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At a "Stranger Things" experience in NYC.

Years ago, I attended a children’s writing conference where an agent begged the audience to please not write about the time we grew up in. While I could see what she meant by the advice, I also got a good response later that year when I sent the opening pages of a middle grade novel to an editor I’d met at the same conference. In the words of the editor, my story about a girl who traveled back in time to the 1980s to meet the childhood version of her favorite teacher “had an intriguing premise,” but I hadn’t quite nailed the voice of the protagonist yet. 

I’ve begun noticing a trend of bringing back pop culture from 10, 20, even 30 years ago, especially in books, movies, and TV shows. Last summer I read a suspense/thriller novel by an author named Riley Sager called “Survive the Night.” Part of the reason I decided to purchase the novel was because it took place in 1991 and featured a protagonist looking for a ride share home from college. There were no cell phones, George H.W. Bush was president, and Nirvana ruled the airwaves. As a reader who spent my high school and college years in the 1990s, the setting and time period appealed to me. 

I remember going to the movie theater in the summer of 1993 to see the original “Jurassic Park” and being horrified watching Michael Crichton’s science-fiction novel come to life on the screen. Four movies later, “Jurassic World Dominion (featuring many of the same actors that graced the original) had the second-biggest opening weekend of the year just behind “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” My husband was beyond excited to finally get to see “Top Gun: Maverick,” as he can recite every line from the original, and we both agreed the filmmakers really cashed in on the nostalgia of the film by using so much of the music we loved from the first soundtrack and well, I won’t spoil anything else if you’re still planning on seeing it. 

After the last few years we’ve had, I can understand the joy of seeing things from my childhood and teen years come back around again. I got hooked on the Netflix series “Stranger Things” more for the nostalgic angle than the science-fiction plot lines. I love seeing the clothing the characters will be wearing and which pop culture items will be lurking in the background of each scene (kudos to Kate Bush and the revitalization of her 1985 song, “Running Up That Hill) from the current season. 

Nostalgia is the reason why classic car collectors spend years looking for a specific car they have fond memories tied to. It’s why the “Forrest Gump” and its original motion picture soundtrack became so popular in 1994. Indulging in nostalgia connects our emotions to memories. It brings us together collectively. It helps sharpen our minds. It gives our lives new meaning. 

I think I might be ready to polish off that time traveling young girl from a 1980s summer camp story. Maybe with a little work, it could be the escapism some kids are looking for. 

Have you written anything from a time period you grew up in? What was the response like? What are some of your favorite time periods for books and movies to be set in? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also produces the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas.

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