A Writer's Journal

Alan's haunting novel of the AIDS epidemic, As If Death Summoned, was released on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020, and has won the Foreword INDIES LGBT Book of the Year Award. Watch the book trailer here. Read the reviews here.

A Writer's Journal

Bywater Books has announced that its novel, As If Death Summoned by Alan E. Rose, was named a winner in the 22nd annual Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.

Rose’s haunting novel about the AIDS epidemic won the gold award in the LGBT category. Foreword Reviews editors cited it, writing: “As heartwarming and hope-giving as it is heartbreaking, As If Death Summoned showcases the best and worst aspects of the fight against HIV.”

The novel was released on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020, by Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books.

The news came as a total surprise to Rose, who lives in north Clark County in Washington state. “I was surprised and pleased when the book was named a finalist in spring, but I never thought I had a chance of actually winning,” said Rose.

Since 1998, Foreword Reviews, a book review journal focusing on independently published books, recognizes the best books published during the past year by small, independent, and university presses.

Rose had wanted to write the book ever since the 1990s. “I promised myself that I would someday tell the stories of what happened here, what I witnessed in the midst of a modern plague,” he said from his home in the Lewis River Valley. “Not just the premature deaths and suffering, but also all the incredible kindness and courage and compassion I witnessed. And the humor, death-defying humor in the face of death.”

Unique among AIDS novels, As If Death Summoned is written from the point of view of staff at a community AIDS organization in the 1980s and ‘90s. Rose worked at Cascade AIDS Project in Portland, Oregon, from 1993 to 1999, when he came to Longview as the director of Community Services for the Lower Columbia Community Action Program.

Also, whereas much of the AIDS literature is written about the epidemic in its epicenters of New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, Rose’s novel takes place in Oregon. “The epidemic was in small cities and rural communities, too,” said Rose. “We had our stories, too.”

For this year’s competition, more than 2,100 entries were submitted in various categories, with Foreword’s editors choosing the finalists. Those titles were then mailed to librarians and booksellers charged with picking the Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention winners.

 “Covid-19 changed the world,” said Editor in Chief Michelle Anne Schingler. “And the INDIES were no exception. While we ordinarily meet in person to vet the thousands of entrants and determine finalists, this year, we had to read books independently, and to come together afterward and discuss our impressions. What we discovered was heartening: we were in agreement about finalists, even when encountering books miles and days apart. We are happy to declare these books the best of the best that we saw.”

With the news of his award, Rose said it wasn’t celebration he felt so much as “a quiet peace. That I had kept my word. That I fulfilled my promise.”

 

First posted: July 11, 2021

 


My publisher’s attorneys assure me that this is a work of fiction and that all the people in it are fictional characters. Including President Reagan. Still, works of fiction carry their own truth, truth that transcends “facts” and “dates” and “names” and can speak beyond a specific time or a particular people. And in this current moment, we are in need of all the truth we can get.

I find a peculiar symmetry that, just as I am bringing one defining epidemic of my life to a close with this book, another epidemic begins. There are similarities between them beyond both being caused by viruses—a retrovirus earlier, a coronavirus now. Once again, we have a president slow on the uptake, realizing too late that he has a national health crisis on his watch and displaying an almost callous lack of concern and leadership. In both epidemics, it has been doctors and public health officials who have had to provide that missing leadership, often requiring them to delicately skirt political obstacles, egos, and ignorance—though in the earlier epidemic they were aided (some would say, terrorized) by AIDS activists fighting for their lives. And once again there is no vaccine, no cure to help stop the spread of contagion. (Contrary to some uninformed sources, the CDC has not found hydroxychloroquine to be effective against the coronavirus. They also strongly advise against ingesting bleach.) It took thirteen years before protease inhibitors transformed AIDS from being a death sentence to a manageable chronic condition, thirty years before the approval of a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that can help reduce the risk of becoming infected. We expect the timeline to find a vaccine for Covid-19 will be much shorter.

But there are also significant differences between the two epidemics: This time it is not happening to Those People, but to all of us.This time our government swung into quick(er) action, its delay measured in months, not years.

Another big difference: This time people care. Resources and funding for research were readily made available. The media provides daily updates on numbers infected and numbers of those who died. Mayors, governors, the White House itself have given daily briefings. Also a major difference, this time we know what we are dealing with and began to marshal a nationwide response, however clumsy and uncoordinated, to combat it. For much of the first two years of the AIDS epidemic, it was a mystery why gay men were getting sick and dying.

Many of the emotions amid this current epidemic are familiar: anxiety, fear, grief at the loss of loved ones, “anticipatory grief” of yet more losses to come. But there is no shame, no stigma in getting Covid-19—unless you were among those who loudly decried it as a political hoax. That could be a bit embarrassing.

Today, once again it is the poor and communities of color who are disproportionately affected by this epidemic due to limited, little or no health coverage, and an ongoing legacy of racial inequality. As in earlier epidemics, there are always “those people” who are not us. Until they are.

There were benefits and lessons learned from the AIDS epidemic, gained at a terrible cost: medical advances, advances in public health policy and strategies for tracking and combating an epidemic. Also, societal advances in the decriminalizing and de-perverting of gay people in the public’s mind. What gay activists had been asking their queer brothers and sisters to do for decades—coming out to families and friends, to coworkers and fellow church members—was finally accomplished, often by a terrible necessity. (“Mom, Dad, I’m gay…I’m also dying.”) The AIDS epidemic became the occasion for young gay men in San Francisco, in Los Angeles and New York City, to “come out” to their families back in Iowa, in Vermont, in Louisiana and Wyoming. As a friend once said, “It’s a helluva way to come out ofthe closet.” People across the country began to discover that “those people” were their own sons, and brothers, and nephews and uncles, that They were us. They always had been.

