Who says you have to be young and beautiful to attract the masses? Ruggedly handsome author Tom Spanbauer has legions of fans. The Idaho native often writes of race, sexual identity, coming of age, and creating family in his many novels: The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, In the City of Shy Hunters, Now Is the Hour. His latest,I Loved You More, is a breakaway in that it recalls the story of an older gay man living with AIDS (yes, AIDS, not just HIV) who is reflecting on his relationships with a straight male lover and an unexpected female partner and the 20 years of memories. It is, he says, an homage to his friends.
Spanbauer knows of which he writes. He believes he contracted HIV in the early ’80s — after he divorced his wife and immersed himself in gay life in Key West, Fla. — but was not tested until 1988, by a doctor in New York City. The news devastated him, causing him to run from the doctor’s office until he collapsed in Penn Station. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1996 after being hospitalized with Pneumocystis pneumonia; he had only 70 CD4 cells.
“Many gay men and young people think AIDS is all over, there are pills for it, they don’t have to worry about it,” Spanbauer told Poz magazine earlier this year. “I’m a man with AIDS who deals with it every day of his life. So I thought it was important to catalog in this new book the days of someone who does have to live with it.”
These days Spanbauer lives in Portland, Ore., with his partner, Michael Sage Ricci. The two teach a weekly writers’ critique group and occasional three- or five-day intensive workshops together. Spanbauer calls his approach to his craft “dangerous writing,” work that delves deeply into the human experience, attempting to show and share the unique battles each individual faces.
“Dangerous writing is this wonderful Zen thing that says: When you meet someone, you should look them directly in their eyes, because within those eyes is a great battle waging,” Spanbauer told Poz. “That puts us humans all on one level.”