memories of the ’80s – Tom Clancy

For thriller fans of the 1980s, there’s one name that became a must-read: Tom Clancy.

With a fascination for espionage, military and and the geopolitical players that are trying to control the planet, Clancy’s first book was The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984, which told the story of a Soviet naval captain who wanted to defect.

Published by the US Naval Insitute Press, this first novel is still one of their most successful publishing projects to date. The book was publicly endorsed by US President Ronald Reagan.

In this first novel, Clancy introduced Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst, who would become his long-running character in his books, as well as US Navy Captain Mancuso, who rises in the ranks in subsequent novels.

Clancy continued his streak in the 1980s, with the publication of Red Storm Rising in 1986, Patriot Games in 1987, The Cardinal of the Kremlin in 1988 and Clear and Present Danger in 1989.

With each book, fans grew and the legend of Jack Ryan and Captain Mancuso also grew, which led Clancy to Hollywood’s doorstep. In 1990, The Hunt for Red October was made into a film, starring Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan and Sean Connery as Soviet Captain Ramius.

In addition to the steady stream of novels, Clancy has also written several non-fiction books, all related to his favourite themes of espionage, history and military.

His passion for showing the CIA pursuing the bad guy has consequentely fueled millions of readers to follow his characters, as well as many movie fans to watch his characters on the big screen, well into the 21st century.

memories of the ’70s – Frederick Forsyth

In the early 1970s, the world of thriller writing added a voice – Frederick Forsyth.

This Brit was a former freelance journalist, who turned his hand to write novels, inspired by the time he spent covering wars and news stories on the African continent.

His first book, The Day of the Jackal, was based on the real-life attempt by Organisation Armee Secree to assassinate the French President Charles de Gaulle.

Published in 1971, this first novel won the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award as well as becoming a worldwide bestseller. The following year in 1972, Forsyth penned The Odessa File, about a reporter tracking down an ex-Nazi SS officer.

His third book, The Dogs of War, published in 1974, was closely followed by The Shepherd in 1975, all bestsellers. Forsyth finished the decade with The Devil’s Alternative, which was set in the future and focused on the Soviet Union’s crisis with a bad grain harvest and how several players try to manipulate the situation to their advantage.

For the 1970s, Forsyth’s mix of politics, recent history and strong characters made his books popular with readers and bookstores, using his knowledge and imagination to create a fictional world that wasn’t too far from reality.

No surprise that of his books published in the 1970s, the majority were also made into successful films by Hollywood.

Focusing on the details, the spies, assassins, diplomats and mercenaries that inhabit the books are meticulous in their plotting, and Forsyth’s revelation of their worlds make for compelling reading, even in the 21st century.

memories of the ’80s – Tempestuous Eden by Heather Graham

As the changes in society happened, so did the chaste world of romance novels, with the debut of Dell Books new collection of books, Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme, and its first book Tempetuous Eden by Heather Graham.

The rules of romance had started out with chaste loves, as virginal girls found their journeys to the altar a bit more difficult thanks to bad men and scoundrels, rakes and wastrels, but ultimately their hero would come to find them, love them and marry them.

But seeing the changes that came from Avon Books in the 1970s, with romances now sharing more intimate details and the readers buying them in the millions, book publishers decided to get with the times.

In 1983, Dell Books debuted its new imprint, Candlelight Esctasy Supreme – dedicated to romance stories that broke a new rule – that its heroine wasn’t a virgin.

The first book of the series was Tempetuous Eden by Heather Graham, who also writes under the name Shannon Drake. This novel was set in Central America, with main character Blair, former socialite widow who decided to have one night of romance in the jungle with Craig.

But Blair knew nothing of Craig – was he a mercenary, government agent or a terrorist? Now that she was captured by him, was this a ruse or an actual kidnapping? Blair battles trying to understand the developing romance between her and Craig Taylor, hero.

Readers loved this new series, happily spending millions to see what happened with these female characters – one who weren’t virginal misses with no knowledge of the world, but those who had experience life and were trying to find that man to be with them.

Dell Books reportedly had over the top sales, with reports of US$30 million after one year of the series being published. The series contains 160 titles.

With these changes in the category, mainstays like Harlequin Books and Silhouette Books, changed and adapted too. The romance reader was the big winner, finding their options growing greater by the month.

memories of the ’70s – The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

For those romance readers of the 1970s, one writer took the lead and now thousands follow her path of description: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ The Flame and Flower.

