The other day I picked my niece up from middle school. So, I was standing there, watching all the kids posing suggestively, acting “kewl,” adorned in tighter-than-flesh clothing and I remembered something from my childhood I’d forgotten: middle school sucked. Middle school was one long, extremely self-conscious journey across the bridge from childhood to not-quite-adulthood. It’s that time of life when you’re absolutely convinced that everyone is watching you constantly, and judging your every breath.
Now what, you may ask, does this have to do with college? Lots, actually. If middle school is that excruciatingly painful time of life when everything one does is micro-managed by what others determine is cool, popular and/or sexually attractive, college is the opposite. It’s that time in life when it’s up to the individual to determine what’s cool, popular (or to reject the need for popularity all together) and sexually attractive. Emphasis on the sexually attractive. College is about figuring oneself out, finding out what makes one tick, and people mostly do it through experimentation.
Now, I imagine a fair number of you out there are thinking something along the lines of, “But I didn’t really experiment in college, and it took me way, way longer to figure myself out. I’m not even sure I have yet.” Yeah, well, join the club. While I did plenty of investigating in college, I wouldn’t say I discovered a lot about life (except yes, one must grip the condom by the base when pulling out, especially when partially to completely flaccid). I’m still untangling myself in my (very early) forties, as are many people, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have done more self-actualization then, I definitely could have.
What college-aged people have is the potential for figuring something of themselves out, and that’s why I like to write about them. It’s not their only opportunity to reach for what they really want out of life, but for many people—especially LGBTQ people—it’s their first opportunity to do so. That’s what makes them such great characters to write.
Imagine being like Brad in Frat Boy and Toppy (the first in my Theta Alpha Gamma series) and thinking you’re this specific thing most of your life simply because people told you so, and then one day (in the shower, naked with another guy) you suddenly realize you don’t have to be that thing. You don’t have to be the straight jock that women fall all over. You can totally be the gay jock that’s utterly devoted to your intellectual, hot, sexually dominant boyfriend. How liberating would that be?
Now, I should probably stop right there and say, “So that’s it—the sole reason I like to write about guys in college.” But that would be a lie. I mean, have you looked at college athletes lately? I have, dude (it was research, I swear!), and they’re HOT. Not all guys in college are hot, and plenty of guys outside of college are hot, but in terms of fantasy material I think that “jock frat boy” currently has the same erotic impact in the gay romance genre as the term “co-ed” did in straight nudie magazines in the nineteen fifties.
What it boils down to is idealized manhood. Guys that age are (generally) physically all grown up, and they’re also at their sexual peak. Sure they may be more interesting to talk to in ten years, but on average they smell better and look better and feel better in their early twenties than at any other time in their lives.
(As a comfort for my male readers, this is generally true for females as well. I’m not spouting sexism here, just sex.)
But wait! There’s more!
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a woman in my late thirties, and as such, I look back on college somewhat wistfully, thinking of all the things I didn’t figure out about myself then. Now, if I had discovered just a couple more things (other than my tolerance for alcohol) think of how much farther along I’d be in life, not to mention how much money I would have saved on therapy. Looking back on that time of life makes me think to myself, “Self, we don’t have any control over what happened then, but now that we’re in our mid-thirties and we’re an author, we can help our characters understand just a few more things about life than we managed at that age.”
In other words, writing college-aged characters is something of a do-over for me. It’s the best kind of do-over, actually, because I get to control it. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not interested in giving my characters perfect lives. Take Paul, for instance, a secondary character in Frat Boy and Toppy who later got his own happy ending in Love, Hypothetically. Paul was a jerk in FB&T, but once he became the hero of his own novella, he should be a nice guy, right?
Wrong. Paul’s still a jerk (though he prefers “prick”).
Situationally, Paul is a lot like me—he’d like to erase some bits of his past, but he can’t. Instead, when given the opportunity to try his hand at love again, he takes the opportunity given him now, and doesn’t wallow in what should have been. All while still maintaining his prickliness. He doesn’t have the perfect life now that he has the perfect man. What he has is the best life he can under the circumstances.
Of course, it’s a little different for Paul, because he’s in his late-twenties, and I’m just a bit older, in my early thirties.
College is a very exciting time of life; to read about, to write about and to live. It’s no wonder I’ve continued to do so. My next release, Too Stupid to Live (out in January, but not part of the Theta Alpha Gamma series) also has a college-aged protagonist, and there will be two more Theta Alpha Gamma books. For the time being, I can’t seem to stop writing guys in this age group. It appears I’m smitten.
So I say, I’ll continue to write guys in college for the foreseeable future because that’s where my interest lies. Who knows, years down the road (when I hit thirty or so) maybe I’ll change my mind, but for now, I like “doing it over”, over and over again.
P.S. If you’d like a chance to win a copy of Frat Boy & Toppy, as well as a ton of other great prizes, be sure to stop by the Young Love Week Giveaway!