Rick R. Reed is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a two-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). His work has caught the attention of Unzipped magazine, “The Stephen King of gay horror,”; Lambda Literary Review, “A writer that doesn’t disappoint,”; and Dark Scribe magazine, “an established brand—perhaps the most reliable contemporary author for thrillers that cross over between the gay fiction market and speculative fiction.” Lately, while much of his fiction retains a dark edge, he has turned more toward exploring love relationships between gay men. Rick lives with his partner and their Boston Terrier in Seattle, on the shores of Lake Union.
Rick, let's start with you telling us a little bit about yourself.
Don't you hate it when people shrug at a question like this and say something like, "There's not much to tell, really." When, in fact, in any life, there's way too much to tell in a format like this and the big question is how do I synthesize my life into a sound bite? For the purposes of this interview, I am a writer. I have always been a writer (really—since I was a little kid, knee high to the proverbial grasshopper) and I will most likely be cursed/blessed with this affliction/gift until I am an old man or I am run over by a bus. My personal life is characterized by my astrological sign—I live near water, I love my home and being in it, and I can be as moody as the phases of the moon.
What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
Probably that I am an introvert. I go out of my way to seem outgoing when I meet people at conferences at things like that, so no one knows how much I desperately need and require time alone to recharge my batteries.
When did you start writing, is it something you've always been interested in, or did it develop later in life?
As I said above, I have been writing since I was a child. It's constitutional for me, like being gay or right-handed. I didn't choose to write.
Has it been everything you thought it would be or not?
Writing and I have settled into a companionable relationship. It's a vocation that has been with me most of my life, so I know it pretty well now, like an old friend or a spouse. We know each other's shortcomings and what's best about the other. So yes, it has been—and continues to be—everything I thought it would be. And not.
How did it feel when you realized that your very first book was going to be published?
That was a long time ago! Over twenty years ago. Naturally, I was thrilled. I was realizing my dream of being published by a big NYC house (Dell) and thought I was on the road to literary superstardom. Life has knocked me down a few pegs since then.
What's your favorite part of writing a book?
Starting out. It's always more exciting early in the relationship.
Out of your books so far, do you have a personal favorite?
No, no, no. I get asked this all the time and I don't know if it's a fair question. My favorite is usually the one I'm working on. But the answer would be different books for different reasons. THE BLUE MOON CAFE is my favorite because it most successfully blends horror and romance. IM is my favorite because it's my best thriller. CAREGIVER is my favorite because it's closest to my heart and draws most heavily from my own life. OUT ON THE NET makes me laugh and cry, so it's my favorite. I could go on and on, but you see what I mean?
Do you get time to read for pleasure? If so, which books do you enjoy?
God, yes. I can't understand a writer who says he or she doesn't have time to read. Reading is probably the best ongoing classroom any writer can have. I read constantly; probably for most of my life, I have always been in the middle of a book. I enjoy thrillers, mysteries, biographies, and true crime…and horror. My favorite authors include Ruth Rendell, Denise Mina, Stephen King, Flannery O'Connor and Patricia Highsmith. My favorite book, though, is by none of them—it's A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.
Are there any other genres you'd be interested in writing?
Well, I've written suspense, thriller, horror, romance, young adult, and comedy, so I think that, for me, that covers most of the bases I am interested in writing. I am bored by most fantasy and science fiction, so I doubt you'll see me writing any of that (although I do have a dystopian novel rattling around at the back of my mind).
Please tell us a little about your current release.
Here's the synopsis for CAREGIVER, from Dreamspinner Press:
It’s 1991, and Dan Calzolaio has just moved to Florida with his lover, Mark, having fled Chicago and Mark’s addictions to begin a new life on the Gulf Coast. Volunteering for the Tampa AIDS Alliance is just one part of that new beginning, and that’s how Dan meets his new buddy, Adam.
Adam Schmidt is not at all what Dan expected. The guy is an original—witty, wry, and sarcastic with a fondness for a smart black dress, Barbra Streisand, and a good mai tai. Adam doesn’t let his imminent death get him down, even through a downward spiral that sees him thrown in jail.
