Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On My Birthday, the Top 10 Things I've Learned So Far

Gasp. I'm 57 years old today. I don't know how I got to be this age so fast, not when I can clearly remember childhood birthday parties and getting a wire-haired terrier puppy for my birthday when I was eight as if it was yesterday.

But I'd like to think, humbly, that life has taught me a few lessons in my 57 years here on earth. In no particular order, here are the top 10 that come to mind: 







1. That love is the world's most valuable commodity.
2. That family can be defined by more than blood.
3. That feeding someone can be a profound way of telling them that you love them.
4. That silence is often more powerful than words.
5. That, in the end, we do what we want to do.
6. That life is always a work in progress and that we can strive for perfection and strive for happiness, but can never attain them. Not completely.
7. That we should love ourselves for our mistakes as well as our triumphs and find forgiveness in our hearts for those who most need it, which often turns out to be ourselves.
8. That the bond between parent and child, for better or worse, can never be broken. Not even by death.
9. That creativity and art is what separates us from beasts and that, by telling our stories, we realize not only who we are, but our place in the universe.
10. That you should never, ever, refrigerate a good tomato.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Golden Girls and Golden Compassion, Way Ahead of Its Time


I like to think Sophia would have been thrilled with Friday's SCOTUS ruling. Remember, the exchange below is from a television show that aired during the 1980s.

DOROTHY: Ma, how would you react if one of your kids was gay?
SOPHIA: I know you don’t get many dates, but stick with what you know.
DOROTHY: Ma, I’m not gay, it was a question.
SOPHIA: To tell you the truth, Dorothy, if one of my kids was gay, I wouldn’t love them one bit less. I’d wish them all the happiness in the world.
DOROTHY: That’s because you’re the greatest mother in the world, and I love you!
SOPHIA: Fine. Now shut your fat mouth so I can get some sleep!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

For Pride Month: Wise Words from Harvey Milk

“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”
― Harvey Milk

I think what Harvey Milk is saying is that by being honest about who we are, we move forward in eradicating the hate and fear that keeps us in the closet ("once they realize we are indeed their children").

I think that's the goal: if people see that being gay is just another variation on the human theme and not something to be hated, ridiculed, reviled, feared, or ashamed of, then we can wipe out the fear that keeps us hiding in the shadows in shame and in fear of what might happen if we are our true selves. It's lofty, I know, but by maintaining the status quo and hiding, we'll never move forward, never gain acceptance or equality.

And I don't think the quote encourages people to come out when they're not ready. It's just saying it's the right thing to do eventually for the betterment of everyone, especially the person in the closet.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

DREAMBOAT A Fevered Erotic Dream


Sexy. Surreal. Short: My new story, "DREAMBOAT" now available in the Amazon Kindle store for only .99 cents!

BLURB
Do you ever wonder where the dream people come from? Those people who appear in our dreams yet we’ve never seen elsewhere? So begins the story of a young man visited in recurring dreams by his personal vision of a dreamboat. His exotic, Latin ideal man is swarthy, sexy, and ripped and knows exactly the right ways to please our hero. The dreams are surreal and sexy...but what happens when our hero encounters his dream man in real life? A short story by Rick R. Reed, a writer praised by the Lambda Literary Review as a "writer who doesn't disappoint."

EXCERPT
I turned and looked toward the mattress on the hardwood floor. A man lay amid the cream-colored sheets, his dark skin a contrast to the color and texture of the linens. His eyelids were at half-mast, looking both sleepy and lustful at the same time. The lids shadowed the palest green eyes I had ever seen, all the more brilliant in contrast to his dark (Latin?) skin. He smiled and his perfect white teeth and full lips lit up his stubbled face.

He patted the bed, inviting me to join him. I hesitated, the window at my back, feeling a strange sense of foreboding. He certainly looked inviting: his hard, muscular body sculpted from tawny granite and dusted with coarse, curly black hair. He cocked his head. “Come on, sweetheart.” His voice was deep as he sang a lyric from an old reggae song, “The bed’s too big without you.” He reached beneath the sheets and that’s when I froze.

