Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday Memories: Don't Put Me in That Hole!


Growing up, my father never revealed himself as a vulnerable person... 

But there was one story he told from his childhood that has stuck with me to this day. And to this day, I'm haunted by it.

As a little boy, he had a terrifying dream, one he never forgot. I don't know the details, all I know is that someone or some people were about to throw him in a deep hole, and he was begging, "Please don't throw me in that hole! Don't throw me in that hole."

Now, my father's been gone for some 28 years (a sudden heart attack threw him in that hole from which we never emerge). I'm left to wonder why something as ephemeral as a dream stuck with him into his adulthood and why he felt the need to share the terror of that dream with us.

What I come up with is this:

My father's life was one of missed opportunities. He may have been the smartest in his family of five. I know, from the few drawings hidden away in a drawer at our house, that he was an amazing artist. He could have had a career at best as a fine artist and at least, a commercial one (not that there's anything wrong with the latter--I hope you get the distinction.

And yet, he dropped out of school at sixteen, lied about his age, and joined the Navy.

He helped his older brother, Ray, study and become a very successful executive with a major US company.

My father, with his brains and artistic temperament, became a welder. A welder, is, of course, a respectable job and a solid trade. His being a welder kept a roof over my head and food on the table as I grew up.

But I sometimes wonder if he longed for more.

He wasn't always a happy man.

And I think that unhappiness manifest itself in ugly ways. He had a horrible temper. He drank too much. He wanted things so much his way that when he was home, my mother and we kids walked on egg shells, fearing that we weren't busy enough or that we weren't productive enough.

And yet...I believe he loved us and wanted so much to be loved. But his character defects pushed people away, often the people he loved the very most.

And that's what I think that hole was for him, even at a very early age. Isolation. Loneliness. Separation because he was different and didn't understand how to be like other people.

So a hole...where he could be alone with his imperfections (I have a feeling no one ever told him everyone was imperfect). And, as hard as he struggled to not be thrown in that hole, those struggles paradoxically made it easier for him to be put there. The more he resisted, the easier it was to fall.

Dad never learned that the greatest power comes from surrender.

I wish I could have talked to him about that dream.

And maybe that's what I'm doing right now...and hoping he's in a place he can hear. But what I hope more is that, despite the sometimes living hell he put his family through, we loved him more than he ever knew.

Because he was, you see, in that hole....


Friday, January 19, 2018

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY: A Face WIthout a Heart--Moderninizing a Classic


My third book was a modern-day version of the Oscar Wilde classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. I called my Chicago-set version A Face without a Heart, and I'm proud to say it was well-received and even won a couple of awards in its original edition. It was a relief because I was nervous about trying to pay homage to one of my favorite writers of all time. Oh, Bosie!

Isn't the cover--by the hugely talented Aaron Anderson--gorgeous? Not only that, it really beautifully shows the duality of our main character.

But the original cover, by The Design Image Group, was beautiful too. Here it is:




BLURB
A modern-day and thought-provoking retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that esteemed horror magazine Fangoria called


“…a book that is brutally honest with its reader and doesn’t flinch in the areas where Wilde had to look away…. A rarity: a really well-done update that’s as good as its source material.”

A beautiful young man bargains his soul away to remain young and handsome forever, while his holographic portrait mirrors his aging and decay and reflects every sin and each nightmarish step deeper into depravity… even cold-blooded murder. Prepare yourself for a compelling tour of the darkest sides of greed, lust, addiction, and violence.

EXCERPT
He was beautiful. Beauty is so seldom ascribed to men, too often incorrectly attributed to men with feminine features—wavy blond hair, fine cheekbones, teeth cut from porcelain. But I’ve always thought of beauty as a quality that went deeper than the corporeal… something dark, dense, inexplicable, capable of stirring longings primal, longings one would be powerless to resist.

He was beautiful. I sat on a Red Line “L” train, headed downtown, bags of heavy camera equipment heaped at my side, one arm resting protectively over them. I watched the young man, unable to train my thoughts on anything other than this man who had blotted out the reality of the day, magical and transforming. Beauty, especially so rare a beauty, can do that. The young man was an eclipse, his presence coming between myself and the reality of the day hurtling by outside train windows.

He had come in behind three foreign people, a bright counterpoint to their drab clothes, colorless, already wilting in the August humidity. They chattered to one another in a language unrecognizable, Polish maybe, and I was annoyed at their yammering, unable to block it out sufficiently enough to concentrate on the book I was reading, a biography of William Blake.

I almost didn’t notice him. It wasn’t like me to pay much attention to what went on around me, especially when I was preparing for a shoot. Usually I used the time on the train to set up the photographs I would take, the way I would manipulate light and shadow and how it fell on my models, to arrange the props, set up and test the lighting.

But something caused me to look up when the doors opened—perhaps I was struck by the dissonance created by the unknown language—and I saw him. Close-cropped brown hair, a bit of stubble framing full lips, a bruise fading to dull below his right eye. The bruise did not detract from the man’s beauty but served to enhance it, making of the rough features something more vulnerable. The bruise was the embodiment of a yearning for the touch of a finger, the whisper of a kiss. He wore an old, faded T-shirt with a Bulls logo, black denim cut off just above his knees, and a pair of work boots, the seam on the left beginning to separate. In spite of the workman’s garb, there was something intellectual about the man, an intensity in his aquamarine eyes that portended deeper thought.

At that moment, I made a decision. I don’t know what caprice seized me. I have always led an orderly life, completely without surprise. But when the train pulled to a stop and the young man stood, I acted on an impulse that was as sudden as it was uncontrollable.


