TNA: The Novel Approach is thrilled to have Rick R. Reed back with us today, as he tours the internet to introduce his newest novel Legally Wed.
Thanks for being here with us, Rick. Why don’t we start off with a quick introduction? Tell us a little bit about what makes you, you.
Rick: Thrilled, really? You sure you don’t want to reconsider that? I mean, it puts a lot of pressure on me for this interview. I have to be thrilling now.
A little bit about myself? I suppose you want something thrilling. Well, I am not even going to try and go there. As most of your readers know (at least I hope they do), I am a writer who likes to tell stories about men falling in love. I am also a reader who likes to read stories about men falling in love, also about men killing each other, haunting each other, turning into werewolves and vampires, and plotting the end of the world. Oh, and I like to cook. I am also a man who loves other men—well, these days one man in particular, my husband, Bruce. It thrills me that I can say ‘my husband’ and mean it—legally. I never thought I’d see the day!
In my spare time, I love books, movies, plays. I run and go to the gym a lot so I can eat a lot and hopefully keep myself out of the cardiac suite at the hospital.
TNA: You’re known, by virtue of your delicious Facebook photos, to be a bit of a foodie. What began your love affair with cooking and food?
Rick: My mom! She was Sicilian and she knew how to put food together. I remember going to Mass on Sunday and Mom would come home after that and put on her sauce for spaghetti. It would simmer all day, filling the house with the aroma of tomatoes, basil, oregano, and garlic. It’s memories like these that fuel my love for cooking. I see feeding those I love as a form of nurturing and a very concrete way to demonstrate that I care about them. Eating and sharing food is so simple, yet it means so much.
TNA: How did your writing career begin? Did you start out writing fiction, or did you write in another medium first, then venture into creative writing?
Rick: Lord, I think I wrote my first story when I was about six. I think it was about Christmas in Puppytown, or something like that. By the time I was in 5th grade, I had written a serial novella about a young girl being kidnapped that I read in installments daily to my classmates. That was when I knew people might listen if I wrote something they wanted to hear. I have been hooked ever since. I published my first novel, Obsessed, back in 1991. It was part of Dell’s new line of horror called Abyss. But in the last several years, my focus has been on gay fiction with a concentration in gay relationships and that elusive happy ending.
TNA: What was your first published novel? Do you remember the moment you came up with the idea for the book? How long did it take you to convince yourself to sit down and write it?
Rick: As I mentioned above, my first book was a horror novel about a serial killer who believed he was a vampire conducting a reign of terror on the women of Chicago called Obsessed. I think the idea for it came to me one night when I was driving in Chicago on the Eisenhower Expressway and something caught my eye about the rain-slicked pavement beneath my tires. For some reason, and because I admit to being very strange, I began to imagine a man having the same view. Except in his case, he was going home after committing a murder. Sometimes that’s all it takes to start a story—a simple image, a character, and some compelling fact. Here’s the opening to the book, so you can see how a single idea morphed into a novel:
Joe MacAree had just murdered a woman, and all the things he felt when he killed the other four he was feeling right now. How would he describe it? In his journal, he might call his feelings an “elevation of the senses” or “an ethereal quality bringing the world into sharp focus.”
After each killing the reaction was the same. There was a moment of sharp pain right behind his left eye, an instant where the pain was so intense as to block out the act he had just committed, the blood and the ripped flesh…then a moment where brilliant flecks of silver light swam before him, and he could not keep his eyes from rolling, trying to follow the patterns the stars made.
And then the clarity.
As he guided his light blue Honda Accord along Harlem Avenue just south of Chicago, everything seemed more alive, as if to contrast the death he had just brought about. He noticed things he never noticed: the shifting red, amber, and turquoise of the reflections the stoplights made on the rain-slicked pavement. He noticed how the color spread, muted, over the slick black roadway. Even his radio, usually sounding tinny tuned to WLS, seemed more vibrant. He heard the different instruments in “Hungry Like the Wolf” as if Duran Duran were in the car with him, playing. Although it was February and his windows were rolled shut, he listened to the sounds of the other cars, the hiss of their tires on the pavement, the bass of their engines. He felt each perforation on the cover of the steering wheel. He thought he could even sense the mechanical smell of his own and the other cars as they all made their way northeast, to the Eisenhower Expressway and the city.
And in his mouth, he savored a slight metallic taste.
TNA: If you could go back in time to the moment you began writing it, what advice, with the gift of the experience you have now, would you give yourself?
