Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: The Murder Mystery of Muffy McGregor

I recently sat down with my long-time colleague and writer friend, Teddy Durgin, who has written a book about what it’s like to be a teenager in the 80s, plus trying to solve a murder AND break the unpopular curse.

Q) What prompted you to write this?

A) This was just a story that was in my head for years, and I just needed to make the time commitment to sit down and write it. I am a journalist, by trade- writing and editing is something I do all the time. 

But the downside of that is ... when you get some free time, the last thing you want to do is write! It's weird to say. But, after a while, this story and these characters just demanded they get on the page, and so I did it! There is the old saying "Write what you know!"

Well, I know 1980s pop culture, and I came of age during that wacky decade in Laurel, Maryland, the small Baltimore/Washington, D.C., suburban town where the story takes place. Like the lead character, Sam, I also worked in the mall like he works during the summer of 1986, and many of my friends worked shopping mall jobs that summer. The book is VERY Laurel specific at times, referencing real people and places. But it could also be Anytown USA circa '86.

Q) What was your inspiration?

A) I came of age in the John Hughes era. So, his high school movies like "Sixteen Candles, "The Breakfast Club," Weird Science," and "Ferris Buellar" are fused into my DNA. My central concept was: "What if John Hughes back in 1986 had written a high school murder mystery? How would it have gone?"

Q) Where did the characters come from, especially the kids and their parents?

A) I have re-connected with a LOT of ol' high school pals and classmates as a result of this book being published. And so many of asked me, "OK, so is Muffy {insert name of old classmate}? Is Brent the jock really {insert name of other old classmate}?" "Is Sam YOU?" And the answer to those questions is both yes and no. I certainly drew on people I knew back then. But they were more my jumping off points. Each character then developed his/her personal quirks as I got deeper into writing the story. And several of them took on the old John Hughes archetypes of The Brain, The Jock, The Prom Queen, The Rebel, the Basket Case, etc.

Q) Why a high school death?

A) High school is one of THE most emotional, hormonal times in one's life. It certainly was for me. One moment, you feel like you are on top of the world, you know everything, and you'll live forever. The next moment, a classmate can look at you funny or you look in the mirror and all you see is a bad pimple, and it's the end of the world.

I wanted to contrast those feelings of angst and youthful bravado with the adult characters who are much more passive, over things, just punching the clock and trying to get to their Friday night "Dallas" viewing or their next Happy Hour.

Sam is a character who has never fit in with the "In" crowd. So, he believes that solving the murder of his mega-popular classmate, Muffy, he'll finally get in good with the cool kids.
He does things at 15 that he probably wouldn't do with more years and world experience.

5) How did the musical and social cultures/ criteria influence the book?

Ah, that's just the spice that adds flavor to the book! I loved working in references both obvious and obscure. Everything from Bill Paxton in "Aliens" to Tom Selleck's fledgling film career in the '80s to the old "Good Times" re-run. The key, though, is to always make it relevant to the characters and at the service of the story.

I hate when you see a retro movie or read a retro book, and you have some character coming out of "Platoon" and saying something jive like "That Charlie Sheen is going to win FIVE Oscars by the time he's done!" or a character seeing an old Money magazine cover and saying, "Now that Donald... HE would make a great president someday! But he wouldn't take the pay cut!" Ha ha, hee hee. I'd rather have two idiot kids talking about whether Siskel or Ebert would give thumbs down to a movie about their lives.

Check out The Totally Gnarly Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor here. It’s Teddy's fun ride through pop-culture and the 80s…where I had permed hair, braces and a desperate need to graduate 8th grade.

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