Each step of Adam’s journey teaches Dan new lessons about strength and resilience, but it’s Adam’s lover, Sullivan, to whom Dan feels an almost irresistible pull. Dan knows the attraction isn’t right, even after he dumps his cheating, drug-abusing boyfriend. But then Adam passes away, and it leaves Sullivan and Dan both alone to see if they can turn their love for Adam into something whole and real for each other.
What can we look forward in the future from you?
I just signed a contract with Dreamspinner for a contemporary romance called CHASER, about a skinny guy who's attracted to plus-size men and what happens when his dream man decides to go on a diet. That'll be out in January. And MLR Press has been kind enough to offer me a contract for RENT, which is a romantic suspense story about a young man who becomes involved in the world of escorts. That should be out late summer/early fall.
Anything you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for this interview, Rick!
Other interesting releases:
How about my gay vampire love triangle story, BLOOD SACRIFICE
What would you give up for immortal life and love?
By day, Elise draws and paints, spilling out the horrific visions of her tortured mind. By night, she walks the streets, selling her body to the highest bidder.
And then they come into her life: a trio of impossibly beautiful vampires: Terence, Maria, and Edward. When they encounter Elise, they set an explosive triangle in motion.
Terence wants to drain her blood. Maria just wants Elise . . . as lover and partner through eternity. And Edward, the most recently-converted, wants to prevent her from making the same mistake he made as a young abstract expressionist artist in 1950s Greenwich Village: sacrificing his artistic vision for immortal life. He is the only one of them still human enough to realize what an unholy trade this is.
Blood Sacrifice is a novel that will grip you in a vise of suspense that won't let go until the very last moment...when a shocking turn of events changes everything and demonstrates--truly--what love and sacrifice are all about.
HOW I MET MY MAN
How a guy meets his man can happen in a dozen different ways: online, at a bar, through friends, at a masquerade party...or even at the scene of a murder...
The road to love is seldom straight, and for Stephen Embert, that road couldn’t possibly be more crooked. First, he arrives home to find an anonymous card in his mailbox that says, “I’ve been inside your house,” then comes the midnight home invasion. But Stephen forgets these disturbing occurrences a month later when he attends a masquerade party and hopes to finally meet Mr. Right.
But who is the stranger in black with the disturbing emotionless mask following him? And why does the stranger always get in the way of Stephen hooking up with Jeffrey, the angelic and nearly naked leather hunk, who wants nothing more than to get Stephen alone for some romance?
Appearances are not always what they seem, and discovering true love can sometimes be a matter of life and death...
Excerpt from CAREGIVER:
THE sun glinted off Dan Calzolaio’s windshield as he made his way west along Route 60 toward his two o’clock appointment with Adam Schmidt, the guy he’d been assigned through the Tampa AIDS Alliance Buddy program. Dan’s pulse raced and his adrenaline was high with a combination of nerves and anticipation.
The sun was merciless and Dan questioned why he had set up his first appointment at midday. It was July, for crying out loud. The Ford Escort rumbled along, its air conditioning long dead, making Dan sweat as he breathed in the warm air rushing in his rolled-down windows. On the radio, R.E.M. sang their new song, “Shiny Happy People” and the rhythm was sinuous and entrancing enough to make him—almost—forget the heat and the whine of his engine as it strained against the heat.
He sang along with R.E.M. to calm his nerves. For the three Saturdays before, he’d gone through the AIDS Buddy training program at the Tampa AIDS Alliance headquarters on North Dale Mabry highway, getting a crash course in the disease he was passionate and compassionate about and that he secretly feared (didn’t all gay men? After all, a positive diagnosis was akin to a death sentence). AIDS was a killer, there was no doubt about that, and the man he was about to meet, this Adam Schmidt, recently relocated down here from Chicago (just like Dan!), suffered from a checklist of symptoms they had discussed in Dan’s training. He had early stages of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and had weathered two bouts of pneumocystis carinii, the pneumonia that was all the rage with AIDS victims these days. And, as the thin little file Dan had on the seat beside him said, Adam was depressed.
Who wouldn’t be? Dan wondered. The guy, only twenty-six, was dying.
