And you said you wrote the outline at 20 and the book at 41, so I seems we have a few years to fill in there. So, what happened in the middle? Just a small question...
(laughs) When I wrote that, I was 20. I had just left college, deciding that it definitely wasn't for me, and I went and lived in Provincetown. It was a gay paradise; I went there for the summer and stayed for five years. I lived there, did a bunch of jobs, owned a clothing store with my lover for a couple years, until the recession hit. From P-Town, I went back to another college. Tried again, didn't do it. Couldn't do it. I've had four years of college, but I'm nowhere near graduating. I couldn't focus. I'm not a student. I can take individual courses. I can teach myself stuff. But in terms of being in an academic environment, it just doesn't work for me. So, I tried it two different times...
As a writing major?
No, I actually didn't, and I probably should have. If I had, I might have actually finished. I started out as a theatre major for two years and, then, when I was 26, when I went back the second time, I decided to go into psychology, because I was always really good at getting into people's heads. Still am. But that didn't pan out either, it's just the environment of college just didn't work for me. And I don't know really how to explain it. It just didn't click with me.
Once I left the second time, I moved to Florida, lived there for five years, pretty much worked in retail doing just subsistence kind of jobs. Then I moved to Michigan, and that's where I started my career as a computer support technician. That was the best job I had, other than being a writer. I did that for about three and a half years.
How I got that was I started working at a Borders, because I love books. I was at a store, just as a bookseller, and I ended up being the guy that was always on the phone with the home office computer technicians, trying to fix whatever problems were going on. So, I finally say, 'Why am I doing this? I should just apply for a job at the home office, so I can be at the other end of the phone.'
And they actually accepted me, even though I had absolutely no training whatsoever. So, I worked at the home office for three years, then I moved to Prague. The story behind moving to Prague is basically I had broken up with my lover, my last long-term relationship in Michigan, and I was unhappy, and didn't care for my job too much at the time.
Then you saw a Bel Ami video...
(laughs) Yeah, I wanted something completely different, and I had gone to Prague on vacation and fell in love with the city. So, I started looking into how I could maybe move there. I figured, how much more different can I get? I pretty much just ended up selling everything I owned and moving there, and trying to get a job teaching English. That didn't work out so well. I was there for four months, and then I got sick. We haven't talked in this interview about my HIV and I don't know if you want to...
Sure, bring it up right now.
Pretty much everyone on Oasis knows I'm HIV+ and have been since 1996. But, I pretty much ignored it and just kind of hoped it would go away. And it didn't rear its ugly head until I was in Prague. That's where I got sick to the point that I knew something was wrong. I came home. I didn't have any money or a place to live or a job anymore, so I came home to Maine, where I was raised.
I was diagnosed with PCP, which is AIDS pneumonia, and was nearly dead. I really wasn't expected to live by the time I got hospitalized. Everyone was amazed when I started to recover. And I've been in Maine ever since. It took me about two years to get better and, at that point, when I started feeling good enough to actually do anything, I was already on disability by then.
I couldn't work, so I decided I would haul out some of my old writing stuff and I came across the Firma outline. And said, 'Well, I'll give this a try...' And that's what I've been doing ever since. At some point, I'm hoping to replace my disability income with being a successful writer, but until then I'm losing money as a writer and living on disability. Writing gay-themed sci-fi and fantasy is never going to make me rich, but my goal is to get a nice-sized fan base and leave a lasting impression in the world, and make some difference in the GLBT community.
And you knew you were positive when you went to Prague?
Oh yeah, I did. It never really entered my mind, because I had been doing really well up until then, without any medication or anything. I was in total denial. I didn't monitor my blood or anything after about the third year. I just said, 'Heck with it, I'm not going to do this anymore.' Had I done the right thing, I would have known... looking back, I think the pneumonia started six or eight months before I actually ended up coming home from Prague.
Long before I went to Prague, I was having trouble breathing. I just never connected it, because I was a smoker at the time. I just figured, 'Eh? I'm a smoker.' So, I handled it totally the wrong way, which is why I'm very public about my HIV now. I want everyone to know how I screwed up handling it and not to do it the way I did it.
I think it's important, because there are so many messages out there, where people think having HIV is like having an STD or something. Just that there's pills and not a problem, and it is such a huge thing. These cocktails and things are an immense deal.
The cocktails are poisonous and they have side effects. Each person is different. I know people that have had it for 20 years and never been on medication, and never been sick. Other people are at death's door all the time, no matter what they take. They're never really healthy. I'm in the middle. Because I allowed myself to get so sick, I never quite recovered. So, I'm still unable to work or do any kind of serious physical work.
But, had I done something earlier, it would have been fine. But it's not something where you just pop a few pills, because the pills are very toxic, and it's important to maintain your doses properly, change your diet, and not overdo whatever vices you're overdoing at the time. That just makes it worse. It's a big deal. It's more on par with cancer, except it's somewhat more survivable. It's not a death sentence anymore, but it is a major life-altering illness.
Yeah, I think it's great that you're open about it on the site, only because it's something that could potentially be off a teenager's radar, especially when they're just starting their sexual life. It's good to just have that in the background of their thoughts in a more tangible way than just being this vague thing that's out there.
Well, that was my hope. I remember, as a teen, I felt completely invulnerable to any of that sort of thing, and I'm sure that's the way they feel. But maybe just knowing a real, live person that has it would make it just a little more, like you said, tangible. And I hope it makes someone think just that extra second before they do something that can be dangerous. I know that in the HIV+ chat room that I hang out on, I'm noticing a lot more younger kids starting to appear on it. You know, 18, 19 years old, which means that the message isn't getting down to that age group, and that's kind of scary.
Yeah, you can't just take for granted that 'everybody knows that.'
The easiest way to handle it is to assume everyone has it. Protect yourself as though every person on the planet as has the virus, and then you're not going to get it. Most people go the other way. They assume that if they know someone and they're nice, and they don't look diseased, then they don't have it. And that's totally not true. I look perfectly healthy and I'm a nice person. I'm not hanging out on street corners or drug dens or men's rooms. It can happen to absolutely anybody, and it can happen the very first time you have unprotected sex.
Especially for young people, before someone knows they are even positive is when they are most infectious to other people.
Exactly. You can infect a whole bunch of other people while you're in that denial period. There are symptoms early on when you convert. People have flu-like symptoms and stuff, and then that might clear up and they have no symptoms for years. But it's best not to get to that point. Just make protection part of your normal life. Once you start doing that, you have to worry a lot less. Accident happen, but if you go into it with that mindset, you'll be a lot safer and you won't have to worry about what will happen five or six years down the road.