Thursday, March 4, 2021

Treat Yourself to a HOMECOMING This Weekend!

 Have you read my bittersweet love story yet? It's all about finding life and love after unimaginable loss... 


About the Book

After losing his partner Toby, Chase faces a long, painful road back to life and love.

At first, he doesn’t see how he can go on, but then Chase and Toby’s old friend Mike cajoles him into returning to Chicago for the annual International Mr. Leather Competition. There Chase revisits a world of hot, casual sex that he had forgotten existed, meets a friend who cares more for him than he ever realized, and discovers the possibility that he just might be able to move on without betraying the memory of his late partner.

Will Chase find his way back once more to life? To love? And will he find that place he’s been missing? Home. You’ll have to experience the heartrending journey firsthand to find out.

Excerpt

Homecoming
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One

Toby tried his best to stay awake.

He was on the Microsoft shuttle, traveling home from his job at Microsoft’s Redmond campus, to his condo in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It was a long commute, but he had his phone, his weariness (which meant he sometimes slept through the trip), and an overactive imagination for company and entertainment. The commute was made longer because he had to transfer to a bus once he got to downtown Seattle to get close enough to home. Home was a two-bedroom with amazing views of the Space Needle and Lake Union he shared with his soul mate, his beloved, his special one, Chase.

He was grateful every single day for the wonderful life he’d built for himself. He was one of those lucky folks who could hardly imagine how things could possibly be any better.

The familiar scenery passed as the bus drew closer to closer to downtown.

He wished he could banish this fatigue, but it had been a long day and a long week and there simply wasn’t much fuel left in his tank.

But it was his birthday, for god’s sakes ! He wanted to celebrate—so much. It was a milestone, after all. One doesn’t turn forty every day.

If he came home exhausted and ready for bed—and sleep—at nine o’clock, it would only validate the sinking feeling Toby had that forty was the beginning of the long path down that particular piece of geography known as “over the hill.”

He hoped seeing Chase at the door to their shared home would revive him enough to at least maybe order a Pagliacci pizza for delivery and to stream a couple of episodes of Unforgiven on Britbox.

Now, that sounded like a perfect evening and a birthday celebration ideally suited to his introvert leanings. He was grateful once again he and Chase hadn’t made big plans for the 4-0. They could have a nice dinner over the weekend, perhaps, at his favorite Korean street-food eatery, Revel, over in the Fremont neighborhood. Or maybe they’d splurge, as they had last year, and try to get a table at Canlis.

To keep himself awake, he brought his phone out of the pocket of his jeans and, like everyone else on the bus, stared down at the illuminated screen.

He checked Facebook and found it flooded with birthday wishes, so many he got lost in the long thread of well wishes, emojis, and memes exhorting him to have an amazing celebration. Twitter was a little less celebratory, but he still felt like a rock star when he scrolled through all the birthday tweets directed toward him.

Last, he brought up one of his favorite blogs, Tales from the Sexual Underground, written by an old friend of his from Chicago, Danny Britton, who went by the more youthful-sounding pen name of Bryce Weston, because Danny didn’t know how seriously he’d be taken as a middle-aged dude from Highland Park writing about fringe sexual practices and personages. No one would guess most of his tales were made-up (except for the interviews with sex workers and porn stars) and that the man behind the blog was actually pushing fifty and was happily settled with a doctor husband and two very demanding Pomeranians. The wildest Danny got was a season ticket to Ravinia music park every summer.

Danny posted a new column twice a week and devoted the other days to curated roundups of news about sex workers, the porn industry, and the rights and freedoms of those wanting to pursue kinks without government interference. His blog had grown so popular that, last Toby heard, he was making a good chunk of change from advertising. The Twitter followers for his blog numbered in the tens of thousands.

He had a way of writing that made Toby feel he was speaking directly to him, even though he and Chase were pretty much mere acquaintances when they all lived back in the Windy City area.

This week’s latest blog post, for example, spoke to him and where he found himself in life at age forty perfectly. He’d read it earlier on his lunch break, but found himself wanting to savor its short, sweet, sexy words one more time. It was all about how love wins out over sex every time, although the two together could actually induce heaven on earth, provided everything was in place.

It was amazing how Danny could put himself in the shoes of a single gay man so convincingly. He’d been with his physician partner, Jake Wells, for more than two decades.

Back when he and Chase lived in Chicago, he’d tease Jake about the blog when they’d run into him at Wrigley Field or strolling around Millennium Park or at the gay beach at Ardmore and Hollywood. Toby would wonder aloud if Jake had been reincarnated from the soul of a wanton slut of a gay man, or if he was perhaps a horndog trapped in a gay milquetoast’s body.

Perhaps inspired by the teasing, Jake had even written a blog about that. It was hilarious. You never knew what would inspire Danny, or Bryce, as he was known to the masses.

Anyway, this particular post, though, made him so grateful and happy he’d found his one and only, Chase. He was grateful there was no longer any need to play the field. Someone, a happily married gay friend of his at Microsoft, had once quipped that there was no reason to go out for hamburger when he had filet mignon at home.

Toby couldn’t agree more. He began reading.

“Going for Quality, Not Quantity”

Why, I can remember a time when sex parties and the filthy backrooms of leather bars were the height of sexual euphoria. Coupling with strangers en masse set my heart to racing, the blood to pumping, and the brain to disengaging. Caution and even reason were thrown to the wind. Out the window too—unwisely, yes—went fears of AIDS, STIs, and even the limitations of the human lumbar system as I swam through the darkness like a hungry fish, searching with eyes glazed for the next cock, mouth, or ass.

But all of that stuff seems to have lost its charm, to be replaced by “gasp!” if not romance, then at least human connection.

Am I getting old? Maybe not. Maybe I’ve just grown jaded. And, wonder of wonders, perhaps I’ve grown wiser.

But these days, sex seems hotter when it’s one-on-one, with someone I actually know more about than the fact that he’s able to swing that baseball cap around effortlessly, inhale a bottle of poppers, and blow me all at the same time. I get more aroused in my own bed, waiting for someone whose name, occupation, and likes and dislikes I at least have a rudimentary knowledge of than I used to lining up for a crack at the crack in the sling.

A couple cases in point. Old habits die hard, which is why I readily accepted an invitation to a party held during International Mr. Leather (IML) weekend in one of the rooms of the host hotel, the Hyatt. There were to be about fifteen guys gathered. There would be no chips and salsa, witty repartee, or flirtatious glances across the room. No, we all knew what we were there for. The only party favors supplied were bottles of various lube (even that new sensation J Lube, which bears no relation to J Lo, except that both might or might not have something to do with big asses, but I digress), poppers, a sling set up in one corner of the room, and a portable enema hose in the bathroom’s shower. There was no music. No conversation. Just naked men (and some pretty hot ones), grunts, groans, and the odd operatic aria (“Sweet mystery of life, I adore you”).

After about an hour or so, and making the corporeal acquaintance of at least five other men, the whole thing seemed rather amusing and well, if I’m honest, a little boring. Gatherings like these were often so much better in the imagination than they were in real life.

