The Kindle edition of The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes is now available for pre-orders at : https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BF1FL61T. It will be available on October 3, 2022. For some reason, Amazon will not allow us to set up the paperback edition for pre-ordering, so we will post that paperback edition several days before October 3rd so that those who order right when it goes live should get their paperbacks on or around that release date. I will announce here when the paperback edition goes live. It should look fantastic thanks to Jess Tedder’s amazing painting on the front cover.
Work on the sequel to The “Volunteer” is moving along and nearing completion. I am very happy to reveal the cover of this new novel, The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes (the first chapter of which can be read here: The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes, Chapter One). It is based on “Persistence”, a 60″ by 48″ oil on canvas painting by an amazing artist named Jess Tedder whose works can be seen on her Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/thejesstedder/.
The new book will be available on October 4, 2023. The Kindle version will be available for pre-order very soon.
I am very happy to report that I finished the first draft of The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes about ten days ago. I did start my first pass through the book, and there in the third chapter is a plot setup that I never saw to fruition. So I will be adding that as I go through the novel this first time. The first draft was just under 81,000 words, although with the additions I now know I need to make, that will probably be longer when the book makes it to its final form.
When I posted my mini-review of David L. Hatton‘s new novel Muse: Naked Truth Poses Again last month, I had no idea that I would soon meet the man himself in person. As I mentioned in that mini-review, he and I had corresponded sporadically on the web over the years, but until I read the bio on the back cover of his new book, I had no idea where he lived. That location turned out to be Sacramento, CA. I had just delivered a fifth wheel to an RV dealership in Sacramento less than a month before I received my copy of Muse.
During that early December trip, I had endured a delay in Laramie, WY due to high winds on Interstate 80 through at least half of Wyoming. With fifth-wheels being a high-profile low-weight vehicle, I just could not risk trying to take it through those winds. After sitting around Laramie for over ten extra hours, the winds finally shifted and died down, and I continued on my way. I delivered that fifth-wheel and drove the long trek home from there. Because of the nature of the winters in Wyoming and not wanting to take a multi-hundred mile detour pulling a diesel-consuming trailer, I had resolved not to try another west coast run until spring. So a meeting with David Hatton was not on my radar for the immediate future.
The transport company I contract with has been trying to get a number of trailers to that dealership in Sacramento. They had been pushing those trailers to us drivers so hard that I checked the weather forecast for the route out there and discovered a window of decent weather that would last long enough for me to get up to Indiana, get one of those trailers, and get it out to Sacramento. So that’s what I did. Once I got to Sacramento, David seemed almost as eager to meet me as I was to meet him. We met at a restaurant next to the hotel I where I was spending the night. I still had the trailer hooked up to my truck, so I couldn’t just go anywhere until I delivered it the following morning. We had a very tasty meal and shared some great conversation. I gave him a signed copy of Life Models, and he gave me signed copies of three of his books including an extra copy of Muse: Naked Truth Poses Again. It is both a blessing and a benefit of this RV hauling job that I got to meet the man behind the books and the emails. I hope we are able to get together again on my next trip to California.
In what has to be a personal record, I have finished reading a book with a current year copyright on January 12th of that current year. The book was Muse: Naked Truth Poses Again by David L. Hatton. The author and I have corresponded sporadically over many years, and when I saw the synopsis of his new novel, releasing on January 2, 2022, I was immediately interested. The new book is very much a faith-based novel, but it deals with the subject of body freedom, body positivity, and modeling nude for art classes, a job I’ve done and loved since 1984.
The book arrived the same day I got home from my latest RV hauling trip, and it took me three days to read it. I was struck by how many similarities there were to my novel Life Models. Both novels feature a male character grieving over the recent loss of a spouse, revolve around nude models who are also Christians, and describe characters who have to deal with the issue of abortion. Unlike Muse, Life Models is not a faith based novel, although some of my characters deal with issues of faith. My book also features a graphic sex scene, described the way it is because of what happens later. The characters in Muse: Naked Truth Poses Again are much more devout in their Christian faith and practice than anyone I know in my regular life other than clergy and certainly more than any of the characters I’ve created and written about.