ONTOPDOWNUNDER REVIEWS
Go in expecting the unexpected and I have no doubt you'll enjoy it as much as I did. Highly recommended.






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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Joyfully Jay Reviews Loves Dinner at Fiorello's!


A rave for DINNER AT FIORELLO'S from Joyfully Jay Reviews!

"The wrap up ...is so freaking HEA...I cried..." Read the whole review here.

BLURB
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throw Back Thursday: A Second Look at An Early Book

This "Throwback Thursday," I want to throw back to my only (so far) full-length vampire novel, Blood Sacrifice, published by Untreed Reads. It explores not only the hardcore gruesomeness of the vampire "deathstyle", but delves into the meaning of immortality, especially as it relates to art and love. 

BLURB
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.

EXCERPT
The dead are inside and reveal a surprising likeness to living creatures. They can move and speak just like the rest of us. They have wants and needs. They go about fulfilling these wants and needs with the same kind of intensity and purpose as the rest of the world. One could even say they have jobs, even if their occupations would be deemed illegal and certainly immoral by almost everyone. But look beyond these superficial similarities and you’ll feel chilled.

 Touch their flesh and it’s cold. Lay your head at their breasts and hear…nothing. Look into their eyes and find yourself reflected back in a black void that you just know, if you linger too long in its embrace, you’ll be sucked in and it will be all over for you. Grab one of their cold wrists and it feels like stone, marble to be exact. There is no pulse.

But tonight, they are a merry band of three. Like the living, they are filled with anticipation. An evening out awaits them. They will, like so many others getting ready for a night on the town, meet others, exchange knowing glances and a mating dance of words. They will sup, but not on the gourmet offerings of the city.

Most houses borne of this period contain many rooms, perhaps more than necessary. Whoever designed this house had the presence of mind to create wide-open spaces, breathing room. Enter the double front doors and you come directly into the living room. Or is it a drawing room? A great room? No matter. What you do not enter is a vestibule or a foyer as other houses of this period would contain. The walls are parchment colored, but right now, that color is indiscernible to the human eye, lit as they are by dozens of flickering candles. Water stains mar the walls and give to them a trompe l’oeil elegance, a look of almost deliberate aging. The floors are dark, their hardwood planks, tongue and groove, blackened by the lack of light and dust accumulated over many years. Along one wall is a fieldstone fireplace, its mantel tall as a man, its hearth cold and empty. There is no furniture in this huge room. No chairs. No tables. No bookcases or desks. No divans or chaise lounges.

What does occupy the room, other than these three lifeless, yet curiously beautiful souls, is art. Paintings of every period lean against the wall and hang from their crumbling surfaces. Here is one after the style of Rubens, there another that looks pre-Raphaelite, here a Picasso…Jackson Pollock…Monet…Keith Haring…Willem de Kooning…Mark Rothko…Barnett Newman…plus the works of a legion of unknown artists, in every style and medium imaginable. The walls are crowded with it. The room is a gallery assembled by someone with vast resources, but tastes that go beyond eclectic. The only common theme running through these works is that all are unique. There is a respect for form, for color, for technique. Most of all, there is a certain indefinable quality that manages to capture the human spirit in its delicacy, in its discontent, in its hunger…. Perhaps it’s the hunger that appeals to them. And the floor is a cocktail party of human sculptures. Men and women carved from marble, granite, and alabaster, cast in bronze. There are later figures cast from polymers, smooth acrylic, welded metals. It is eerie…this empty house that has become museum or mausoleum. Or both. But art is what the dead crave. It sustains them…that and something else…something more warm and vibrant, but they are too genteel to admit to such hungers. Like animals, they simply feed when they are hungry and discuss it as little as possible.

The walls also contain long, leaded glass windows, through which, appropriately enough, a full moon sends its pale rays, distorted and laying upon the darkened wood like silver. The leaded glass has become opaque, obscured by layers of dust, grime, and accumulated smoke. And we can see the creatures now, gathering.