So I left, even though the partiers had hours to go before they slept. Trying to get my clothes back on amidst a tableau out of something Fellini might have dreamed up was no easy task. Picking my way to the door through the sweaty bodies almost made me giggle…it was like playing a very grown up game of Twister.

Contrast that with Sunday…and a very nice day at the beach with someone whom I’m getting to know on many levels. Contrast the sex party with just the two of us, in my sun-drenched bedroom, pretty much doing what the guys at the sex party were doing, but instead of looking for who we should fuck next, we stared into each other’s eyes, charting the course of each other’s pleasure.

What’s happened to me? Does this mean I’ve finally grown up? Or am I just getting boring?

Yeah, Toby thought, I get it. He and Chase had been together now for years, and the thought of wanting a little variety or a little on the side had no appeal at all for Toby. He’d won the prize—a hot man who still inspired his passion, but also one who inspired a sense of contentment, a sense of home, and best of all, an assured future together.

They were almost at his stop and, yes, Toby, anticipating kissing Chase in the next few minutes gave him with a boost of energy. He wouldn’t need anyone else to make his fortieth birthday one for the books.

Buy the Book

NineStar Press | Books2Read Universal Link

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

BLUE UMBRELLA SKY Now Out in Audiobook!

 



My Lambda Literary Award finalist, BLUE UMBRELLA SKY, is now out in audiobook! The story of redemption through love is set right here in my hometown of Palm Springs. 


BLURB
Milt Grabaur has left his life, home, and teaching career in Ohio to start anew. The Summer Winds trailer park in Palm Springs, butted up against the San Jacinto mountain range, seems the perfect place to forget the pain of nursing his beloved husband through Alzheimer's and seeing him off on his final passage. Billy Blue is a sexy California surfer type who once dreamed of being a singer but now works at Trader Joe's and lives in his own trailer at Summer Winds. He's focused on recovery from the alcoholism that put his dreams on hold. When his new neighbor moves in, Billy falls for the gray-eyed man. His sadness and loneliness awaken something Billy's never felt before - real love. When a summer storm and flash flood jeopardize Milt's home, Billy comes to the rescue, hoping the two men might get better acquainted...and maybe begin a new romance. But Milt's devotion to his late husband is strong, and he worries that acting on his attraction will be a betrayal.

Monday, February 15, 2021

What Inspired Me to Write THE Q


 The Q
is one of the books I'm most proud of. It also has the distinction of being the hardest to classify.

It chronicles one night at a small town gay bar in the foothills of the Appalachians (which is where I grew up) where all the locals gather. Through the course of one revelatory night, a memorable cast of characters come forward to share their stories—there’s heartbreak, missed connections, falling in love, falling out of love, making tough decisions, the exposure of secrets…and a lot more. 

There are a few books that inspired my desire to tell a story through individual glimpses into different lives over the course of one pivotal night. Spoon River Anthology, Winesburg, Ohio, and the Elizabeth Strout books, Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again. All of these books basically weave short stories together to create a novel. I loved that idea and have had it in the back of my head for a while.

On a visit to my hometown, which is on the Ohio River and in the Appalachian foothills, I went with my sister one night to a dance club and casino in West Virginia. To draw people in to use the casino, the place has a live band for dancing every Saturday night and I watched all the regulars who come to dance and socialize and thought how they each have a story. And therein my idea for The Q was born. 

ABOUT THE BOOK


Step out for a Saturday night at The Q—the small town gay bar in Appalachia where the locals congregate. Whose secret love is revealed? What long-term relationship comes to a crossroad? What revelations come to light? The DJ mixes a soundtrack to inspire dancing, drinking, singing, and falling in (or out) of love.

This pivotal Saturday night at The Q is one its regulars will never forget. Lives irrevocably change. Laugh, shed a tear, and root for folks you’ll come to love and remember long after the last page.

BUY THE Q

Nine Star Press

Amazon Kindle 

Amazon Paperback 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

New and Notable: 2B by Mark Allan Gunnells

 



I love a well-told ghost story and Mark Allan Gunnells doesn't disappoint with this short, but original take on the form. A gripping tale that just might force you to read in one sitting, 2B is full of interesting and sympathetic characters and a palpable sense of dread as the tension and mystery rise. And watch out for the surprising, but ultimately very logical and fulfilling climax and denouement. 

BLURB
“When your ex wants you dead, they will take you to the grave with them!” -2 B

When two passionate lovers fall out, the results can be deadly.

Berkley Simmons died … for five minutes.

Berkley woke up to find himself in the hospital. He discovered that his ex is dead after a failed murder/ suicide attempt. With nowhere else to go, Berkley must return to the apartment where it all happened. It doesn’t take long for Berkley to begin to suspect that his ex never left the apartment, and still wants him dead.

Get your copy at Amazon Kindle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

NEW RELEASE! Step out for a Night at The Q by Rick R. Reed

 


Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, Contemporary, Ace, Bi, Gay, Lesbian, Family drama, bartenders, blue collar, coming-of-age, coming out, hurt/comfort, soulmates, open relationship, #ownvoices, over 40, reunited

Add to Goodreads

About the Book

Step out for a Saturday night at The Q—the small town gay bar in Appalachia where the locals congregate. Whose secret love is revealed? What long-term relationship comes to a crossroad? What revelations come to light? The DJ mixes a soundtrack to inspire dancing, drinking, singing, and falling in (or out) of love.

This pivotal Saturday night at The Q is one its regulars will never forget. Lives irrevocably change. Laugh, shed a tear, and root for folks you’ll come to love and remember long after the last page.

Excerpt

The Q
Rick R. Reed © 2021
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One: Hey Bartender!

Mary Louise hated the term fag hag.

It was demoralizing, conjuring up an image of an older woman, heavyset, with too much makeup and hair that was too big. She would be sitting at home with her two cats, Will and Grace, drinking Cosmos alone and streaming Queer as Folk or Queer Eye while she waited for one of her gay male friends to call to shape and determine the extent of her social life. She’d maybe drink a little too much and laugh a little too loud. She’d play wingperson and watch wistfully from the sidelines as her cohorts paired off for an evening, a week, a month, or a lifetime. She’d tell her friends and family who’d never darkened the threshold of a gay bar that she liked going to them because she didn’t get hit on by predatory losers and she could let her hair down.

She knew the stereotype because for many years she’d been it—well, maybe not exactly, but close enough to make her cringe at the memory.

Sure, she still owned cats (or they her, far more likely), who were Siamese and not named Will and Grace, but Harry and Sally. Her hair had never been big and her idea of great TV was streaming the Golden Girls on Hulu. “Okay, so that’s a little gay,” she heard Sophia saying in the back of her mind. Her drinking taste leaned much more toward beer or a nice glass of whiskey, neat.

She’d broken free of being the wingwoman to the various gay men she befriended. She’d gotten rid of the idea that her happiness depended on a man, gay or otherwise.

She still laughed too loud and probably always would. One of her friends, Mort, delighted in acting out a scene with her from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when she let loose with one of her ear-splitting laughs. He’d accuse her of braying, and she’d respond, in her best Elizabeth Taylor, “I don’t bray,” and then command him to make her another gin and tonic. He always would comply and would sheepishly respond, “All right. You don’t bray.”

