Monday, June 7, 2021

My bittersweet love story about finding love after great loss, HOMECOMING

 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

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

THE Q is Now an Audiobook

 


Proud to announce that the #audiobook of my novel THE Q (about one pivotal night in a small town #LGBTQ bar) is now ready for your listening pleasure. The amazing narration is by Donald Davenport. 

#Audible #ownvoices #amwritingfiction 

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 minute.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Step Into THE Q! Exclusive Excerpt


My latest novel, The Q, takes place over the course of one pivotal Saturday night in a small town gay bar. Read on for a glimpse into just one of the characters my story chronicles.

EXCERPT FROM THE Q ©2021 Rick R. Reed 

Nobody to Love

Nelson DiCarlo wondered, for the thousandth Saturday night, why he didn’t stay home.

After all, he had regular cable, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. He had a fully-stocked liquor cabinet and could make himself just about any cocktail he could imagine, from the simple—gin and tonic with a twist of lime—to the exotic—a Pimm’s Cup with orange and cucumber slices. His pantry was stocked with chips, cookies, and crackers to go with the cheeses and dips in his fridge.

His dog, Homer, a so-ugly-he’s-cute mix of dachshund and poodle, was always ready to cuddle or take a long walk in the night air. So, he couldn’t say he was lacking for company. Homer was short on judgment, long on love, and as long as Nels was paying attention, the dog never got bored. If Nels’s attention did stray, the dog reeled him back in by covering his faces with kisses.

No, really, there was no reason why he, at sixty-two years old, should be getting ready to go out to a bar on Saturday night. Really, he needed to simply accept his lot and stay in, go to bed early, like the old man he was.

Nearly entirely banished were the dreams that being out at the Q—the only gay bar in his little one-horse town of Hopewell, West Virginia—would conjure up a man who’d be everything Nels dreamed of: a passionate lover, a faithful companion, a best friend forever. He even held out little reason to believe the conversations he’d have with the same folks he saw every Saturday at the Q would be any different or more exciting than they had been on any other Saturday night, dating back years. 

He had no reason to think that, even if he’d given up all hope for a Mr. Right to come along on his white horse, he would meet a Mr. Right Now. There were a few of those in his past, but none lately. Not for a long time… So long, in fact, that Nels no longer pined for a physical connection with another man.

So why go out?

It was routine. It was a bore.

He was old. And so, so tired.

Yet, here he found himself, in the tiny blue and yellow ceramic tile bathroom of the house he’d grown up in—the one he’d inherited from his mom when she passed from lung cancer seven years ago—shaving in front of the medicine cabinet mirror.

It was funny, how he sometimes glimpsed the man he once was in that mirror, especially when half of his wizened face was hidden by Barbasol shaving cream.

If he squinted just right, he could look back in time and see the man he’d once been, hidden in the depths of the glass. He’d been handsome, what Mom would call a head-turner. On the shorter side at five-feet-eight-inches, Nels had been solidly packed with effortless muscle and good definition. Firm pecs. Bulging biceps. Thick black wavy hair and eyes so dark the pupils got lost in the irises. A perpetual five o’clock shadow that highlighted, rather than hid, the sharp angles and planes of his face, a contrast to his cupid’s bow lips. People, men mostly, used to tell him he should be a model.

That young buck hidden in the mirror was forever mistaken for being younger than he actually was. In his twenties, he was always asked for an ID. When he was in his thirties, everyone imagined he was in his twenties. In his forties, people guessed thirties. Even in his fifties, folks would guess mid- to late-forties and they were always surprised when Nels corrected them, because he never lied about his age. It was always a delight to get the compliments, “I never would have guessed!” “What’s your secret?” And that dreaded left-handed compliment, “You look great—for your age.”

And then, suddenly, and without warning, he looked his age. The revelation crept up without warning.

