NEW — two of Wynn’s novels are available as audiobooks. [more]
Here is the “About the Author” page from Time Flies. It’s written by Wynn’s husband, Rik.
This is the point in each novel where a publisher hires a PR dude to scramble the author’s life into something that sounds cool. They asked me to do that for Time Flies, and I have a unique point of view on the subject. I’ve been in love with the man since the 1980s. Now I sleep with him as Wynn’s husband.
The first thing you have to know is that writing is just one of the things Wynn’s done, but writing is one of his favorite things to do.
When you ask him about writing fiction, he denies it. He says he’s only the stenographer for the voices in his head. I find that really troubling as his husband.
Time Flies is the book he wrote for himself as a defiant celebration of life. It’s his angriest novel, and yet the main characters overcome tribulations. They even flourish.
As he worked in corporate America, he saved up for retirement, planning for a catastrophic disease. He won the lotto and got two: HIV and pancreatitis. The weird thing is that – thanks to agitation from the likes of my friend Larry Kramer, HIV is the easiest conditions to manage.
Pancreatitis is an entirely different matter. It never gets better. It never goes away. He makes no insulin for himself, and he can no longer make digestive enzymes. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
We almost lost him in 2010 from pancreatitis. Since then there hasn’t been a single day that he wasn’t in so much pain that we’d all be jumping off cliffs.
If you didn’t already know, every one of his novels is written in a first person point of view. That always means the plot is incomplete. If the narrator knows it, you know it. If the narrator is inept at something, it may seem like Wynn is an inept story-teller: read on, he’ll get to the explanation. All of Wynn’s books do that.
Wynn started being a professional singer in the Texas Boys Choir, as a boy soprano not the baritone voice he has today. His first paycheck was from the Lorimar company for singing on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” He also sang on a Perry Como special produced in Dallas to calm the nation after JFK was murdered (#285, 01/23/1964). His boy soprano voice is on albums of Christmas music and hymns. He was on the last recording of Persephone conducted by the composer, Igor Stravinsky. He was a soloist with the choir. When they did Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wynn was picked to be the Fairy King, Oberon (who resurfaces in one of his Vamp Camp books). He had really wanted to be Puck, but nobody was moved by his kiking the carpet. So he got an early start being a fairy, speaking the words of William Shakespeare from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to Carnegie and Town Halls in New York City.
Wynn was to be the soloist for a one act opera, Bartolomeo Bonifacio, about a boy soprano whose voice started changing. It’s when Wynn’s voice really started to change. It was in rehearsal, and his voice cracked at the wrong time. That was the end of his days in a boys’ choir.
He was so tired of singing that he didn’t sing for years, and he was so tired of being on tour for long stretches of time that he didn’t leave Texas for a decade.
So back home in Fort Worth, he needed spending money. That’s mainly because he had fallen in love with fast cars, and those take coins. He did a bit of modeling (lots and lots of TV commercials are produced here).
Wynn taught piano. Not well, he’d say, although one of his students ended up at Juilliard. He played in restaurants and piano bars for several years and was on the keyboard at a French Bistro when Frank Sinatra walked in for supper. Wynn says he practically shit in his pants. He was only 17 years old then. Before Wynn could play a single note, Sinatra came up and put a $100 bill in the tip jar. “Just don’t play any of my songs,” Sinatra said.
“But you’ve recorded every song that’s been written,” Wynn told Sinatra. “You’re leaving me with a paper thin songbook.” The crooner suggested “Chop Sticks,” which Wynn started playing, first as a Debussy arabesque then as a Bach invention. When everyone was sick of “Chop Sticks,” he moved on and played: “Alice’s Restaurant,” which was greeted with hoots and hollers from the Sinatra table. He also did “Steppenwolf,” and Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” At that point, a waiter brought another $100 bill from Sinatra. A note said: “point noted.
He started working in theater (backstage, not acting), radio, and TV. Full disclosure: Wynn tells me that the scene in Time Flies whose setting was the Scott Theater in Fort Worth really happened.
Theater doesn’t pay much of a living wage, so he got into broadcasting. His Dad owned radio stations on and off, so it’s a business he grew up in.