Mort had been gone since 1992, when AIDS took him at the tender age of twenty-eight. Mary Louise still missed him and kept a picture of the two of them, taken while on vacation in Provincetown, a year before Mort was diagnosed. She’d look at that photograph of the two of them, arms slung around each other on Commercial Street, and her eyes would well with tears, even though it had been close to thirty years since Mort had passed in an AIDS ward in a Pittsburgh hospital with only Mary Louise at his side. That loss still was tragic, not only because of Mort’s tender age, but because he was so alone. His partner, Nate, and his folks in Shippingport had abandoned him, the former claiming he couldn’t stand to see him this way and the latter voicing concerns that they might catch the virus. He was your son! She’d wanted to scream at the parents. He needed your arms around him. He needed you to see him. He was your lover! she’d say to Nate. His dying and death wasn’t about you and your fragile feelings.

Mary Louise hoped there was a special place in hell waiting for all three of them.

She’d watched many of her friends succumb to the virus before protease inhibitors came onto the scene, turning what was a death sentence into a somewhat manageable condition. She’d never stop mourning the loss of so many beautiful men.

When the fallout from all this was over, for all practical purposes, Mary Louise found herself bereft of friends. That’s when she decided to pack up and move back to her home town of Hopewell, where her mom and two sisters still lived. There was comfort in coming home to a place where her roots were deeply embedded, even if the area was blighted with poverty. It was still some of the most beautiful countryside Mary Louise could imagine.

Chicago had suddenly seemed too big and, at the same time, paradoxically empty. There were so many reminders—the Boystown strip along Halsted, the Baton Club on Clark, the Swedish restaurant Ann Sather next to the Belmont L stop—all of these places and so many more held more painful memories than she could count, even if they had the power to make her smile and laugh. She figured time and distance would transform the painful memories into joyous ones.

But each recollection of a night of drunken revelry out with her boys or a bleary-eyed brunch the morning after, were a hot touch to her grief, a pain that may have softened, but never went away. Mary Louise was grateful—she’d never willingly give up the hurt. She wanted to hold onto these memories of her boys forever. Despite the fact she was a bit of a stereotype and fit the fag hag profile pretty much to a T, the days and nights in Chicago with her circle of gay friends had been some of the happiest days of her life. And she didn’t even realize it at the time. Wasn’t that always the way?

Hopewell brought a sense of quiet, with its looming tree-covered hills—the foothills of the Appalachians and its position on a winding curve of the mud-brown Ohio River.

Moving back had simplified her life, even if it drained a lot of the bustle and color from it. In Chicago, she never walked alone; the streets, no matter the time of day or night, were always busy. In Hopewell, she could wander and never bump into anyone.

It was her mom, at eighty-six, who needed her help with things like shopping, cooking, running errands, and chauffeuring her to doctor’s appointments. Old Trudy, as she and her sisters referred to her behind her back, refused to move in with one of them, or God forbid, the assisted living facility up the road in Newell. Trudy always said, “I live alone because I like it. They say money is the root of all evil, but the truth is it’s people.”

Mom got by with her girls. And Mary Louise, even as she sometimes got nostalgic for the bright lights and hustle of the big city, knew she was doing the right thing. She’d experienced the Chicago skyline on a clear night, Lake Michigan’s blue/aqua/gray waves crashing against the shore, and the vast diversity of people living on its shore, and no one could ever take those memories away.

Even if she was feisty, clearheaded, and mobile, no one knew how much longer Mom would be with them.

At the Q, Mary Louise still could eye the boys, flirt with them, tease them, and play matchmaker in her role as bartender.

Right now, she stood behind the bar in a pair of unflattering black orthopedic shoes. Once upon a time, Mary Louise adored a pair of CFM (come-fuck-me) pumps with four-inch spikes. Oh, how great they made her legs look back in the day! Not that many noticed in hangouts like Sidetrack or Roscoe’s.

Now, midfifties, she needed to be comfortable when she was on her feet all night. Her smile depended on it, and thus her tips.

Currently, she waited for the doors to open, which would happen in about an hour. She was blissfully alone. Well, maybe blissful wasn’t the right word because all the lights were on as she prepped citrus and olives for drinks, washed glasses, polished the bar, and made sure the bottles behind it were stocked and ready to go.

The overhead lights cruelly stole most of the limited magic the Q possessed. And that was too bad. One of Mary Louise’s favorite characters was the tragic Blanche Dubois, from Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire and one of her favorite lines from the show was Blanche’s opinion that she didn’t want realism, she wanted magic. The shadows, soft lighting, and even the disco ball above the dance floor lent a kind of alchemy to the place, transforming it from run down to a setting where anything could happen, where hope lived.

Just before the doors opened, though, the joint looked tired and sad (as Mary Louise herself often felt). The cinder block walls, painted black, possessed a menacing air, like a dungeon—and not a fun one! The concrete floor, stained, showed its grit and the cracks that ran through it. Even the single long rectangle window at the front appeared dusty. Night pressed in on the tinted glass like a monster, hungry for admittance.

Stop it! Now you’re just getting crazy. Mary Louise finished her prep work and allowed herself a moment to sit on the stool she kept behind the bar. It might be her last chance for several hours to relax, if only for a few minutes. She dreaded the coming ache of her feet at evening’s end, orthopedic shoes or not.

But, oh, how she looked forward to seeing everyone! Every Saturday night was a party, and she was the hostess with the mostess.

Despite how some of the regulars could try her patience down to its last reserves, it brought her joy to watch the revelers, to serve them, to offer oblivion in a glass or a bottle. Even though her dancing days, mostly, were well behind her, she loved seeing everyone out there, bodies gyrating and spinning. Some were great, others awkward, others downright embarrassing, but to witness them cut loose after a long week was a thing of beauty, no matter their level of expertise or coordination. She especially loved some of the older patrons, who would bring their shakers of corn starch in to sprinkle on the floor, making it easier to slip and slide to the pulsing dance beat.

Gracie, Rose, and Liz were a lesbian trio that she particularly adored. Even though she’d never had much conversation with them, other than to take their drink orders, the three seemed so well-adjusted and happy, despite never once pairing off, as half the bar expected them to do. And Mary Louise, who considered herself a pretty astute observer of human nature, could tell from a mile away that Gracie was in love with Rose. So obvious! Why couldn’t Rose see it? Or did she simply not want to? Mary Louise had wondered if maybe they were a throuple, but everyone she talked to about that particular suspicion shot in down. “They’re best friends, that’s all.”

She turned as the door squeaked open. There stood Billy Breedlove, her barback and bouncer when needed (not often) in his usual garb—black combat boots, black cargo pants, and a black T-shirt that appeared to be painted on his beefy physique—looking worried.

Mary Louise was taken a little aback. For one, her breath always did a little catch in her throat when she saw him, accompanied by a skip of a heartbeat. He was a beautiful man with his muscles, his bleached-blond buzz cut, and the tattoo sleeves, wildly colorful butterflies and birds that ran down both arms. The fact that he was unattainable made him even more attractive.

And then she’d chide herself. That young man is a good twenty years younger than you, if not more. Cougar. Shame on you.

