Delving Into the Shadows
Please welcome a wonderfully talented author to my blog today...
Recently, I had two notes from readers. I think these two notes point at the dichotomy in my writing—light and dark.
I love your romance novels. They can be a little angsty, but for the most part, they’re light and fun. And they have a happy-ever-after, which is a must for me. I have to admit, I’m scared to read some of your other stuff. I’m afraid it would give me nightmares.
The other note, from a man, said:
I really enjoy your romance novels. They’re sweet and romantic, but what really connects with me are the darker ones, that deal with real issues. Those are the ones I remember long after I close the book.
What’s a writer to do? A writer needs to remember the maxim: You can’t please all the people all the time.
And, although it might sound selfish, my first responsibility when creating any work of fiction, is to please myself. I have to tell the story that’s itching to get out of my psyche. Love stories are great—I enjoy writing them more and more. They usually make me both laugh and cry as I take my character or characters on their journey to true love.
But like the reader above, it’s often my darker work that resonates with me, that echoes in my head long after I’ve typed those bittersweet words, the end.
Bashed is a good example. I wanted initially to write about a very real plight in the gay community—hate crimes. People being beaten for just who they are seems unimaginable, but those crimes happen with alarming and often growing frequency. Bashed examines, through the structure of a paranormal love story, the after-effects of a tragic hate crime on a small group of people—both victims and perpetrators, and tries to show how even hate can bind us in unforeseeable ways.
But as I’m writing about Bashed, I look up and see what I’ve written about romance, about taking my characters on a journey to true love.
That is probably the essence of my writing and it holds true whether I’m writing about something ripped from the headlines or something that might give you goosebumps—ultimately, almost everything I write is about finding that elusive state most human beings search and long for—true love.
The same is true for Bashed. My main character, Donald, loses the love of his life at the beginning of the book, loses him in an almost unbearable way—at the hands of people who, for no other reason than sexual orientation, want to hurt them in the most terrible ways possible.
But the thing I want to say to the woman who wrote to me above is that she shouldn’t be afraid to read a book of mine like Bashed, because, at its heart, it provides hope, and the possibility of finding true love again, even in the face of unbearable loss. I think that’s why some of my darker works sticks with me and resonates more deeply—because my characters have to come from such a place of despair to find love that it’s that much more worthwhile when they do.
It should have been a perfect night out. Instead, Mark and Donald collide with tragedy when they leave their favorite night spot. That dark October night, three gay-bashers emerge from the gloom, armed with slurs, fists, and an aluminum baseball bat.
The hate crime leaves Donald lost and alone, clinging to the memory of the only man he ever loved. He is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by Mark and what might have been. Trapped in a limbo offering no closure, Donald can’t immediately accept the salvation his new neighbor, Walter, offers. Walter’s kindness and patience are qualities his sixteen-year-old nephew, Justin, understands well. Walter provides the only sense of family the boy’s ever known. But Justin holds a dark secret that threatens to tear Donald and Walter apart before their love even has a chance to blossom.
He had found Mark, fifteen years his junior and with the face of an angel but the mind of a demon, at the Brig, the leather bar they had patronized “that” night. But this was last winter, March, and it was bitterly cold. The bar was a Chicago institution with a strict leather dress code and lots of macho posturing. A Harley hung from the ceiling. Tom of Finland posters adorned the walls. Hard-core porno played on monitors hanging from the ceiling. A St. Andrews cross was set up in one corner. And then, of course, there was the infamous back room, where anything could happen. Donald knew the latter for a fact, since once upon a time, he had been a habitué of that back room, instigator, hunter, and hunted.
The Brig was not exactly celebrated as a place where love ignited and blossomed. It was known more for multiple, faceless partners in the crowded back room, where a full-length urinal ran along the length of one wall and one could indulge oneself with many partners in an evening, all of them unrecognizable should you pass them on the street the next morning. The idea of romance and a long-term relationship by the Brig’s standards was a one-night stand.
Donald had fully expected, that night in March, to enter the bar, grab a shot of Jack and a Budweiser, down them, and head to the back room for a quick release. Oh sure, it wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t romantic, but it was efficient, and he could go home feeling that his evening was complete. His night had begun innocently enough with dinner with his friend Mary on Devon Street at their favorite Indian hole in the wall (they shared samosas and chicken tikka masala) and then a play at The Steppenwolf.
He could have, maybe should have, gone home after that, but once he dropped Mary off at her condo in Evanston, he found he was still wide awake and hungry for a different kind of companionship than his good friend could possibly offer.