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, May 15, 2021

New and Notable: BEFORE HE WAKES by Mark Allan Gunnells



I'm very excited to read this chilling new release from colleague and friend, Mark Allan Gunnells.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Patrick and Clare wake up trapped in a basement, a thin wall separating their cells. Their captor is mysteriously absent, which at first seems like a blessing. As more time passes with no food or water, they begin to realize a clock is ticking for their survival.

Combining their intelligence and determination, the two begin plotting an escape from their shared prison. Overcoming each obstacle only presents another obstacle standing in the way of their freedom. It will take all of their ingenuity and strength to find their way out of this mess.

They know their captor is still out there, and it is only a matter of time before he returns.

Before He Wakes is a fast-paced and tense thriller that ratchets up the suspense and tension before the thrilling conclusion.

GET YOUR COPY

Amazon Kindle 
Amazon Paperback 

Friday, May 14, 2021

New and Notable: The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory

I'm starting a new "good Karma" thing on Twitter, in which I ask authors to share their work with me. Starting today, and every Friday, I will pick one intriguing book from all who tweeted to me to give it a little signal boost here and on my social media.

This week, I'm stoked about this book:

About The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman

Moojie Littleman is not just another disabled orphan, he is not just a kid who falls into a series of magical, mystical adventures involving goats, bees, and a girl. He is, above all, the most unlikely hero ever known. Through friendship with alien outcasts, Moojie discovers his healing powers and a surprising destiny ... if only he can survive one, last terrifying trial.
 
Welcome to Moojie's mythical world of mayhem and merriment, where miracles are standard fare, mistaken identity is rampant, and the desire to belong can be dangerous.
  
From screenwriter and award-winning novelist, Robin Gregory, comes a masterful debut about family and first love--brimming with compassion, lyricism, and originality. Winner of 24 awards.

 Buy a Copy

Meet the Author


Robin Gregory is a storyteller who was born in Florida, but currently lives in the Land of Oz--California. She was raised amid cowboys and hippies, poppies and rattlesnakes, which frequent her stories. She likes to talk to animals, and sometimes they talk back, but mostly they just eat and poop. Her novels include fainting goats, supernaturals, scoundrels, and a hero in the throes of love. You won't find blood-spurting limbs, vampires, or potty-mouthed dragons. As a rule. You can find her on Twitter @tweety_robin or robingregory.net


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Pull Up a Chair, Grab a Tissue, and have DINNER AT JACK'S.

 



My redemptive story of food, love, and yes, PTSD--DINNER AT JACK'S is another romance with recipes. Prepare for a powerful story that combines food and love with an amazing couple, Jack and Beau! BLURB Personal chef Beau St. Clair, recently divorced from his cheating husband, returns to the small Ohio River town where he grew up to lick his wounds. Jack Rogers lives with his mother, Maisie, in that same small town, angry at and frightened by the world. Jack has a gap in his memory that hides something he dares not face, and he’s probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maisie, seeking relief from her housebound and often surly son, hires Beau to cook for Jack, hoping the change might help bring Jack, once a handsome and vibrant attorney, back to his former self. But can a new face and comfort food compensate for the terror lurking in Jack’s past? Slowly the two men begin a dance of revelation and healing. Food and compassion build a bridge between Beau and Jack, a bridge that might lead to love. But will Jack’s demons allow it? His history could just as easily tear them apart as bring them together.
BUY Amazon
JMS Books (where it's even cheaper, for you bargain hunters)

Monday, May 10, 2021

WOUNDED AIR Will Haunt You

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Buy Yours

Add to Goodreads

Special Release Blitz Excerpt:

In this scene, our hero, Rick, yearns for an unusual apartment he’s seen a million times from the Chicago L train he takes to work every day. But now, there’s something different—the apartment is available.

I never imagined my dream would come true.

But it did. And in a funny way, what drove me to this particular apartment led to a lot of dreams coming true.

But dreams can turn to nightmares in the space of a single breath.

Fate stepped in one day and changed everything—past, present, and future—when I rounded the bend of the L tracks and my glass-walled apartment came into view.

