Lisa: We’re so pleased to welcome author Rick R. Reed today to chat about his upcoming new release, Sky Full of Mysteries, publishing on August 14th with Dreamspinner Press. It’s always so great to have you drop in, Rick, thanks for giving up a bit of your time to be here with us.
Rick: Thanks, Lisa. It’s so cool to be here with you, but then that’s always the case.
Lisa: I’m going to start with an authorly question: Will you tell us a bit about where your career as a writer began and how you got into the business?
Rick: Oh my, the answer to that goes waaaay back. I wrote my first short story when I was about six years old, my first novella in fifth grade (about a kidnapping of a young girl—that I read aloud to my classmates over several days, serial-style), and had my first book published, a horror novel called OBSESSED in 1991, in a new line of horror from Dell, called Abyss. I’ve been writing all my life. These days, though, it’s very gratifying to write about my people—the LGBT community.
Lisa: In what ways do you feel your writing has evolved over the years?
Rick: As I mentioned, I’ve morphed from writing about straight characters to mainly gay ones and writing horror suspense to writing more love stories. This journey reflects my own life. And I pin most of the blame on my husband, Bruce (you’ve met him, Lisa!). I don’t know if this is a leap of logic that makes sense, but I think that I am more drawn to writing stories that map out the connections made by the human heart these days because I am not expending as much energy seeking out that connection in my own personal life. Now that I have found my one true love, my soul mate, I can open up and write more freely about what draws people together and what keeps them apart. I find those connections fascinating and I don’t believe I could write about them objectively until after I had found, after much searching, a relationship that would work for me, one that would nurture and sustain.
It wasn’t until I was 43 that I met Bruce. Gone were the hopes that I’d meet a special man in some bar or even a gay social group. The era of the Internet was on us in a big way and I placed an ad with the headline, “What’s Your Story?” Bruce was one of several who responded, and the only one with whom I connected. He sent me some pictures of himself. He said things in his very first response to my ad that resonated.
I wrote back. He wrote back and we started a daily correspondence that would last two weeks, two weeks before we even laid eyes on one another, even though we lived less than two miles away from the other. We began to get to know each other and we both liked what we saw, what we read in our lines to each other, and what was between them. We had both reached a stage where we were ready for the other. Timing is everything.
We met in person and it was magic.
I won’t say we didn’t have some bumps in the road, though, getting to where we are today. Nothing really good ever comes easily.
It’s also made it possible for me to be able to sit back and be more objective about writing romance because finally, at age 60, I finally, finally, have a handle on what works and what doesn’t. Until I had that key, I honestly believe I couldn’t have written convincingly or effectively about romantic love.
Lisa: Aw, I have met your Bruce, and you’re both such lovely friends! I love hearing about how your relationship has inspired the direction of your writing.
Since we’re here to do a sort-of-official cover reveal for the book, tell us who did your cover art and lead us through the design process.
Rick: I am so blessed to have the amazingly talented Reese Dante do almost all of my covers for my books at Dreamspinner Press. She and I have worked together for so long, we have this mind-meld kind of rapport. I can tell her, in a very general way, what I hope for and dream of in a cover and it’s amazing how she always comes back with exactly what I wanted. Not only that, she often surpasses anything I could have imagined. The covers she’s done for all of my work have been consistently eye-catching and beautiful.
Lisa: Reese is most definitely a talent unto herself. What are some of the things you hope to convey to readers through the cover before they even pick up the book?
Rick: The cover is gorgeous, isn’t it? I wanted readers to know that there was a bit of a science fiction element to the story (hence, the stars), but that it was ultimately about love and…star-crossed lovers. I think the cover has a bit of mystery to it and invites the reader to want to know more about the two men portrayed there.
Lisa: Will you share with us where the idea for the story came from?
Rick: A dream. Isn’t inspiration always a dream of some sort? In the case of Sky Full of Mysteries, the actual kernel of what inspired me was a fever dream, one that occurred when I was very, very sick and had a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
This was a couple of years ago, around Christmastime and I was so sick with the flu that I wanted to die. Literally. When my fever spiked, I had a dream of an alien invasion in Chicago. I still remember the imagery vividly—a large cloudlike formation over Lake Michigan and dark figures falling from the cloud. There was a crowd gathered on a beach at night, watching in awe and fear. It was a cataclysmic event. And when I awakened, I felt like I had just watched a movie.
The images from that dream remain with me to this day and that’s really unusual for a dream. I had to write a story that would incorporate this alien visitation and show it not as harmful, but as something almost spiritual, which is why the “spaceship” is more like a living thing (I refer to it as a cloud or a membrane). The abduction that occurs in the story truly tests the young love of Rory and Cole in ways neither could have ever imagined.
Lisa: Well, I’m sorry you had to be so sick in order to dream of this but am glad that something wonderful came of it!
Speaking as a reader, there is almost always one stand-out scene for me in every book I read, a scene that I’ll go back and read over and over again. Is there a scene like that in Sky Full of Mysteries for you, one that stands out as a favorite, and without spoiling too much about it, what makes it so special?
