Real Men. True Love.
Rick R. Reed draws inspiration from the lives of gay men to craft stories that quicken the heartbeat, engage emotions, and keep the pages turning. Although he dabbles in horror, dark suspense, and comedy, his attention always returns to the power of love. He’s the award-winning and bestselling author of more than fifty works of published fiction and is forever at work on yet another book. Lambda Literary has called him: “A writer that doesn’t disappoint…”
Ryan Lieske: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?
Rick R. Reed: God, I’ve been reading books, one after the other, all my life. I’m not sure I recall, but the first thing that popped into my head was one of those little Golden Books. Do they still have those? The one I remember my mom reading to me as I sat on the kitchen counter was The Poky Little Puppy.
RL: What books do you feel sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?
RR: I grew up with a real passion for horror and was reading horror novels way beyond my reading level (or, some might say, appropriateness). I remember reading my aunt’s paperback of Rosemary’s Baby when I was in third grade. That book probably really started me off with a passion for the sting and delight of good horror. I also remember reading The Exorcist (and being completely blown away) around age 12 and started in on Stephen King in my early teens.
RL: Do you recall which King book it was that got you hooked on him?
RR: I’d have to say Carrie. It was the first one I read (in high school) and I wanted everything he ever wrote after that. Not only was he fascinating, he inspired me in terms of characterization and style, especially.
I’m still a huge reader. I’m never not reading a book. And the Kindle has facilitated this addiction so that I now have more books on my Kindle than I will ever live long enough to read, and yet I continue to buy more! I still love the horror genre, but I also dip into biography, true crime, gay romance, young adult, and more. I have a particular fondness for dark psychological suspense. Think Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine.
RL: I’m not too familiar with them. Are there a couple of titles by both that particularly stick out, that you would recommend to people if they were interested in getting into their work?
RR: Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine are (were) the same person. Rendell wrote more mystery and Vine more psychological suspense. For the mystery, I’d suggest reading all of the Inspector Wexford books—they’re great. And for Vine, Anna’s Book.
RL: A lot of people tell me that, even if they were a voracious reader as a child, it was their middle-school and high-school years that had the most impact on the reader they are today. Would you say this is true for you?
RR: As I said above, I began getting into Stephen King in my teenage years. I read everything he wrote, pretty much, as it came out (although back then, I did have to wait for the paperback release because a 14-year-old can’t easily afford hardcovers). I read widely in my teenage years and would say a lot of it was crap, dictated by the bestseller lists and direct mail book clubs (which I would join, much to my parents’ dismay) so I could get six books for a dollar.
RL: What it is about those two books that make them stand out? I’ve read Catcher several times, but am not familiar with the other.
RR: Just the usual teenage angst. I think at that age, especially, we can all relate.
RL: Speaking of this time period, were you one of those kids who went rogue from the curriculum and read whatever you wanted, sometimes even ignoring what was assigned to read altogether?
RR: Um, yes. But I was also a goodie-two-shoes, so while I was reading very adult stuff that would never make it past school board approval, I also dutifully read everything assigned to me. And I don’t regret it.
RL: Any books from the curriculum that stand out to you, that you still enjoy?
RR: I’m 59 years old, sweetie. Do you really expect me to remember back that far?
RL: Haha! Fair enough. I’m 43 and I have trouble remembering them myself. My teenage years are a total blur. Moving on!
Reading is inherently a solitary activity, so did your reading life ever supersede or cause conflict with your social life growing up? Were you more apt to hide out in the library at school, or stay home on a Saturday night to read a book?
RR: Oh yeah, I remember being told, especially in the summer, to go outside and play when I had my nose buried in a book for too many sunny days in a row. And sometimes, I would listen and go outside and see what I could get up to in the neighborhood, but I was always thinking about when I could get home and get back into whatever I was reading. I also spent a lot of time in my hometown of East Liverpool, Ohio’s Carnegie Public Library (the first in Ohio!). Here’s a picture of where I spent many, many Saturdays. I could take out six books each week:
RL: What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college? Out of those, what stuck with you?
RL: Talk to me about your seminal bookstore experiences.