I don’t normally read faith-based fiction, and I’ve never even considered writing it. What little I have read seems too on-the-nose regarding dialogue and presenting a certain message. The dialogue is especially limited as the words that some (not all) characters would say in anger and frustration (i.e. cuss words) are verboten in Christian fiction. Those limitations apply to Muse, but the message of Hatton’s book, that restricting even the mere sight of nudity in our art and culture leads to an unhealthy sexualization of God’s greatest creation, is so unique in Christian literature and important to us all, that the limitations can be overlooked. In fact, reading Muse: Naked Truth Poses Again presented me with new insights into my own relationship with my wife and the way our culture approaches romantic attraction in general. It has strengthened my resolve to follow Christ more devoutly.
2021 comes to a merciful end today, and I still haven’t finished my sequel to The “Volunteer”. When I started hauling RVs for a living, I figured on being able to write a little bit while on the road and even more at home. And since I only planned on being on the road about half the time, I thought my opportunities for writing would only increase from what they had been when I worked as an IT technician. But that hasn’t been the case as driving my eleven hours a day is exhausting and takes a toll on my eyes. I’ve been unable to read or write at the end of each driving day just because of the eyestrain and general exhaustion. It usually takes me a day to recharge once I get home from one my trips and another day to get back into the writing groove. However, I seem to be my four-year-old granddaughter’s center of attention on most of the days when I am home, and writing (and just about anything else) takes a back seat to her.
I generally loathe new year’s resolutions, but I am making a commitment to making more writing time in 2022, even if it means driving less than my eleven hours a day. I have to at least open my laptop and typed a few words each and every day. My sixteen-month-old truck already has 176,000 miles on it, and at my current rate, it will hit 300,000 miles by the end of 2022. While I’d like to think the truck will make it to one million miles (it is possible), I have to face the reality that I need to build more revenue streams than just that truck. I not only need to finish The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes in 2022, I need to write several additional novels. I do have two other ideas percolating in my mind, one of which already has a few chapters written.
I would like to wish anyone reading this a very Happy 2022. I still enjoy my RV hauling gig though, and to demonstrate that, here’s a photo of me from early October in front of Stephen King‘s house in Bangor, ME (my first-ever trip to Maine). I had delivered a trailer to a dealership in Glenburn. I had no idea where in Maine that was when I booked the trailer, so imagine my surprise when I saw that it was about ten minutes away from Stephen King’s house. I’ve been reading Stephen King’s fiction since 1982, so a stop in front of his house was just something I had to do while there. And I ate a very tasty lobster roll right after this photo was taken.
As promised in my last post, here is the first chapter, as it was published in Panther City Review, of my sequel to The “Volunteer”. The final version may vary somewhat as I continue working on the novel and go through revisions, but this is enough to see where the story might be headed, along with the point of view shift…
Los Angeles is loaded with girls willing to take their clothes off on camera for a part in a movie or television show, hoping it would lead to a shot at fame and fortune, but Adam Munch still drove out to Palm Desert just to meet a naked girl. She was known as Naked Dani, and he had, of course, seen the news reports over the past few months about her and had watched her live appearance on Stossel when it aired. But he had been in the film and television production business long enough to know how staged even the news could be. Sure, they had gotten footage of her walking naked through the campus, and she had been naked for the Stossel show. But was that much different than the nude-in-public videos that were shot in Europe and marketed as soft porn on the web? Surely she wasn’t naked twenty-four hours a day seven days a week as was being claimed. First of all, how could she legally get away with it? And wasn’t she leaving herself vulnerable to all kinds of attacks: verbal, physical, and sexual?
By chance, Adam had found an advanced reader copy of her upcoming memoir The “Volunteer” at a book festival in LA. He read the entire book in one day, and her story resonated with him. Adam was especially intrigued by her philosophy of combating sexualization of the body in pornography and mainstream media by going about casually nude. He was also fascinated by her religious upbringing and her desire to go to church services even in her undressed state. The ideas started turning, so the first thing he did was contact the girl’s literary agent, Audrey Lambert, to inquire about film and television rights. Those had not been optioned yet but two other producers had inquired about them. Adam had asked for a meeting with both Audrey and the girl. Audrey had referred him to a publicist at the girl’s school, Coachella Valley University, since any such meeting would have to take place on campus due to her constant state of nudity.