Listen: and hear nothing save for the creaking of ancient floorboards. First let us consider Terence, broad shoulders cloaked in a pewter zippered latex vest open just enough to display the cleft between smooth and defined pecs, tight leather jeans, and biker boots. Blond hair frames his face in leonine splendor: thick, straight, and shining, it flows to just below his shoulders. Glint of silver on both ears, studs moving like an iridescent slug upwards. Terence is the second oldest of the three. His skin, like the others, has the look and feel of alabaster. Dark eyes burn from within this whiteness and present a startling contrast. Terence is a study in symmetry, his wide set eyes match each other perfectly, his aquiline nose bisects dramatic cheekbones and his full lips speak volumes about sensuality and lust. Stare into Terence’s eyes and gain a glimpse—quick, like a jump cut in a movie—of cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and the grime and elegance that was London in the late 1800s. Shake your head and the image disperses and you are left thinking it’s only your imagination conjuring up these images. After all, what does this post-punk Adonis have to do with the British Empire in the time of Oscar Wilde? Besides, Terence’s smile will have you thinking only of the present. And the present is what Terence lives for…the pleasure he can find, the communion of flesh and blood, seemingly so religious and yet sent from Hell. He throws back his head and does a runway model turn, for the benefit of his companion, Edward, who rolls his eyes and snickers. “Don’t look to me to be one of your adoring minions.”

Let’s shift our focus to Edward. Edward is musculature in miniature, stubbled face and a shaved pate. Leather vest, black cargo pants tucked into construction worker boots, no jewelry save for the inverted cross glinting gold between shaved and defined pecs. On his bicep, a tattooed band: marijuana leaves repeated over and over, rimmed with a thick black line. Edward’s look would be comfortable in the leather bars along Halsted Street and he is the only one of the three who prefers the embraces of men. He is relatively young, a newcomer to this scene of death and the greedy stealing of life. Watch him carefully and you will detect a hint of uncertainty in his handsome, rugged features. Melancholy haunts his dark eyes, which, unlike Terence’s, are not symmetrical: the left is a little smaller than the right and crinkles more when he laughs, which is seldom. Curiously, though, it is Edward’s features that look most human…because it’s humanity that lacks perfection and Edward hasn’t been of this undead world long enough to adopt its slick veneer of beauty that’s too perfect to be real or wholesome. Look into Edward’s eyes and you’ll see a beatnik Greenwich Village, a more personal vision: an artist’s studio which is nothing more than a cramped room with bad light with canvasses he worked on night and day, brilliant blends of color and construction for which Edward had no name, but one day would be called Abstract Expressionism. Shake your head, and—as with Terence—these images disperse. There’s nothing there, save for this macho gay clone boy with eyes that still manage to sparkle, in spite of the thin veneer of sadness and remorse deep within them.

And last comes Maria, on silent cat feet, moving down the stairs. A whisper of satin, the color of coagulating blood: rust and dying roses, corseted at the waist with black leather. Black hair falls to her shoulders, straight, each strand perfect, sometimes flickering red from the candles' luminance. Dark eyes and full crimson lips. Maria stands over six feet and her body, even beneath the dress, is a study in strength: muscles taut, defined, like a man save for the fact that the muscles speak a hypnotic feminine language: sinew locked with flesh in elegance and grace. Feline would not be going too far were one to describe her. There is the same grace, the same frightening coiled up power, perfect for the hunt, perfect for surprising and making quick work of her prey.

She pauses, turning slowly in front of the men, her men, waiting for an appraisal. And, unlike Terence, this move does not seem vain, but more her due. The men applaud softly and Maria stops, dark eyes boring into theirs. They do not see the watery streets of Venice, but you would, if you dared to engage her gaze for long. Dark canals and mossy mildew-stained walls, crumbling stairs at which black water laps, an open window through which one hears an aria. Smell the mildew and the damp.

