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HIV as thread not

HIV as thread not


The author describes how HIV has woven in to his plots and into his life.

HIV was still a killer when I learned I was infected in early 1995, roughly a year before the medicinal "AIDS cocktail" started replacing death and despair with health and hope. I'd lost a longtime lover to AIDS in 1987, seeing him die a slow and miserable death like so many of my friends. My diagnosis plunged me into emotional turmoil, which caused my health to plummet. But I kept my HIV status secret, determined to spare friends and family my grim news and avoid the stigma that clung to the disease like no other.

Within days of my diagnosis, my agent sold my first novel and got me a contract to write three more in the Benjamin Justice mystery series. The next manuscript was due in a year. But I was consumed with depression and self-pity, not clever story ideas that would further the adventures of my gay protagonist. Hellish months passed while I wrote reams of garbage. Then, as my deadline loomed, I inserted a character named Danny into my stagnant plot, inspired by a friend who'd died from AIDS a few years earlier. My novel suddenly came to life. I finished it and began a new one, looking for another element that might help me connect emotionally with the story. But I continued to keep my secret.

As new and better drugs came along, my health rebounded, although the shadow of AIDS was never far away. My mystery series became my lifeline, a way to give form to the chaos of feelings inside me. In my third novel, my lead character makes a reckless choice and is infected with the virus. In the fourth, he seroconverts and begins coping with HIV, as I had. In the fifth, he faces the issue of temptation and unprotected sex. By then I was suffering side effects from my meds--chronic diarrhea, weight loss, facial wasting, fatigue--and in no mood to discuss my own condition. So I continued to guard my secret.

In the sixth novel, Moth and Flame (2004), I put Benjamin Justice on Prozac and got him into counseling to help him cope with depression and physical deterioration, again mirroring my own life. But I was still in the HIV closet. Although I was dealing frankly with HIV in my fiction and many readers surely suspected that I was infected, I felt dishonest.

Today, I'm on a new drug regimen and feeling better in every way; at least for now HIV is a manageable part of my daily living, as it is for so many others. True to form, Benjamin Justice reflects those developments in my latest mystery, Rhapsody in Blood. He's found a degree of peace and is even feeling sexy again.

My murder mysteries are about much more than HIV, which is but one thread in a larger fabric, as in my own life. Another literary thread is the importance of facing one's truth, moving beyond shame and denial and getting on with life, however dark and troubling it has been in the past. Like the subplots of a novel, life's many threads are interwoven; bound together, they create a whole that's infinitely stronger.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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John Morgan Wilson