But life often had a way of surprising you. Life often was deliberate and patient, waiting until just the right moment, when hope, such as it was, was extinguished, to throw a big, surprising present right in your lap.
And that present was Mark. Donald hadn’t even glanced around the bar for potential suitors. He wasn’t looking to make idle chitchat, to buy someone a beer, to go to some walk-up in Rogers Park where passion would rule for an hour at best, only to be eclipsed by an awkward exchange of numbers and excuses Donald would make about having to get up early in the morning and needing to head home. No, Donald was on his determined way to the back room, half downed beer gripped in his fist. He knew he could be in and out of there within minutes and home in his comfy bed in Edgewater fifteen minutes after that. The routine was becoming habitual, and Donald wondered, in darker moments, if he wasn’t stunting himself emotionally with such behavior.
But dark thoughts like these were not foremost in Donald’s mind as he neared the arch that would lead into the back room. The thoughts he was having (a warm mouth just waiting for him in the shadows) were rudely interrupted by the appearance of a stranger, blocking his path. The guy was young, blond, and smiling, dressed all wrong for the Brig. (His leather biker jacket was the only thing that had probably allowed him in the door on a Saturday night.) He had the kind of innocent face one might call cherubic: pale blue eyes, creamy white skin, cheeks that were noticeably rosy even in the dim, functional light of the bar. His hair was a riot of curls, very Shirley Temple. Under the biker jacket, he wore a pair of Levi’s and a dark cotton crewneck sweater with a white T-shirt underneath. Christ, the kid was even wearing Asics! The guy on the door must be asleep at the wheel tonight.
Donald almost couldn’t believe the kid’s smile was for him. He tried to brush by him. But then the kid said, “Don’t I know you?”
Donald regarded him with a wary eye. Donald was six-two, with salt and pepper hair and a full beard to match. He had stayed in good shape and still filled out a form-fitting T-shirt well. The wrinkles around his green eyes and the bushy eyebrows above them only served to make him more appealing… especially to kids like this one, who, he knew, wanted to get around to calling him “Daddy” sooner or later.
He gave the kid a smile and shook his head. “Don’t think so.” He tried to brush by him again. Even though the kid was cute and the fact that he had approached him opened the door to possibility, Donald just wanted to get in, get off, and get out. He wished it weren’t so, but Donald couldn’t hide from himself, not after thirty years or so of hanging out in just such places as the Brig.
“Sure. You work construction… downtown. At Wacker and Michigan?”
Donald rolled his eyes. Was he supposed to be flattered? He supposed he looked the part, but he hadn’t done any job even remotely physical since he had landed a summer job in a steel mill when he was in college. The truth was, Donald made his living as the director of marketing for a professional association downtown, not far from the corner the kid had just mentioned. If the kid had seen him at that intersection, he would have been wearing khakis and an Oxford button-down, not flannel, denim, tool belt, and hard hat. He placed his hand on the kid’s shoulder, and a little jolt went through him, unexpected but delightful. The kid felt solid beneath his cotton and leather, a real man’s body, broad-shouldered, belying the Shirley Temple hair and the angelic face. It gave Donald pause. He met the kid’s blue-eyed gaze and grinned. “Yeah, I drive a fork lift down dere.” Donald could do a good Chicago south-sider accent. He burst into laughter. He couldn’t maintain the ruse, not even for a few seconds. “Actually, I do work near Michigan and Wacker. But in a high rise that was finished long ago. And the most physical labor I do is adjusting a mouse pad just so.”
The kid winked. “I probably could have guessed that, but I knew I needed a good opening line fast when I saw you walk in.” He shrugged and took a swig from his beer. “The best I could come up with.” He took another swallow and looked up at Donald. “I’m ready for another one. How ’bout you?”
And so it began. Before Donald could even respond in the affirmative, Mark had taken note of what brand of beer he drank and had nimbly made his way through the crowd, ordered, and returned with two fresh, sweating brown bottles. Donald hadn’t even had a chance to think about answering the siren call of temptation issuing forth from the back room, just opposite from where he stood. In any event, when Mark pressed the beer into his hand and pressed close to him, Donald suddenly abandoned any thought of the back room. Tonight was going to be different. And no one was more surprised about the turn of events than Donald himself.
Rick R. Reed Biography
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). Raining Men and Caregiver have both won the Rainbow Award for gay fiction. 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."
July 14: Havan Fellows
July 17: On Top Down Under
July 21: Joyfully Jay
July 24: Hearts on Fire
July 28: Love Bytes
July 31: The Novel Approach
August 4: Because Two Men Are Better Than One
August 7: JP Barnaby
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