What will we gain this time, I wonder. What benefits and lessons will we learn? It’s too early to yet grasp the full impact of this epidemic on our lives, but we already suspect it will be profound, wide-reaching, deep and lasting. Many of us realize we will never be returning to Normal. And maybe that’s okay. We can do better.

At the very most, we can hope that our global community will emerge from this viral crucible stronger, wiser, more compassionate, guided by the better angels of our humanity nature. History tells us that some will; and it tells us some won’t, not until a vaccine is finally developed and deployed against our common ignorance, our bigotry and prejudices. And even then, there will always be the anti-vaxxers.

At the very least, we may come out of this current pandemic with a better understanding of who we are as a people, and as individual persons, so that when we, too, are finally “summoned,” we may depart with more wisdom, greater self-awareness, and perhaps not so much strangers to ourselves.

Lewis River Valley
Washington State
June 2020

 

(The above Author's Note is the foreword to As If Death Summoned, my novel about the AIDS epidemic, released by Amble Press, an imprint of Bywater Books, on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2020.)

 

First posted: November 30, 2020

 

 

Using the Soul as Writing Prompt

 
Yesterday, frustrated and 
unable to focus on my writing,
I let my mind off its leash
to wander as it wished--
I tagging along with scratch pad in hand,
recording where it went,
what it saw, what drew its interest and curiosity,
and thereby noticing what I normally might miss, discovering what I'm usually too busy to see, too preoccupied to occupy.
 
And so I offer this suggestion to fellow
frustrated and preoccupied writers...
 
 
 
Practice pointless writing.

Get a scratch pad. The backside of used paper is good.
(avoid clean, crisp paper, which can be daunting) 
and scribble freely, scribble nonsense, 
scribble a limerick or a haiku or grocery list,
or write a haiku from your grocery list.

Write anything
to jump-start your creative engine,
to invite in your Muse,
to reconnect with your Center and Source.

Give yourself a half hour to write nothing much, 
to write something inconsequential, 
something not-uplifting, not-memorable, 
to write something not-good.

Write for the sheer fun of writing, 
prime the pump to see what comes
(Maybe nothing--Wonderful! You're still writing.)

Write without point or purpose and definitely without plot. 
Write for the simple pleasure of finding what emerges,
of discovering what's there within you seeking a voice.

Turn your stream of consciousness into a stream of playfulness,
and words into playthings.

Today use your soul as a writing prompt.
 
 
 
First posted: March 23, 2020

 


I don’t know why I write, exactly. Catharsis, the itch to make something shapely and permanent, the attempt to stare God in the eye, the attempt to connect deeply to other men and women, because I can’t help myself, because there is something elevating in art, because I feel myself at my best when I am writing well. Because because because…

                       Brian Doyle
                       Author of Mink River 
                       and Martin Marten

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Posted: March 6, 2020

 

“I realized that this entire time…my hope to tell a
long-lasting story, to create something that endured,
to be alive somehow as long as someone would read
my books, was what drove me on, story after story;
it was my lifeline, my passion, my way to understand who I was.” 

                           Susan Orlean

                           Author of
                           The Orchid Thief and The Library Book

 

 

 

 

 

First posted: February 14, 2020

 

 

Write every day with a pen that's shaped like a candy cane.
                                                                  David Sedaris

 

 

 

 

First posted: January 25, 2020

 

 

 

“No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”

             Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously, Sam?

I mean, given the number who actually make money from their writing,

must be a lot of disappointed scribblers out there,

unfortunate blockheads having to settle merely for the joy

of playing with words and capturing their music on paper,

or leaving a record, however ephemeral, of an ephemeral life--

that one was once here, felt things, knew things, loved things--

reporting from the frontlines on their first-hand experiences of truth,

or wanting to make some small contribution to humanity’s forward movement,

or just tell a good story.

All those unfortunate blockheads dancing delirious with the muse

for a moment, or for an hour, or a lifetime,

alas, without any financial reward.

So sad.

 

 

 

[First posted: November 9, 2019]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
I just write about what scares me. 

 

"I just write about what scares me.
When I was a kid, my mother used to say,
'Think of the worst thing that you can,
and if you say it out loud then it won't come true.'
And that's probably been the basis of my career."

                                          Stephen King 

 

 

 

[First posted: October 5, 2019]

 

 

 

 

August 5, 2019


Today Toni Morrison died.

Not sure what that means. Her books are still here on my shelf,
as they were yesterday, as they will be tomorrow.
So, what's been lost?
A person I never met and, chances are, would never have met.
A vessel, a conduit, a voice.
I salute the voice (Thank you)
but the words the voice spoke are still with us.

Nothing gold can stay, said another who I also honor,
but I respectfully disagree. The gold stays.
It is only the gold that stays.

Today Toni Morrison died.
What's important remains
here on my bookshelves.

 

 

 

[First posted: September 7, 2019]

 

 

As the lightning came closer thunder came with it--the sound seemed to roll over them like giant boulders. Mouse flinched, and Newt began to flinch too. Then, instead of running across the horizon like snakes' tongues, the lightning began to drive into the earth, with streaks thick as poles, and with terrible cracks.

 

Around midnight I was in bed, reading Lonesome Dove, and listening to the soft patter of rain through my open window. Just as I got to the part where the cattle drive is caught in a terrible storm with its thunder and lightning, it began to thunder and lightning over this valley.


I love it when that happens.

 

 

 

[First posted: August 10, 2019]