Expectation is the root of all heartache. – William Shakespeare
Perfect for Me is a book in which D.H. Starr goes where few authors have tread before in the realms of M/M romance, and has done so in such a way that he’s managed to take two very powerful storylines and blend them seamlessly together into one very compelling and touching read.
Sean Sullivan is the thirty-three year old principal of a high school in the Bronx, New York. Sean Sullivan is also a man who happens to be HIV-positive, a fact that doesn’t at all affect his commitment to his job or to the children he cares so very deeply for, but it does very much affect his life outside of his work, and it’s this blend of job and personal life that’s the heart of Sean’s story, when a bright and gifted student suddenly finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a violent domestic situation and is removed from his home by Child Protective Services.
Emery Benton is the man assigned to Lamar’s case, which involves a tragic set of circumstances that are frightfully and unfortunately all too common, and is an incident that lands Lamar in the hospital to recover from the beating doled out to him by his father. It’s a case that brings Emery and Sean together in an effort to save Lamar from his home life—and ultimately from himself—and is the difficult but nonetheless perfect opportunity for the two men to realize that their passion for helping Lamar also extends to an undeniable attraction to each other. That doesn’t, however, mean that there’s anything at all simple about them starting a relationship.
Since Sean’s diagnosis, he’s been left with nothing but a string of disappointments in his dating life. He’s become accustomed to the endless tide of rejections handed to him over and over again once he reveals his status, which seems to hover like the blade of a guillotine above his head just waiting to make its swift and sure cut through any sort of hope he might have that “this guy” will be different and will be willing to accept him for who he is and not for what he has. It’s a guillotine that’s become so weighted with the expectation of disappointment that when he finally does find the one man who sees beyond his status to the kind and compassionate man lurking inside, Sean very nearly throws away his one chance at happiness in an effort to protect himself from the pain of losing something he doesn’t believe he can ever have, especially not with a man who’s negative.
Perfect for Me is a story of regrets from the past that have shaped Sean’s present and, by virtue of the power they wield, will continue to alter the future of this man who wants and deserves nothing less than happiness, but who can’t seem to cut through the fears and doubts he’s used to build walls around himself and his heart. Continue, that is, unless he’s willing to stop expecting heartache and begin hoping for love. For Sean, surely the only chance he would ever come to regret is the one he wasn’t brave enough to take.
It’s a steep learning curve for Emery, not in his unconditional acceptance of Sean’s serostatus but in his ability to convince the man that this is not a reason to throw away the opportunity for a long lifetime of happiness, in fear of the unknown. It wasn’t an easy lesson for either man to learn, and illustrated how very much the continued stigma of HIV, even in the advancement of awareness and treatment options, so fully informs the lives of those afflicted and affected.
D.H. Starr has brought a serious subject to the forefront of gay fiction and opened it up for discussion, and has managed to do so while wrapping it within in a story that’s touching and thought provoking and clearly illustrates the need for positive role models in the lives of at-risk youth.
I’m so honored to have Doug here as my guest today to discuss how the idea for this story was born and finally came to fruition.
Perfect For Me was conceived at the first GayRomLit conference in NOLA. Kris Jacen and I were having dinner with a group of awesome people and started talked about Sean and Emery. As the evening wore on, and a few drinkie-drinks were consumed, these two characters and their story emerged.
I wrote the first half of the book soon after the retreat but work and life got really busy and I took a break from it. Last year in New Mexico while I was sitting in a hot tub by the pool, Kris and I talked about a road block I’d hit with these two guys. I was trying to figure out how to address Sean’s fears of rejection without making him seem like a whiny brat or pathetically insecure. Sean isn’t insecure. He’s very confident and talented. Once again, Kris talked me from the ledge and I was back on track.
Once I finished the book, I read through it once more with a fine-toothed comb, literally editing the manuscript line-by-line. In the end, I was satisfied that I had created two characters who were believable, reacting and responding in realistic ways to a timely and haunting issue…HIV.
I’ve read a few books which centered on the disease and most have focused on the devastation of the epidemic or the savage way the virus destroys immune systems and leads to death. But that’s not the predominant reality of HIV anymore. It still happens, but when people adhere to their medication regiments and practice safe sex, they can live long, healthy lives and can prevent the risk of transmission to others (or reinfection to themselves with a new strain). This book explores how a person, a very healthy person who happens to be HIV positive, deals emotionally with the disease. It doesn’t focus on health, but rather on the emotional toll the disease can take.
Another trend I’ve noticed in movies and books where there have been positive/negative pairings is how the HIV negative person has to work through their fears in order to see past the virus and love the person. In Perfect For Me, I’ve flipped this scenario and created a positive character who has to work through his own misgivings about dating someone negative. Sean fears his condition would put Emery at physical risk and that, God forbid, if his medication stopped working, Emery would have to suffer through Sean’s opportunistic infections, illnesses, and ultimate death. Putting Emery, a vibrant and caring man into a situation like that seemed unfathomable to Sean despite the obvious attraction between them.
Emery, on the other hand, won’t accept Sean’s misgivings. He doesn’t see the virus as a problem and values how Sean makes him feel. He’s educated and understands that, despite the minimal risk to himself, he’d be at far greater risk of living a life without the deepest kind of love without Sean.
I tend to be an author who writes character-driven stories and I’ve been accurately labeled as having an angsty style of writing. I pride myself on torturing my characters, tearing at their hearts before giving them their ultimate happiness. This book was more than my typical angstfest. It was an emotional glimpse into the lives of two men dealing with a serious, yet controllable disease.
The stigma of HIV remains strong in the community at large and within the gay community as well. The fear of being rejected based solely on one’s status is very real and painful. But it’s also a reality that more and more negative people are open to forming loving and sexual relationships despite the HIV status of their partner.
Perfect For Me presents this life-affirming trend in our culture and my hope is that reading it will help to create bridges of understanding and acceptance. It’s for all people, regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality, or whatever categorization and its message is that love transcends everything else.
Everyone deals with serious issues in their lives and those issues are as diverse and varied as the people who experience them. But one thing ties us all together and that is how love completes us, helping us to live happy lives where the “things” we deal with don’t have to rule us…we can rule them. Basically it’s a celebration of the time old saying LOVE CONQUERS ALL!
I hope you give the book a shot and more importantly, I hope you connect to the story and see yourself in it no matter what troubles you may face in your own lives.
4 thoughts on “In Which D.H. Starr discusses HIV And His New Book, Perfect for Me”
What an amazing review, Lisa. Thanks so much. I am honored you enjoyed the book. And thanks for sharing the blog post too.
Thank you so much for the amazing review and I really appreciate you posting my blog about where the story came from.
What a great and thoughtful review. And Doug – MUAH! Those talks of ours did bring Sean and Emery to life but touched me too on a level most editors don’t get to.
Kris, I couldn’t be more lucky to have you as my editor. We make a great team.