Three Little

Author Roy Peter Clark collects and answers here the most frequently asked questions about his series, "Three little Words."

Q. How did you meet Jane?

    A. Our daughters played soccer together. Jane became friends with my wife, Karen. Jane told her the story of her life. Then they both told me. I offered to introduce Jane to a real journalist. Instead, she chose me.

Q. Did you meet Mick?

    A. I met Jane about six months before Mick died in St. Petersburg. But I never met him. News of his death came out of the blue and shocked everyone who had just met the Morses. From a writer's perspective, I feel I know Mick very well. Given his private nature, I may have come to know him better than anyone else.

Q. What has been the reaction for Jane?

    A. Great support and encouragement from all directions. People in the community support her. People at her work have grown closer to her. And strangers have reached out to her -- some to offer support -- and some -- whose lives have been touched by AIDS -- to receive it.

Q. How did you get away with putting so much sex in the story?

    A. The problem with our collective response to AIDS is our reluctance to confront taboo subjects. Society can't deal with this unless it is willing to talk about sexual practice and sexual identity. Several readers have objected to the appearance of sexual content in a family newspaper. I believe that every family will be touched directly or indirectly by AIDS. So let' s deal with it.

Q. Did you go to Brazil?

    A. Yes. I spent a week in Brazil and a few days in Michigan. I wanted to walk the same streets and breathe the same air as Mick and Jane. I wanted to go to Bilbao, Spain, but was unable to get there. You'll notice the sections in Spain are less descriptive. I was able to obtain Mick's medical records from Spain. These were very helpful.

Q. What is the greatest misunderstanding about AIDS?

    A. First, many people believe that the virus can hide in your body, undetectable, for up to 10 years. This is not true. The infection can be detected, usually in three months. It is true that you can carry the virus without symptoms of disease for many years. Even Jane was not clear about this distinction, which is why she was tested so many times. Also, people think that AIDS is much easier to contract than it really is. Yes, you will die from it if you get it. But there is virtually no risk of contracting AIDS from normal everyday contact.

Q. Why did you make me wait a day to find out how Jane's test came out?

    A. Well, I thought such cliffhangers were needed to get people interested in a month-long series. But there is more: I wanted people to care about Jane, to identify with her plight. Her first test results came back in two hours. But for the next 11, she needed to wait up to two weeks for the results. So if I made you wait a day, it was to help you sympathize with a person whose very life hangs in the balance of those results.

Q. How did you settle on the form of the story, those short chapters?

    A. I thought I had a story that people might want to stick with. The Times has written many outstanding series with much longer daily chapters. I wanted to try something new. People are time-starved. I know I am. So I offered this bargain: If you' ll read for five minutes a day, I promise to give you something worth reading every day for a month. The most common criticism I received is: I wanted more each day. I' ll take it as a compliment.

Q. How are the Morse children dealing with the story?

    A. Very well, I think. I've become close to them. I honor them for their courage and support of their mother and continuing love for their father.

Q. Why was Jane Morse willing to reveal so much about her personal life?

    A. I think her greatest suffering came, not from AIDS, but from the repression, silence, and denial that came with it. After years of suffocation, Jane needed to throw open the window. Telling her story has helped her evolve as a person from victim, to survivor, to advocate.

Q. Any negative reactions?

    A. Plenty. Strong criticism of the sexual content. The story has been described as sensational, exploitative, a soap opera, a romance novel -- not suitable for a newspaper like the St. Pete Times. Others worry that the daily chapters were too short, and number of days too long. When I told my mother about some of the negative criticism, she said, Why bother being a writer if your goal is to please everyone?

Q. What are the "Three Little Words" of the title?

    A. The original title was "Mick and Jane" because it reminded me of the Dick and Jane culture of the 1950s. But in the first chapter, Mick tells Jane, "I have AIDS." It amazed me that three little words (nine letters) could so change a person's life. Then Jane says, "What about me?" So much of what was communicated in the story came in three little words. So much that could have been communicated -- such as I love you -- was never said.

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