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.
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.
As I sit here on Christmas Eve, I can’t help but reflect on 2019. The biggest accomplishment for me was finally finishing and publishing Life Models, but I also made progress on two new projects. One of those is the sequel to The “Volunteer”, now titled The Girl Who Stopped Wearing Clothes. The goal now is to get that released in 2020. And if you can’t wait for the release date to read at least part of the sequel, check out Panther City Review #4, which includes the first chapter.
The second project is a psychological thriller that I started for National Novel Writing Month. Sadly, my travel schedule to FACE derailed my plans for a high word count for NaNoWriMo, but I was able to lay a good foundation for this as yet untitled novel. If I work hard, maybe I can get at least a first draft finished before next November, which would free me up to begin a new project for NaNoWriMo 2020.
I also completed one of my personal reading projects in 2019. Several years ago, I set a goal to acquire and read every winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, going back to the beginning, when the award was called the Pulitzer Prize for Novel. Because of the difficulty in acquiring some titles, I did not read them in chronological order. The last one I read, finished on July 21st, was The Store by T.S. Stribling, the 1933 winner. The collection of 92 books has outgrown the bookshelf I have for it, so I will be getting a larger bookcase soon…
I am looking forward to a very productive 2020. To all of you reading, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
I check the Amazon page for The “Volunteer” regularly to see if any new reader reviews have been added. It is up to 46 reviews on the American Amazon site now, quite a lot for an independently published novel that has never had a major advertising campaign. Even better, the average rating per review is a lofty 4.5 stars. Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed The “Volunteer”.
I saw something interesting when I checked the paperback edition’s Amazon page this morning. In the “Customers who viewed this item also viewed” section was another book, a novel, called The Volunteer.
Of course, I clicked on this other novel to check it out. It is by an author named Salvatore Scibona whose previous novel The End was nominated for a National Book Award. His The Volunteer is scheduled to be released on March 5, 2019. I also saw in the “About the Author” section that Salvatore Scibona is the director for the Scullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. Coincidentally, I worked as a librarian at the New York Public Library in the early 1990s.
I have mixed feelings about seeing another novel with the title The Volunteer. Titles, of course, cannot be copyrighted, and I’m sure there were other books called The Volunteer published before I submitted mine to the world (although I doubt that anyone put the word Volunteer in quotation marks as part of the title). No, the thing that bothers me just a bit is someone searching for Mr. Scibona’s The Volunteer and finding mine instead. Sure, it might make for more sales for me, but most of the people who have bought my The “Volunteer” have done so because they were attracted to the concept. They knew what they were going to get. I’m not so sure those wanting to read Mr. Scibona’s “epic story of a restless young man who is captured during the Vietnam War and pressed into service for a clandestine branch of the United States government” are going to want to read a first person account from a young woman who reluctantly chooses to go naked in public for a sociology experiment.
Part of my misgiving comes from the fact that I am, like many writers, a bit insecure about my writing. I mentioned this in my last post, that I felt an affinity with William Goldman when he said that he was truly proud of only two of his works. For those who search for Mr. Scibona’s book and find mine, I can only say that I hope you enjoy it. It was written just for the pure fun of writing.
On March 7, 2001, I sat in a television studio in New York across from Regis Philbin and answered multiple choice questions until I missed. I wound up winning $32,000 at this little exercise, and along the way, Regis and I talked about my nude modeling job in front of the studio audience and the many cameras.
That episode aired four days later, on Sunday night, March 11th. I went to the store that day, and as I was checking out I looked around at everyone and wondered how many of them would be watching me that night. All they had to do was tune their televisions to ABC. In fact, that applied to anyone in the country, all 250 million of them. It was such a surreal experience. And for a few days after the show aired, people did double takes when they saw me, many of them actually approaching and talking to me as if they knew me, asking about the show and the money I had won.
It’s hard to believe that it has been seventeen years since that amazing experience, but I have grown older. My kids have grown up. My toddler son is now a father himself.
Here’s the video of my appearance on the show (D.H. Jonathan is a pen name I used when publishing The “Volunteer”).
I was recently a guest on Sean McGuire’s Share a Slice podcast, where we talked about my book The “Volunteer” and several of the aspects of that story: public nudity, nude modeling, activism by Andrew Martinez and Gypsy Taub, and sexualized nudity in media versus commonplace nudity in practice. We even talked about an old episode of MASH and my 2001 appearance on the TV gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Give it a listen here: http://shareaslicepodcast.com/2017/11/07/volunteer/
It has been a strange few weeks. I was laid off from my full-time job on March 29th. The lay off was completely unexpected as the company was expecting new business soon and my department already had more work than our six-person team could handle. I am, as of yet, unable to make a living solely from my writing income (although not working these past three weeks has allowed me more time to promote The “Volunteer” and sell more copies). I would need a few more titles to be able to make a go of being a full time writer, but at least I now have more time for writing, at least for the time being.
I had recently posted links to a couple of articles on my Facebook timeline about writing and avoiding full-time employment. One of those was written from an interview that Oprah Winfrey did with Cormac McCarthy in 2007. McCarthy talked about avoiding getting stuck in a 9 to 5 job when he was young, even though he was bleakly poor at times. He was quoted as saying, “I thought, ‘you’re just here once, life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what somebody else wants you to do is not the way to live it.’” That article is here: http://www.openculture.com/2017/02/cormac-mccarthy-explains-why-he-worked-hard-at-not-working-how-9-to-5-jobs-limit-your-creative-potential.html
The second article was about a letter Charles Bukowski wrote to his publisher in 1986 about how he chose to quit his full time job and write full time. That article includes the entire text of that letter, but these two paragraphs stand out:
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
That article is here: http://www.openculture.com/2014/07/charles-bukowski-rails-against-9-to-5-jobs.html
My current situation, with the mortgage, the kids, the bills, etc., demands that I bring in a certain amount of income, and I just can’t reach that income level from writing alone. So I do have to look for another job. But I find inspiration in the words of McCarthy and Bukowski, that there is another way, that I can change my situation and totally commit to my writing.