What must that be like? Dan pressed the gas pedal down farther and imagined himself getting his own AIDS diagnosis. What would he do? He knew: he’d come to just this stretch of highway, with its two lanes and long straightaways, rev the car up to 90, and then, when he saw a semi headed his way, he’d jerk the wheel to the left and—boom!—it would be all over. No pneumonia, no long hospital stays, no wasting away to a skeletal wraith, covered in lesions, as he had seen in pictures.
Dan shook his head. Thoughts like these would put him in the perfect mood to meet the depressed Mr. Schmidt. The two could have a good cry together and then Mr. Schmidt would call up the AIDS Alliance and ask to be assigned another buddy. He would say that he had enough on his plate without some clinging Gloomy Gus hanging around and making him miserable, thank you very much.
And Dan couldn’t blame him. He had learned in training to be upbeat and positive. They had told him to be a good listener and try to determine what his buddy needed—whether it was a shoulder to cry on, someone to take him on an outing to the beach, a cook, a confidant, a personal shopper. The job description for AIDS buddy was short and simple—just be there for your buddy and do whatever you can to help him (or her) out.
But above all, Tampa AIDS Alliance buddies were expected to be cheerful.
“Cheerful, right,” Dan whispered, wiping sweat away from his forehead with his hand and then rubbing his palm on the thigh of his denim cut-offs. Was he dressed too provocatively? He had worn only a gray tank and the shorts, which even he had to admit were cut a bit too high. Jesus, what was he trying to do here, anyway?
He had not donned the clothes to look seductive or trashy, but to beat the heat, which today hovered around 95, with the humidity probably in the same range. Dan’s dark brown hair, wavy, curled at the nape of his neck and clung to his forehead, pasted there by sweat.
Still, he was surprised Mark had let him out of the house showing this much skin. His man had a jealous streak a mile wide.
Dan’s thoughts came to a rude halt when he saw the turnoff for the Brandon subdivision where Adam Schmidt lived. His Escort also came nearly to a screeching stop as he slowed too fast to try and make the right-hand turn. Tires squealing and throwing up a cloud of dust, Dan took the turn too quickly and too wide, heart pounding and grateful there were no other cars in the intersection. He barked out a short laugh that had nothing to do with humor and everything to do with nerves bordering on hysteria. Now don’t piss yourself, boy!
In no time, he pulled up in front of the small, pink stucco home on Hibiscus Street and put the Escort in park. He sat in the car for a moment, slowing his breathing, as he listened to the engine tick down and then grow silent.
Other than its bright pink color and its sago palm in the front yard, the house looked pretty much like every other home on the block. Pure Florida west coast suburban—single story, screened-in backyard that may or may not contain a pool, a broad front window with either blinds shut tight against the sun or jalousies pulled the same way. The neighborhood was silent and the hum of air conditioning units gave testimony to the fact that everyone was hiding out inside, trying to stay cool in refrigerated air. Either that or they were hidden away in their privacy-fence-enclosed backyards, doing the same heat-beating routine in a pool filled with sparkling, turquoise water.
Dan had come to know Florida neighborhoods pretty well in his three months as a resident of the state.
And this neighborhood, shame on him, was not one where he would have placed an AIDS victim. Dan shrugged, mentally berating himself for his prejudice, but this ’hood simply seemed too Florida Donna Reed for a young gay man dying of AIDS. When he first started the program, he would have imagined his buddy living in a squalid apartment on Armenia, near 2606, the leather bar he had heard about up there.
Thoughts like these were just what he had been cautioned about in his training. People with AIDS, or PWAs, could be any size, shape, or color; they could come from any walk of life. They could be gay (and in all probability, were), but they could also be straight, as Michelle, one of the women he went through training with, had discovered. Her buddy was a single mother of four who had dabbled with IV drugs. Dan wondered how that was going.
“Enough speculation, enough random thinking,” Dan whispered to himself. You’re just delaying the inevitable. You wanted to do this. Now get out of the car and march on up to the front door. Adam is waiting for you, and you’re ten minutes late already. He’s probably looking out the window at you right now, from between slatted blinds, wondering what kind of nutcase he’s let into his life. Enough! Go!
And so Dan hopped from his vehicle.
