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Reynald’s Rap: Lance Reynald, Shawn Decker

by Susan Henderson on September 23, 2006

Lance Reynald and MY PET VIRUS author, Shawn Decker

My Monday morning started like it does for most aspiring writers; let the dogs out, put on a pot of coffee and check my RSS reader. LitPark is always the first thing I read in the morning, it’s where us writers come to play. (Not greasing the boss here, it’s the truth.)

This week we’ve been talking about the truth here in the park. I love truth in literature. I think that great writing whether fact or fiction always has essential human truth in it. I fall into the Hunter S. Thompson school of thinking the writer’s truth is in all writing (this may in fact be a fiction that I attribute to HST, but it sounds so right to me).

I still dig JT LeRoy, even though he’s not a transsexual runaway but a forty-something year old mother. I’d still get James Frey’s back in a bar fight, I felt I was there when he wrote of his troubles.

Human truth, it’s in the writing.

Then we come to the Memoirist. We’ve so many of them to choose from these days. Some great stories out there. Brave. Visceral. Heartfelt. True life experiences that make us writers feel that the “truth to tell” gene we all got stuck with has a place in the world. My money is always on the courageous raconteurs that tell the hardest stories and put it all on the line. Stripped bare in the town square kind of writing. Add to that kind of story a sense of humor and I’m going to force everyone I know to read the book.

My chat today is with such a writer. I’m not going to go into the whole synopsis you can read in any of the reviews he’s gotten. But I will say this; there is a hell of a lot of buzz and chatter. He deserves it. A most courageous writer, willing to talk to the world about his life and its complications; and a desire to live that life to the fullest.

Without me being tempted to go all off in a hundred different directions and losing all of you I should get to the guest. It’s my privilege to introduce Shawn Decker, writer of MY PET VIRUS: THE TRUE STORY OF A REBEL WITHOUT A CURE.

*

Lance: Wow, you’ve got a busy tour ahead of you. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. For starters I’m going to gush a bit.

Shawn: Gush away!

Lance: What I’ve seen of your book so far is brilliant. Your candor is amazing. I sat and read through your excerpt on Poz.com and was amazed by how open you are about your positoid life. Tears streaming down my cheeks and a smile at the same time. I found myself happy that you found the voice and strength to write your story. Have you found this to be the normal reaction to your words or have I just lost my mind?

Shawn: I’m not going to say you shouldn’t talk to your doctor about your reaction to the book, but I do hope others react with your enthusiasm. One of the things that inspired me to get the whole story down was the reaction Gwenn and I have gotten through our speaking engagements.

Lance: Yes, you and your wife-partner, Gwenn, travel the country as AIDS educators speaking at universities. Are the students out there coming to your presentations well informed about HIV and AIDS?

Shawn: It varies, depending on who is sponsoring the event. Sometimes we speak to peer educators who, on occasion, have educated us about some of the late-breaking news on HIV medications and other nerdy facts. But even with all the technical facts, it’s our personal story the resonates on an entirely different level than bland statistics. Sure, we’ll get young people who didn’t realize that you could share a water bottle with someone who is HIV positive before our talk, but afterwards they are coming up for a handshake or a hug. And that’s when I realize that I am doing my job.

Lance: You’re pretty open on your blog and in the excerpt on Poz.com about managing your meds and having times where it is hard to be compliant and creative at the same time. I know that plenty of positoids struggle with this themselves. Do you find it hard to balance the energy you need to deliver your message with the demands of treatment? Or, is Gwenn pretty strict when she thinks you’re taking a risk?

Shawn: Gwenn has been cool about my far-out ideas, like going Week On/Week Off with my HIV drug regimen, because she’s the only person on the planet who sees what these medications do to me. Everyone else, I’m good at hiding that from. Still, I got burned last year when I was finishing my book and went off meds for two months: I ended up in the hospital for 3 days with ITP. (ITP, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, also known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura, is classified as an autoimmune disease. In an autoimmune disease the body mounts an attack toward one or more otherwise normal organ systems. In ITP, platelets are the target. They are marked as foreign by the immune system and eliminated in the spleen, or sometimes the liver.)

