bob Dylan, The Alan Parsons Project, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffett, Led Zeppelin (In Through the Out Door), Michael Jackson (Off the Wall), Talking Heads (Fear of Music), AC/DC (Highway to Hell), Van Halen (II), Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive), Blondie (Heart of Glass), Anita Ward (Ring My Bell), Bee Gees (Love You Inside and Out), Chic (Good Times), The Knack (My Sharona). Bob Dylan proclaims his Born Again Christianity. Sony Walkman is now on sale in Japan. Disco is dying. New wave and punk are thriving.
Paul Volcker appointed as new Federal Reserve Board Chairman. The Soviets perform a nuclear test in Eastern Kazakh. Saddam Hussein executes 21 political opponents. Phnom Penh court sentences Pol Pot to death for the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime. Iranian troops enter Iraqi Kurdish territory, leading to the Iran-Iraq War. Bombings in Northern Ireland. Nicaragua in civil war. Margaret Thatcher is first female prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Hurricane David devastates Dominica, prepares to hit central Florida coast.
Vivian Vance (Ethel from “I Love Lucy”) dies at 70. Popular TV shows: All in the Family, Barney Miller, Taxi, M*A*S*H, Mork & Mindy, Lou Grant, The Paper Chase, The Rockford Files.
New movies: The Deer Hunter, Hair, Dawn of the Dead, Manhattan, Alien, Phantasm, Rocky 2, The In-Laws, The Muppet Movie, Moonraker, Meatballs, Breaking Away, The Amityville Horror, More American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now, Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.
Gallon of gas is 86 cents. The Dow is hovering in the 800’s. Average monthly rent is $280. Average income per year is $17,500. A pair of running shoes costs $14.99.
Jimmy Carter, live broadcast of his “Crisis of Confidence Speech,” July 15, 1979
first close-up pictures of Saturn, taken by Voyager II, July 31, 1979
Michael Jackson, Blues & Soul & Disco Review, August 28, 1979