The three take seats on the dusty floor, bring out mind-altering paraphernalia. Terence, first: “Whom will we lure tonight?”

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Family Meal at Fiorello's: An Exclusive Excerpt & a Recipe


Although Dinner at Fiorello’s doesn’t contain actual recipes, it does contain a lot of food. Below is an excerpt that shows you our main character, Henry Appleby, on his very first—and very nervous—visit to the restaurant where he hopes to go against his family’s wishes and apply for a job working in the kitchen. 

Read the excerpt, and if you’re intrigued by what Rosalie serves Henry, read on for the recipe. You should note that the Tripe Stew is a dish my Sicilian mom would make—and that I would always turn my nose up at. Now that Mom’s in Heaven, I’m sorry I never gave it a try. It always smelled delicious.

EXCERPT—“Tripe Stew and A Case of the Nerves”

Rosalie, as this must be, seemed like she’d come straight from central casting where the request was for someone who looked like an Italian mother. Rosalie had an upsweep of salt-and-pepper hair and wore a black dress and what Henry mother would call sensible shoes. Her nose was big, her features careworn, but there was something about her eyes, a greenish-brown in color, that exuded warmth and maybe, if he looked really hard, mischief. She didn’t smile. “Did Carmela get your drink order?” she asked.
“Yeah, she’s bringing me some water. And bread.”
“Good. Take a look at the menu and see what you want. The fish today is good. Snapper with olives, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s fresh.”
She hurried away, and Henry opened the menu and began to scan it. He wanted to let out a little sigh. For him, this collection of food was like porn was to some of his peers. Right away, he could see the offerings leaned toward what Henry imagined was southern Italian comfort food—baked manicotti, ricotta pie, braccioli, greens and beans in tomato sauce, a pepper and egg sandwich on “Mom’s homemade bread,” were just a few of the things that set Henry’s mouth to watering.
The menu was like the family photos on the wall. It made him feel like he was visiting someone’s home, sitting in their kitchen, and being welcome. No pretense. Just a suggestion of “we’re so glad you’re here.”
When Rosalie returned, Henry ordered a cappicola sandwich with mozzarella and arugula, also on homemade bread.
“Anything else?” Rosalie asked. Henry noticed she hadn’t written anything down.
“Does it come with anything?”
“Like?”
“Fries?”
The question finally got Rosalie to crack a smile. “We don’t have fries. I can have the cook make you a nice salad, or we got roasted red potatoes with olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Very tasty.”
“Sounds like it. I’ll have the potatoes.”
“Good choice. You could stand to gain a few pounds.” Rosalie looked him up and down.
Henry was surprised to hear her assessment. His mom was always getting on him about watching his calories and carbs.
Without another word, Rosalie turned and walked away. She disappeared into the kitchen. She came back out moments later and set down a small cup full of what looked like some sort of stew.
“What’s this?” Henry asked, inhaling the rich aroma of tomatoes and garlic. “I didn’t order it.”
“On the house. Just something to tide you over until Vito makes your sandwich. It’s what we had at our family meal today.”
“What is it?”
“Tripe with tomatoes and potatoes. It’s good. Mangia!”
Henry wanted to ask, “Isn’t that cow stomach?” but Rosalie had already taken off to wait on another table. He picked up his spoon and moved it around in the cup with more than a little doubt. Hey, if you’re thinking you’re some kind of foodie and today could be the start of a new direction for you, you can’t be a candy ass about trying new things. Just take a bite.
He did. The tripe was a little chewy but had a wonderful meaty richness to it that was complemented by the sauce, which was redolent of tomatoes and garlic. Henry could also taste carrots, onions, and herbs like oregano. He was surprised that it was actually quite delicious, and in no time he had finished the small bowl and found himself wishing for more.
The rest of Henry’s lunch did not disappoint him and continued on its theme of Italian comfort food. Everything he ate was filling, richly flavored, and bore all the signs of being prepared fresh right here on the premises. The bread was a revelation—light, airy, with a golden crust that stood up to the bite. The crust was hard, but in a delightful way.
He pushed his plate away and wondered about dessert. Rosalie, after all, had said he needed to put on some weight. But he was so stuffed—that sandwich was huge—that he was afraid he’d burst if he ate so much as another morsel.
Now came the moment of truth. Of course he’d pay the check; that was a given. But did he have the nerve to do what he’d really come here to do?
Baby steps. He told himself he’d be a fool and a coward if he didn’t at least fill out the application. He could always refuse the job if he decided he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, as the universe expected him to do. That way he could turn it down if they called him, which even Henry knew was unlikely.
Working here would be fun, Henry thought, even if he wouldn’t fit in with his flaxen hair and blue eyes. So what? He could be from northern Italy. They had blonds there, didn’t they?
Rosalie brought him his check. “Take your time,” she said. Henry pulled out the cash he had brought along—no way was he using a credit card for this—and put down enough to cover the bill and a generous tip for the “warm and welcoming” Rosalie.
And then he sat back. Everything he had eaten began to churn. I can’t do it. It’s more than just filling out an application and waiting to see what happens. It’s defying your family. You know they’ll be unhappy, especially Dad. Unhappy? He’d be furious, ashamed, and questioning my sanity.
If I do this, and they just so happen to offer me the job, I will want it. No doubt. And this is not a summer job. It’s not fair to take it under the pretense that I can just leave when school starts in the fall.
So at least you understand yourself now and what’s at stake. No illusions.
He picked up a piece of cappicola that had fallen out of his sandwich and gnawed on it, its rich spices and heat bursting on his tongue. He slowed his breathing to listen to the bustle in the kitchen. Someone shouted, “Throw it away! It smells rotten.” Henry grinned.
He took in all the other diners. They seemed happy, content, their bellies full. Wouldn’t it be something to feed people as his life’s work? Wouldn’t that mean more than managing stuff like portfolios, hedge funds, and other things his dad talked about over the dinner table? Henry was pretty much clueless about what his father did, and worse, he was sure he had no interest in finding out.
Do it.
RECIPE—TRIPE & POTATO STEW