Rick: Well, the scene below makes me cry every time I read it. It’s twenty years after Rory’s disappearance and his true love, Cole, mourns Rory acutely on the anniversary of his disappearance. Here Cory is, revisiting his powerful first love, while his husband works in his home office. It’s bittersweet and Cole does not know, at this point, that Rory is about to return to his life very soon:
Cole listened to the close of Tommy’s office door, the start of the new-age music he listened to as he wrote. Today it was Yiruma. Cole waited a moment, in case Tommy should open the door, and then headed down the hall to the master bedroom. He knew Tommy would not emerge until dinnertime, or even later, if he really got involved.
He sat down on the king-size bed, running his hand over the orange and gray quilt. Part of him simply wanted to collapse backward on it, close his eyes, and sleep for hours. The hum of the window air conditioner was soothing, and he knew he could be under within minutes if he allowed himself.
But no, it was the anniversary. He would do what he always did on this day. He pushed himself up and off the comfortable memory-foam mattress and walked to his closet. One of the advantages of the condo, which was built in the 1920s, was its massive size, a total of nearly 2500 square feet. Their bedroom was enormous and included two walk-in closets, one here and one they’d added off the en suite master bath.
Cole’s was in the bedroom, and even though he knew Tommy wouldn’t hear it, he opened his own closet double doors quietly, wincing at the familiar squeak of the hinges. Cole felt a rush of heat rise to his face, despite the frosty air-conditioned chill all around him. Guilt induced that heat, Cole knew. Like an addict, he’d told himself dozens of times he should put away his obsession with Rory. It wasn’t healthy, not for him, and certainly not for his marriage. Secrets never were. Tommy was understanding, sure, but Cole knew he didn’t realize the depth of Cole’s feelings for Rory, not after all these years. Tommy didn’t realize how much he still yearned for Rory, especially around this time of year.
Cole squatted down on the floor, pushing aside his rather sizable collection of running shoes, Cons, and sandals—no wingtips for this boy—and from the far back recesses of the closet, hidden by shadows and garment bags, pulled forth the old black Reebok shoebox. The box held his and Rory’s entire history. Sad thing was, there wasn’t even enough to fill it halfway.
As he opened the box, Cole wondered why he even bothered. In more logical moments, he told himself that the Rory he still loved didn’t even exist anymore, no matter what had happened. If he was alive, he would have aged, just like Cole, by twenty years. So much could happen, physically, emotionally, spiritually, to a person in two decades. Most people weren’t even close to the selves they were twenty years ago.
Still, he dug into the box. There were only a half dozen or so items inside, and Cole knew each and every one of them by heart. He could just as easily have sat in the kitchen and brought each item out in his mind, examined it, and put it back.
But there was something about touching the mementos. There was an electric connection to each item. He likened it to movies he’d seen about psychics—and how they could get a certain energy from a person off an object they’d touched.
First, there was his old ID for the Bally gym at Century City mall. Cole fingered it and laughed, remembering a time when he did have the energy for going to the gym on a regular basis. Thank God he did, because it was where he’d met Rory. At first sight, he knew that all he’d wanted to do was kiss the guy. He believed, and still did, in a way, that to kiss this kind of nerdy, uncoordinated, bespectacled young man would be a revelation and a kind of salvation for him. He’d be home. His wish had come true later that same day. And Cole had not been disappointed.
What they shared had been far too brief, but it had been real.
Next, there was a cereal box top Cole had hung on to through all these years, simply because it was Rory’s favorite breakfast food. It was kind of endearing that Rory loved Froot Loops so much. Cole used to kid him about how childish it was, that he should eat something more grown-up, sensible, something with a little fiber, for Christ’s sake. “Real men don’t eat Froot Loops,” he’d tease, playfully whacking the back of Rory’s head as he sat on their thrift-store couch, hunched over a mixing bowl full of the stuff, just going to town. “You want me to put some cartoons on?” Cole remembered asking, and Rory had nodded, grinning through a mouthful of milk and unnaturally colored, fruit-flavored confetti.
As the weeks and then months passed with no sign of Rory, he’d hung on to the cereal in the pantry. It wasn’t until he moved in with his sister, Elaine, and she was helping him pack up for his move, that he rescued the box of cereal from the trash, where she’d thrown it.
“Oh no, not this.” He’d snatched it out of the wastebasket.
“You and your sweet tooth,” she said, taking the box from him. She opened it and dug around inside, grinning at him. When she put some in her mouth, though, she spit it into the sink. “That stuff is stale, Cole. Tastes like sugary cardboard.” She replaced the box in the trash.
He waited until she was in the bathroom to rip off the top of the box as a souvenir. Even then it was stupid. But somehow the cereal was a concrete reminder of Rory, who could sometimes be a little kid in a very smart man’s body.
There was a poem Rory had written him, late one night after the third time they’d made love. It was scrawled on a yellow Post-it. Bad rhymes and nearly short enough to be a haiku, it was still the only poem a man had ever written to Cole, about Cole. Even Tommy hadn’t, and he made his living as a writer. Cole got a lump in his throat as his fingertips danced over the six lines and the words “You’re all my heart.”
