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Today the lovely and fabulous Ally Blue, author of The Bay City Paranormal Series, who I interviewed back at the beginning of the year, sat down with the sexy and talented Rick R. Reed to talk about his book, A Demon Inside. Dubbed the ‘Stephen King of gay horror’ by Unzipped Magazine, Rick boasts an impressive backlist that includes gay horror with a romantic edge, gay romance, and more recently, gay romantic comedy.While the genres may change, Rick’s passion to explore the lives and loves of gay men within his fiction remain one constant for which we can all be grateful.
I give you Ally & Rick…
AB: The first thing that struck me about this book was your depiction of Hunter’s grief for his grandmother — how he gets tired of the sympathy and irritated with the attention, and the numb feeling you get after a while. It was like you’d plonked yourself right down inside my brain during the days after my mom died. You described what I felt during her funeral service and afterward exactly.
My question doesn’t really relate to that, exactly, I just wanted to tell you how impressed I was with that bit Well, okay, I guess it kind of relates. It seemed to me that in a way, Hunter’s grief for his grandmother set his entire adventure in motion. What do you think? How much — if any — do you think Hunter’s deep grief for his grandmother played into his decisions down the road? I think it made him especially vulnerable to you-know-who…
RR: I’m so glad that my portrayal of grief resonated with you. Like you, I experienced many of the same things when my own mother died three years ago. I think the shock and pain of losing someone so close resonates not just for days or weeks, but for years afterward. The world we have become accustomed to is simply not the same place without that person in it. I wanted to portray how we experience many different things other than tears and sadness in the immediate aftermath of losing someone close to us; the experience can be exhausting and soul-draining, which is why Hunter felt irritated. And yes, I do think this loss, along with losing his parents at such a young age (and so violently) made him who he is and colored his choices as he moved forward, forced, finally, to be on his own.
AB: I thought it was interesting that while a lot of books follow hero’s who are "regular guys" — or if they’re rich, they’re rich playboys, ha — but this book has a hero who is rich, sheltered, virginal and extremely innocent when it comes to the ways of the world. My immediate thought was that this adventure could not have happened to anyone but Hunter. Events in his life seem to push him toward Beaumont House, events that may not have happened to someone more worldly. What do you think? Would the story have been possible with a protagonist less sheltered and innocent than Hunter?
RR: I think you’re right; the story is uniquely Hunter’s. His innocence, naiveté, and his profound sense of loss all contributed to his making the choices he did, choices that some people may consider ill-advised or even stupid, but I think they make sense within the context of the character. Beaumont House was a terrifying place and of course he should have left sooner, but it was also a sanctuary for a wounded soul who really didn’t understand the modern world that well and it also stood as a kind of metaphor for his ability to stand on his own. If he chose to flee, that would have been a smart thing to do, but in this character’s mind, it would have also been a deep personal failure.
AB: To what extent do you think Beaumont House itself and the country setting became characters in their own right? I felt like they were characters of their own, in a way, especially the house. The demon-thing was a whole other story though! **shudder**
RR: I definitely think the house, with its history, its perhaps paranormal (and evil) inhabitant, and its remote location all made it a sort-of "character" in its own right. It certainly seemed to have a will of its own, and an ability to not only terrify Hunter, but also to antagonize him in many perverse and odd ways. The house and the demon were one and the same, reflections of each other. The country setting, while perhaps not a character in the same sense, did serve as an isolating factor for Hunter, making it even more problematic to leave.