Radio was fun, and he was excited to be hired by one of the Biggie Networks. Union Scale in New York was poverty level, so he came back to Texas, moving from the music side over to the newsroom. Broadcasting was changing. Real journalism was being pushed aside by pimply-faced kids with that day’s wisdom printed on fanfold paper with little holes running down each side. The rule at his station was to lead with a “feel good” local story. When some students in Tehran, Iran, took over the U.S. Embassy, Wynn felt that was too important to bury. He led with it, and was promptly fired for it.
Wynn needed cash (a recurring theme), and he saw the only creativity was in computers. The thing is that he didn’t know anything about computers. That slowed him down a bit, but he made things happen. His boyfriend at the time bought a shiny new gizmo called an Apple ][. Its floppy drive had a 6 digit serial number and 3 or 4 of the leading numbers were 0. So Wynn just sat down and poked around. They kept the Apple in a closet in their apartment, so yes, he really became a closet programmer. The interesting thing is that he just knew how to make it do things. He can’t even multiply or divide, but Wynn can make a computer do anything he needs doing. He started taking in the odd job at programming, ending up with two employees. He got so frustrated that he found work for his employees and then closed his business. He went corporate, and that felt like a defeat for his free-spirit life. But the big business pay was okay, and they didn’t mind that he attacked problems in his own unique way.
At one company, everyone was using the C programming language. Wynn thought it was silly because assembly language was much more direct, but he agreed to give C a shot. His boss eventually bought him a Nerf bat so he could hit things without doing any real damage to the equipment. He was in his own little world, grumbling that his hippie days were done.
He rode his Harley to work every day when it wasn’t wet. It was about 20º one day. When he passed another biker in a hallway, the other man said it was too cold to be on 2-wheels. Wynn gave it about 2-seconds after they passed each other and said, “I’m supposed to be the sissy in this place, and you’re making that really hard.”
One story I’ve heard repeated from several is about a guy where he worked saying he was going to reveal some of Wynn’s personal secrets. Without missing a beat, Wynn said, “So you’re telling somebody I’m queer? Let’s see: my manager knew it before she hired me; my whole team knows I’m gay; the president of the company knows, too. My Mom knows. My dad knows. And my boyfriend is beginning to suspect.” Going back and forth with Wynn, you have to know he plays real close to the net.
Then the 1980s came, and his friends started dying. Beautiful men with wonderful personalities were getting horrible diseases and dying. His whole world crumbled, and he couldn’t do anything about it. Nobody could do anything. He was ashamed to be alive when everyone else was dying. The entire gay community was terrified.
And nobody helped. Parkland Hospital, the big hospital in Dallas (where JFK died), opened a ward for diseased gay men. Many of the doctors and nurses refused to go into any of the rooms. They refused to do the job they swore an oath to do. The US government had Ronald Reagan who dismissed the whole thing. To this day, Wynn says Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are the two assholes more responsible for the AIDS pandemic.
Nobody did much of anything. There was the SHANTI project in San Francisco and Larry Kramer’s GMHC (and Act Up later) in New York, and that’s about it.
Wynn knew we had to do something, and we had to do it ourselves, and we had to act right then. He and I knew each other through a fledgling group of computer operators. There was no internet, so computer operators (“SYSOPS”) had to connect their computers through regular phone lines. Wynn kept noticing the lights on his telephone modem flicker. Send and it flickers. Receive and it flickers again. When the lights were dark, nothing was coming or going, but the phone bill was still ticking along. He was always annoyed by that.
Wynn started writing a computer program to let computers exchange messages and have forums on lots of topics. It was like the Internet before there was an Internet (outside of secret DARPA military installations). Wynn got busy and figured a way to send with the light on constantly. When the transmission starts, it doesn’t stop. If the line has noise, the transmission continues and fixes missed blocks as it goes. If the line is dropped completely, it just starts where it left off the next time the two computers are connected again. It saved individual SYSOPS, including me, lots of coins.
He called his program OPUS. At the height of its popularity, 90% of the connected personal computers in the US were running Wynn’s software. Nobody does that kind of thing. And he never made a single nickel from anyone. He asked SYSOPS to donate money to a local charity that works with AIDS patients or HIV research. They raised millions of dollars around the world. One charity listed “OPUS SYSOPS” as their biggest “corporate” contributor. Elizabeth Taylor’s AmFAR came along fairly late in the pandemic, but they’ve done so much good, and they recognized the pioneering work Wynn’s OPUS did for HIV charities.