He’d once told her, when the doors were closed and the lights back on, as they concluded the evening’s business and everyone had headed home, that he was a volcel.

“What the hell’s that?” Mary Louise had asked, mystified.

“I’m an ace,” he’d said, only confusing her further.

“Voluntary celibate, asexual,” Billy told her. “I’m better off without the nasty, you know. I just don’t want it. It would be hard, no pun intended, if it didn’t work for me. But honestly, I never think about sex. Call me weird, but it works for me. And that’s all that matters.”

On hearing those words, she laughed, disbelieving. She fully expected him to laugh, too, maybe slug her in the arm for being gullible. When he didn’t join her in her laughter, her heart broke for him because she knew he wasn’t kidding. She’d pined with unrequited love for gay men most of her adult life and here was one who was most likely straight. And wouldn’t you know it? He’d sworn off sex.

The world was a hopeless place.

He’s too young for you anyway.

The second reason Mary Louise was taken aback was from the worry stamped on Billy’s face.

“There’s been an accident,” he called over. “It’s bad.”

“Oh no.” Mary Louise stood. “What happened?”

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read


Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  Blog Button 2

Saturday, January 16, 2021

What Inspired Me to Write DINNER AT HOME



If, or hopefully when, you read my book, Dinner at Home, you’ll encounter Hank Mellinger, a homeless twenty-something who, when we first meet him, is staying at a Charity called Haven, where he gets room, board, and training in how to be a professional cook. Two similar charities exist in Seattle, where the book is set, Fare Start, which teaches cooking skills to the homeless, and YouthCare, which provides shelter, food, clothing, and vocational training for homeless youth, an astoundingly (or maybe not) large number of whom identify as LGBT.

When I lived in Seattle, I volunteered for YouthCare, cooking lunches and dinners once or twice a month with a group of my friends—we call ourselves the “It Gets Better” group. There weren't many things I did that were as satisfying, rewarding, and inspirational as this service. It warmed my heart to know that the food I made with my own hands was feeding kids who may not have anything else to eat the rest of the day. Their happiness at seeing what we made that day could bring tears to my eyes.

My experience with YouthCare is part of the reason I love my character Hank, in Dinner at Home so much. He’s like the kids I fed: streetwise, tough on the outside, but vulnerable too. They’re really barely more than children and they’ve been forced to grow up too fast and have seen too much. Hank is no different.

Here’s a little excerpt that shows you what Hank is all about—tough guy outside, but all heart on the inside:

“You really want to feed people this crap?” Hank Mellinger snapped at his new boss. Lined up in the kitchen of Haven, a charity that housed and fed the homeless of Seattle and provided chef training for some of its residents, were several industrial-sized boxes of generic mac and cheese mix. Alongside the boxes were sticks of no-name margarine and boxes of powdered milk.

His boss, E.J. Porter, an African-American woman with her hair braided tightly to her scalp and oval-rimmed frameless glasses, shook her head as she took in her latest charge.

“Hank. We have to face reality here. Now, as much as I would love to serve people mac and cheese with real cheddar, cream, and maybe roasted red peppers, we just can’t afford that kind of stuff on the measly funds we get from the state and what donors kick in. Hell, honey, we might as well do a b├ęchamel and throw some lobster in too.” She patted his shoulder. “It’s a nice dream, sweetie. Now you need to get cookin’. Lunch is only a couple hours away and I still need you to chop and prep the salad.” She pointed to the sorry pile of heads of iceberg lettuce in the sink.

Hank shook his head. “So because people are poor, they have to eat this fucking shit? Why can’t we get some fresh vegetables? Is it that pricey? This stuff gives ‘em nothin’. Artery-clogging crap that might fill up their bellies, but doesn’t do a thing to keep ‘em healthy. Fuck.”

E.J. moved in close to Hank, so close he could feel her breath and maybe even a bit of her spittle on his face. She spoke softly, but there was an intensity, perhaps even a fury to her words. “Look, Hank, you just got here. I have been trying to run this place for the last nine years. You have no idea what I go through just to get the food we have to work with. You have no idea how grateful some of these people are for this ‘shit’ as you call it. It tastes pretty good when the last meal you had came out of a dumpster, if you had anything at all. We work with what we get. Some days it’s healthier fare than others, but all of it’s food. For hungry people. And you might not think that’s something, but it is.

“Now, you are just starting here. We gave you a roof over your head, food to eat, and we’re trying to help you find a career path as a chef. Haven may not be Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, but we will get you ready to work in a kitchen. We’ll give you knife skills, teach you how to make simple sauces, stocks, and soups, we’ll make a real cook out of you. Maybe not a chef, but a cook.

“Now you need to watch your language, watch your attitude, and get to work.” E.J. stormed away.

BUY
JMS Books

If you want to know more about YouthCare (and maybe even donate), here’s a little more information:

YouthCare History

For 40 years, YouthCare has been a leader in providing effective services to Seattle’s homeless youth.

In 1974, a group of concerned citizens started a three-bed shelter for homeless and runaway youth, the first in the Western United States.  Since then, we have grown to become a community-based agency with six sites serving the greater Seattle area. During that time, we have led the way in creating effective, innovative programs for homeless young people:


  • In 1989, YouthCare created one of the first transitional living programs in the Northwest. Straley House now houses Catalyst, one of the first low-barrier housing programs for homeless youth in the region.
  • In 1998, YouthCare opened ISIS House, the first transitional living program in Washington State to focus on the unique needs of homeless LGBTQ youth.
  • In 2003, YouthCare was one of the first agencies nationwide to contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to house a shelter/case management program serving the specialized needs of refugee youth.
  • In May 2010, YouthCare partnered with the City of Seattle, the King County Prosecutor’s Office, and others to open the Bridge Program, the first residential recovery program in the Northwest for sexually exploited children. Today, the program operates as a full continuum of services for sexually exploited youth and  young adults, and includes dedicated beds in both emergency shelter and transitional living programs.


Contact

For general inquiries, including program information and donation options: info@youthcare.org or (206) 694-4500

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

THE MAN FROM MILWAUKEE, my Jeffrey Dahmer Thriller, Is Now Out in Audiobook!

 

Genre: Horror/Thriller, LGBTQIA+, horror, mental illness, grief, virgin/first time, Jeffrey Dahmer, HIV, AIDS

Length7 hrs and 10 mins

About the Book

It’s the summer of 1991 and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer has been arrested. His monstrous crimes inspire dread around the globe. But not so much for Emory Hughes, a closeted young man in Chicago who sees in the cannibal killer a kindred spirit, someone who fights against the dark side of his own nature, as Emory does. He reaches out to Dahmer in prison via letters.

The letters become an escape—from Emory’s mother dying from AIDS, from his uncaring sister, from his dead-end job in downtown Chicago, but most of all, from his own self-hatred.

Dahmer isn’t Emory’s only lifeline as he begins a tentative relationship with Tyler Kay. He falls for him and, just like Dahmer, wonders how he can get Tyler to stay. Emory’s desire for love leads him to confront his own grip on reality. For Tyler, the threat of the mild-mannered Emory seems inconsequential, but not taking the threat seriously is at his own peril.