A lot of authors say that finishing their book nearly killed them, but I can say it for real!

Lance: What’s life as a positoid celebrity like? You defy a lot of stereotypes about HIV and AIDS, do you think people are more willing to listen to your information because of that?

Shawn: People who don’t care about HIV open up to what I say a lot more, mainly because of the use of humor. And the fact that I’m banging a chick? Sure, that might help some get over their preconceived notions as well, and knowing that mentality is out there is why I pepper my message with how the gay community helped nurture me as an educator.

Some say, “You have it so easy being a kid who was diagnosed!” But that cushy little niche changed when Gwenn came into the public picture. I wasn’t someone who was beating the odds anymore, I was someone with HIV who was, gasp, having sex! Ryan White with… a boner!

Lance: the tour kicks off this week and runs through the beginning of October, any shout-outs or words to tempt Litpark.com readers to come out and see you in the flesh??

Shawn: I’m trying to topple the biggest author in my hometown of Charlottesville, which happens to be John Grisham. I really need the support at these book events to make that happen! Grisham does a lot of things for the community, but young rappers have had success calling out stars like Eminem and 50 Cent on their debuts, so I figured I’d adapt that methodology and introduce it to the literary world.

Some say it’s an impossible dream for an upstart author, but for someone who was given two years to live in 1987 it doesn’t seem like that far of a stretch. No matter how that turns out, I’m very proud of the book, and I hope people pick it up and I’d love to see you all on the road!
Positively Yours,
Shawn
www.mypetvirus.com

Lance: Awesome! Thanks for taking the time to chat about MY PET VIRUS. I can’t wait to pick up a few copies on the 25th at the B&N event. Safe travels on the tour and best wishes for a positively stellar turnout!

(Who is this John Grisham fellow? His name just keeps coming up, did he have something to do with the DaVinci Code?)

See ya’ll in NYC!

Xo- LR

*

Bios:

When not playing a zombie in the band Bella Morte’s video for “Earth Angel”, Shawn Decker can be found writing a column for POZ magazine, a blog at POZ.com, traveling and lecturing with his wife, Gwenn, at Universities across America, Featured on the BBC, PBS and HBO…AND, he just happened to find time to write MY PET VIRUS: THE TRUE STORY OF A REBEL WITHOUT A CURE. Find Shawn and his tour schedule at www.mypetvirus.com

Promo Video for MPV on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICEIfe-eY6g

When not locked in the pantry evading anxiety attacks and sacrificing large quantities of peanut butter cups and Stewart’s Root Beer to the most recent copy of Writer’s Market, Lance Reynald can be found doing what most un-agented writers do all day; practicing signing his name with a Sharpie on 5X7 cards in hope that creative visualization will pay off in a book deal. Once the Sharpie huffing wears off he settles in to finishing up a shopable draft of POP SALVATION, the story of a boy who wanted to be Andy Warhol. He also distracts himself plenty with his blog at Myspace.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Buckster September 23, 2006 at 12:22 pm

Lance,
The black & white picture of you looks exactly like a young Ernest Hemingway…I think you should finish the book soon–big things are coming down the pike for you. I’ve read excerpts of your guest’s book and, although the subject is a serious one, his humour is what makes it more than palitable. See, now what kind of friend am I? I am the first one to be here and you forgot the coffee.

xo-buck

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Susan Henderson September 23, 2006 at 3:03 pm

Lance and Shawn – You two are awesome.

Buckster – Glad you’re here! But don’t you think Ernest Hemingway had hairier fingers?

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Greg September 23, 2006 at 3:32 pm

Lance – nice interview. I had heard the title of Decker’s book about a month ago in passing, and I thought it was going to be about computer protection.