On that day, there was a change, a difference of two words.

Hanging as though suspended in midair was one of those black-and-red signs one can buy at the hardware store. The sign proclaimed: FOR RENT. Below the bright red letters was a white rectangle with a phone number written in black marker.

Oh my god. It’s coming true. This place will be gone by the afternoon! I can’t let anyone else have it.

I dug inside my messenger bag, groping for paper and pen to jot down the number. I’d call the moment I got to work, already feeling like I was racing against some imaginary clock hanging just above my head. Such a unique place wouldn’t be on the market for long. Hell, someone else might have already snatched it up.

I wasn’t fast enough to write the number. Of course, I wasn’t. The train had stopped for only a minute, two at the most, long enough to let a few folks off and a whole bunch on. There was a lot of chatter, the huffing of the train, the pneumatic hiss of the doors closing, and the garbled announcement for the next stop.

The apartment—and the FOR RENT sign—sailed by as it always did, and the phone number along with it. I turned in my seat, straining to try to see the number from this distance, even though I knew it was a stupid and impossible move.

I knew, as sure as anything, if I waited until the next day, with my pen poised and ready over a pad of paper, the sign would have vanished. Someone else would take possession of what I felt, in a weird and possessive way, was rightfully mine.

There was only one thing to do.

I tried to be patient despite my thundering heart, waiting until we neared the next station. I leapt up and edged my way through the crowd toward the doors. When they slid open, I stepped out and stood on the platform, giddy with my own impulsiveness. This wasn’t like me. I was usually a planner, every decision carefully considered before moving forward—or not.

Impulsive was something other people did.

On the platform, I paused for a moment, watching the southbound Brown Line train as it continued its journey toward the Loop. In the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown rose. A breeze rustled my hair. Autumn was definitely present, even though the sun peeked out through scattered clouds, drifting downward in illuminated shafts, like a religious painting. There was an undercurrent of chill that, at the time, I attributed to nothing more than the changing of seasons.

But now I wonder—was the chill an omen, foreboding? Was fate trying to tell me to get back on the next train and get to work like the safe and dependable guy I was? After all, I had a home and in it was a man I loved, a man to whom I hadn’t even whispered a word about wanting to move.

It was late autumn in Chicago and the day had all the portents of the coming winter. Gray, low-hanging clouds amassed near the horizon, some of them so dark they verged on black.

In the short time I stood there, the weather made a dramatic change, which, if you’ve ever visited Chicago, you know isn’t unusual. “Don’t like the weather?” Self-proclaimed wits were fond of saying about the Windy City. “Stick around for a few minutes, and it’ll change.”

The little sun there was vanished, beating a hasty retreat behind a bank of fast-moving and bruised clouds. Drizzle hung in the air. A needling, cold mist crept into my bones, making me shiver. This was worse than a downpour because it seemed like no matter how much one bundled up against it, the cold seeped into one’s bones, making it nearly impossible to get warm. The wind, which blew off the lake two miles east, picked up, running at a breakneck pace, westward bound, down Irving Park Road. I watched from the platform as the people below rushed to get out of the inclement weather, their umbrellas turning inside out. The wind ripped the last of fall’s leaves from their branches.

In spite of the weather, I made my way along the old wooden L platform to its northern end so I could stand directly in front of the object of my desire.

It was the first time I’d actually seen it up close. And now it almost looked unreal, as though it were a movie location dreamed up by the guy who did the set for Hitchcock’s Rear Window. My current view had that same urban, surreal feel, that same voyeuristic quality.

Looking back, I wondered if it also had that same air of menace Hitchcock was so noted for.


Enter the Giveaway:

To celebrate Rick's new Release, we are giving away 3 e-copies of Wounded Air!

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance to win!

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Monday, May 3, 2021

My Haunting Thriller, WOUNDED AIR, Releases Today!