Can Emory discover the roots of his own madness before it’s too late and he finds himself following in the footsteps of the man from Milwaukee?

 

Excerpt

The Man from Milwaukee
Rick R. Reed © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Headlines

Dahmer appeared before you in a five o’clock edition, stubbled dumb countenance surrounded by the crispness of a white shirt with pale-blue stripes. His handsome face, multiplied by the presses, swept down upon Chicago and all of America, to the depths of the most out-of-the-way villages, in castles and cabins, revealing to the mirthless bourgeois that their daily lives are grazed by enchanting murderers, cunningly elevated to their sleep, which they will cross by some back stairway that has abetted them by not creaking. Beneath his picture burst the dawn of his crimes: details too horrific to be credible in a novel of horror: tales of cannibalism, sexual perversity, and agonizing death, all bespeaking his secret history and preparing his future glory.

Emory Hughes stared at the picture of Jeffrey Dahmer on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, the man in Milwaukee who had confessed to “drugging and strangling his victims, then dismembering them.” The picture was grainy, showing a young man who looked timid and tired. Not someone you’d expect to be a serial killer.

Emory took in the details as the L swung around a bend: lank pale hair, looking dirty and as if someone had taken a comb to it just before the photograph was snapped, heavy eyelids, the smirk, as if Dahmer had no understanding of what was happening to him, blinded suddenly by notoriety, the stubble, at least three days old, growing on his face. Emory even noticed the way a small curl topped his shirt’s white collar. The L twisted, suddenly a ride from Six Flags, and Emory almost dropped the newspaper, clutching for the metal pole to keep from falling. The train’s dizzying pace, taking the curves too fast, made Emory’s stomach churn.

Or was it the details of the story that were making the nausea in him grow and blossom? Details like how Dahmer had boiled some of his victim’s skulls to preserve them…

Milwaukee Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said authorities had recovered five full skeletons from Dahmer’s apartment and partial remains of six others. They’d discovered four severed heads in his kitchen. Emory read that the killer had also admitted to cannibalism.

“Sick, huh?” Emory jumped at a voice behind him. A pudgy man, face florid with sweat and heat, pressed close. The bulge of the man’s stomach nudged against the small of Emory’s back.

Emory hugged the newspaper to his chest, wishing there was somewhere else he could go. But the L at rush hour was crowded with commuters, moist from the heat, wearing identical expressions of boredom.

“Hard to believe some of the things that guy did.” The man continued, undaunted by Emory’s refusal to meet his eyes. “He’s a queer. They all want to give the queers special privileges and act like there’s nothing wrong with them. And then look what happens.” The guy snorted. “Nothing wrong with them…right.”

Emory wished the man would move away. The sour odor of the man’s sweat mingled with cheap cologne, something like Old Spice.

Hadn’t his father worn Old Spice?

Emory gripped the pole until his knuckles whitened, staring down at the newspaper he had found abandoned on a seat at the Belmont stop. Maybe if he sees I’m reading, he’ll shut up. Every time the man spoke, his accent broad and twangy, his voice nasal, Emory felt like someone was raking a metal-toothed comb across the soft pink surface of his brain.

Neighbors had complained off and on for more than a year about a putrid stench from Dahmer’s apartment. He told them his refrigerator was broken and meat in it had spoiled. Others reported hearing hand and power saws buzzing in the apartment at odd hours.

“Yeah, this guy Dahmer… You hear what he did to some of these guys?”

Emory turned at last. He was trembling, and the muscles in his jaw clenched and unclenched. He knew his voice was coming out high, and that because of this, the man might think he was queer, but he had to make him stop.

“Listen, sir, I really have no use for your opinions. I ask you now, very sincerely, to let me be so that I might finish reading my newspaper.”

The guy sucked in some air. “Yeah, sure,” he mumbled.

Emory looked down once more at the picture of Dahmer, trying to delve into the dots that made up the serial killer’s eyes. Perhaps somewhere in the dark orbs, he could find evidence of madness. Perhaps the pixels would coalesce to explain the atrocities this bland-looking young man had perpetrated, the pain and suffering he’d caused.

To what end?

“Granville next. Granville will be the next stop.” The voice, garbled and cloaked in static, alerted Emory that his stop was coming up.

As the train slowed, Emory let the newspaper, never really his own, slip from his fingers. The train stopped with a lurch, and Emory looked out at the familiar green sign reading Granville. With the back of his hand, he wiped the sweat from his brow and prepared to step off the train.

Then an image assailed him: Dahmer’s face, lying on the brown, grimy floor of the L, being trampled.

Emory turned back, bumping into commuters who were trying to get off the train, and stooped to snatch the newspaper up from the gritty floor.

Tenderly, he brushed dirt from Dahmer’s picture and stuck the newspaper under his arm.

*

Kenmore Avenue sagged under the weight of the humidity as Emory trudged home, white cotton shirt sticking to his back, face moist. At the end of the block, a Loyola University building stood sentinel—gray and solid against a wilted sky devoid of color, sucking in July’s heat and moisture like a sponge.

Emory fitted his key into the lock of the redbrick high-rise he shared with his mother and sister, Mary Helen. Behind him, a car grumbled by, muffler dragging, transmission moaning. A group of four children, Hispanic complexions darkened even more by the sun, quarreled as one of them held a huge red ball under his arm protectively.

As always, the vestibule smelled of garlic and cooking cabbage, and as always, Emory wondered from which apartment these smells, grown stale over the years he and his family had lived in the building, had originally emanated.

In the mailbox was a booklet of coupons from Jewel, a Commonwealth Edison bill, and a newsletter from Test Positive Aware. Emory shoved the mail under his arm and headed up the creaking stairs to the third floor.

Purchase at Audible


Meet the Author

Real Men. True Love. Rick R. Reed is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction. He is a Lambda Literary Award finalist. Entertainment Weekly has described his work as “heartrending and sensitive.” Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…” Find him at www.rickrreedreality.blogspot.com. Rick lives in Palm Springs, CA, with his husband, Bruce, and their fierce Chihuahua/Shiba Inu mix, Kodi.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Meet the Narrator

Donald Davenport is a screenwriter, author, educator and podcaster. He's also a film producer and director. donalddavenport.com

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

  Blog Button 2

Monday, January 11, 2021

New and Notable: LUKA by Dianne Hartsock

 


Genre: Paranormal, LGBTQIA+, age gap, witches, sorcerers, fae, magic, second chances

Add to Goodreads

About the Book

Luka makes a desperate wish and the earth shifts to his will. Regretting it immediately, he tries to undue the sorcery, but it is too late. He asked for hope, and to his horror, all the hope in the world is given into his keeping. He desires nothing more than to return this gift to the world.

Aethan wants to get his hands on the Well of Hope in Luka’s keeping. If he can ransom out hope to others at his whim, the world will be at his feet. Where it belongs.

With the aid of his lover, Rhys, Luka stays one step ahead of Aethan. But Rhys has his own enemy in Aethan, his estranged father.

Rescued by Luka, his sweet, gentle witch, Rhys now stands with him against Aethan. They have vowed to return the Well of Hope to the earth despite all odds, or die trying. For what is life worth, for anyone, without hope?

