At the moment, there can be few people as obsessed with Michael Ausiello as I am. The founder and Editor-in-Chief of TVLine.com recently appeared on my radar after I read his heartfelt memoir Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. From that point on, I've been as obsessed with him as he is with the Smurfs, Soap Operas, and Diet Coke.
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, published by Simon & Schuster in September of 2017, tells the story of Ausiello’s relationship with his husband, Kit, in their 13th year together. During that year, Kit is diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer. From the point of diagnosis until 11 months later when Kit loses his battle with cancer, Ausiello assumes the role of Kit’s primary caregiver.
The book has received praise from celebrities such as Andy Cohen and JJ Abrams who have all commended the book for the way it deals with its heartbreaking subject matter. But it is not all tears and tragedy. It is also a story about a modern romance, the ups and downs of a relationship, the support we depend upon, and the enduring devotion of a loving partner.
Michael was kind enough to talk to me about his experience writing Spoiler Alert and [thankfully] patient enough to listen to me repeatedly compliment him.
I want to start with what it was like to write this book because I can’t imagine having to immerse yourself back into that world after you had lived it for 11 months. What was it like to relive that experience?
It was torture. It was masochistic. It felt unnatural.
After you go through a traumatic experience, the instinct is to not throw yourself back in it in a really emotional way.
People often ask me was the writing of the book therapeutic, and it was not. It was just difficult. There were moments in the writing process where I would feel proud of writing it, but it was still an unpleasant experience and I could not wait until the book was done.
Did you ever think about quitting?
No, I never felt that way. I had moments where I would say to myself, I can’t do this. But I never thought about quitting or throwing in the towel. I knew deep down that I had to finish it no matter how difficult it was.
Once you did finish it, were you worried about what the response was going to be? This was obviously very personal, so did you worry people might not like it or that it might not ever be read.
I had concerns about what people that were close to Kit might think of it, especially people who were in the book. I was curious and wanted to know if I captured his spirit and who he was. That was really important to me and one of the biggest challenges. Those were the opinions I was most interested in.
I don't know that I was worried because when I finished the book, I felt a sense of peace and confidence about it. That actually happened when I [recorded] the audiobook because I had never actually read the book all the way through. I was working in sections, I was moving things around, I was editing, so I had never read the book from cover to cover until I did the audiobook.
I was nervous about doing the audiobook because I was like, what if I read it, and it isn’t good, or what if I read it and there is so much I would want to change about it because at that stage, it’s too late. But I read the audiobook, and I walked away from the experience feeling really proud of what I had written, not really wanting to change anything about it — which was not what I was expecting at all. So I was feeling pretty good about it. But I was still curious about and invested in opinions of the people who knew Kit.
Speaking of Kit, the book is, of course, about Kit and about your relationship. You are very honest about some of the things you both struggled with, and I wonder at any moment were you worried that you might dishonor Kit’s memory because you are having to put things out there that you may not want people to remember him by. Was that ever concerning, or did you just feel like you needed to be honest?
I did feel very strongly that if I was going to write this book that I need to be honest and to tell people what happened as opposed to some fairy tale, sugar coated version of what happened. That said, of course, I absolutely struggled with wanting to honor Kit and also knowing when to reveal something and when to hold something back both because I think it would be something Kit would not want out there or something I just selfishly want to keep for us. It was absolutely something I struggled with. And at the end of the day, I had to follow my gut.
I also had great help — an editor who was tremendously helpful at guiding me through that process and also, I’ve talked about this before, I hired a writing coach myself who is someone I would meet with regularly to go over my writing. It was sort of like therapy to talk through the process.
You had 11 months to say goodbye to Kit. Are you thankful you had that time to say goodbye and to say everything you wanted, or because you had 11 months were you an emotional wreck that whole time?
I am grateful, as hard as it was. Those 11 months were the hardest of my life, but those were also the best 11 months of my life.
It's the age-old question: Is it easier if someone just dies quickly in a car accident, or is it better if it is drawn out. The thing is, part of me would have loved to have spared Kit the suffering, but on the flip side, there were some incredible moments, not just between the two of us, but between him and his parents and his friend and his coworkers. Just some really powerful moments of closure that I think he was grateful for, and I was too.
I know that you two watched RuPaul’s Drag Race together, and I read that you no longer watch it because it is too hard. Are you watching it now, or is it still too hard?
I'm not watching it. I don’t imagine I ever will. That’s just one of those things that was such a tradition and a special thing for us to watch together every week. It brought Kit such joy, even when he was sick and going through chemo. That show made him feel better.
It’s just too painful for me to watch it, and I feel like it has become a bigger hit than ever in such a bigger way than it was so I can’t avoid it. Just walking to the gym this morning there was a billboard for the show coming back, and it’s just like I can’t escape it. It’s just one of those things that is too emotional for me and too hard.
I want to ask you about the last chapter. I was an emotional wreck through the whole book, not just because it was very sad at times, but there were many moments that were so beautiful. The last chapter for me was beautiful but also the hardest chapter to read. I'm curious if it was the hardest chapter for you to write, or was it just nice to give yourself that ending that you deserved?
It was the hardest chapter to write, not in an emotional sense, but in a technical sense because it was the only part of the book that was pure fiction. I had to become a different writer through that chapter. I had to create a world that didn't exist from the ground up. It was a whole different muscle for me to use, but it was actually a really interesting challenge and because of that, one of the chapters I enjoyed the most writing —part of that was because I was saying fuck you to the universe.
I know that The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parson optioned the film rights. Are you nervous about Spoiler Alert being made into a film, or are you excited? And do you have specific actors in mind to play you and Kit?
I don't have specific actors in mind. Yes, I am excited, and yes, I am nervous. Probably more excited than nervous just because I have such respect for Jim and his husband Todd and the company they created and the work they are doing. I just feel like they are fantastic partners for this kind of story. And I am hopeful and optimistic that we can do this story justice and do right by Kit.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? I assume you won’t write anymore about Kit, or do you plan on it?
I don't plan on writing anything else about Kit. I am tossing ideas in my head, possibly another book or story or something, but right now, I am still recovering from the experience of writing this book and enjoying the response. The thing is, the book was so hard to write but right now, I feel like I am reaping the rewards of it. Just getting messages from folks like you who say they loved it and they connected to it and it moved them. It made those grueling 18 months so, so worth it.
I don't think I will ever be able to adequately describe how moved I was by this book. It was beautifully written, profoundly poignant, vulnerable, and equal parts upsetting and uplifting. I haven't read anything like it, before or since, and I doubt I ever will.
Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies is now available in hardcover, eBook, and audiobook and will be available in paperback this September.