 

About the Book

Rick and Ernie found the perfect apartment on Chicago’s West Side. Before they’re settled, Rick begins having all-too-real disturbing “dreams.” Each time, an emaciated young man with sad brown eyes appears, terrifying and obsessing him.

From their next-door neighbor, Paula, Rick learns about Karl and Tommy, who lived there before them. Tommy’s mysterious disappearance pains her. When she shares a photo of her with Tommy and Karl, Rick is shocked and troubled. Tommy is the man who appears to him in his dreams.

The ghostly visitations compel Rick to uncover the truth about Tommy’s disappearance. It’s a quest that will lead him to Karl, Tommy’s lover, who may know more about Tommy’s disappearance than he’s telling, and a confrontation with a restless spirit who wants only to—finally—rest in peace.

Read a Little...

Wounded Air
Rick R. Reed © 2021
All Rights Reserved

I had been mesmerized by the apartment for months, perhaps years, on my Brown Line L train ride from Western Avenue to downtown Chicago. The place was hard not to notice, even in a city as big and crowded as Chicago. Unique things tend to stand out.

The loft apartment took up the top floor of a storefront building. Every time I passed it, I caught my breath just a little. I mean, I couldn’t help but stare at the soaring glass wall that fronted one side of the unit. It was a voyeur’s dream—or maybe an exhibitionist’s? It certainly grabbed my attention.

Sitting on the train, I would peer into the apartment, but curiously enough, I never managed to catch a glimpse of anyone who lived there. With its openness, it had the look and feel of a movie or stage set. Every time the train went by, I would look up from whatever I was reading to simply see if I could glimpse anyone in this place that had taken on such a weird fascination for me. I desperately wanted to see the person or people who lived there. Even though it was irrational and maybe even a bit stalkerish, I wondered about who they were, what their lives were like, what drew them to this unusual apartment. Or maybe it was a condo?

It had to be one of the most unusual homes on the North Side of Chicago. The loft was just one big, open room with an open stairway up to a mezzanine, where the bedroom would be. The steps were simple wood slats with a streamlined railing made of steel cable. The wall opposite the soaring glass was exposed brick, distressed, dripping mortar between the red bricks. Simple. Minimalist. Almost industrial. Ductwork was visible, silver, and a little bit corroded.

It had hipster charm for days.

I often imagined that, despite it being so open to prying L-rider eyes like mine, I would love to live there. There was something both magical and magnetic about the place. I longed for the day when I would roll on by and see a FOR RENT or FOR SALE sign affixed to the glass.

I think I even dreamed about it a time or two.

Even though I never saw them, my imagination worked overtime to visualize the people who lived there. I imagined an artist or maybe a sculptor, someone creative anyway. I’d put myself in his or her place, hoping one day I would have the opportunity to move around that large inviting space, to tiptoe up the stairs to the loft in the evening, to cook a meal in the small kitchen, to gaze out as trains rumbled by, sparks from the rails in their wake.

Inspired.

I never imagined my dream would come true.

But it did. And in a funny way, what drove me to this particular apartment led to a lot of dreams coming true.

But dreams can turn to nightmares in the space of a single breath.

Fate stepped in one day and changed everything—past, present, and future—when I rounded the bend of the L tracks and my glass-walled apartment came into view.

On that day, there was a change, a difference of two words.

Hanging as though suspended in midair was one of those black-and-red signs one can buy at the hardware store. The sign proclaimed: FOR RENT. Below the bright red letters was a white rectangle with a phone number written in black marker.

Oh my god. It’s coming true. This place will be gone by the afternoon! I can’t let anyone else have it.

I dug inside my messenger bag, groping for paper and pen to jot down the number. I’d call the moment I got to work, already feeling like I was racing against some imaginary clock hanging just above my head. Such a unique place wouldn’t be on the market for long. Hell, someone else might have already snatched it up.