RR: Walden Books in the Beaver Valley Mall in Beaver, PA, about a half hour from my house. It was part of the teenage culture where I grew up to spend a lot of Saturdays at the mall. I don’t know if kids still do that, but when I was younger, that’s where you’d see people from school, you could check out stupid stuff at Spencer Gifts (I think), and maybe see a movie. I remember one purchase in particular from Walden Books at that time and it was influential: The Front Runner, which I kept hidden between my mattress and box springs when I brought it home. That book really opened my eyes—to a lot of things. Thank you, Patricia Nell Warren!
RL: Talk to me a little more about The Front Runner; in particular, what it opened your eyes to and its influence on you.
RR: It was the first gay novel I ever read. It showed me that other gay people existed and could even be not the stereotypes I associated at the time with being gay.
These days, I rarely go into a physical bookstore and, instead, do all my book shopping online, mostly at that monopoly in my old hometown, Amazon.
RL: Did you find, as you grew older, that the books of your youth began to mean less to you? Or do you still enjoy all the types of books you’ve been exposed to throughout your life? Are there certain authors, genres, or books that make you cringe remembering how you used to love them?
RR: No, not really. I’ve always been a fan of “darker” fiction—horror, suspense, romantic suspense, crime-based stories and so on. My policy in life is no regrets. Even things I might have read growing up that wouldn’t stand the test of time or wouldn’t be to my taste now are all part of my reader/writer journey. Love stories haven’t always held a place in my heart, but they do more so today, since I’m writing them.
RL: What books would you say helped turn you towards appreciating love stories/romantic fiction?
RR: Not books. Real life. Finding my own true love released me to write about the importance of love in life.
RL: I love that. I’ve discussed it other interviews about how life events can influence what we read. Writers get asked a lot about which books influenced or changed their approach to their craft, but books can definitely change our personal lives and change the way we view the world around us. I know that’s been the case in my own personal life, as well.
How has your reading life survived adulthood?
RR: Ebooks have certainly made it possible to have a book, or even many books, with you at all times. I do most of my reading these days in the early morning, with breakfast, and, at the gym, on a treadmill or the elliptical. Reading is a great way to clock some miles without noticing you’re doing so. And, since I have a Kindle app on my phone, if I’m caught anywhere waiting, I can pick up in the book I’m reading wherever I left off, so that’s a really cool benefit of the digital age. So, I make time to read. Like exercise and writing, it’s an important, essential part of life for me.
RL: How do you share your love of books with others?
RR: Probably the best way I do this is through using Goodreads. As an author, Goodreads can be intimidating, but it’s a wonderful way for readers to connect on books-in-common. I log every book I read on there and when I finish, I will leave a small review which posts not only on GR, but on my Facebook and Twitter feeds as well.
RL: I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a “reading polygamist.” Are you? Our are you pretty monogamous when it comes to reading?
RR: I’m pretty monogamous. For example, I wouldn’t read two novels at the same time. However, I generally read one novel and, at the same time, something non-fiction (biography, spirituality, etc.) at the same time. So, I’m pretty much reading two different books at the same time, but the same rule applies—one is most likely fiction and the other is most likely non.
RL: In terms of biography and spirituality (two type of books I’m also drawn to), what are some current standouts for you?
RL: Now, I’m not a big fan of the term “guilty pleasure.” However, for want of a better term, what are your literary guilty pleasures?
RR: I’m not a fan of the term either, maybe because I write love stories and so many people look down on romance and have preconceived notions on what makes one up and what makes them all the same. Do I have guilty pleasures when it comes to reading? Not really—unless you consider Stephen King a guilty pleasure—and I know some would!
RL: He definitely has his share of detractors, although, as a fan, I’m perpetually confused as to why. I mean, someone who has been as prolific as he is is bound to put out a couple of a duds here and there, but overall, I still enjoy his work every bit as much now as I did back in what some might call his “heyday.” I loved the Bill Hodges trilogy, Lisey’s Story, though a bit uneven at times, moved me quite a bit, and I had a blast reading Cell. I will stand by the Dark Tower saga (and its ending) until the day I die—I’m one of the few (apparently) who thought it was a perfect ending.
RR: The Dark Tower series are the few, and maybe only, books of his I haven’t read (I’m afraid they’re too fantasy for me). King’s an excellent writer and will probably be one of the few of our generation who will be remembered a century from now and beyond. Some of his short stories are superb.
RL: What are your thoughts on “genre?” Does it matter to you?
