Words are how I enter the world.
I actually thought I was going to be an actor. I still do a little bit. I miss it a lot. When I was a baby, before I could sit up on my own, I would recite poetry. I did a particularly stirring Owl and the Pussycat, I’m told.
I loved the power of words from the start. I could talk at six months but didn’t walk until I was three. Why get up when you can just ask for it? But alas, I could not seem to learn to spell or punctuate and still don’t know which sides the knife and the fork go on or which way is west with consistency. And so I fell in love with the power of the spoken word. Stage left and camera right never change no matter which way you’re facing, so I felt at home there.
It was acting that brought me to writing where I discovered the power of creation that exists there as nowhere else. Writing brings whole new worlds into existence and invents the future through collective dreams. There were no submarines when Jules Verne wrote 10,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea or pocket communicators when Gene Roddenberry put them into the hands of Captain Kirk and his crew. Today we’ve been to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and our pocket communicators have become so ubiquitous they are arguably our single greatest addiction issue.
Still, writing is sort of an accidental career for me. When I was in college I got a part time job as a writer. Given my abilities or lack thereof, I’d never pursued it. I took one writing course in college because they made me. I couldn’t diagram a sentence, still can’t. I can’t even think why you’d want to. It just never occurred to me that I might be qualified to write.
So, when everyone else in school was getting a job waiting tables — I tried to get one, too — I found myself in need of employment and short of employable skills. In the free time that unemployment offered, I auditioned for a production of Wild Oats that was being mounted near my college. I got cast. The director, who owned an ad agency, hired me. I wrote copy, ran errands and answered the phone often, as it turned out, at the same time.
I’ve been writing ever since. Writing for advertising and public relations lead me to writing plays of my own — some for client trade shows, some just to live in my bottom desk drawer. I began writing an arts and entertainment column for the Free Times, a local entertainment tabloid. My words there got me hired to do arts and entertainment reporting on-air for the local NBC affiliate WIS with my own weekly feature Backstage with Eric Shaw Quinn — catchy right?
With the three jobs and continuing to act and direct, I found myself with Saturday mornings free. An idea came to me one day born out of my own vague attempts to grow up — I’m still working on that one. I’d always considered that being gay was more incidental than significant and I just figured that I’d have basically the same experience as everyone else save that it would be me and another man rather than me and a woman, but the rest of the details, I assumed, would be the same.
But when I didn’t meet him in college and marry him after graduation as I’d planned, I began to see that it really was different. I wondered about some of those other details, not the least of which: children.
Would I? And if I did, what would that be like?
I began to explore those ideas on paper. Yellow pads and pilot razor points, one page at a time, it became my first novel Say Uncle, the story of a gay man raising a child. Given the prevailing political climate, it was some time before it was published. But when it happened, the time was right. I actually got my first movie deal with Propaganda Films before the book came out. I even got hired to write the screenplay. I got the chance to work with the legendary director John Schlesinger and to collaborate with the sublime Lewis Colick and the sublimely funny Amy Heckerling on the script. Several drafts and several years later, with Amy stepping in to direct and Billy Crystal ready to play the lead, the studio was sold and my beloved Say Uncle was delayed in coming to the screen. Someday.
The book was a critical success, but it was the readers that really made it worth the wait. People came to my appearances to get their books signed and to ask me parenting questions! I could not have been more surprised or delighted. Probably my favorite moment from the book so far came rather anonymously, in line at the San Francisco airport several years after the book’s publication. I had been E-ticketed and presented my driver’s license to the man working at the desk. Noting my name, but without any other explanation or a mention of Say Uncle, he began telling me the story of how he and his partner had adopted and were raising a little boy.
Imagining a future into being.
When I wrote the book, courts were taking people’s actual children from them because they were choosing to be true to themselves and live as out gay people. Today “Gay-bies” are as common as tight tee shirts in the gay community. I don’t think that Say Uncle caused that, but I hope it helped to.
With the movie deal off and my editor departed from my publisher, the sequel to Say Uncle languished. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had made bigotry a bumper sticker and there were growing numbers of people who called themselves Christians but who spoke mostly of hatred and intolerance. My father, in an effort to help me see that there was maybe room in the tent for all of God’s children, pointed out to me the stories of the books of Samuel and the verse that inspired me to write my next original novel.
And it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David
and Jonathan loved him as he loved his own soul.
Then Jonathan and David made a covenant,
because he loved him more than he loved his own soul.
1 Samuel 18:1 & 3
It has taken some years to complete this rather ambitious project, I knew nothing of 10th Century BC Israel, let alone the bible. I’m not even Jewish. So there was a lot to learn.
In the interim, I worked with the producers of the television series Queer as Folk to write two original novels based on the early lives of the show’s characters, Never Tear Us Apart and Always Have Always Will. My work on those books brought me to a new publisher and the racy content caught the attention of my next collaborator.
I was driving home from the gym one day when the cell phone rang and a young woman asked me if I was available to meet with Pamela Anderson’s manager. Well who could say no to that?
One thing led to another and before you can say “boob job” I was sitting across the lunch table from Pancho, Lefty and the girl they’ve taken along for the ride, Pam. I wrote my next two books the hit Star and the unfortunate Star Struck based on a series of breakfasts with the then most famous woman in the world. I was supposed to work as a ghostwriter, but Miss Anderson said no one would believe she had written the books and she did not have room in her closet for any more secrets. She outed me on Jay Leno and very generously took me on a book tour quite unlike any I’ve experienced so far. So, if you read Pam’s books and thought they were hot and sexy, that’s me. In the end it wasn’t my favorite experience. Still, I’m a New York Times best seller now, so there’s that for the obituary at least though by then I fear no one will remember what the New York Times was.
After the Pam project subsided, shall we say, I found myself with that pesky free time again. It was a new century but despite huge cultural changes for gay people, civil rights were and are still not among them and the bible is regularly used to justify bigotry and worse. That verse from Samuel came back to me and the time seemed right.
It’s several years later. Star Crossed is written. I know way more about the bible and the laws of Leviticus and ancient Israel than I’d ever thought I would. What will happen next? I can only imagine.