Interview with Rick Reed
author of IM
Quest Books (2007)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is joined by Rick R. Reed, who is here to talk about his new novel, “IM”.
Rick R. Reed’s horror fiction has been referred to as “a harrowing ride through cutting-edge psychological horror” (Douglas Clegg, author of “The Attraction”), having “a knack for presenting the gruesome lower depths of a soul” (“New City”) and “brutally honest” (“Fangoria”). “Unzipped” magazine, in its October 2006 issue said, “You could call him the Stephen King of gay horror…”
Tyler: Welcome, Rick. I’m happy to have you here today. To begin, would you briefly tell us what “IM” is about?
Rick: “IM” is a suspense/horror novel about a serial killer who uses internet “hook-up” chat rooms to lure his victims. The title stands for instant message, and it is through these instant messages that the killer seduces his victims into inviting him into their homes for what they think will be an evening of romance, but what turns out to be an evening of brutal murder. The twist of the book is that the killer himself may be dead, a victim of a similar crime to the ones now being perpetrated. It takes a recently out and ousted gay Chicago police detective to try and discover the truth and to stop the killer–dead or not–before he kills again.
Tyler: Where did you first come up with the idea for “IM”?
Rick: I guess I must have been thinking about the potential peril gay men, especially, put themselves in by using these online hookup services, like Adam4Adam, M4M, etc. There’s a whole slew of them and finding sex online nowadays is as easy as ordering a pizza. And I’d be lying if I said I had never availed myself of the opportunity. But the thought crossed my mind at one point, “What if one of these people you’re inviting over wants to do you harm? Or even kill you? Who would know? How would anyone trace any connection from you to the killer?” That “what if…” is a big question for writers and it started me on the course for writing “IM”.
Tyler: A book like “IM” could not have been written even twenty years ago when the internet was not widespread. What advantages do you feel advances in technology have created for storytelling?
Rick: Well, I think the internet has many possibilities for storytelling. A while back, I read an excellent novel called “I.D.”, which was about a woman whose identity is stolen. I also believe there’s a young adult novel out told entirely in IMs. The cyberworld is a whole new setting!
Tyler: I know you’ve set “IM” and some of your other novels in Chicago, and you live in Chicago. Is there a reason why you choose to set the books in the town where you live?
Rick: Actually, Tyler, I lived in Chicago for eighteen years. In October of 2006, I moved to Miami, FL with my partner because of a job relocation/promotion. But to get back to your question, I set so much of my work in Chicago because the city was a true inspiration to me. I knew it so well it was easy to visualize the locales as I wrote. And the hardiness, the people, the beauty, and the vitality of Chicago all contributed to making me want to set what I wrote there.
Tyler: I have also read your book “Penance” which I enjoyed, but what really made “IM” stand out for me by comparison was your use of multiple first and third person narratives, and you allowed the serial killer to speak in first person. Why did you choose to alternate points-of-view and what did you feel were the benefits and drawbacks of doing so?
Rick: I like using different points of views first because it helps me get inside the character’s head and feel what he’s feeling, thus bringing it alive for the reader (sometimes I go to some pretty dark and dangerous places!). Second, I like to do it because I think it brings the reader much closer to the character I’m writing about. You know the scene in the movie “Halloween” where the little Michael Myer is going to kill his sister? You see this through his Halloween mask, and hear him breathing beneath the mask…and I think that’s what makes it more personal and terrifying for the viewer. In “IM”, we get to see things “up close and personal” from the killer’s and his victims’ perspectives. I like having that immediacy and bringing readers right into my own little nightmare world.
Tyler: One thing I found interesting about the serial killer in “IM” is that you gave the reader background information on him and why he became who he was. Even with showing his motivation, however, I’m not sure he ever became sympathetic. Did you feel sympathy for him at all?
Rick: Yeah, I do feel some sympathy for Timothy. You’ve read the book, so you know he endured some pretty horrible abuse growing up. I don’t really expect anyone to feel sympathy for him, but I hope they can at least have some understanding why he became the way he is. I think of people in terms of shades of gray and I think that makes them a lot more compelling as characters than one-dimensional stock villains or heroes.
Tyler: Rick, do you ever receive negative criticism about your novels because of their violent or sexual subject matter? And if so, how do you respond to those critics?
Rick: It’s interesting seeing some of the reviews for “IM” and how almost all of them warn that there’s pretty graphic sex and violence, yet all of them say it’s not gratuitous and it has to be there to advance the plot. That makes me feel good because I never put graphic stuff in simply to shock…it always has to pass the test: does it need to be there? Could the story work without it? I think my answer is always, “Yes, it has to be there.”
Tyler: That’s an excellent response, Rick. I agree it’s important that such elements as violence are used to advance the plot. Do you feel there is too much violence today in books, films and television? I am always surprised by the number of crime shows on television today. How do you think your books or such programs reflect American viewpoints today?
Rick: It’s hard to gauge how much is too much. I think the test I mentioned above is a good one: is the violence necessary? I think movies like “Hostel” and “Wolf Creek” take it over the top and for me personally, they go a little too far. The gore and violence just seem like they’re there for their own sake (remember that sentence for the correct usage of variations on “there”!).