Excerpt

Luka
Dianne Hartsock © 2020
All Rights Reserved

Luka settled cross-legged on the hearth with a murmured word of gratitude to the fire as its warmth surrounded him. Keeping a veiled eye on the woodpile, he crumbled a crust of bread and honey onto the stones. The animals had grown skittish of late, and he missed their company on his long tramps through the forest. The cabin had grown lonely without Rhys’s vibrant presence.

The thoughts of his lover sent his gaze to the small stack of books he kept close at hand to leaf through during the long empty nights. He’d rescued the young man from a brutish existence at the hands of a madman, and the stories were all that would ease his frantic, tortured mind. Rhys would sit close to Luka while Luka read the heroic tales until his head would nod, and he’d slump into Luka’s arms, a warm, living presence in his solitary life.

Luka raised his head, attentive. Winter gathered outside the latched door, wind howling through the trees, sending their limbs scratching along the roof. A shiver traveled up his spine. Something darker than the storm was coming.

The fire snapped in a shower of sparks, recalling his attention. He drew a small bundle of twigs from a pocket, cupped it in his worn, nut-brown hands, and breathed in the scent of juniper and sage. Chanting the words his mother had taught him long ago, he tossed the clump into the flames. A tendril of smoke rose, twirled in lazy circles in the air and brushed against his face.

He breathed deeply, holding in his lungs the heady smoke of the sage and grasses he’d gathered by the stream last autumn. His thoughts cleared. He saw everything! Snow whipped through the darkness between the trees, carried on the fierce wind. His beloved animals huddled in the scrub brush for safety and warmth. The village beyond the forest barred its doors, fires lit, safe inside while the storm raged.

His thoughts soared, bursting into the moonlit landscape above the clouds. Laughing aloud, his spirit flew in wonder, heart aching at the beauty of the night. But something tugged at his heart, his name shouted on the wind. He blinked at tears, bringing the fire back into focus, the cabin solid around him. Night pressed on the shuttered windows. Something was in the night…

Luka’s heart leaped. He comes! A soft cry of joy escaped him, and he rose in one fluid motion to his feet. He’d sent Rhys away to find love elsewhere than in the arms of a lonely witch, and yet he came, daring the storm.

“Come to me,” he urged the solitary figure in his mind’s eye, struggling up the path to reach him. A tremor seized him. Long years of bartering his herbs and potions to the villagers had passed while he waited with hope and dread for Rhys’s return, darkness at his heels.

He crossed the wooden floor of the cabin, logs he’d hewn and planed himself, lighting the candles with a word as he passed, filling the room with light. Luka paused at the door, hand hesitant on the latch. He had enemies beyond this safe threshold. What if Rhys had gone to them in his bitterness and returned now for revenge? Luka closed his eyes, seeing again the pain on Rhys’s youthful face, the confusion in his eyes when Luka told him to go, and closed the door on his anguished pleas.

A rap on the door sent his pulse racing. Love and doubt warred inside him, but he had to know, see the truth of it. He opened the door a crack; icy wind whistled in. A figure stood on his step, the heavy cloak clutched against the cold obscuring his features. Who was this? He swung the door wider. The energy was all wrong. But Luka would welcome him in whatever guise he wore.

He opened his hungry arms, but Rhys shook his head and looked up, candlelight spilling on his pale face, grown older. “You sent me away—brokenhearted.” Rhys’s voice was deeper than he remembered. “If I cross this threshold, I won’t leave again. Be very sure.”

Luka trembled, searching the beloved features, and mourned the sweet innocence that was missing. Snow sifted through the trees adding to the weight on Rhys’s shoulders, and Luka swallowed his doubts. “Come inside.” He tugged on Rhys’s sleeve, unable to mask his eagerness. His heart stumbled, then leaped, seeing a flash of elation in Rhys’s eyes.

Rhys stepped into the cottage in a flurry of cold air and snow, and Luka hastily closed and latched the door behind him. He turned, and his lips parted in a startled gasp. Rhys had removed his cloak, snow already melting on the warm floor. His golden hair fell loosely to his shoulders, and his body filled out the tunic and trousers he wore in a way it hadn’t five years ago. He had grown into a handsome man, the fine wool of his clothing attesting he’d done well in the village.

Suddenly conscious of his frayed sleeves and ink-stained fingers, the silver now threading his dark braid of hair, Luka glanced away. His gaze fell on the books and parchment littering every surface, candle wax spilled on the tabletops. A thick layer of dust covered the bookshelves, except for the volumes he used for reference. He chewed a lip, troubled.

“Come to the fire,” he offered, taking Rhys’s cloak to hang on a peg. “There’s a stew simmering on the hearth.”

Rhys touched his shoulder, halting him. “A moment. I’ve come to warn you. Your old enemy—”

“Is coming. This I know. We’ll talk of it later. Please, come to the fire. You must be cold.”

“Luka.”

Luka swiveled sharply at the command in Rhys’s voice, a thrill rushing through him. So much courage from his once timid lover. Was this the same man he’d rescued? The young lad of seventeen years, chained and beaten in a dank cellar? Rhys wouldn’t speak of his parents back then, saying only he’d lived on the charity of others—until he’d been snared, captive to a cruel man’s dark appetites.

Rhys’s soul had cried out in anguish from his prison, finding Luka’s heart, drawing him deep into the forest to the monster’s isolated hut. Luka had eluded the dark sorcerer, freeing the lad and taking him into his home. And later, into his bed, a moth to Rhys’s bright flame, his heart opened for the first time in uncounted years to love and promise.

Purchase

NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Dianne is the author of paranormal/suspense, fantasy adventure, m/m romance, the occasional thriller, and anything else that comes to mind. She lives in the beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon with her incredibly patient husband, who puts up with the endless hours she spends hunched over the keyboard letting her characters play. She says Oregon’s raindrops are the perfect setting in which to write. There’s something about being cooped up in the house with a fire crackling on the hearth and a cup of hot coffee warming her hands, which kindles her imagination.

Currently, Dianne works as a floral designer in a locally-owned gift shop. Which is the perfect job for her. When not writing, she can express herself through the rich colors and textures of flowers and foliage.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway 

  Blog Button 2

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

PENANCE, My Darkest and Most Terrifying Book, is Back Out in a Brand New Edition




JMS Books has just re-released a new edition of my novel about Chicago streetkids and the monster who preys on them.

I adore the new cover JMS Books has put on the book. For comparison, here's the original Dell paperback cover from 1991, where it was part of their stellar Abyss line-up of horror novels. 



BLURB 
Bound by misery. Marked by sin. Set free by death.

Barely into their teens, without homes, they dwell in neon shadows, the violent eddies of urban America. They trade their innocence for money, abuse their hopes, and then a monster comes...

A monster without fangs or claws, but more deadly. Because of them, he has lost everything: his wife, his family. And he vows to clean the streets of Chicago...for good.

One of the street kids and a man of the cloth form a desperate pact. Together, they will find the madman whose basement has become a chamber of horrors...

PENANCE was part of Dell Abyss' remarkable horror line, lauded by none other than Stephen King.