In the late 1960s, romance was divided into two sections – contemporary stories, published in paperback and sold in drugstores and other mass-market retailers, historical romance novels, sold in bookstores in hardcover.

Stories were chaste, offering no intimate details of a physical relationship between a man and a woman, instead focusing on the emotional reactions of falling in love.

Woodiwiss had written a 600 page romance novel, but its length was its initial detriment, getting rejected by many agents and publishers. She kept getting the same advice – to rewrite the novel.

Instead, Woodiwiss sent her unsolicited manuscript to Avon Books, where an editor pulled it from the slush pile, read it and offered the writer $1500 plus 4% royalties on sales.

The Flame and the Flower focuses on the story of Heather Simmons, who kills a man trying to rape her and then is taken by a ship captain to be his mistress. But when she is found to be pregnant, the two are married. Now Mrs. Birmingham, she suffers from the hatred of the Captain’s former fiancee but that encourages the couple to fall in love.

Mrs. Birmingham is blackmailed due to the death of the man who tried to rape her, the Captain is blamed for the death of a former girlfriend and the two survive the accusations and jail to be together and in love.

This novel was the first to break the romance rules, not only having a main character who is not a virgin throughout the storyline, but also detailing the intimate relationship of Heather and the Captain from their first encounter on his ship. As well, Woodiwiss makes Heather a strong character, not a weak female waiting to be rescued by a strong male hero every time she’s faced with danger.

Avon published The Flame and the Flower in April 1972, as an Avon Featured Title in original paperback, with a print run of 500,000 copies, a risky move for a book that hadn’t been published in hardcover and was breaking all the rules of romantic storylines. The cover illustration showed the lead characters embracing, a departure for the traditional style of romance books.

But this story proved that readers wanted more – and became one of the most successful books of the time period and genre, selling millions of copies. In 1975 Publisher’s Weekly Magazine reported that four Avon Books tiles including two by Woodiwiss, had sold a combined total of eight million copies in the United States.

The Flame and the Flower sold 4.5 million copies and went through 40 printings in six years, and in 2013, is still in print.

For those who don’t understand the power of romance, The Flame the Flower broke all the rules, to show that readers wanted to know about love in all its steamy details.

memories of the ’80s – Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer

In the 1980s, the hardboiled detective of the 1940s came back to the small screen in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer.

First conceived by Spillane in his first detective novel I The Jury published in 1947, Mike Hammer had an illustrious career in print before becoming a character on the small screen, as one of Spillane’s major characters.

Mike Hammer first came to television in the late 1950s, with Darren McGavin playing Mike Hammer. In the mid 1980s, Mike Hammer was brought back to television with Stacy Keach as the private detective uncovering mysteries for clients in New York City.

The reintroduction began with two CBS tv movies – Murder Me, Murder You and More than Murder.

Although set in contemporary time, the film noir elements were used in the tv scripts, with the main character always wearing a wrinkled suit, fedora and trench coat. Hammer was a guy’s guy, and far from being politically-correct.

Unlike the contemporary detectives on television, Hammer smoked, was often shown in bed with a new lady friend, and didn’t mind using his gun Betsy – a Colt ’45 – when needed.

Lindsay Bloom was Hammer’s secretary Velda, Don Stroud as Capt. Chambers, Kent Williams as ADA Lawrence Barrington and Donna Denton as The Face, a mysterious woman, were regular episodic characters.

But filming of the second season was interrupted when Stacy Keach, in England to star in a mini-series,was arrested for cocaine possession. Convicted and incarcerated for nine months, Keach was released after six months, and the series had been cancelled.

An additional tv movie with Keach as Hammer – The Return of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – lured back original fans, leading to the subsequent series The New Mike Hammer, starring Keach but with a new cast of characters. But this version didn’t keep fans interested and the series was cancelled after one year in 1986.

I remember occasionally watching this series, but not liking the film noir elements at the time, which as I grew older, I began to appreciate much more. But I do remember Keach’s arrest and conviction, which made news around the world.

A series that may have had a good life on television had its time cut short, but remembered for its stylish take on the 1940s circa the 1980s.

memories of the ’80s – Princess Daisy by Judith Krantz

Spending her years working in the Paris Fashion industry and then writing for major American magazines helped Krantz develop her unique writing style and create the novel Princess Daisy.