I was way off base. This sounds like an incredible reading. Rock on, Shawn.

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Sarah Roundell September 23, 2006 at 5:24 pm

~Lance, Well done with the interview! You covered the bases well and as usual infused your writing with that great sense of humour of yours. Shawn’s book sounds like a must read for this girl.
~Shawn, Keep up the good work. The world needs more people to share their stories like you have so that kids today(and grownups too) can gain awareness and compassion. Looking forward to reading your book!

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Carolyn Burns Bass September 23, 2006 at 6:46 pm

Sadly, the world still holds back handshakes to those with HIV/AIDs. Shawn Decker’s story extends yet another hand. It’s up to individuals to accept the gesture; the world will eventually follow.

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Lance Reynald September 24, 2006 at 1:09 am

Buckster- thanks for the encouragement. one of these days we’ll have to chat about ernest….and next time I’ll put the coffee on earlier.

Susan- I think you’re the awesome one here. Thanks for everything.

Greg- thanks. and yeah the book is a winner!

Sarah- thanks for that, you’re always welcome in Lance-land.

Carolyn- well said.

Funny thing about those handshakes; I keep reading articles about HIV’s continued transmission in odd demographics. Retirement communities and such. Maybe if the world shook a few more hands they could talk openly and change things.

Thank you all for participating in this chat; and do take the time to visit Shawn’s website. I hope to see anyone who can make it at the NYC reading.

xo-LR

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Susan Henderson September 24, 2006 at 11:14 am

Thanks, Greg, Sarah, Carolyn, and Lance.

Shawn – I’ll pick up your book next stop I make at my local indie bookstore. I have a publication question for you if don’t mind popping in for a bit:

Did you sell your book on the concept or write it first? And if you wrote it first, what was the time span between writing it and selling it? Just curious about that whole process for you. Last thing, who’s your publisher so we can give proper kudos?

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Frank Daniels September 25, 2006 at 1:36 pm

Yep, preaching to the choir, Lance my man. But I like the cut of your jib. And this Shawn guy’s a total badass. I mean, just coming out the gate and he already has a full front-page endorsement from the memoirists. Can’t wait to read his stuff.

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lance September 26, 2006 at 4:57 am

great reading Sean.

now I’m off to bed, that NY pavement is pretty hard.

xo-LR

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Shawn Decker September 28, 2006 at 10:24 pm

Lance, thanks for the interview! Was great meeting you in NYC in person. You’re a very stylish young man, Mr. Reynald. (Gwenn concurred!)

Thanks for the comments, really enjoyed reading them and I promise I’ll continue shaking those hands. As for the virus protection for computers, I have felt strange putting the title of my book in subject lines on emails… I’m afraid no one will open it!

Am doing a lot of handshaking on this book tour, and all is going as goo as I could hope for.

Susan, I sold the book with most of it written. of course, there was a lot of work to be done, but the bulk of the writing was done. I started in 2001, would write for a few months and then take off. I remember in 2002 sending out queries to 3 agents, getting rejected, and cursing their existences for not understanding my genius. (In their defense, what I sent kind of sucked.)

In 2005 my goal was to find an agent and publisher and really send it out to anyone whom I thought would take interest. using the Writer’s Market, I sent to agents who represented “Memoirs” “Humorous” “Gay/Lesbian” “Health” and a couple others. Iw as fortunate that the agent I sent to had read my work in POZ Magazine.

Then it took about 5 months to find a suitable publisher. There was interest in the book on an editor level, but I got shot down by some big wigs at a couple of top publishers because “AIDS books don’t sell.” But, of course, I saw my memoir as something different and more than that. Anyone looking for an AIDS book will probably not like My Pet Virus.

When it got to Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, I found a receptive home. And really, they’ve been great about promoting the book and letting it be what it is, whatever that may be.

Lance, I can’t to read your book. It sounds great, and you’re going to put me to shame.

Hope all are well!
Positively Your’s,
Shawn

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