I wasn’t fast enough to write the number. Of course, I wasn’t. The train had stopped for only a minute, two at the most, long enough to let a few folks off and a whole bunch on. There was a lot of chatter, the huffing of the train, the pneumatic hiss of the doors closing, and the garbled announcement for the next stop.

The apartment—and the FOR RENT sign—sailed by as it always did, and the phone number along with it. I turned in my seat, straining to try to see the number from this distance, even though I knew it was a stupid and impossible move.

I knew, as sure as anything, if I waited until the next day, with my pen poised and ready over a pad of paper, the sign would have vanished. Someone else would take possession of what I felt, in a weird and possessive way, was rightfully mine.

There was only one thing to do.

I tried to be patient despite my thundering heart, waiting until we neared the next station. I leapt up and edged my way through the crowd toward the doors. When they slid open, I stepped out and stood on the platform, giddy with my own impulsiveness. This wasn’t like me. I was usually a planner, every decision carefully considered before moving forward—or not.

Impulsive was something other people did.

On the platform, I paused for a moment, watching the southbound Brown Line train as it continued its journey toward the Loop. In the distance, the skyscrapers of downtown rose. A breeze rustled my hair. Autumn was definitely present, even though the sun peeked out through scattered clouds, drifting downward in illuminated shafts, like a religious painting. There was an undercurrent of chill that, at the time, I attributed to nothing more than the changing of seasons.

But now I wonder—was the chill an omen, foreboding? Was fate trying to tell me to get back on the next train and get to work like the safe and dependable guy I was? After all, I had a home and in it was a man I loved, a man to whom I hadn’t even whispered a word about wanting to move.

It was late autumn in Chicago and the day had all the portents of the coming winter. Gray, low-hanging clouds amassed near the horizon, some of them so dark they verged on black.

In the short time I stood there, the weather made a dramatic change, which, if you’ve ever visited Chicago, you know isn’t unusual. “Don’t like the weather?” Self-proclaimed wits were fond of saying about the Windy City. “Stick around for a few minutes, and it’ll change.”

The little sun there was vanished, beating a hasty retreat behind a bank of fast-moving and bruised clouds. Drizzle hung in the air. A needling, cold mist crept into my bones, making me shiver. This was worse than a downpour because it seemed like no matter how much one bundled up against it, the cold seeped into one’s bones, making it nearly impossible to get warm. The wind, which blew off the lake two miles east, picked up, running at a breakneck pace, westward bound, down Irving Park Road. I watched from the platform as the people below rushed to get out of the inclement weather, their umbrellas turning inside out. The wind ripped the last of fall’s leaves from their branches.

In spite of the weather, I made my way along the old wooden L platform to its northern end so I could stand directly in front of the object of my desire.

It was the first time I’d actually seen it up close. And now it almost looked unreal, as though it were a movie location dreamed up by the guy who did the set for Hitchcock’s Rear Window. My current view had that same urban, surreal feel, that same voyeuristic quality.

Looking back, I wondered if it also had that same air of menace Hitchcock was so noted for.

Close up the apartment was different.

I admit—I had idealized it. The soaring glass wall that I was so taken with was actually part of the roof and the glass had metal mesh inside it. I had imagined pristine glass; this was marred by water and mud stains, the color more a translucent gray than clear.

But I could still see inside the apartment, which looked quite small, but interesting: it was all one room, on two levels, with a large living area and kitchen down, and the sleeping area up. I don’t know if the current tenants were in the process of moving out or if they were simply minimalists. The place contained only a platform bed on the upper level and a swooning couch on the lower.

Whoever, they were, I decided, they lived much of their home lives horizontally.

I liked that.

And then I noticed one more thing—an elaborate screen pushed to one corner, near the wall that could be called the kitchen because of its stove, refrigerator, cupboards, and sink. Even through the rain-smeared glass and in the dim light of a rainy autumn morning, I could make out that the screen had been elaborately painted in a kind of graffiti style that reminded me of Keith Haring. Lurid red, white, and black leaped out at me from across the way.