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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Gay Novels: My Top 10


No, smart ass, these are not books that are attracted to other books.

These are books that have gay people and/or gay themes in their stories. It was a tough job to narrow them down to a mere 10. When I move, the worst part of it is packing up and moving all the books. I am buried under books. I have read more books than I can count.

I am a true book slut, moving restlessly from one to the other, finding satisfaction here, disappointment there…and sometimes magic.


So, I used the following criteria for this list:

First, and most obviously, I wanted my choices to at least reflect gay themes, even if only in a tangential way.

Second, I wanted to be spontaneous and simply give you the very first books that came to mind when I thought of my very favorite “gay” books. I’m a great believer in going with one’s gut. So here they are (in no particular order):

1. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith. Highsmith has long been one of my literary icons. When it comes to probing the darkest sides of human nature, no one does it better than she. Strangers on a Train is a much better novel than the Hitchcock movie of the same name (although that was not without its charm, among them the very lovely Farley Granger) and has a much darker resolution. Its homoeroticism, too, is much more explicit than in the sanitized Hollywood film that bears the same name.
2. The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. How many other gay men have had the same experience as I did? I discovered this book on a trip to the mall when I was in high school, surreptitiously bought it when my friend wasn’t looking, and took it to home, hid it between my mattress, and box springs…and absolutely treasured it. It opened my eyes to so much (yes, two men can really love each other—it’s not a sickness or an abnormality) and made me realize I was not alone.
3. No Night is Too Long by Ruth Rendell (writing as Barbara Vine). No contemporary mystery/psychological thriller writer does it better than Ruth Rendell. She plays with gay themes in several of her novels, but in this tale of psychological suspense, she most successfully blends homosexual themes and characters with heart-pounding suspense and shines a light into our darkest fears and compulsions.
4. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim. This was Heim’s debut novel and it’s weird, wonderful, and disturbing, combining alien abduction, memory loss, and child sexual abuse in a compelling, lyrical, and thought-provoking narrative. I’m sad to say that none of his subsequent work had the sheer power of this one.
5. In a Shallow Grave by James Purdy. Purdy is one of the most underrated American writers. I believe he is one of the masters of 20th century literature and this gem, about a disaffected and disfigured war veteran and his love for a hired male caretaker and the fugitive who comes into both their lives is spiritual, carnal, and profound. And Purdy’s command of the language and his use of American colloquial speech is nothing short of poetry.
6. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. A perfectly rendered portrait of England in the 1980s and the rise of the new right, this story about young gay Nick Guest and his social and sexual awakening is harrowing stuff, since we know that tragedy lurks just around the corner for not only our na├»ve young—and often selfish—protagonist, but for a whole segment of society.
7. Was by Geoff Ryman. This revisionist take on my favorite movie of all time, The Wizard of Oz, is simply brilliant literature. In its parallel stories of a “real” Dorothy Gale, a “scarecrow” dying of AIDS, and the plight of a child star named Frances Gumm combine to form a narrative that is nothing short of literary brilliance.
8. Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin. The Tales of the City books, like The Front Runner, were eye-openers and touchstones for me as a young gay man coming to grips with his own identity. Reading this last entry in the series really resonated with me and touched me, since I am not far behind Michael himself and have experienced many, if not most, of his same joys and sorrows.
9. The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. This was Leavitt’s first novel and, while I wouldn’t say it’s his best, I would say it’s his sweetest and most satisfying. So much of the story resonates with me personally (the closeted father with a gay son) that it simply touches my heart more than his other work.
10. Raining Men by Rick R. Reed. You didn’t think I’d compile this list without putting myself on it? But people always ask which of my books is my favorite and this one is clamoring for a mention. I love it because it shows, perhaps more than any other book I've written, the power of love for redemption.

BLURB
The character you loved to hate in Chaser becomes the character you will simply love in Raining Men.

It’s been raining men for most of Bobby Nelson’s adult life. Normally, he wouldn’t have it any other way, but lately something’s missing. Now, he wants the deluge to slow to a single special drop. But is it even possible for Bobby to find “the one” after endless years of hooking up?

When Bobby’s father passes away, Bobby finally examines his rocky relationship with the man and how it might have contributed to his inability to find the love he yearns for. Guided by a sexy therapist, a Sex Addicts Anonymous group, a well-endowed Chihuahua named Johnny Wadd, and Bobby’s own cache of memories, Bobby takes a spiritual, sexual, and emotional journey to discover that life’s most satisfactory love connections lie in quality, not quantity.

And when he’s ready to love not only himself but someone else, sex and love fit, at last, into one perfect package.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Monday Memories: My Earliest Memory


Most of my memories of the time before kindergarten began are missing. Psychologists call this 'childhood amnesia.'

And yet, my earliest memory is from well before that time. To this day, I still remember it quite clearly. There's nothing traumatic about it.

I'm a baby or at least a toddler. I'm in my parents' bedroom with my sister, Susan, and her friend Penny. I'm in the middle of my parents' bed and the two girls are good-naturedly fighting over me because one of them would have to play house with a doll and the other would get to play house with a real live baby.

Me.

In my mind's eye, I can still see them. Still feel the contentedness of being in that room and of being wanted.

I'm not sure why this memory sticks with me. But it gives a glimpse into a time when I may not have even been able to talk yet, so I'm grateful that I can travel that far back in time.

What's your earliest memory?

Friday, January 12, 2018

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY: My Second Book, PENANCE, Monster Preys on Street Kids on Chicago's North Side



Penance was part of Dell's historic horror line, Abyss, lauded by none other than Stephen King, who called it "remarkable". Here's the original 1993 cover:




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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...

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..

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