Rick: You know, I don’t say this to sound conceited, but writing that first real novel, I had so much passion, so much enthusiasm, I don’t know if I would want to change anything. Of course, if I read through the whole book, I would want to rewrite much of it because I think I have become a much leaner writer, so I’m sure I’d find more economical ways to say the same thing.
TNA: Your backlist is prolific and rather diverse, encompassing everything from speculative fiction to contemporary drama to dark comedy to the omnibus Tales From the Sexual Underground, the first of your books I’d ever read. When you begin thinking about the next book to write, do you intentionally think about sub-genre or simply write whatever comes to you first, and where do you find your inspiration?
Rick: Honestly, I really don’t think about genres; I think about characters. A person or people will come to me first and then their story emerges from who they are. What fascinates me these days is what makes people fall in love, what keeps them apart, and what brings them back together.
I find inspiration everywhere—dreams, snatches of overheard conversation, the news, someone on the street or public transportation who catches my eye, the couple sitting next to me in a restaurant. Ideas are everywhere! I just wish I had the time to harness them all and write them all before the Grim Reaper crooks his finger at me and whispers, “It’s time.”
TNA: Speaking of Tales From the Sexual Underground, which may be one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read, would you tell readers a bit about it and what inspired you to write that particular collection of stories and articles?
Rick: When I lived in Chicago, I wrote a column for one of the local weekly gay papers called Tales from the Sexual Underground. It was fun and, over the years, people seemed to really like it. Each week, I would write about a different sexual practice or interview someone living in the sexual underground (for example, porn stars Dawson and Jeff Stryker). I wrote the column for several years and always thought they’d make a good compilation in a book. But for the book, I added several short stories that revolved around people living on the edge, sexually speaking.
TNA: Dignity Takes a Holiday was quite a departure for your, venturing into the realms of black comedy. How did you come up with the idea for Pete Thickwhistle, and what made you decide to explore your darkly humorous side?
Rick: Pete was just this crazy character whom I wrote about for many years. I think he’s the side of me that’s most hungry for love, the most impulsive, and the alter ego who asks, when I think of some horrible idea, what could possibly go wrong? I think we all have a little of Pete in us. Over many years, I wrote stories about him to make my friends, family, and me laugh and to perform at public readings around Chicago. He always got huge laughs. I edited down the stories and realized they sort of made up a sort of twisted situation comedy, kind of the Golden Girls as directed by John Waters, and put them together in a novel. When I realized the novel was a love story (at heart, Pete just wanted to love and be loved), I sent it to Dreamspinner and Elizabeth North, God bless her, recognized this crazy farce as a love story and agreed to publish. It’s been my most controversial book. You either love it or hate it—there’s no in-between. It all depends on your sense of humor. If it’s sick and twisted, like mine, you’d probably love Dignity Takes a Holiday.
TNA: Let’s talk about Legally Wed, your new release from Dreamspinner Press. What was your inspiration for the story?
Rick: If you read the opening to the book, you know. It was when Washington state (my state) legalized same-sex marriage. My now-husband and I were some of the first people in line down at City Hall in the wee small hours of the morning to get our marriage license on the first day we could. There was such joy at City Hall that morning, both from couples getting their licenses and the employees and supporters who had come out to witness this historic moment. I wanted to write about not just love, but marriage and to do it in a framework that examined both. It’s one of my most heartfelt stories and, in many ways, mirrors my own life. Here’s the opening and I think you can see what I’m talking about:
Same-sex marriage had just become legal in Washington State and Duncan Taylor didn’t plan on wasting any time. He had been dating Tucker McBride for more than three years and, ever since the possibility of marriage had become more than just a pipe dream, it was all Duncan could think of. He had thought of it as he gazed out the windows of his houseboat on Lake Union, on days both sunny and gray (since it was late autumn, there were a lot more of the latter); he had thought of it as he stood before his classroom of fourth graders at Cascade Elementary School. He had thought of it when he woke up in the morning and before he fell asleep at night.
For Duncan, marriage was the peak, the happy ending, the icing on the cake, the culmination of one’s hearts desire, a commitment of a lifetime, the joining of two souls. For Duncan, it was landing among the stars.
And for Duncan, who would turn 38 on his next birthday, it was also something he had never dared dream would be possible for him.
And now, too excited to sleep, he was thinking about it—hard—once again. It was just past midnight on December 6, 2012 and the local TV news had pre-empted its regular programming to take viewers live to Seattle City Hall, where couples were forming a serpentine line to be among the first in the state to be issued their marriage licenses—couples who had also for far too long believed this right would be one they would never be afforded. Many clung close together to ward off the chill, but Duncan knew their reasons for canoodling went far deeper than that.