I first heard and then saw the approach of another southbound train. I knew I had time to write down the phone number written on the FOR RENT sign, but inspiration, or fate, stepped in once more.

Why not just get off the platform, descend to street level, and see if I can claim this little piece of home right now?

Because my confession to not being very impulsive was somewhat true, I did take the precaution of jotting the number down.

And then I turned and descended the steps off the platform and continued through the turnstiles. Once I was in the relatively quieter environs of the Irving Park Brown Line L station, I pulled out my cell phone and called the number.

It took me by surprise when a woman picked up on the first ring. It’s almost like she was sitting by the phone, waiting for me to call. I’d expected to leave a message, so for a moment, I was a little taken aback, tongue-tied.

When I could engage brain and mouth, I said, “I’m calling to inquire about the apartment for rent.”

As soon as I said the words, I had the eerie feeling that I’d crossed a line. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. The words tumbled out and even then there was something within me, something no logic or reason can account for, that caused me to inexplicably know my fate was about to change and my wish for that apartment, placed into the universe subconsciously over many, many morning trips to work, was about to be granted. There was also a moment where an almost irresistible force compelled me to simply hang up, let go of this dream. Following it was rash, impulsive.

Before the woman even continued speaking, I knew I would be moving into that apartment the first of November. Even as the woman, her voice chipper and upbeat, perhaps a bit too friendly, invited me to come and have a look at the place right then, another thought, a clichéd one, intruded: Be careful what you wish for.

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Monday, April 26, 2021

BLINK and Writing the Semi-Autobiographical Novel


When I go back and re-read portions of Blink, my memoirish (I admit it!) gay love story, it takes me down memory lane—and back to my twenties. 

Youth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be! I was 23 years old in 1981, when the first part of the book takes place and I was big in denial of my gay self. So big, in fact, that I was engaged to be married to my (female) college sweetheart. A large part of the first section of the book deals with two young men being attracted to one another on one of Chicago’s L trains.

Both of them had issues. The character modeled after me, Andy, had more issues that Carlos, the character Andy lusts after, to his great shame. But even Carlos, out at the time, but still not so proud, struggles a bit with his sexuality, which is evident from this little taste from Blink, taken from Chapter 2 and written from Carlos’ point of view.

EXCERPT
The guy obviously has a thing for me. I’ve caught him staring now a couple of times and, hey, I’m flattered. He’s cute. No, maybe that’s not a strong enough word. He’s handsome, with green eyes and dark wavy hair that clues me into some sort of Mediterranean heritage. Italian maybe? Greek?

Whatever. Maybe the word I’m looking for is hot.

I can imagine kissing him and the feel of his dark, bushy mustache against mine.

I don’t ride the train to meet men. I don’t do much to meet men, period, to be perfectly honest. I ride the train in the mornings simply to get to St. Philomena elementary school on the west side, where I teach fourth grade.

I’m okay with being gay. I wasn’t always, hence my stint in the seminary where I studied to be a priest. I learned pretty quickly, by the grace of god, and the hands and mouth of a fellow seminarian, that the priesthood was not work I was cut out for. Not if I wanted to live my life honestly, anyway.

So I left. I had already gotten my teaching degree, concurrent with my seminarian studies, so the job at St. Phil’s, low-paying as it was, was a natural fit.

But I digress. I’m trying to sort out my feelings for this sweetheart on the train. I know he’s gay too. I know he’s attracted. But I also know that nothing will ever come of it.

Why? Because I can see that, when our eyes meet, he’s filled with shame and guilt. I recognize his remorse because I cloaked myself in that dark, heavy fabric myself for many years.

And maybe still do, a little, to this day. The Church teaches us that same-sex feelings are to be avoided. They are not of our natural order. We should turn our sights away from our own sex and devote them instead to loving and pleasing the Lord.

Yeah, good luck with that.

