Reflecting on nearly a decade of experience working as a mental health specialist at Cascade AIDS Project in the 1990s, local author Alan E. Rose released his new book, “As If Death Summoned,” a novelization of the epidemic, in December of 2020.
The book takes place over the course of a single night inside a hospital room as the narrator recounts his time working on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic. While the narrator recounts flashbacks, the reader attempts to figure out which of the characters’ friends is currently in the intensive care unit at the hospital.
In the novel, the narrator’s flashbacks recount his time in Australia, a place Rose spent as a volunteer with the Victorian AIDS Council (now Thorne Harbor Health.)
“There are many anecdotal experiences (in the novel),” Rose said. “For many years I thought the book was going to be a memoir. I finally decided to go with a novel so I could include many more stories that weren’t mine.”
Rose began his stint at the Cascade AIDS Project in 1993 where he worked with women and men with HIV and AIDS. He designed programs to assist and deliver services to those living with the diseases while he also worked to create programs to prevent the spread of HIV.
Rose explained how the demographic of those affected by the epidemic broadened as the 1990s moved on. Programs were originally geared toward gay and bisexual men and as time went on, more demographics became involved.
“We had a group of mothers at Cascade AIDS Project who formed a support group as mothers who had lost sons to AIDS,” he said. “After time, it became more than a support group. They wanted to help others and the mothers became a care team themselves. They did tremendous work working with men, many of whom had been rejected by their own families.”
Rose moved on from the Cascade AIDS Project in 1999 after 15 years of involvement with AIDS work across two continents.
He was an avid reader and writer during the time he worked with volunteers, nurses and others on the frontlines of the epidemic, so Rose knew he wanted to write about his experiences.
“I tried for years to write a story. Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, you name it,” he said. “I kept walking time after time.”
For the next 15 years, Rose worked at the Lower Columbia Community Action Program and continued to read and write.
He published his first novel “The Legacy of Emily Hargraves,” a paranormal mystery in 2007. A couple years later, his second and third novels were released.
However, he still hadn’t managed to write the AIDS story how he wanted.
“There was too much there that was unprocessed,” he said. “Throughout the years, I would scratch out notes and memories.”
In 2015, Rose retired from his position at the Lower Columbia Community Action Program in Longview to focus on writing full time and said the AIDS novel he had been trying to write for years “just came together” shortly after.
“I took out my heaping folder of scraps of paper and spread them across my floor,” he said. “I had the sense of it being an enormous jigsaw puzzle and all these pieces suddenly came together.”
Rose said the experience writing the book was “therapeutic” for him in the beginning, but he also wanted to share experiences and stories of the courage and compassion he saw while working on the frontlines.
“I found that, with the AIDS epidemic, as horrible as it was, there were transcendent moments where individuals and people as a whole became better,” he said.
Moments of good play a large role in Rose’s book, which includes the addition of humor.
“Humor was a good addition to the book. It’s not a grim and dreary and depressing book, but people find it uplifting and funny at places,” he said. “People can be totally involved with this experience of dying or watching a loved one die and be able to find some lightness in it.”
As for writing a book about the AIDS epidemic while the world experiences the COVID-19 pandemic, Rose said he noticed a few similarities like “lack of political leadership” in the beginning of each and general unpreparedness. But he said the response to COVID-19 was much faster and the national effort had people “showing their courage and compassion.”
As bad as both have been, Rose said he is hoping the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a similar societal shift he saw near the end of the AIDS epidemic. Rose explained the AIDS epidemic led to a shift where gay people were decriminalized and “deperverted” because many families found our their family members were gay. Rose hopes COVID-19 will allow people to “better understand one another as a global community.”