I’ve just learned that my 2014 novel, No-Accounts, is a 2022 winner of the Speak Up Talk Radio Firebird Book Award. That news is particularly rewarding because No-Accounts is an oddball among my books. I wrote it because I was deeply moved by my experience of caring for men dying of AIDS. Here’s the background:
Between 1962 and 1975, I spent more time on the battlefields of Vietnam than I did in the U.S. As a consequence, I developed an acute case of Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). Over time, I realized that to help me cope with that disorder, I needed to focus my attention not on myself but on others who needed my help.
Meanwhile, by the early 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was becoming severe. Men were dying on the street because we didn’t know how AIDS was transmitted from person to person, and people were afraid to touch those infected. I couldn’t tolerate the widespread panic that left men to die unattended, so I volunteered at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a gay organization in Washington, D.C., to care for men dying of AIDS. I was the only straight volunteer in the group. By the time, some five years later, that we learned how to prevent death from AIDS, I had cared for seven men, all gay, who died of the disease. I was so moved that I wrote the novel, No-Accounts, about a straight man caring for a gay man dying of AIDS.
The book was a major departure for me. Nearly all my other writings (five books and 17 short stories) are drawn from my experiences on the battlefield, particularly in Vietnam. And No-Accounts has now won as many prizes as my most popular book, Last of the Annamese, which tells the story of the fall of Saigon from which I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city.
Recognition of No-Accounts throws light on a little-known part of my life, time spent caring for the less fortunate. After my years of looking after AIDS patients, I spent two years as a volunteer working with the homeless, then seven years of caring for the dying in the Gilchrist hospice system.
To say that the experience of caring for the dying enriched my life is putting it mildly.