AB: As I was biting my nails through the scenes of Hunter’s encounters with the demon-thing (OMG that thing was HORRIFYING, argh!), I noticed the parallels between some of the ways it tortured Hunter and some of Hunter’s real-life experiences. I won’t say exactly what those things are, because I don’t want to give spoilers *g* But I did wonder how much of the demon-thing is created from the sufferer’s mind. Not just Hunter, but those who encountered the demon before him. So, Rick, is this demon truly, objectively, observably real in real life? Is it a creation from the mind of the tormented? Is it a combination of the two? Or are we mere humans not meant to know such cosmic secrets? (yeah I’m a Lovecraft fan, so sue me; heh)
RR: Now, that’s a question, as a creator, I really don’t think I should answer. I deliberately left things sort of ambiguous when it came to deciding whether the horror was a real supernatural entity or if it was a manifestation of mental illness. And I also deliberately made it possible for a reader to see it both ways…almost. There are definite clues though in the book that reveal whether I think the horror was real or imagined. I will just say: Remember the photograph of the house that turned up in the beginning and then again at the end?
AB: Lastly but not leastly, what do you wish I’d asked? What do you want to tell people about Hunter, about the house, and about this book in general?
RR: I wish you had asked me how this book fit into my body of work. I have had many labels applied to my writing: horror, suspense, mystery, thriller, and increasingly, romance, and I think A DEMON INSIDE is one great example of what I am trying to do in a lot of my work, which is to merge romance with horror or the paranormal. At its heart, you could look at A DEMON INSIDE as a love story, between two men certainly, but also as a love story of the self and discovering one’s own strengths and weaknesses. A DEMON INSIDE is the book I’d most recommend to ardent fans of horror and it also represents a direction I think I am moving further away from with the newer things I’m writing–I’m finding there’s more and more to be said about the connections people make when falling in love–and that fascinated me. Love and terror are actually, in many ways, both physical and emotional, two sides of the same coin.
AB: I very much enjoyed reading this wonderfully scary book, and I enjoyed serving as the delightful Mr. Reed’s interrogator *g*
Hunter Beaumont doesn’t understand his grandmother’s deathbed wish: "Destroy Beaumont House." He’d never even heard of the place. But after his grandmother passes and his first love betrays him, the family house in the Wisconsin woods looks like a tempting refuge. Going against his grandmother’s wishes, Hunter flees to Beaumont House.
But will the house be the sanctuary he had hoped for? Soon after moving in, Hunter realizes he may not be alone. And who—or what—he shares the house may plunge him into a nightmare from which he may never escape. Sparks fly when he meets his handsome neighbor, a caretaker for the estate next door, but is the man salvation…or is he the source of Hunter’s terror?
It didn’t take them long to round the curve of the driveway and all at once, Beaumont House stood before them. Just as Hunter had imagined, its imposing fieldstone looked solid and formidable against the bright blue autumn sky. Double oak doors, appearing in remarkably good shape, were outfitted with black wrought iron hinges and fixtures, all without a trace of rust. The windows reflected back the sky and the few clouds in it, looking almost black and empty. Hunter fancifully thought of them as eyes and shivered. Yet, not a single pane was broken or cracked. The glass did not even look dirty. He paused, staring at the house, feeling an odd sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t recall how he could have even seen the house before. Ian, beside him, was silent. In awe, Hunter said softly, “God, Ian, I never would have guessed.”
Ian sucked in some air. “It is beautiful, isn’t it? Even more than I remember.”
Hunter took in more details: the roof was covered in black slate tile and again, looked in perfect repair. Black shutters fronted each of the windows. The house put Hunter in mind of what he imagined an English manor would look like and he briefly imagined red-jacketed foxhunters galloping through the grounds. There was a widow’s walk around the rooftop and to one side, a rounded tower completed the imposing façade.
All of it looked move-in ready.
Hunter scratched his head and turned to Ian. “I thought you said the place was falling down.”
“I assumed it was.” Ian’s expression revealed troubled thoughts beneath. He took in the house, eyebrows furrowed. “I mean, no one has been here for decades. The place should be in shambles, broken windows, doors off their hinges, weeds growing through the floors… Yet, it looks so well maintained.” Ian paused. “I don’t understand it. I took care of the property taxes for your family, but never paid out anything for upkeep. This is weird, Hunter.”
