Most readers who pick up a M/M Romance novel aren’t terribly surprised to find out that the characters take their clothes off, at least for the sex scenes. That’s pretty much expected. But a number of readers/reviewers have expressed surprise at just how much nudity my adult novels contain.
Tom and Kevin in Billy’s Bones are naked whenever they’re in the house alone, or outside in the yard. There are so many people wandering around naked on the grounds of the Temple in Murderous Requiem that even I’ve lost track of how many. And dorm life in Screwups appears to be one big, hedonistic romp, with people streaking, stripping, and partying without a stitch on. Do I really think that’s realistic?
Well, actually, yes. I do. All of these were loosely borrowed from real situations I’ve been in.
Like my favorite science fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, I’m a nudist. (Don’t worry—I won’t be posting pictures.) How this happened, I’m not quite sure. I was an extremely shy teenager who had difficulty looking people straight in the eye, never mind taking his clothes off in front of everyone. But at some point in college that changed.
Body image was a big part of it. I was skinny as a toothpick and I thought that made me unattractive. Then one night, sleeping over at my boyfriend’s apartment, I decided to be bold when I went downstairs for a drink and just wear my underwear, even though his friends were watching TV in the living room. I cut in front of them and they whistled at me. “Stop making fun of me,” I said. The response I got was a slightly lecherous, “Oh, we weren’t making fun of you.”
Wait… what? Really?
Over the next few years, my shyness fell away. I lived for a short time in an apartment with two other people, and we decided clothing would be optional. Then I moved into a dorm which subjected me to co-ed bathrooms, where people of either gender might be stepping into or out of the shower when I walked in. I was exposed to streaking, skinny dipping, nude snow angels, and posing nude in the lounge for people to sketch.
Ah… those were the days.
At one point, I was dared to strip naked in a hallway, cover my entire body with marshmallow fluff, and run through the dorm. I don’t know how many people gathered for that event, but I estimate it was at least forty. So much for shyness. Although I have to say this about it: when you’re covered with marshmallow fluff, you kind of feel like you have clothes on.
Since then, I’ve been to nude beaches, nudist resorts, and clothing-optional pagan gatherings. So, yeah. Even though age and weight gain has taken its toll, I’m still pretty comfortable in my skin. So does this mean I’m going to use my novels to push some kind of evil nudist agenda?
Well, not deliberately. But you write what you know. And all of my main characters are me, in some guise or other. Tom in Billy’s Bones, Jeremy in Murderous Requiem, Danny in Screwups—they’re definitely me. But so are Kevin, Bowyn, and Jake to a lesser extent. What isn’t me is filled in from other people I’ve known. I rarely write a character who isn’t based in some part on a real person.
There are characters in my stories, of course, who wouldn’t be caught dead naked. Isaac in By That Sin Fell the Angels, Susan in Billy’s Bones, Paul in Screwups. But those characters are probably the least like me. Susan Cross is based on my mom. My mom doesn’t run around naked.
At any rate, the best I can say is, if it seems weird to a reader that my main characters are completely at ease without their clothes on, that’s simply because it doesn’t seem weird to me. Will I change it to make others happy? Probably not. But if I write a scene in which my main character goes to work naked and his corporate boss says, “Hey, Joe! How’s it hanging? Oh, never mind—I can see for myself,” I do hope my editors will point out that this probably wouldn’t happen in real life.
At least, not in New Hampshire.