The meeting was to take place on the fourth floor of the main administration building which Adam found with minimal difficulty after the security officer at the campus entrance gave him a map and directions along with the visitor parking pass. Adam rode the elevator to the fourth floor and found the room number he had been given, a conference room with a clear glass wall facing the corridor and large window overlooking most of the campus. The room was empty since Adam was almost twenty minutes early. He set his briefcase down on the table and stood at the window watching the foot traffic below. Seeing Naked Dani down there without a stitch of clothing in the middle of everybody was jarring even after seeing the news reports and reading her book. Two women in business attire walked on either side of her. Adam recognized Audrey Lambert, the agent. He had met her before and, remembering the name, had researched her before calling her to ask about the film rights. The other woman must be Sylvia Smith, the university’s publicist. The three of them were heading toward the administration building, each with a Starbucks cup in hand.
Adam watched the rest of the people walking to and fro. Those walking the opposite direction seemed to be nodding or saying something in greeting to the naked girl, but only one or two took a look back at her once they had passed. Adam was surprised to see how many people seemed to take no note of Naked Dani at all. Had seeing her naked and out and about on campus really become so commonplace? According to her book, she had started going naked right after spring break. It was now early October. She’d been doing this for seven months, minus the time spent back home away from campus.
Adam watched the three women until they disappeared from sight at the foot of the building below him. He turned away from the window and opened his briefcase to make sure his written questions were still there on top of everything else. They were, so he closed the briefcase without latching it shut. He sat down and tried to look casually comfortable when they came into the conference room. The three of them walked in talking and laughing but quieted when they saw Adam stand to his feet.
“Hello, I’m Adam Munch from Munchie Productions.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry we weren’t here to greet you,” said the woman he didn’t recognize. She stepped forward and offered her hand. “I’m Sylvia Smith with Coachella Valley University.”
Adam shook her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
The other dressed woman offered her hand and said, “Audrey Lambert. We spoke on the phone.”
“Yes, we’ve met before. About two years ago, I think. You were representing Claudia Coker.”
“Ah yes. I remember you now. I’m sorry that project didn’t work out for you.”
Adam shrugged. “She seems to have found something better.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Hopefully, we can work out something here.”
“I hope so,” Audrey said.
The nude girl stepped forward, about twenty-one years old and darkly tanned from a summer in the desert sun. Adam reminded himself to maintain eye contact no matter how much the shapely bare breasts hovered in his peripheral vision.
“I’m Dani Keaton,” she said, smiling.
“Adam. Please, call me Adam.”
The four of them stood beside the table for an awkward moment, as Adam marveled at how poised Dani seemed. She didn’t appear to be in the least self-conscious about her nudity.
“Thank you for meeting with me today,” he said to try to break the ice.
“Thank you for coming all this way,” Sylvia offered.
Audrey was already walking around the table to take a seat on the other side, and Dani followed her.
“Why don’t we all sit down, and I’ll go over my proposal,” Adam suggested.
They all sat, and Adam couldn’t help but notice that Dani’s bare breasts were visible through the glass wall to anyone who happened to walk by in the corridor. Her brown hair was long enough to touch her shoulders but not long enough to cover anything below that. Adam pulled his Advanced Reader Copy of The “Volunteer” from his briefcase and set it on the table.
“Let’s talk about your book first,” he said.
“OK,” Dani said before either of the other two women could respond.
“It ends in June, and we’ve only gotten to October. That’s a really fast turnaround.”
“Yeah,” Dani replied. “I wrote almost all of the first two-thirds when I was at home between the spring semester and summer session. And it didn’t take long to write the stuff that happened in May and June.”
“And it’s a true memoir? You didn’t make any of it up?”
“No, everything in the book is true. I had to leave a lot of stuff out of course. That project did run two months, and I didn’t want to give a day-by-day account of all sixty days.”