Wynn is neither a scientist nor medical professional, but he knew he had to do something. He has no clue (and no desire) to rub elbows with the richy-riches of the world, trying to get them to write checks. He did what he knew, and that raised millions of dollars around the world. Even big corporations and US governmental agencies that used OPUS for its dogged reliability sent money to these charities, despite of what Ronald Reagan said. Wynn made that happen, without getting anything back. Few even know of his work, outside the BBS community, because he is always in the background.
Then came AEGiS, which became the largest Internet website in the world. Based in San Juan Capistrano, CA, it had millions of articles that were reposted with permission, and it was all about HIV/AIDS. I know about AEGiS because I was one of the original engineers, helping AEGiS Founder, Sister Mary Elizabeth. She’s not my sister, she’s a religious sister. Like Wynn, she saw a need and went to work.
AEGiS got so unwieldy that it was ready to collapse under its own weight. Building the database used for user searches took more than a day. We brought in Wynn to work some magic. It was the only time I saw him intimidated. Turns out, when Wynn realizes the situation is hopeless is when he does his best work. He put a buttress here and a splint there.
When his engineering was done, he spotted another flaw. He’d looked all over the Internet and found almost nothing written for people diagnosed with HIV. What was available was done by medical authors, and it was confusing to the new patient, who was terrified at the death sentence he or she just received. Wynn sat down at a word processor, and when he stood up “Day One” was on that computer.
I’m just going to share an excerpt. AEGiS has since gone off-line because others (with big budgets) are able to do the work of a repository of data. You can still see “Day One” in a number of versions. The versions came about as the science in treatment changed. AEGiS had a staff of professionals who kept changing (or “ruining” according to Wynn) his original piece. Medical strategies changed, and “Day One” had to keep up. But you can go to the WAYBACK MACHINE website at archive.org to see his full article. Go to their snapshots of aegis.org and pick a date to see the full article. Here’s an excerpt from a 2006 version:
by Wynn Wagner
You are in the right place if you just found out you have HIV.
Yeah, me too. This web page is the beginnings of your Survival Kit. I’m not a doctor or professional counselor I’m just a person with HIV, and I’ve gone through the same thing you’re going through.
My plan here is to give you five pointers that I think are Big Deals. Then, I’ll show you where you can go get whatever information you are ready for.
Five Pointers for Survival
1. Use a specialist. Make sure you find a doctor who specializes in HIV. That’s a Big Deal. Studies have shown that your survival depends on you being treated by a doctor who deals with HIV on a daily basis.
Your regular doctor may be great, but you don’t need general medicine right now. You need a specialist.
Those who get treated by an HIV specialist live longer. Period.
If you can’t afford or locate a doctor, find an HIV/AIDS organization that can help you directly, or help you find public assistance.
2. Be good to yourself. That means eat right and take vitamins, and it means finding somebody to hug you from time to time.
It also means stop beating yourself up over being HIV-positive. Oh, okay … do some self-pity for a day or two, if you want … but remember to snap out of it.
[This is my favorite part: ]
Hearing you have HIV is like hearing a death sentence.
It can ruin your day.
It ruined my whole week.
[and so forth]
Yeah, parts of “Day One” are so funny they catch you off-guard. The newly diagnosed patient needs some grins. I used to hear Wynn say that you can be serious without being solemn. Damn wordsmiths like to shave a definition with a scalpel. Playtime with grammar and words is his Happy Place.
AEGiS got Thank You notes by the hundreds: “Thank you so much.” or “You saved my life.”
“Day One” is direct and to-the-point of a newly diagnosed patient. It tells the new patient to take charge. At one point, he told the patient to fire his doctor if he didn’t like him.
What surprises most people who don’t really know Wynn is that line: “Yeah, me too.” Wynn almost ever talks about it, but he’s one of those long-term survivors. He suffers from what’s called “survivors’ guilt” which is a kind of PTSD.
Does he complain? He goes beyond complain several meters into whine. Oh, you’d better believe he complains. All the damn day, somedays. But that’s only around the house.
Outside the house, his main point is hope. You don’t complain. You fix. When others see that the impossible isn’t so impregnable if you stick to it.
You see the pattern again: Wynn sees a situation, and a solution is completely impossible, so Wynn chips away until there’s some kind of something we can do. It’s always forward. We live in a dangerous time. Nukes abound. Sorry, this is Texas… noo’cleer. People hate gays. Gay people, many of them, hate those who are HIV-positive.