EXCERPT
Lawrence Avenue was alive with rain-slicked excitement. Here, in Chicago’s uptown, royal blue, yellow, and green neon reflected off the pavement’s darkness. Cold night air. Steam rushing up through manhole covers. Christmas lights in neighborhood bar windows beckoned passersby with watery promises of “Christmas cheer.”

Jimmy Fels occupied his street corner. At thirteen, he already knew the poses. There was a casual defiance in the way he leaned against the storefront doorway, pelvis thrust out just enough to attract the interest of the cars cruising by more slowly than the others. He wore a faded jean jacket, Metallica T-shirt, pegged jeans, and Reebok Pumps. His ripped T-shirt deliberately exposed a nipple and a flash of smooth white stomach. The top of the T-shirt was cut away to reveal a gold rope chain, glinting in the glow of the streetlight above him.

Green eyes, wizened beyond their years, stared out of a pale face. He brought a cigarette to his full lips, lips almost too feminine and full for a boy, too ripe for anything clean. His hair, freshly washed, was still damp, looking darker than blond.

He tried not to appear too interested in the cars passing by, some slowing down to take a look at him. He knew it was bad to look too hungry. Make them think you’re doing them a favor…always keep the upper hand. Street knowledge passed on. Remember Gacy. Remember Larry Eyler and what he did to Danny Bridges, the boy who ended up chopped into pieces and thrown into a Dumpster. Get it over with as quickly as possible and keep moving. But he looked anyway, his eyes moving slowly, catching glances out of the corners, and saw the shadows of men leaning forward, their faces ghostly through car windows.

*

Dwight Morris looked at himself in his bathroom mirror. Forty-two years old, he thought, forty-two years old and you can’t even tell. The Cubs baseball cap was positioned just so, with the bill facing backward. His acid-washed Levi’s jacket hung loosely on him, with the cuffs of the sleeves turned up. Under the jacket, he wore an old grey-hooded sweatshirt unzipped just enough to show the New Kids T-shirt underneath. The mirror didn’t reveal the pegged black jeans and the BK high tops.

Dwight smiled at himself, exposing the boyish gap in his teeth. The hint of rouge on his cheeks made him look flushed; a young boy.

I must look at least twenty-five years younger.

*

Jimmy imagined their yearning.

He was cold, but didn’t want to warm himself. That would destroy the pose. The tough guy. So his arms remained at his sides, the cigarette an orange glow in one hand, held between thumb and forefinger. Too many suburban guys tucked at home with wife and kiddies, Indiana Jones on the VCR, lust for his little thirteen-year-old ass on their minds.

“Isn’t it a little cold out here for you, little boy?”

Jimmy jumped at the sound of a girl’s voice. He turned to his left and there she was. Miranda. Tonight she was wearing a black derby, a big black sweatshirt, urban camouflage pants, black leg warmers, army boots. Christ.

An amused grin played about her lips. “Shouldn’t you be home in bed, little boy? I think your mama has some cocoa and Oreos waiting.”

“Real funny, ’Ran. C’mon, gimme a fuckin’ break. I’m workin’.”

Miranda rolled her eyes. “Slow night?” She took off the black derby she wore and ran her hand through her close-cropped red hair, making it stand on end.

“It is with you standin’ there blockin’ the fuckin’ view.”

Miranda shook her head. “I can see we’re in a mood tonight.” She started away from him, hips sashaying, swinging her bag.

“Hey.” Jimmy took a last drag off his cigarette, flicked it into the gutter.

Miranda stopped and turned, cocked her head. “Thought you didn’t want to be bothered.”

Jimmy raised his hands to her. “See ya later?”

Miranda shrugged. “Depends on how it goes.”

“Right. That’s cool.”

Jimmy watched her walking away. Who would she find tonight? Would she make enough to buy herself a bottle of Cisco?

“How you doin’, son?”

The man’s voice made Jimmy take his eyes away from Miranda. He pulled a cigarette out of his jacket pocket and lit it, cupping his hand to shield the flame, before he looked up.

It was the creep. At least that’s what Jimmy called him. Some fucking preacher who lived around here. Tall, thin, pasty white with these little old-fashioned wire-rim glasses.

“Beat it. I ain’t interested.” Jimmy sucked in on the cigarette, blew the smoke toward the man.

The preacher made a gesture like a shrug, bringing his hands up, like I’m innocent.

Right. “Look, man, I’m okay. All right? See you later?”

Jimmy smirked as the preacher walked away, his hands dug deep in his pockets, head hunched down against the Chicago wind whistling down Lawrence, off the lake.

A Toyota pickup pulled over to the curb. Black with neon detailing. The truck had these squiggles of hot pink and turquoise. Jimmy pretended not to notice at first, then glanced in the direction of the truck. There was some young guy inside, wearing a baseball cap backward, leaning over and rolling down the window. Jimmy leaned over to get a better look at the face.

Wait a minute. Jimmy moved a little closer, trying to make it look like he’d just decided he wanted to cross the street or something. But he needed to get a better look.

This guy wasn’t so young. There were lines around his eyes, across his forehead. He had so much makeup on his cheeks he looked like fuckin’ Bozo the Clown..

BUY
JMS Books (20% off)
Amazon Paperback (original Dell Abyss paperback)

Monday, December 21, 2020

My Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2020

I am, and have always been, a voracious reader. The ability to escape into fiction has been a saving grace throughout my life. Below are my favorite 10 books, out of some 60 I read over the course of the year.

Let's get to it. And I hope some of my likes will inspire you to read... All books are available in digital and hard copy at Amazon or any other bookseller.

10. Girl Gone Mad by Avery Bishop 


A mind-bender, stay-up-all night super suspenseful read. Very few books deserve the accolade, "I just couldn't put it down," but this is one of them. From the well-defined characters, the authentic sense of place, the expert build-up of suspense, this is simply an outstanding thriller. Hollywood, if you're listening, this would make a great movie. 





9. Anxious People by Fredrik Backman


Although I liked this author's A MAN CALLED OVE much better, I did really love this one too. I deducted a star for this one only because it was a bit confusing and hard to follow because of an unnecessarily (in my opinion) structure that made it difficult for me to get into the story and to feel empathy for the characters. That said, by the end of the book, I was in tears and in awe at Backman's ability to transport me, make me think, deliver emotions, and wrap it all up in a very meaningful way. 




8. A Marriage in Dog Years by Nancy Balbirer


Although this memoir caused me to ugly cry in the most undignified way, it doesn't interfere with my wanting everyone to read it, especially those of us who've come out on the other side of loss, whether through break-up or death. Balbirer writes with wit, charm, and sensitivity about her failing marriage and the slow death of her beloved dog, all in the same time frame, and about how we all may tend to cling to things we love that are beyond saving, simply because we can. Profound. Full of emotion and insight. And, at times, bracingly funny.



7. In the Shadow of the Valley by Bobi Conn


This is one of the best books, in my opinion, to come out of Amazon's publishing imprints. It's filled with wisdom, heartbreak, despair, joy...and hope. It's a portrayal of the resiliency of the human spirit and, while it chronicles one woman's growth, it's a story I believe we can all relate to. We're all broken and we can all find our paths on this journey we call life. Bobi Conn, I can't wait to read what you write next.