The Lord created that cute guy that gives me the eye on the train, the one I feel this probably misplaced connection with. What is it about him that makes me think of him all the time? Why do I hope he’ll be in my train car every time I step on to it in the morning, even though most times he’s not? Why do I try and quickly scan the windows of the train as it rumbles into the station for a glimpse of him?

Is it just because he’s cute?

There are cute men, hunks, whatever, all around. I occasionally venture out to the intersection of Grand Avenue and Clark to the New Flight bar for happy hour and bring one of them home. Or I head up farther north to the Loading Zone on Oak, where I can watch free porn in the back or dance up front. Somebody usually brings me home.

I never make any lasting connections. I don’t even know if want to. Shame lingers on me like the scent of cigarette smoke after leaving those places.

But there’s something about the guy on the train. He tugs at my heart as well as my loins. Even from the brief glances we exchange, he makes me think there’s the possibility of more than just sex. He makes me think, for the first time in my young life, that maybe I could love another man.

And that terrifies me.

Read more of Blink to see where this flirtation on the train takes these two—does it take them to love? And how long does it take for them to get there?

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BLURB
Life can change in the blink of an eye. That's a truth Andy Slater learns as a young man in 1982, taking the Chicago 'L' to work every morning. Andy's life is laid out before him: a good job, marriage to his female college sweetheart, and the white picket fence existence he believes in. But when he sees Carlos Castillo for the first time, Carlos’s dark eyes and Latin appeal mesmerize him. Fate continues to throw them together until the two finally agree to meet up. At Andy’s apartment, the pent-up passion of both young men is ignited, but is snuffed out by an inopportune and poorly-timed phone call.

Flash forward to present day. Andy is alone, having married, divorced, and become the father of a gay son. He’s comfortable but alone and has never forgotten the powerful pull of Carlos’s gaze on the 'L' train. He vows to find him once more, hoping for a second chance. If life can change in the blink of an eye, what will the passage of thirty years do? To find out, Andy begins a search that might lead to heartache and disappointment or a love that will last forever….

Friday, April 23, 2021

New and Notable: THE VAMPIRE'S WITCH by Damian Serbu

 


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About the Book

The Vampire’s Witch welcomes readers back to the world of vampires, witches, and magic.

Jaret Bachmann’s life spins out of control after a handsome stranger saves him from an attack along the bike path on Lakeshore Drive. His estranged high school sweetheart stalks him, the enraged ghost of his ancestor destroys his family, and his bike path savior-cum-lover abandons him after learning Jaret is a powerful witch.

A horrific family tragedy sends Jaret into deep depression. Struggling to find his way afterward, Jaret searches for comfort in the unlikely friendship of a secret vampire community.

Over time, Jaret’s friendship with the vampires strengthens and he forges a new family connection with Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine. But he and Anthony are estranged, and though their souls are entwined, their hearts are another matter.

Xavier, Thomas, Anthony, and Catherine return in this, the third book in The Realm of the Vampire Council series and a sequel to The Bachmann Family Secret.

Excerpt

The Vampire’s Witch
Damian Serbu © 2021
All Rights Reserved

19 April 2010

Chicago, Illinois

Even after three years, living in a big city still creeped Jaret Bachmann out. He hated his fear of dark corners and alleys, not to mention his concern about getting beat up as a gay guy. Straight guys, no matter how peaceful they looked, worried him. In broad daylight, he felt more secure as long as he watched where he went, kept his head up, and stayed in populated areas. And he loved living in the Rogers Park neighborhood. Being in a metropolitan area was so much better for him than small town Colorado. Still, he only had a little light available before the sun went down tonight.

He giggled at himself to release some tension. His mind went to some weird place about the sun setting, like a vampire might jump out and attack him. As if.

Heading out to meet his best friend, Brady, Jaret relaxed once he got to the path along Lake Michigan. He passed several joggers, almost got hit by a bike, and meandered his way south. He contemplated taking the “L” but had plenty of time to walk. The spring weather warmed up Chicago, still a comfortable seventy degrees, even as the sun slowly descended in the west. The weather was perfect. Besides, he could always use the exercise.

