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!
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!
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.