The mood, in spite of the darkness pressing in all around, was festive. There was a group serenading the couples in line, singing “Going to the Chapel.” Champagne corks popped in the background. Laughter.
Duncan couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he watched all the male-male and female-female couples in the line, their mood of jubilation, of love, of triumph traveling through to him even here on his houseboat two or three miles north of downtown. Duncan wiped tears from his eyes as he saw not only the couples but also all the supporters, city workers, and volunteers who had crowded together outside City Hall to wish the new couples well, to share in the happiness of the historic moment.
And then Duncan couldn’t help it, he fell into all-out blubbers as the first couple to get their license emerged from City Hall. 85-year-old Pete-e Peterson and her partner and soon-to-be-wife, Jane Abbott Lighty, were all smiles when a reporter asked them how they felt.
“We waited a long time. We’ve been together 35 years, never thinking we’d get a legal marriage. Now I feel so joyous I can hardly stand it,” Pete-e said.
It was such a special moment and it was all Duncan could do not to pick up the phone and call Tucker and casually say something like, “Hey honey, you want to get married?”
TNA: If you were to describe each of the leading men in a sentence or two, what are some key things you’d want us to know about them?
Rick: Well, Duncan is a hopeless romantic. He wants to find not only love, but forever love, the kind of marriage he sees in his family of origin. His ultimate love interest, Peter, has grown up with a gay father and now works as a wedding planner. He has a close relationship with his gay dad and one of the woes he discusses with him is how he works in the industry, but has yet to find a husband for himself.
TNA: Which of the characters in the book would you say was most difficult to write and why?
Rick: Duncan’s best friend, Marilyn. She’s big and brassy, but at heart, she’s insecure and wants very much to be loved. I wanted to get across that she’s big and beautiful (without making her look fat) and that her big mouth and larger-than-life personality is really a mask for her insecurities.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt of the book with us? Well, I just did. But I’m happy to share another.
Blurb: Love comes along when you least expect it. That’s what Duncan Taylor’s sister, Scout, tells him. Scout has everything Duncan wants—a happy life with a wonderful husband. Now that Seattle has made gay marriage legal, Duncan knows he can have the same thing. But when he proposes to his boyfriend Tucker, he doesn’t get the answer he hoped for. Tucker’s refusal is another misstep in a long line of failed romances. Despairing, Duncan thinks of all the loving unions in his life—and how every one of them is straight. Maybe he could be happy, if not sexually compatible, with a woman. When zany, gay-man-loving Marilyn Samples waltzes into his life, he thinks he may have found his answer.
Determined to settle, Duncan forgets his sister’s wisdom about love and begins planning a wedding with Marilyn. But life throws Duncan a curveball. When he meets wedding planner Peter Dalrymple, unexpected sparks ignite. Neither man knows how long he can resist his powerful attraction to the other. For sure, there’s a wedding in the future. But whose?
He hadn’t been going to do it, but on Saturday he was downtown and he couldn’t resist wandering into Ben Bridge, just to see what they had in the way of wedding bands.
And he saw it right away. He knew that the fact his eye fell upon it first thing was fate talking to him. Before he had even spoken to a salesperson or glanced at another item, he saw the simple white gold, diamond-studded band in the display case. “That’s for Tucker,” he had whispered to himself. He hadn’t really been expecting to buy an engagement ring and he certainly couldn’t afford its exorbitant price tag, but the thought of the light that would come into Tucker’s eyes when he opened the box was so thrilling and romantic, he couldn’t resist.
The clerk, a young woman whose dark hair, olive skin, and green eyes mirrored Duncan’s own, came up to him. “Can I show you something?”
And Duncan recalled being at a loss for words. This little side trip into the jewelry store had really been intended as only a fantasy, a sort of appetizer for the better things to come.
“I just love that simple band with the diamonds right there.” Duncan had pointed down to the ring.
“Oh, it’s a beauty. Would you like to try it on?” She was already stooping down to take the ring out of the display case.
“Oh, it’s not for me.” And suddenly, Duncan had stopped, unable to speak, so filled up with love for Tucker was he. He gnawed for a moment at his lower lip, looking away from the smiling and expectant face of the clerk, and drawing in a deep breath to compose himself. What did he have to lose, anyway? He smiled, looking down to see his hands trembling. “It’s for my, my—” His voice had trailed off. What to call Tucker? He was his boyfriend, he supposed, yet he seemed like so much more. But partner was so presumptuous, because they didn’t live together for one and had never registered as domestic partners in the state for another. “It’s for the guy I hope will be my fiancé,” he had finally blurted out, hoping the clerk didn’t notice the tear he could feel standing in the corner of one eye.