Jaret felt safer and got his iPod out to search for music. He loved Lady Gaga; why not a little monster love? Or Train’s latest CD rocked. Still, he paused at “Relax” and grinned. That song totally kicked ass. Totally. And, he hadn’t listened to much of his favorite singer’s first album in a long time. If he loved Lady Gaga, then words couldn’t describe his adoration for Mika.

He popped in his earbuds and picked up his pace. He even danced a little, despite being in public and seeing the few passersby glancing his way as if he’d gone insane.

The path grew darker with the setting sun and the trees lining both sides of the trail. This dance mix steeled Jaret’s nerves. He wiggled his butt, jumped to the side, and smiled at a little old lady and her dog as they walked by.

A few yards later, he was alone. He fretted a little but cranked the music to ignore the world around him. To comfort himself, he reached into his pocket and rubbed the ruby necklace he always brought along for protection. All the Bachmann heirloom jewels empowered his witchcraft and kept him safe, and he loved the beautiful rubies most of all. In a pinch, he could always use his magic to ward anyone off. He’d never had to use his ability to defend himself, except from ghosts, but knew he could if needed. Being a witch had its advantages.

Jaret almost missed the group of four guys sitting off to the side, watching the lake or something. He slowed when he glimpsed a bright-red shirt and thought of his boyfriend, Steve. He’d seen Steve earlier in the day, wearing this totally hot red T-shirt that clung to his chest and showed off his gorgeous biceps. He couldn’t remember the shirt exactly, though he thought it had a University of Nebraska logo on the front.

Jaret lurched to a stop when he bumped into someone. “Uh, oh. Sorry. I didn’t see you.” He glanced up to see another guy with a pretty big belly, yet tons of muscle, not to mention a wicked scowl.

The guy yanked out Jaret’s earbuds and glared down at him. “Fuckin’ fairy. Watch where you’re walkin’.”

“Sorry,” Jaret barely whispered and started shaking. He’d heard about gay bashings but had never experienced one. In fact, he had never been in a fight. He could see this dude meant him harm by the way he loomed over him.

Jaret reached into his pocket for the necklace. His shaking hands got the better of him, and his finger got stuck in the little coin pocket instead.

Growing more afraid, Jaret stepped to the side to continue until the guy moved with him and blocked his way. Jaret stared at the familiar logo of Northwestern football on the purple T-shirt. He often saw the very shirt on Steve. This guy was enormous. Not good.

His heart racing, Jaret scanned for anyone nearby watching. He spotted the group of four guys out of the corner of his eye. Any chance for help evaporated when two of them moved closer, and he saw they, too, wore Northwestern football gear.

One of them grinned and clapped. “Caught yourself a little fag, Mikey? What you gonna do with him?”

Mikey laughed and crossed his bazooka-sized forearms over his chest. Then he reached down and petted Jaret on the head like a dog. Jaret had little time to act to protect himself. There was no time to get the necklace out. He shot to the side to move around the asshole, but the guy put out his leg and tripped Jaret. He sprawled onto the path, skinning his elbow.

Jaret’s heart pounded as fear almost overwhelmed him.

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Meet the Author

Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press. The Bachmann Family Secret is scheduled for release July 2020. Keep up to date with him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.DamianSerbu.com.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Five-Star Rave for THE Q


I'm thrilled with this ★★★★★ review of my novel, The Q, from Sinfully Good Gay Book Reviews. In part, it says:

"I recently read an excellent article entitled "A Feeling for Fiction" by Keith Oakley on how fiction elicits such empathic responses from us. He says "A story is a partnership. The author writes it, and the reader or audience member brings it alive." Reed does this, in The Q, in the best way possible - holding up a mirror before us, allowing us to glimpse our own stories of love and loss, of hope and fear, through the lives and loves of eight folks from the Q."

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.

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