RR: You need some kind of label to help people find what they’re looking for. Otherwise, you’d be sifting through millions of books and would probably just give up and go play backgammon or something. So genre is important, just like knowing what kind of music a certain artist performs and so on. That said, I think of genre as a general guideline and one only—there can be wild variances in what constitutes a romance or a thriller and it’s up to an individual reader to decide what’s right for him or her.
RL: Are you a physical copy person, or do you prefer other ways of “reading” books, such as e-books or audio? Does the “delivery system,” as King calls it, matter to you? Do you think physical books will always be available?
RR: I’m not one of those people who sighs and waxes rhapsodic over the glories of the paper book. These days, I prefer to do my reading digitally. In the end, to me, reading is not about pages or pixels on a screen, but about the bridge built between an author’s imagination and a reader’s. That connection isn’t, and has never been, confined to a ‘delivery system.’ It’s more ephemeral and psychological than that. Books are ideas—they take place in the mind. Whatever gets the mind working is a book, be it digital or paper or a friggin’ stone tablet.
Yes, I do think paper books will always be available, but more and more for things like art, cookbooks, and so on, where a physical book truly is superior, for obvious reasons.
RL: Do you take a book with you wherever you go?
RR: That’s another advantage to digital books—you can take them wherever you go. I have a Kindle and the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. I used the Kindle app on the iPad at the gym, the one on the iPhone for times like when I’m stuck in line at the post office, and the Kindle itself for relaxed reading at home in my comfy office chair. The best part is they all seamlessly work together, so I can pick up in one right where I left off in another.
RL: Do you collect books?
RR: Yes, although not as many as we used to have. My husband and I are both big readers, so we have about half a dozen large bookcases around the house crammed with books. We used to have a lot more, before the days of e-readers. And boxes of books were always the biggest part of every move—and still continue to be pretty substantial.
RL: What are your favorite books of all time, and why? What books―and they don’t have to necessarily have to be all-time favorites―do you feel have influenced you and shaped you the most: as a human being, as an artist, etc.?
RR: I think the writing of the under-rated and underappreciated (in my opinion) James Purdy was a huge influence. Books like Narrow Rooms and In a Shallow Grave blew me away with their deceptively simply lyricism and their frankness regarding gay characters. He was one of the best American writers of the 20th century, yet not many people these days have read him. The work of Ruth Rendell, British mystery and suspense author, along with Patricia Highsmith, also played parts in shaping my literary frame of reference.
RL: There are several questions here, but it’s a subject I feel deserves to be part of the conversation and hasn’t been yet in this interview series as of yet. I would like to talk a bit more about LGBTQ writers. As a writer, and as a reader, what do you think about the current state of LGBTQ literature? Do you feel as though more gay and trans writers are getting their voices heard, and being given the opportunities to be heard, or is there still a backlash (at least as far as mainstream publishing is concerned)?
RR: Honestly, what I’d really like to see is assimilation. Just literature. Just good writing. Good storytelling. Good, simple, straightforward prose, without labels. The EPIC eBook awards used to have a category (which I once won, for GLBT fiction). But they abandoned it and instead categorized books by romance, horror, thriller, non-fiction, and so on. I respected that move. Good writing is good writing. Good books are good books.
RL: Great answer. Thank you. And I agree with you 100%.
Have you ever read a book that made you cry?
RR: Oh, lots of books make me cry (especially my own, as I pull stuff painfully straight out of my heart to craft a story out of). No particular author or work springs immediately to mind, but my emotions are always affected by two things: kindness and the plight of the vulnerable (animals and children).
RL: Lastly, just for fun, what is the one book―be it a widely-lauded classic, or bestselling popular phenom―do you find absolutely unreadable?
RR: It won the Pulitzer and the adulation of millions. But I couldn’t even get through Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. It simply bored me to tears. I don’t see what other people got out of it or why it was so highly praised. There, I said it.
RL: Oh, no! Those might be fightin’ words for some readers. Haha. I love it! Actually, I loved that book and, frankly, haven’t until now heard anybody say they disliked it. For me, I felt as though each sentence and paragraph was like a perfectly composed bit of poetry. And the story haunted me for weeks afterward. But I never judge people by what they like or dislike, even if I am curious as to why they feel the way they do. I’ve got plenty on my own list that I don’t understand the appeal for. Was there anything else you disliked about it, or was it just a matter of you finding it boring?
RR: Boring is the cardinal sin for me.
RL: Fair enough! Thank you for discussing your reading life with me. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
RR: Oh, I did. More than you know…
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