He wondered what she would do. Would she regard him with disdain? Would her attitude change? Would she laugh?
But her face had immediately brightened and her smile was as wide as his own. “That’s fabulous!” she exclaimed. “I’m so happy for you.” She had pushed the ring across the counter. “He’s a lucky guy.
And I’m not just saying that because he’d be getting this gorgeous ring, but mostly because he’d be getting you.” She winked. “You’re a catch.”
Duncan had picked up the ring with one hand and had reached for his wallet with the other.
TNA: If I were to somehow coerce you into naming your favorite of all your books, which would it be and what makes it your favorite?
Rick: You would need to ply me with either cookies or booze, or both. Ah, Lisa, I can’t resist your fair-haired charm! My favorite of all my books? I think it’s probably Caregiver, because it has a very personal connection to me. The character who puts the love story in motion, Adam, is dying of AIDS. He was a real person and everything that happened to him in the book, including his death from AIDS in prison, happened in real life. Adam was a wonderful person and left an indelible mark on my life. Caregiver is my tribute to him—and to the enduring power of love.
TNA: Similar question, how about your favorite character? Who would it be and why?
Rick: It’s not possible, but let’s set Adam aside for a moment because he did leave the biggest impression on my heart, but I don’t want to repeat myself, so I suppose my other favorite character was Bobby from Raining Men. He was such a reprehensible character and people really hated him, with good cause, in Chaser. The fact that I was able to redeem him in Raining Men and cause people to not only understand him, but also to love him, well, I’m really proud of that. I think, at heart, most people are good, as Bobby was. We just need to learn to understand them and forgive them for getting off course.
TNA: Several months ago you were here to talk a little bit about your definition of romance, that definition often being qualified by readers as the fairy tale, happily-ever-after ending. As both an author and a reader, does it niggle a bit to see books that may not be classically romantic, but still have romantic themes, dismissed because they don’t fit into a traditional mold? Do you think there’s a way to expand and alter that definition to be more all-encompassing?
Rick: Yes. I think of romance as a love story, much as I think of the horror genre as one that produces scary stories. If love in the former and fear in the latter is the primary focus, I can’t figure out why anyone would say, “This is not a romance,” or “This is not horror” when it clearly is. I like defining romance as a love story. For me, that’s all a romance needs to be. Why limit yourself by trying to box it in by conventions and tropes? And, for the record, I adore those tropes and conventions, I’m just saying that there’s room to think outside the box as well.
TNA: Does it surprise you at all that the readership of M/M Romance is predominantly straight women? I know why I read in the genre, but why do you think that is?
Rick: Not anymore. It did at one time, when I assumed that my audience would be mostly gay men, because that’s who I was writing about. But then, gradually I discovered the wide audience of straight female readers I had and it was kind of a shock at first. It was at my first GRL in New Orleans when I met so many wonderful female readers that I saw with my own eyes what the audience of gay romance really looked like. And it was at that same time that I met reviewer Elisa Rolle from Italy and had a very memorable lunch with her and William Neale at the Three Sisters in the French Quarter. I asked Elisa about why she liked m/m romance and she gave the best answer. She said something along the lines that, while she had always loved romance, she had grown tired of the damsel-in-distress/alpha male aspect of hetero stories and that she really loved the more equitable power dynamic in romance where two men were involved. A light bulb went on in my head. It made perfect sense. As they say, the only women who don’t like m/m are the ones who haven’t read it yet.
TNA: Would you care to share some information on your current WIPs?
Rick: This brings me back around to where we started—love and food. I just turned in my spring release from Dreamspinner Press and it’s called Dinner at Home. It’s about a personal chef and the homeless young man he takes in and how they fall in love. And—the book includes recipes!
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love. He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). Lambda Literary Review has called him, “a writer that doesn’t disappoint.” Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever “at work on another novel.”
Visit Rick’s website at http://www.rickrreed.com or follow his blog at http://rickrreedreality.blogspot.com/. You can also like Rick on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rickrreedbooks or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rickrreed. Rick always enjoys hearing from readers and answers all e-mails personally. Send him a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
TNA: Thanks again, Rick, for being here today, and for your generous offer to giveaway an E-copy of Legally Wed.
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