“Well sure,” Adam replied. “No one could have included everything.” He checked the questions he wrote on his notepad. “Is there anything you left out that you wish you had included?”
“Oh yeah,” Dani said. “When I got home, my friend Samantha and I had a long talk about the project.”
“The nudity project?” Adam interrupted.
“Yes. I told her that I was glad it had ended, but not. If you know what I mean. She really is my best friend, so she agreed to arrange a few scenarios where I could be naked. I even wrote it that way the first time.”
“Her editor thought the scenes back in Texas might read better if there was someone to root against,” Audrey said.
“Yeah,” Dani agreed. “So I rewrote them and kind of made Samantha look like a bad guy. But really, the swim party and everything was pre-arranged. She wan’t being mean; she was doing what I wanted her to. I did put in the book that she agreed to go to that nudist resort with me after that. I tried to make it clear that we were still friends and just hoped that people could, you know, read between the lines.”
Adam was busy writing notes on his pad before stopping and looking in his briefcase.
“Would you mind if I took video of the rest of this meeting?” he asked.
“What for?” Audrey said.
Adam held up his pen. “So I don’t have to take as many notes, for one. And for another, I want to see how Dani looks when talking on camera.”
“Why would that be important?”
“I’ll get to that.”
Dani and Audrey looked at each other, and Dani shrugged. “Sure, I don’t mind.”
Adam took a small camcorder from his briefcase and set it on the table pointed at Dani. Once he made sure it was running with Dani in the frame from the shoulders up, he resumed questioning.
“Has your friend Samantha read the book?”
“I gave her a copy and told her that it kind of made her look mean. I don’t know if she’s read it yet.”
“Did she seem upset when you told her about how she might come across in the book?”
Dani shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Audrey said your editor wanted readers to have someone to root against. That would be this Dr. Slater for most of the book. What can you tell me about her? Was this sociology project of hers real?”
“It was,” Dani nodded.
“Her first article on the project will be published in Cultural Sociology Journal next month,” Sylvia said.
“Is she still collecting data?” Adam asked. “Since you are still going nude?”
Dani shrugged. “Probably. They have all those ultra high def cameras everywhere on campus.”
“Why did you continue going naked? You said in the book that you did it to save Dr. Slater’s project, along with her job. Was that the reason?”
“No, not really. It’s complicated. I just know that for two months, I was special. Everyone looked at me everywhere I went. People treated me like a rock star or something. And when I put clothes on after the semester ended, I was like everyone else. Just another face in the crowd. A nobody.”
Adam was nodding, not because he was agreeing but because he was trying to get her to open up and keep talking.
“So when I was back here on campus after the break,” she continued, “I realized that I still had that opportunity to stand out from the crowd, and that if I didn’t continue taking it while I could, then I would probably regret it when I didn’t have it anymore. Do you know what I mean?”
When Dani paused, Adam looked down at his list of pre-written questions and closed the tablet.
“I think I do,” Adam said. “Now, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but is there an element of sexual excitement by going nude all the time?”
Dani shook her head. “No, not really. I think it would be if I only went naked just every once in awhile. But going like this all the time, it just becomes a part of who I am.”
“But in the book,” Adam said, picking it up and thumbing through some pages, “you talk about feeling aroused and at one point having to duck into the Science Building just to find a bathroom and give yourself some relief.”
Dani’s face blushed a deep red. “Well, that was my editor again. He wanted to play up the sex. He told me that people would want a read like 50 Shades of Grey or something. Said it would sell more copies. The only problem was, I wasn’t sexually active.”
“So those parts aren’t true?”
“Oh no, they’re true. That was the only ‘erotic content’ I could honestly put into the book,” Dani said, making air quotes with her fingers as she said the words erotic content. “Like I said, it was very important to me to not write anything that didn’t happen or wasn’t honest. And there was an adjustment period to the project. When you’ve been told all your life that your body is impure and has to be covered, and then you’re told you have to go naked everywhere, that ingrained belief in its impurity becomes almost self-fulfilling. If you know what I mean. So yes, I felt sexually aroused by my nudity at the beginning. That gradually wore off as I got more used to it. And that time in the Science Building; yeah, that did happen. I wrote it and hated what I had written, but my editor insisted that I keep it in.”