6. At Risk by Alice Hoffman


Gut wrenching. Took me back to a time when AIDS was a death sentence and I lost so many close to me. Hoffman's narrative, though, of a child succumbing to the virus is almost beyond bearable. In her capable hands, though, the book is a powerful meditation on the strength of love and family during a crisis. Not an easy read, but certainly a worthwhile one.





5. Man from Milwaukee by Rick R. Reed


Yes, I had to include one of my own! I'm particularly proud of this unreliable narrator story about a closeted young man's fascination and identification with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the summer of 1991, when he was arrested. 







4. Calypso by David Sedaris


CALYPSO is one of Sedaris's very best books. He brings to the stories contained within the collection a wisdom and maturity that will resonate with most of us, especially those of us growing older and who've faced losing family members and others close to us. That's not to say there aren't laugh-out-loud hilariousness afoot here, there is, in spades, but Sedaris's musings about his parents (one dead and one in decline) brought out such poignancy and humanity that makes CALYPSO a masterpiece. I listened to Sedaris himself read the book on audio and when he gets to the last lines of the last piece about his father, my heart broke and I was in tears. And I looked very stupid because I was in the midst of an outdoor run at the time. But those last couple of lines not only tie the whole collection together, but our lives as human beings.

3. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout


I adored this book. I also adored its predecessor, OLIVE KITTERIDGE and doubted Strout could surpass herself. I wouldn't say she surpassed herself, but OLIVE, AGAIN was certainly an equal to the first book in terms of emotional power and truth. Its beauty and depth lie in deceptively simple prose that renders deep commentary on the human condition, love, aging, and loss.





2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


Oh man, this is right up there with not only one of my most cherished books of the year. It'll also have a place in my heart and memory as one of my favorite books ever. Entertaining, profoundly moving, achingly beautiful prose that skirts poetry at times, unique, flawed, and all-too-human characters, and a mesmerizing sense of place all add up to literary gold.





1. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart


If I could give this book more than 5 stars, I would. It's shot right up to the top of the list of best books I've read not only this year, but in my life. And that's no small feat, since I have been a constant reader since my age was in the single digits. This debut novel, which deservingly won the Booker Prize and was shortlisted for the National Book Award, is a heartbreaking portrait of alcoholism and poverty in Scotland, centering around the tragic and beautiful Agnes and her son Shuggie, who loves her with a kind of hopeless ferocity anyone who has ever loved an addict or alcoholic will understand. Stuart brings to poignant light the Glasgow (and surrounding areas) with a palette of simple grays...startling in its clarity, breathtaking in its detail, and cutting in its truth. This is one of the rare books I will read again and again. It's not a happy book and I shed many tears, but the artistry here is beautiful and a real testimony to the resiliency and kindness of the human spirit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

My Take on THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL


I've always loved the darkly beautiful fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. "Matches" is my gay take on "The Little Match Girl."

BLURB
Christmas Eve should be a night filled with magic and love. But for Anderson, down on his luck and homeless in Chicago's frigid chill, it's a fight for survival. Whether he's sleeping on the el, or holed up in an abandoned car, all he really has are his memories to keep him warm-memories of a time when he loved a man named Welk and the world was perfect.

When Anderson finds a book of discarded matches on the sidewalk, he pockets them. Later, trying to keep the cold at bay hunkered down in a church entryway, Anderson discovers the matches are the key to bringing his memories of Welk, happiness, and security to life. Within their flames, visions dance-and perhaps a reunion with the man he loved most.

BUY for .99 on Amazon Kindle (FREE for Kindle Unlimited Readers)

EXCERPT
Anderson made his way down the stairs into the Grand Avenue subway station, the mildew smell of the station rising up as he descended. A rush of commuters passed him going up; a train must have just discharged them. People edged by, giving him as wide a berth as possible. Just as he neared the bottom, a young woman with short black hair, wearing a down coat trimmed in fur, stumbled on the concrete stairs. She dropped her purse and its contents spilled out. Anderson paused and spotted the makeup, the few dollar bills-and a CTA transit card. A part of him told him to grab it and run, that she could well afford another one. If there was enough money stored on the card, it could get him through a good part of the winter.

But no matter how cold it got, no matter how much snow fell, no matter how well the woman could afford to buy another card, Anderson couldn't do it. He just didn't have it in him to steal.

He reached down to help her gather her things and she recoiled, gasping at the sight of him and scooting back and away. "That's okay!" she said, quickly lowering her gaze to hurriedly pick up the things she had dropped.

It hurt Anderson to see the fear and disgust in her eyes.

In the station, Anderson didn't know what to do. To access the platform, you had to have a card. Sure, he could jump the turnstiles and risk getting arrested; he had seen it done. Some got away with it, more didn't.

Like stealing the woman on the stair's transit pass, it simply wasn't within Anderson to do something criminal.

Among the straggling commuters, Anderson spied an old woman who looked kindly. Perhaps she would take pity on him. With her upsweep of gray hair, her sensible wool coat, rubber boots, and hand-crocheted scarf, she appeared kindly, reminding Anderson of his own late grandmother. There was something lively and warm in her pale blue eyes.

Anderson stepped in front of her and smiled. "Excuse me, ma'am."

The woman stopped, regarding him.

"I hate to ask, but I need to get on the train and, honestly, I don't have a dime to my name." Anderson thought for a moment and came up with a small white lie. "I need to get to the south side, where my family is." He smiled again. "It's Christmas."

The woman didn't say anything.

"Do you think you could spare a couple dollars so I could ride?" Anderson gnawed at his lower lip, hating the position circumstance and the economy had put him in.

"Get the hell out of my way," the woman said quietly, edging by him. She called over her shoulder, "Get a job, why don't you?"

Anderson was taken aback by the coldness and the almost-hatred in her voice. It was so unexpected and so unnecessarily cruel.

Anderson felt the bright sting of tears at the corner of his eyes. His shoulders slumped. He was about to turn and leave the station when a young guy, about his own age, came up to him. Once upon a time, Anderson would have thought he was cute, and if he had opened the door a little, Anderson might have flirted with him. But now his only reaction was-what now?

"What a bitch," the man said, his gaze roaming over to where the old woman was mounting the stairs. He reached into the pocket of his worn denim jacket that looked too thin for the weather and pulled out a transit card. He held it out to Anderson. "Take it. There's only one ride left on there. I wish I could give you more, but I'm pretty strapped myself."

Tentatively, Anderson reached for the card. "Are you sure you can spare this?"

"I wouldn't have offered it to you if I couldn't." He wiggled the hand holding the card. "Go on."

Anderson took it, wondering if some guardian angel, or even Welk, was looking out for him.

"Thank you."

"It's nothin'. Merry Christmas."

Anderson swallowed hard, feeling a lump in his throat. "Merry Christmas to you too."

The guy turned and headed up the stairs, out into the snow.

And Anderson moved toward the turnstiles.

The card worked.

BUY for .99 on Amazon Kindle (FREE for Kindle Unlimited Readers)

Bookmark and Share