He started up the walk, not knowing what to expect, but imagining someone very weak, emaciated, whose skin was marred by KS lesions. No matter how bad he looks, Dan, you will be cheerful and friendly. You will not let the effect his appearance has on you internally show externally. Got that?
Dan rang the doorbell.
When the door swung open, Dan’s grin disappeared and his mouth dropped open, yet nothing came out. He cocked his head. His eyebrows furrowed.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” a seductive, Bette Davis voice intoned. “Get in here. I am not about to pay to air condition the great outdoors, especially not when the great outdoors happen to be located on the Gulf Coast.”
Dan still didn’t know what to say as he followed the feminine figure inside the little stucco house.
Mentally scratching his head and desperately wanting to act as though he was in on the joke, Dan stood near the doorway and took in what he supposed to be Adam Schmidt, since it didn’t appear anyone else was home.
Adam wore the classic little black dress, a string of pearls, black leather kitten heels and sheer black nylons. His nails were painted a shocking red, a shade the gayest side of Dan was absolutely positive would have been called “Jungle Red.” Adam’s wispy blond hair had obviously been blown dry and sprayed into place. His angular features had been enhanced with a good concealer, a little blush, mascara, pale green eye shadow, and slash of red across his thin lips that perfectly matched his nails.
Adam put a hand on one hip and gave Dan the once-over. “Since you appear to be speechless, I’m going to assume you’re Dan something-or-other, something Italian. You’re going to be my new best friend, my buddy, right? But not my fuck buddy—God forbid!” Adam may have had AIDS, but it had no effect on his ability to weight his words with sarcasm.
Dan smiled and forced himself to move into the room. “Sorry. I, um, the cat had my tongue.” He stuck out a hand, feeling like an idiot. “Yes, I’m Dan Calzolaio. And I’m looking forward to getting to know you better, Adam.” Had a single human being ever sounded more nerdish, more square? Dan felt his face going hot, despite the wintry chill from the air conditioning. He regretted once more his nearly naked ensemble. He looked down at the goose bumps rising up on his forearms.
“Isn’t that sweet?” Adam turned toward the living room, which continued the surreal theme that had begun as soon as Adam opened the door. It was done all in shades of pink and vibrant green, with overstuffed rattan furniture that appeared as though it had been swiped from the set of The Golden Girls. “Come on and have a seat, Dan. I made us a batch of Mai Tais. You like Mai Tais, hon?”
“Oh yes. Love ’em.” Dan tried to recall when he had actually had one of the tropical drinks and drew a blank. He hurried to grab a seat on the couch, hugging himself to keep warm.
Adam observed him with an impish grin. “Cold? I’ll be right back.” Dan expected Adam to go into the kitchen to get their cocktails (Mai Tais at noon?), but Adam headed down a hallway. Dan could hear drawers being opened and shut.
Adam returned and flung a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeved T-shirt at Dan. “Put some clothes on, sugar. As fine as all that tan flesh is to look at, it pains me to see you so chilly. Why, I can even see you’ve got your headlights on!” Adam giggled and Dan looked down at his chest, where Adam’s gaze was directed. His nipples poked through the thin cotton fabric of his tank like two pencil erasers. He hurried to put the sweats and T-shirt on over his clothes. “Whose are these?” he wondered.
“My boyfriend’s. You and he are about the same size.”
Adam disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a tray upon which were two tall glasses, each garnished with a Maraschino cherry, pineapple wedge, and a lime peel. Adam paused before Dan. “I know. I know. It’s kind of early for cocktails, but when time is short, you reprioritize. And I think the time is always right for a Mai Tai. Don’t you?”
Dan was surprised at Adam’s casual mention of time being short, but snagged a drink from the tray and sipped. “This is delicious.”
Adam set the tray down on the coffee table, picked up his own cocktail, and sat in the chair opposite Dan. “Oh, I make a mean Mai Tai, along with a whole bar full of other drinks. It’s one of my many charms.” Adam sipped, his blue-eyed gaze meeting Dan’s over the top of his glass. “So what prompted you to do the Sister of Mercy thing and keep me company in my death throes?”
Contact Rick R. Reed