Going Back in Time to 1979: Researching the Disco Era
by Richie Narvaez
I never thought I would write a historical mystery or a YA mystery. But the process of writing Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco (Pinãta Books, 2020) involved a fair bit of time travel. And a lot of in-seat dancing. I decided to set this book in 1979 because I was going to write about a 14-year-old protagonist. And the last time I had been 14 was in 1979.
But that meant a little sentimental journeying. I got out the old high school yearbook and found pages and pages of character suggestions. For the book, I scrambled names and personalities, I made an old friend the school principal, I made an old rival look like an idiot. This is what writing is all about! This was great!
But the thing that helped me most get back to that long-ago era and get into the right mood was music.
For most of the ’70s, I listened to the likes of John Denver, Harry Chapin, Janis Ian, and a lot of American Standards — because that’s what Pop liked and Pop had command of the radio. But as my sister and brother got older, they would bring home these disco albums to play (on our wonky record player in our rickety entertainment unit). At first, I balked at John Revolta and his three-piece suit and the chipmunk sound of the Bee-Gees. Jeez louise!
But then there was this song called “Supernature” by Cerrone. With its bizarre lyrics (telling a story similar to a dozen Animals Gone Wild movies from the ’70s) and insistent beat, it was like a 10-minute B-grade horror movie you could dance to. This appealed to my nerdy, sci fi- and horror-loving pre-adolescent mind. Then there was “Devil’s Gun,” by C. J. & Company, which had a neon green demon/alien on the cover. Hello, you’ve got my attention.
So, I learned to like disco quite a bit. But, really, I was too young to love it the way my sister and brother did. I never learned to do the Hustle, never went to Studio 54. Musical genres like Modern Rock and Freestyle were more a part of my formative years.
As I sat down to plan the book, I realized I hadn’t thought about disco in a long time. There was quite a bit of social history to uncover. Disco may have been maligned for its sameness and mindlessness, but there were clearly undertones of homophobia and prejudice in the malice directed toward it.
As to the music itself, I dove right in — by listening to music the way you do nowadays. I went to YouTube. Now, I don’t usually listen to music when I scribble, but my neighbor upstairs had been proving particularly lead-footed, so on went the headphones.
First I focused on what was popular, and I found I still wasn’t crazy about the Bee Gees. But then I rediscovered Donna Summer! That plaintive, sultry voice is mesmerizing. From there I listened to MFSB, Tavares, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Hues Corporation, France Joli, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and more. I even discovered I had a favorite disco song: “Native New Yorker,” by Odyssey, a melancholy slow-disco meditation on Big Apple dreaming.
There was so much to listen to. Every day, I’d go through playlists and find singers and bands I wanted to learn more about. You know the idea of a wikihole? It’s an Internet-age rabbit hole of discovery after discovery. I went down that path willfully, gleefully, rocking in my chair, if not rocking dancing shoes.
I think Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco came out all the better for it. I was able to get into the mood of the era. I was able to hear what my teen detective protagonist was hearing and imagine her reactions. And if I could do that, then I could take my readers’ hands and invite them on to the dance floor with me.
Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco
by Richie Narvaez
About Holly Hernandez and
the Death of Disco
Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco
Young Adult Cozy Mystery
Grade Level: 10 – 12
1st in Series
Publisher: Pinata Books (May 31, 2020)
Paperback: 248 pages
Digital Publisher: Arte Público Press (June 22, 2020)
Print Length: 255 pages
Holly Hernandez, voted “Miss Bright of ’79” and valedictorian at her previous school, is excited to start fresh at Flatbush Technical High School, one of the most competitive public schools in New York City. She’ll be one of thousands; anonymous. But her dreams of a normal school life disappear when her mother, a homicide detective, has to investigate the murder of Mr. Friedman, the social studies teacher.
One of her classmates, Xander Herrera, quickly becomes the primary suspect. The tall, awkward boy is socially inept, but Holly doesn’t think he’s a murderer. She is intent on exonerating him—but he wants nothing to do with her. To Xander, Holly is the overly enthusiastic student who always sits in the front row and answers all the teachers’ questions—correctly. He hates perky people!
Eventually cleared of the crime, Xander is determined to find the killer before Holly. As they race to solve the case, their separate investigations lead to a slew of suspects, including another teacher seen arguing with Friedman and a mysterious person named Steve who met with him several times before his death. Could it have been a disgruntled student? Ultimately, a trophy for a disco-dancing contest leads the intrepid young detectives to the Mission Venus nightclub and a murderer intent on killing again!
About Richie Narvaez
Richie Narvaez is author of the award-winning collection Roachkiller and Other Stories and the gentrification thriller Hipster Death Rattle. His latest novel is the historical YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco.
Website – https://www.richienarvaez.com
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RichieNarvaezAuthor/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/richie_narvaez
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rnz1000/
GoodReads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4530759.Richie_Narvaez
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