He missed his sister too, although not nearly as much as Rory. She’d passed away the year before, much too soon, a victim of breast cancer. He knew he should get out to Arlington Heights more often and see his nephew, Bobby, who was in high school now.
He returned his attention to the contents of the box. Here was the photo of Rory unpacking in their new apartment. He wasn’t looking at the camera, his glasses had slipped down his nose, and his reddish-brown mop was a mess, sticking up in several different directions. Cole recalled Rory didn’t even know when Cole snapped the picture. He was too absorbed in what he was unpacking—his computer game software, his most treasured possession. Back then Cole thought the photo would be funny, something to rib Rory about once he’d had it developed at Walgreens.
But now, with the sunlight hitting Rory’s head just so, the youthful exuberance on his face, even the bend of that lithe young body, the photo had become sacred to Cole, a reminder of their beginning a new life together.
How short that life had been! If he had known it would all be snatched away just a few weeks later, would he have behaved any differently? That was the thing about life, though; we were never given the courtesy of a warning when something bad was about to strike. We could only mumble bitter what-ifs, which tasted like ash in our mouths.
Cole set the photo back in the box, eyes welling with tears. Why do I do this to myself? Once upon a time, it seemed there was a point to it, but no more. He was a middle-aged married man mourning a too-brief love from when he was in his prime. Pathetic.
He didn’t look at the rest—a takeout menu, a note Rory had left on the nightstand shortly before he disappeared, letting Cole know he’d gone to the gym—he simply put the lid back on the shoebox and then sat for a moment, cross-legged on the floor, staring at it.
As he did every year, he thought I really should get rid of that box. Burn it, maybe. And just like every year, he shoved it to the back of the closet, hiding it behind and under shoes.
It was his history. No one could take that away.
“Hon?” Tommy called from the hallway. “What are you thinking for dinner?”
Lisa: Thank you for sharing that with us!
If you could spend some real-life time with one of the characters in the book, who would you choose and why?
Rick: Cole. I think he’s most like me. Someone who’s a little lost, someone with sad eyes. Someone who really simply wants someone to love and for that person to love him back—above all else.
Lisa: You have such a prolific body of work, but what’s the one genre/sub-genre you haven’t written yet but would love to? What’s kept you from it so far?
Rick: I’ve pretty much explored almost every genre I have an interest in. I guess if I had to say one I haven’t yet explored, it’s memoir, especially my development as a child—and all the history and baggage that goes with childhood. Those years, for better or worse, made me who I am today, both as a man and as a writer.
Lisa: What are you working on currently? Will you share a bit about your current WIP with us?
Rick: I just finished a book called TORN and sent it off to Dreamspinner. It’s based on my first trip to England with my best friend, Sukie, who grew up there. It’s set in the mid-1990s and present-day. During that trip, I met and fell in love with a guy from Boston and thought we’d be together forever until I came home and met a sexy blue collar man in Chicago and then I was, wait for it, TORN BETWEEN TWO LOVERS. How it all plays out in the heart of the book.
Lisa: I love that you draw on real-life experiences in your writing.
If you were to sit down and pen your autobiography today, what would you title it?
Rick: Bleeding onto the Keyboard. Based on the Ernest Hemingway quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Lisa: And last question. I think this one is always a fun one to contemplate: if you could be any fictional character in the history of literature, who would you like to be and why?
Rick: Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. That bitch had a way of attracting the coolest and most loyal friends, had an awesome dog, had insane travel adventures, and wore the coolest shoes.
Lisa: Thanks again for hanging out with us today, Rick, it’s been a pleasure!
Rick: I enjoy hanging out. At least this time there was no arrest involved.
*Interviewer’s note: I have never been arrested with Rick. Hahahaha
About the Book
Sky Full of Mysteries officially releases on August 14
What if your first love was abducted and presumed dead—but returned twenty years later?
That’s the dilemma Cole Weston faces. Now happily married to Tommy D’Amico, he’s suddenly thrown into a surreal world when his first love, Rory Schneidmiller, unexpectedly reappears.
Where has Rory been all this time? What happened to him two decades ago, when a strange mass appeared in the night sky and lifted him into the heavens? Rory has no memory of those years. For him, it’s as though only a day or two has passed.
Rory still loves Cole with the passion unique to young first love. Cole has never forgotten Rory, yet Tommy has been his rock, by his side since Rory disappeared.
Cole is forced to choose between an idealized and passionate first love and the comfort of a long-term marriage. How can he decide? Who faces this kind of quandary, anyway? The answers might lie among the stars….
About the Author
Real Men. True Love.
Rick R. Reed draws inspiration from the lives of gay men to craft stories that quicken the heartbeat, engage emotions, and keep the pages turning. Although he dabbles in horror, dark suspense, and comedy, his attention always returns to the power of love. He’s the award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction and is forever at work on yet another book. Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” You can find him at www.rickrreed.com or www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA with his beloved husband.