Krantz moved to Paris in 1948, working in fashion public relations. In 1949, she returned to the United States, and begin working in the fiction department of Good Housekeeping Magazine.

After marriage and the birth of her first son, Krantz became a freelance writer, contributing stories to McCall’s, Ladies Home Journal and Cosmopolitan.

In the late 1970s, she decided to try her hand at fiction, writing her first novel Scruples in 1978. Its bestseller success led her to be offered an unprecedented $5 million advance for next novel, Princess Daisy, published in 1980.

Creating a new category on the shelves in the 1980s, Krantz’s books were not easily labelled – romance? thriller? mystery? – all those elements were included in her whirlwind world, and with just as many juicy bits about high society as sexual exploits.

Princess Daisy tells the story of a young woman, whose father is a Russian prince and her mother a famous American actress. She has a twin sister Danielle, a sleazy half brother Ram and her confidante Anabelle.

Telling the story of her birth and her parents strained relationship, the books focuses on Daisy’s survival despite her half brother and her famous lineage.

Hitting the New York Times bestseller list in the top 10 on publication, Princess Daisy was soon at number one – and confirming Krantz as a successful author, not a one trick pony. The English-language paperback rights for the novel were sold for $3.2 million. In 1983 the book was made into an NBC television miniseries starring Lindsay Wagner, Stacy Keach, Robert Urich and Rupert Everett.

Trashy and fabulous – that’s what this book was – happily following in the footsteps of Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins. I remember wanting to read the book after hearing all the hype about it, but being too young to able to check it out of the library thanks to the watchful eye of my Mother. But a few years later I did read the book – which for a teenager was a thrilling read – and got to see the miniseries on videocassette.

Krantz’s writing conjured up the classic themes of love, romance, wealth and society – and became a guilty pleasure of readers of the 1980s and beyond.

memories of the ’70s – Wifey by Judy Blume

Best known for her children’s books, this author decided to tackle adult issues with the debut of her first book for adults: Wifey.

Novelist Judy Blume had written several successful kids books in the 1970s, including Are you there God? It’s me Margaret, Freckle Juice and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

But Blume wanted to tackle an adult book – looking at the issues of relationships and what was going on with the changing views of society towards sexuality in the late ’70s.

Wifey, published in 1978, was a surprise to the literary scene – many thought she should have published with a pseudonym and many believed she wouldn’t be able to write kids books any longer.

Focusing on New Jersey housewife Sally Pressman, the story reveals Sally’s desire to add some excitement to her humdrum life of being a wife, and decides to have an affair with an old boyfriend.

As she pursues her sexual awakening, Sally suspects her husband has been in a long-term affair himself and starts to find out about her surrounding society, which has been exploring the world of open marriages and changing sexual mores.

Blume’s switch from the culture of kids to adults may not have been the biggest bestseller, but it certainly became notorious – and not just among adults.

I remember being a pre-teen and having whispered conversations with other girls about the book – one of the Moms had purchased the book and her daughter promised to smuggle it to school so we could all take a look. The details about sexual relations were all our fascination, although no one would own up to our own personal curiosities.

Little did we know that our curiosity matched the author – although she was writing for adults, she too wanted to imagine what was going on behind closed doors in the suburban neighbourhoods of America.

As her first adult novel, Wifey was treated differently than any of her children’s book – which are found in every English-language school library around the world – but certainly found its audience among women.

Selling four million copies of Wifey certainly didn’t stop the writer, still a successful novelist in the 21st century of both kids and adult books.

memories of the ’70s – Ragtime

In the 1970s, an author took a few influences from the current day and mixed it with the past to create the story Ragtime.

E.L. Doctorow chose New York City in 1900 to blend the reality of history with the fictional creation of three families and how they progressed in America. Ragtime was his fourth published novel.

There is the white family (Father, Mother, Younger Brother, Grandfather), the black family (Sarah, Coalhouse Walker, child) the Jewish family ( Tateh, Little Girl) and the socialite Evelyn Nesbit. Doctorow uses very few names, emphasizing their status in the story by their actions and the stereotypes of turn of the century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the industrial revolution making changes, these families show the highs and lows of society. Coalhouse Walker becomes popular because of his skill as a piano player thanks to Mother and Father, but comes up against a racist police officer which puts him back in his place, while Nesbit is obsessed with Little Girl because of her beauty, but her father eventually realizes the superficial attraction and takes her away from the big city’s evils.