Tyler: Do you feel your works exaggerate reality by being sensational, or is that the fun of writing within a horror or suspense genre?
Rick: Most of my stuff is the kind of horror that can really happen (save for a detour into the world of vampires occasionally), so I would say that I don’t think the crimes and the suspense are exaggerated. I think what makes them terrifying is that they could really happen. I have always been a true crime buff and it fascinates me how people can bring themselves to do horrible things (which I could never do). Writing about these things is a way of examining crime more closely.
Tyler: What really strikes me about your works and especially “IM” is that they focus on gay characters, and yet those gay characters are victims of sexual crimes. Do you feel your books reflect some sort of homophobic feeling that still exists in America, or perhaps the fears of the gay population about not being accepted by the mainstream?
Rick: I don’t think I consciously set out to write anything themed that way. As I’ve said before, I just set out to write a good page-turner, not a “cautionary tale” or to hold a mirror up to society. I suppose, though, if you peel back the layers of “IM”, there is an element of self-loathing that some gay men have and that’s what causes them to seek out highly risky behavior, even sometimes at the expense of their own lives.
Tyler: Why do you choose to write gay horror? Why not just a gay coming out story?
Rick: Gay is just because I am; I know those people best. I think my “gay” books could just as easily be straight ones…my first concern is with the human condition. My characters’ sexuality makes them more alive to me as I write them and hopefully more alive to the reader. Horror is because I have always been fascinated with the dark side of things and always loved the delicious tingle you can feel from fear (the kind of safe fear you can have between the covers of a book or on a movie screen, though!).
Tyler: How did you feel about “Unzipped” Magazine calling you the “Stephen King of gay horror”? Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
Rick: I love the marketing angle that someone comparing me to King has given me. And I love the comparison because he’s always been a favorite. I’ve been reading him since I was a boy and have read almost everything he’s written. That said, no, I don’t think we’re alike at all. Our styles, subject matter, and perspectives are very different. “Unzipped” picked King because he’s probably the most recognizable name in horror, not because we are actually all that alike as writers.
Tyler: You mentioned the film “Halloween” and of course, Stephen King. Which writers and/or films have been influences upon your writing?
Rick: Some of my favorite horror movies are “THE HAUNTING” and an Asian film called “AUDITION. In both of those, the sense of dread is pervasive and, at least with the former, much of the chilling stuff that happens occurs off-stage, which makes it even more frightening. As far as writers who’ve had an influence, the three that come to mind would not be classified as horror writers, but I really love their sense of suspense and the grotesque: Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Highsmith, and James Purdy. I think they have all influenced how I write characters.
Tyler: How difficult was it for you to publish a novel with gay characters in it? Being gay yourself, did the thought of becoming famous make you nervous?
Rick: It’s taken me a long time to accept myself as a gay man (I didn’t come out until I was 30) and now I’m happy with who I am and don’t care who knows it. I would be happy to be known as a “gay author” and be famous for it. Our community needs more “out and proud” people standing at the forefront, so people can see we come in all different shapes and sizes. I started out writing straight horror books and I was very lucky to have the first two picked up by a huge NY publisher like Dell and I suppose I could have continued down that path. But I wanted to write what I wanted to write and now I’m very comfortable publishing with a small GLBT house.
Tyler: How would you yourself describe your work? Is it horror, suspense, thriller, gay fiction, or do you prefer some other term?
Rick: I prefer the term, “good story.” I’m a storyteller and hope that the main thing I can avoid is boring people. If I can give them a couple or three hours of entertainment and escape from their usual world, I’m happy. If I can make them think a little along the way, that’s a bonus. I leave the labels to publishers and bookstores. They use them to make me easier to find. But I suppose if pressed I would say my work is suspense/horror, in that order.
Tyler: I understand your next novel will be about vampires. Are you leaning more toward writing horror?
Rick: No, if anything I’m leaning more toward suspense/mystery. But people often assume books are written chronologically in the same order they’re published. I wrote “In the Blood” some time ago, based on a short story I wrote even longer ago (and that was published in an anthology of historical vampire fiction called “Dark Destiny”). I love the whole romantic, savage mystique of vampires though and expect I’ll get around to exploring them more in my fiction.
Tyler: What do you feel is the attraction in recent years surrounding vampires in horror literature? Why does the vampire figure speak to modern audiences?
Rick:I don’t think the attraction for vampires is recent; it goes way back. I think we’ve always been fascinated by the possibility of immortal life…and I believe that’s what’s at the core of the appeal of vampire fiction.
Tyler: Thank you so much for being here today, Rick. “IM” had me on the edge of my seat all the way through and I definitely recommend it. Can you tell our readers where they can find out more information about your books and where to purchase a copy of “IM”?
Rick: Sure. From Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, Starcrossed Productions, Lambda Rising, and other online booksellers. It’s also available for order from any good bookstore.
Rick:Thank you, Rick. We’ll certainly be looking forward to your next book.
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Tyler R. Tichelaar