Adam nodded as he watched Dani talk on the viewfinder screen on his camcorder, containing his excitement as he realized his idea might actually work. The three women in the room would just have to buy into it.
“Ok,” he said. “I came to talk about film and TV rights, so let me tell you my proposal. I don’t think a movie adaptation of the book will work.”
The surprised looks on all three faces almost made Adam laugh, but he held back.
“Why not?” Dani asked.
“A lot of reasons. Number one, there’s a lack of external conflict. The appeal of the book is you telling your story, what you are feeling. That’s all internal conflict and very difficult to portray onscreen. It would take a hell of an actress to pull it off. Which brings me to another issue, casting. I don’t know of any A-list actress who would take the role because of the constant nudity. And without a big name in that role, it would be relegated to the low budget B movie bin. And without that strong external conflict, it would just be seen as a naked girl running around.”
“So why are you interested in the book?” Audrey asked.
“Because of Dani here. The main reason a movie wouldn’t work is because it wouldn’t have her. It would, presumably, only be an actress playing her. People have seen her on the web or on TV. I think that’s what people want to see. What I want to propose is a reality TV series. Short episodes, maybe only a half hour each, focused on Dani going about her normal day-to-day life interspersed with shots of Dani sitting down in front of a camera talking about her philosophy like she was just doing.”
“A reality series?” Audrey asked.
“Exactly. Some successful television shows have been reality series. And Dani’s story and situation are very compelling. People are interested in it. They will watch it.”
“They’ll watch it just to see a pretty naked girl,” Audrey said.
“And they’ll keep watching because of Dani’s personality and outlook on life. She’s positive and has something that people will respond to. That’s why I wanted to come out here for a meeting rather than do business over the phone like every other project I’ve worked on. I needed to meet her and see how she talks when the camera is running. And these past few minutes have convinced me.”
Dani looked at Audrey, and Adam could tell they really wanted to talk about things. He could also tell that Dani was really excited about the proposal.
“So you don’t want to option the film rights of her book?” Audrey asked.
“Like I said, I don’t think a film adaptation would work. But if we move forward on a reality series, that’s going to keep others from optioning it.”
Audrey looked at Dani. “What do you think? It’s you who would be the focus of this reality series? Do you think you are ready for the spotlight?”
“I’ve already been in that spotlight since right after the sociology experiment started,” she said with a shrug of her bare shoulders, ” and especially since that Stossel show.”
Audrey was still looking at Dani with questioning eyes.
“What would you need from us right now?” she asked Adam.
“Well, I don’t have the funding to shoot a pilot right now. I’ll be meeting with someone at Netflix this week to try to secure that. I have a friend on their review board. If I can’t sell it there, I’m probably not going to be able to sell it anywhere else either.”
Adam took two copies of a printed contract from his briefcase and slid them toward Audrey and Dani. “That’s a two week option agreement. I pay you five hundred dollars for exclusive rights to your story, including the book, for two weeks. If I can’t get a deal with Netflix, you keep the five hundred, and you’re free to option the book to anyone else. If I do get a deal, we start production on a pilot episode this month. I’m proposing that you, Dani, get paid ten thousand per episode to start. It’s all in there.”
Audrey was already reading the agreement. Dani just stared at it as if in a daze.
“Five hundred dollars for two weeks,” Audrey mused.
“Yes,” Adam said. “I’m betting my own money that Netflix will go for it. If not, you’re not out anything. The book won’t even be out then, so you’d be free to negotiate with anyone else. But if Netflix does go for it, we could get a pilot episode together before the book comes out. The marketing of both the show and the book could be tied together.”
Everyone looked at Dani.
“What do you think?” Audrey asked. “You would be putting yourself out there in a way that no one has ever done before.”
Adam couldn’t help but see Dani’s eyes shine as she smiled, and he knew she would say yes. This Dr. Slater really hit the jackpot by finding her, a latent exhibitionist, to use in her study on reactions to nudity.
“Like I said, I’ve already had the spotlight on me for the last few months. I don’t see a downside to this.”