Doctorow uses real historical figures including performer Harry Houdini, businessman J.P. Morgan, activist Booker T. Washington and businessman Henry Ford – each plays a role in the life of main characters showing their greed and how their pursuit of success affects their life.

Doctorow’s unique creation attracted many readers, landing him on the bestseller lists as well as winning the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1975 and the Academy Award of Arts and Letters. The popular acclaim of the novel led to it becoming a movie and a musical in the early 1980s.

For the readers of the 1970s, it mirrored the changing society as well as showed the historical influences that made the difference to society. During this decade, change was in the air and society had benefited from the past and realized the power in the present.

memories of the ’80s – The Commitments

In the late 1980s, Irish writer Roddy Doyle quickly became a favourite the world over, with his debut novel, The Commitments.

Doyle, who had toiled as an English and Geography teacher, focused on the youth of his hometown Dublin, and came up with the concept of how a bunch of friends form a band, without any knowledge at all of the music industry.

The Commitments was the first of the now well-known Barrytown Trilogy, published in 1987 by King Farouk Publishers of Dublin.

Lead characters Derek and Outspan decide a band is a good idea, and recruit their school buddy Jimmy Rabbite to be their manager and help them find the right people. At a wedding, they discover Joey “The Lips” Fagan, an unknown trumpet player, claiming a connection to some well-known musicians.

The rag tag band comes together to learn music, and bring the sounds of soul to Ireland. In the end, 11 members make up the band, and the unique combination of personalities causes attraction, fights, tension and interest – the fans love their performances even with the members constantly fighting. But alas, the moment has to end, as the members can’t hold it together although their manager Jimmy has almost signed a deal for them to record.

Doyle’s unique view of Dublin life was a fresh view of Irish youth – especially with his gift for dialogue, which is what the author relied on in the book. His grasp of language and slang brought the characters to life, which in turn led Hollywood to come calling, with a successful movie produced in the early 1990s.

With the later publication of The Snapper and The Van, The Commitments was a bestseller favourite, with Doyle touring extensively through North America and Europe in the late 1980s to festivals and reading engagements, reading from the book with his distinct voice, bringing Jimmy and friends to life.

I was lucky enough to witness one of those readings, in a crowded venue, many drinks on every table, with everyone as excited and engaged like witnessing the final of the World Cup. And to this day, whenever I read a Doyle novel, I can hear his voice, bringing a lilt of laughter, a touch of sadness and a depth of understanding of human nature with his words.

memories of the ’80s – Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche

During the the early part of this decade, a satirical tome took on the role of men in popular society and proclaimed the right and wrong way to be a man.

Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to all that is Truly Masculine (Pocket Books), written by Bruce Feirstein and illustrated by Lee Lorenz, was a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of men, what they should be like and how to aspire to be macho men in the face of the politically-correct, sensitive world they now found themselves inhabiting.

The book liberally used the phrase ‘quiche-eater’ as an archetype of what men should not be: an over-anxious conformer, trend-catcher and dilettante. Not the tough guy, the guy who doesn’t think about his appearance 24/7 or focuses on how to deal with his feelings. Real men didn’t make a quiche for the woman in their lives, and then clean up afterwards.

Fierstein’s book was a response to the previous decade of feminism and wanting to offer a silly explanation for the way men had become – confused by their role in society if they couldn’t be the archetype man – who were they supposed to be?

The book spent 55 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, and sold over 1.6 million copies.

The phrase certainly implanted into popular culture’s lexicon, with many other books released within the next few years and decades: Real Dogs Don’t Eat Leftovers, Real Women Never Pump Iron, Real Men Don’t Apologize, Real Kids Don’t Say Please, Real Men Don’t Say Splendid and Real Women Send Flowers.

Joyce Jillson’s Real Women Don’t Pump Gas was a companion book to Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, and 10 years after publication, Fierstein wrote the sequel, Real Men Don’t Bond.

Like the film industry, the book industry loves a good theme – and exploits it as far and wide as possible. I remember the book’s publication and the ridiculousness of its contents, discussed by the Mums of my neighbourhood. I never read the book, not interested in something seemingly silly and somehow targeted as married women.

And although this book would be hard to find on shelves in any bookstore in this century, its satirical style is still found through imitators – in serious and laugh out loud books.