Hunter didn’t want to voice it, but he agreed. Aside from the overgrown vegetation outside the house, the place itself was almost pristine, as if someone still lived here, let alone not having been inhabited for more than half a century. Hunter began to wonder if all the overgrown trees and other flora could be tamed into a manageable yard and garden.
“The inside is probably a mess,” Ian said, weakly.
Hunter began striding toward the house. “You do have a key, don’t you? And I would withhold judgment on the interior if I were you.” Hunter paused just outside the double doors, waiting for Ian to catch up. He took in the detail of the floor-to-ceiling French windows on the first floor, how each was topped with intricate designs in leaded glass.
Ian was making his way through the weeds, toward Hunter, cursing as he stumbled. “Yes. I have a key.” He caught up and extracted a large, old-fashioned key from his jacket pocket, coated with rust. Hunter knew Ian could say nothing about the house, but also knew the lawyer would not deterred. “How do you propose to cut through all this?” He gestured at the trees and briars choking the lawn and driveway.
“Simple. I’m sure Wisconsin has a good supply of gardeners and landscapers, many of them, I’m sure, looking for work. They have skill. I have money. It could work. Can we go inside?”
“No guarantees this key will even fit.” He came alongside Hunter and inserted the key into the lock. The doors effortlessly opened, aided by a gust of wind behind them. There was not even a creak.
Hunter was astounded. And chilled. The massive foyer, with its curving staircase up to the second floor, its crystal chandelier, its marble-tiled floor, and its mahogany paneled walls—was spotless. There was not a trace of dust or grime anywhere. The chandelier sparkled as it caught the sun’s rays coming in from outside. The wood gleamed.
Hunter turned to Ian, confused. “Are you sure no one’s been taking care of upkeep?”
Ian shook his head slowly, walking more fully into the foyer. Hunter lagged behind, following his gaze as he looked into the living room, or what Hunter supposed in those days had been called the drawing room. It too was perfection. The windows gleamed, spot-free, in the sun. The wood floors looked freshly polished. The large fieldstone fireplace—a focal point—appeared to have been freshly swept, with a stack of logs on the grate inside, awaiting the touch of a flame.
“I have never authorized a payment for upkeep. Not in all the years I’ve been responsible for your family’s holdings.”
Hunter felt a chill. “Well, someone must be taking care of the place. It couldn’t just stay this way by itself.”
“Indeed. But why?”
Hunter would have liked to tell Ian not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but the truth was, he too was as disturbed by the appearance of the house as Ian seemed to be. Delightful and pristine as the place was, it simply wasn’t—natural.
“I have no idea.” Ian turned to Hunter. “This is giving me the creeps.”
Hunter would not admit he was having a similar reaction. It would be all Ian needed to hear, enough for him to urge Hunter back into the car. “Who knows? Maybe there’s some neat freak in the village who comes by and takes out his obsession on the house.”
“That would give me the creeps as well.” Ian turned, his gaze roaming across the drawing room and foyer. He looked pale. “This sounds completely strange and I hope you’ll forgive me, but I don’t want to stay here anymore. My suggestion is we both go outside, get in the car, and head back to the city. On Monday, I will make arrangements for a demolition crew to come in and tear down the place. Then we can see about selling off the land.” Ian looked to Hunter, hoping, Hunter thought, for agreement.
“I want to see the rest of it. We came all this way.”
“That’s your right,” Ian said softly. “But I don’t want to stay here anymore. I’ll be in the car when you’re finished.” He strode quickly toward the front doors, which still hung open.
Hunter watched him go, wanting to call him back. Ian paused, just outside the door and turned around. “Be careful. And be mindful that you may spend your trust fund allowance heating this place, lest you be entertaining any thoughts of moving in.” And then he was gone.
Hunter swallowed, standing in the middle of the drawing room. Fingers of dread played up and down his spine. Hairs stood up on the back of his neck. It wasn’t just the perfection of the place that made him feel so odd, it was another sensation, one he was just now becoming aware of.