Audrey looked to Silvia. “How will the university feel about a film crew following Dani around?”
“Dani has been huge for this university. Our enrollments are hitting new records. If Dani wants to do this, then I don’t see how the university could refuse any reasonable accommodation.”
“The crew would be small,” Adam said, to reassure Silvia of the reasonableness of any future requests, “just me, a sound guy, and lighting guy. We’ll have a makeup artist set up somewhere before each shoot. But other than that, this will be a small, inexpensive production. Especially since we’d be confined to campus. That’s why I think Netflix will go for it.”
“Actually,” Silvia said, “you wouldn’t be entirely restricted to the campus.”
“How is that?” Adam asked.
“We have arrangements with Deal’s grocery store, Mary Ellen’s bar, and a Denny’s in Palm Springs. Dani is as free to be nude there as she is anywhere on campus.”
“Really,” Adam said. “Those businesses just let her walk on in?”
Silvia shrugged. “Fame has its advantages. And Dani is usually a big hit wherever she goes. The Denny’s is the same one we went to after the Coachella Music Festival. They called me a couple of days later and made it clear that Dani, Naked Dani, was welcome back any time.”
In spite of the video camera still running, Adam wrote down the three off-campus locations. They would have to take advantage of all of them during a full season of shows, if the project got that far.
“How is she going to get to these places?” he asked.
“The university has a pool of vehicles,” Silvia replied. “We can appropriate an older one for the show if we need to.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Audrey asked Dani.
“Yes,” she answered, looking at Adam’s camcorder as she spoke. “Absolutely.”
“OK,” Audrey said, motioning toward Adam to see the contract. He slid it over to her, unable to hide his smile.
I apologize for the lack of blog posts here lately. Last August, I bought a three-quarter ton pickup truck and resigned from my office job. Since then, I have been transporting travel trailers and fifth-wheels from where they are manufactured, the Elkhart-Goshen area in northern Indiana, to dealerships all over the country. As of today, June 22nd, I have delivered trailers to dealerships in 22 different states and have driven in or through 41 states. The company I am leased onto has a lot of runs to the northwest, so I have gone on several trips to Washington, Oregon, northern Idaho, and Montana over the past few months. I’ve also done a couple of runs to Las Vegas, a city I had not previously visited.
The main drawback to this job is going several days in a row without seeing my family. I’ve also had to sacrifice a lot of my reading and writing time. After driving all day, my eyes are usually so tired that reading gets put off. As a result, I am still progressing through The Wheel of Time series, something that, after a year, I would have normally finished. I am currently in the middle of the eleventh book, after which, I’ll only have three more books to go. I have read other things between Wheel of Time books, but nowhere near the number of books I had read previously. I’ve also listened to a few audiobooks while driving the truck across the country.
Also on my To-Be-Read stack are the latest Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, Larry McMurtry’s first novel Horseman, Pass By which I bought during a stop at Wall Drug in South Dakota, The Princess Bride which I bought not long after the passing of William Goldman, Storysinger by my cousin Lindsey Landgraf Hess, Aglow by Will Forest (purchased after he and I shared an author table at an arts festival this past fall), and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a book that sold so many copies that I, as an author, feel compelled to read it to see what the big appeal is.
I’m also still working on my sequel to The “Volunteer”, the working title of which is still The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes. In my next post, I’ll share the first chapter of The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes (that chapter was already published in Panther City Review). I am also writing a short story which is a mini-sequel to Life Models for an upcoming anthology. And during a recent family vacation, I came up with a great title for a suspense story. During a hike in the Badlands, my 18-year-old son and I built the framework for a story to match that title. You have to take inspiration when you can get it.
As I write this, my three-year-old granddaughter is running in and out of the room. Being gone for such long stretches makes me cherish all the moments I get with her. Signing off for now. I’ll post that first chapter of The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes in a few days.
When Life Models was going through publication, I was thrilled when artist Katy Hamilton allowed me to use her fantastic drawing of me as the author “photo” on the back cover of the paperback edition.