To serve 4, you’ll need:
2 lbs. pre-boiled tripe, cut into bite-sized strips (you need to pre-boil it for about an hour, just to tenderize it)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
Olive oil
A couple tablespoons white wine
8 oz. can of whole tomatoes, crushed up with your hands
4-6 small potatoes, peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon each: dried basil, dried thyme
Parmesan for serving

Directions
1. In a large, heavy pot, sauté onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft, making sure not let any of them brown. Season with salt and pepper as you go.
2. Add the tripe strips and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes to allow it to take on the flavor of the aromatics. Then add white wine, raise the heat, and let the wine cook off.
3. Add tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you add them to the pot, together with the bay leaf and herbs. Mix everything well and cover the pot. Turn down the heat to low and let it simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the tripe is tender and the sauce reduced. About halfway through the simmering, add the potatoes, mix them in, re-cover the pot and continue simmering. When the tripe is tender, if you find the dish too liquid, uncover the pot and raise the heat to reduce for a few minutes, until you have the consistency you like. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
4. Eat with grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil on top.

BLURB
Henry Appleby has an appetite for life. As a recent high school graduate and the son of a wealthy family in one of Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburbs, his life is laid out for him. Unfortunately, though, he’s being forced to follow in the footsteps of his successful attorney father instead of living his dream of being a chef. When an opportunity comes his way to work in a real kitchen the summer after graduation, at a little Italian joint called Fiorello’s, Henry jumps at the chance, putting his future in jeopardy.
Years ago, life was a plentiful buffet for Vito Carelli. But a tragic turn of events now keeps the young chef at Fiorello’s quiet and secretive, preferring to let his amazing Italian peasant cuisine do his talking. When the two cooks meet over an open flame, sparks fly. Both need a taste of something more—something real, something true—to separate the good from the bad and find the love—and the hope—that just might be their salvation.

BUY LINKS