Look what we’ve overcome. Until the 1800s, it was legal for a white landowner to own a human being. This was at a time when our indigenous people thought it was wrong even to claim ownership of the sacred earth. In the 1940s, crazy people like Mussolini and Hitler hypnotized whole populations into genocide against Jews, Gypsies, gays, and others. In the 1980s, we lost a whole generation of beautiful gay men because of creeps like Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
Today, when the majority of a country’s population is Muslim, being gay is likely a death sentence. If another religion is in the majority, it may not be pleasant or easy to be gay, but at least it isn’t a capital offense. The world should be ashamed of that statistic, but we rarely hear about it.
Those things aren’t going to change, not by themselves. There’s nothing in it for Saudi Arabia or Iran to treat their gay citizens with the respect they deserve.
Wynn’s idea is that ordinary folks are the ones who have to bring change. You have to grow some balls and do something. If you can write: write. If you can schmooze: fundraise. If you’re hopelessly corrupt: get into politics. (Just kidding on that last one.) (More or less kidding.)
He says we have to be our own hero. If you look at every one of Wynn’s novels, including this one, you find a person who learns how to love himself and to be his own hero. You find characters who face a situation that has no solution, and they go make one anyway. The man is far from perfect. He undercooks beef, which he swears is a Texas thing. But his Tex-Mex food always comes out with a French twist.
I sometimes think his corpus is “ours” because I’m the first one to read everything he writes. I’m his alpha tester, and he makes me cry and laugh. He also makes my dick hard because he really knows how to write a sex scene. This book was supposed to be his PG rated novel, like that was ever going to happen.
If you want to know more about him, good luck. He has dementia, and he says J.D. Salinger used to ask him for pointers in staying anonymous in everyday life.
He did several interviews back in the OPUS days, but he only spoke once about his novels. He talked with John Selig about writing. It was for his “Outspoken” podcast. Go out to a Google near you and look for “John Selig Outspoken.” Wynn is in there somewhere. Wynn agreed to sit down only because John’s such a good friend, and he likes skating on the wrong side of the ice (whatever the hell that means).
Today Wynn has no pancreas after a Whipple Procedure in 2010, which is also part of the plot of this book. He got pancreatitis from an adverse reaction to an the early HIV drug, ddI.
When he writes about diabetes and addiction (Commitment Issues), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (influential), HIV, Pancreatitis, Whipple Procedures (Time Flies), know this: Wynn walks those walks every day.
I never thought this book would happen. He hadn’t written since 2010, but lookie here.
What you’ll always get in a Wynn Wagner novel is hope. Shit hits the wall all over the place. His characters are bullied, cruelly turned into vampires, kidnapped. Each time, they refuse to wait for help. If somebody’s going to be homophobic, he’ll will find a way to kill that character. If somebody picks on a kid, heaven help that character. He loves killing off homophobes: like the vampire Hamlet flying over the Swiss alps picking apart a bully who just killed a gay kid. One leg at a time: he loves me, he loves me not.
Take our history and be grateful. Gays don’t have family history, so we have to be careful to tell kids about what’s already happened: Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, Harry Hay, Rachel Maddow, Patricia Nell Warren (especially Patricia Nell Warren), and so many more. None of those is a finishing point. We need to learn about them so we can build a better future for our LGBT brothers and sisters. We’re the only ones who will do that.
Martin Luther King, Jr pushed us when he said nobody’s going to give us justice, we have to take it.
Rev. Jesse Jackson is right: hope is alive, but we are the ones who have to keep it alive.
Dan Savage does so much good work with his “It Gets Better” campaign (and his The Real O’Neals, which is Wynn’s favorite show right now). Savage does everything with such panache that he does good while leaving a smile on your face. *That’s* the way to make things better.
You have to put it together and be visible to LGBT kids. We have to show them it gets better. We have to show them every day. We have to seize justice and resist homophobia.
Hope and love are uplifting, and they’re both hard work. Mark this: hope and love only happen when we give them to others.
Wynn says we have to be the face of hope. That’s on us.
Meanwhile, please send him healing energies. Not having a pancreas isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Neither is being “poz” almost forever.
Love you, hubby,
|Wynn Wagner is a member of The Authors Guild|