Here is a detailed shot of that drawing, done over seven weeks in early 2013…
I am very happy to report that, as a Christmas present to myself, I was able to purchase the original drawing earlier this month, matted and framed. It now hangs on the wall above my stairs. This is me the day I bought it…
That drawing is one of the most amazing pieces of art ever produced from my 36 years of modeling.
My middle school years were rough. We had moved from Fort Smith, Arkansas to Fort Worth, Texas during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. My father had returned from a four-year stint away, so we had a whole new family dynamic to deal with, not to mention the culture shock of switching from an Arkansas elementary school (where I would have gone to sixth grade had we stayed there) to a Texas middle school where the day was broken up into periods and I was expected to go from classroom to classroom for each one.
One of my Saturday afternoon traditions during those days in the late 1970s was to sit down and watch the weekly Tarzan movie on channel eleven. Most were black and white and featured actors like Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Lex Barker, and Gordon Scott in the title role. Week after week, Tarzan had to save Jane, save the jungle, or save something, using both his intellect and his brawn. The one thing I always wanted to see but never got to was the story of how he got to the jungle in the first place. That never seemed to be the subject of any of those movies. Tarzan was always there, swinging through the trees with Cheetah and pausing to give out that patented Tarzan yell. I was always envious that he was free to roam the jungle, that he could converse with and was friends with the animals (most of them anyway), and that he got to wear as little clothing as possible (which probably influenced my later choice in a certain part time job I took which was the subject of my novel Life Models).
I would occasionally accompany my mom to the Hulen Mall in southwest Fort Worth, which was still fairly new in 1978. The only store I really liked to go to was the B. Dalton Bookseller. I wasn’t yet a big reader, but I did read outside of school assignments. Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion was an early favorite of mine. But I did like to browse the book shelves, and it was there that I found a shelf full of black paperback Tarzan books with titles that seemed more interesting than any of the movies I had watched: Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, Tarzan and the City of Gold, Tarzan and the Leopard Men, etc. Each book had a little red number in the upper right hand corner of the front cover and on the top of the spine. I did a quick scan and found number one, Tarzan of the Apes.
I was lucky enough to have had enough cash in my pocket to buy a copy of the book (the list price was less than two dollars), and I took it home and dove into the story. For the next several years, I became a constant reader of author Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I had finished his 24 Tarzan books, I moved on to the John Carter of Mars series and then to his other works, The Land that Time Forgot, the Carson of Venus and Pellucidar series, among others. I also branched out into fantasy books by other authors featuring characters like Doc Savage and Conan the Barbarian. And yes, I started writing fantasy stories of my own, amateurish and derivative of Edgar Rice Burroughs, but doing this taught me a lot about writing (mostly that I loved doing it).
The one thing that bugged me the most about my choice of books was that almost all of them were written before I was born. Edgar Rice Burroughs had died sixteen years before I was ever thought of. I was in high school when I ran out of new Edgar Rice Burroughs to read, and other fantasy authors like Anne McCaffery and Piers Anthony had failed to spark my interest. Two of my English teachers talked very highly of an author named Stephen King who wrote mainly horror, although he did dabble in fantasy later on with his Dark Tower series. I took a chance on him when I bought my first ever new release hardcover fiction book, Different Seasons, in 1982. I have bought and read almost every Stephen King hardcover since.
From there, my reading tastes have stayed in fiction set in our contemporary world with a few exceptions, and my own writing could be classified as mainstream. I do have to confess that writing has been difficult these past three months as events in the real world more closely resemble apocalyptic science fiction than realism. If last year someone had written a novel featuring a global pandemic and race riots, readers would have had trouble suspending disbelief.
And it is partly because of this state of current affairs causing a desire to escape into another world that I have begun reading a very highly regarded fantasy series, one that is in the process of being adapted into a television series on Amazon Prime right now. I am currently over six hundred pages into the first book of The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World, and am enjoying it so much that I feel confident in committing to reading the entire series, even though it contains fourteen books (fifteen if you could the prequel which is considerably shorter than any of the fourteen main books), something like 11,000 pages, and over four million words. It remains to be seen if my writing will turn to fantasy, but I can think of worse things that could happen.