The three-part Eric Shaw Quinn series, as part of The Prince’s Psalm Blog Tour, continues with Part 2 of 3 on … And Then There was Sarah.
Join me below as I interviewed the diversely talented Eric Shaw Quinn, New York Times bestselling author and co-host of The Dinner Party Show. On June 7th, he released his most exciting and ambitious work yet: a biographical narrative of the powerful love between biblical heroes David and Jonathan. Widely lauded as a beautiful retelling of 1 Samuel 18:1 & 3, Quinn sat down to chat with me about the book and his experiences in sharing it with the world.
The series began with an “in his own words” guest post from Eric, continues now with an interview, and, finally, the best for past: an exclusive excerpt from The Prince’s Psalm!
Part One: Guest Post Written by Eric Shaw Quinn (July 5th)
Part Two: An Interview with Eric Shaw Quinn (July 12th)
Part Three: An Exclusive Excerpt from The Prince’s Psalm. (July 19th)
An Author-to-Author Conversaion with Eric Shaw Quinn
Sarah: Hi Eric! Thank you so much for your time to sit down and chat.
Sarah: This has been an exciting month for you. The Prince’s Psalm released June 7th, which tells the powerful tale of the love between David and Jonathan, heir to Israel. You’ve said this is a story you’ve wanted to tell for a long time. What prompted you to do it now?
Eric: Well, Sarah, to be honest, I was ready to go 10 years ago when I first wrote it. I think maybe the world is ready now.
Sarah: I agree. And those who aren’t ready never will be, but this train has left the station.
Eric: God, I hope so!
Sarah: “The greatest gay love story ever told is in The Bible.” You mentioned your father came upon the scripture that first brought this story to your attention. What brought it from interest to a need to tell the story?
Eric: When I first realized I was gay all the information I had was that it was the worst thing I could be. Fortunately for me, my titanium ego allowed me to arrive rather swiftly at a place where I realized that if the world thought gay people were terrible there was a mistake, because I wasn’t terrible. I knew at once that I had to do what I could to let people know they were wrong about me and other gay people. A lot of the choices I’ve made since, both personally and professionally, have been based on that moment of truth. When I first read those first few verses of 1 Samuel 18 the “scales fell from my eyes.” I had just assumed that the big mistake about me was being caused in large part by The Bible and that my relationship to that institution was irreconcilable, so the thought that there were gay people in the Bible took my breath away and once again, I knew I had to let people know.
Sarah: While being a woman comes with its own share of unfair and incorrect prejudices, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be told, from the time you were old enough to know who you were, that who you were was wrong. Worse, an abomination. It’s fair to say that many use the Bible as a weapon to preach intolerance, but there are others who see the scripture as you and I do, with open eyes. Have you had readers come to you and say this story has helped to open their eyes?
Eric: Some of the most moving responses I’ve had have been from those people for whom The Prince’s Psalm made them feel “seen.” I think it’s akin to what I felt when I first discovered the story of Jonathan and David and their love. Growing up gay has meant growing up very much alone, isolated, invisible. I was not even sure if there were other gay people and who they were or how to know. I hope it doesn’t mean that as much or at all any more, but I think it’s still very important for gay people to be visible and for us to own our gay history and our gay heritage.
Sarah: I hope it doesn’t as well, but thankfully we have those, like you, who stand bravely to tell a better story. On The Prince’s Psalm, many have sought to tell their own stories from biblical passages, though, undoubtedly, the choice in highlighting a romantic relationship between two men is a controversial one, even if it shouldn’t be. How did you prepare yourself for the (putting it kindly) backlash?
Eric: Oh, honey, I grew up a little gay boy in small towns in the south in the 60s and 70s. I was 5’ 6 ¾” 108 pounds soaking wet when I graduated from college. I’ve heard way worse and taken far more brutal beatings than the internet cowards sniping at The Prince’s Psalm. I guess I’ve been preparing for it all my life. It’ll be a bigger adjustment for me when the reflexive bigotry toward gay people finally goes away.
Sarah: That last statement is incredibly sad to me, because it is all too real for many. To change our world, we must change ourselves, when self-reflection is deceptive by definition. Your reaction, to fight with knowledge, is so very inspiring. And now, you have so many allies willing to fight alongside you, rather than turning away because it isn’t their fight.
Eric: I hope that’s true more and more. It took me as long to get The Prince’s Psalm published as it did Say Uncle and that’s a thirty year time span. The media including and especially most publishing is still very conservative about gay people. We are all too often “disappeared” from the story. I’ll be interested to see in the Rio Summer Olympics if any gay partners get the kind of coverage that their non-gay counterparts do. NBC wouldn’t even show Matthew Mitcham receiving his gold medal, let alone his partner in the stands cheering for him and his win was not only an upset but record setting. The discrimination can seem very subtle when what you’re seeing is nothing.
Sarah: That’s very true. You sure brought all the bigots out of the woodwork with this one! We should all thank you for this surfacing act. What advice would you give an author who is struggling to tell their own controversial story? And how have you handled the ensuing vitriol?
Eric: I’m a big believer in being the change I want to see in the world. I try to remember that the gay rights movement is where it is because free speech includes offensive thoughts and ideas. For most of my life mine were the offensive thoughts and ideas. I’m amazed that things have changed so much. The bullies and bigots are the minority, maybe the Internet is proving that they always were! But I wouldn’t have know it if I hadn’t risked telling Jonathan and David’s story. I discovered when my first novel Say Uncle came out that if I want people to support me I have to give them the opportunity to do it. And so far so good!
Sarah: That’s a great point, about giving people the opportunity to support you. Along those lines, what has been your biggest surprise in this process?
Eric: When Say Uncle, my first novel, first came out, the idea of gay people raising children was VERY controversial. The courts were still taking gay people’s own children away from them. So when I had my first signing and launch at a bookstore in Columbia, South Carolina, I was uncertain how it would be received. My family is there and the novel is set there, but I was far from certain of my reception returning there. I warned my family and apologized in advance. And people stood for over an hour in the rain for the chance to get their book signed and say congratulations. It still moves me to think of it. My secret hope is that most people are a lot better than we think they are, it’s just that a few shitheads get all the press!
Sarah: The Prince’s Psalm is getting rave reviews! One of my favorite review quotes is this one, from an Amazon consumer: “This telling of the great Biblical love story between David and Jonathan was a masterfully wrought pairing of old testament scripture and sensitive exegesis. The author has reclaimed the grand romance between these two great men and placed into its proper, well-researched, historical and cultural context.”
Eric: I’m not a big review guy, but the response to The Prince’s Psalm has been so overwhelming. I got actual edits from actual editors like, “Oh, for crying out loud, this is so amazing!” And several reviewers and a number of readers have taken the time to write to me and tell me their personal experiences of how deeply the story moved them. One woman told me she gave it to her 80-something ultra-conservative mom who read it, wept, and said it was the best love story she’d ever read. That’s how I’ve felt about this story since I first discovered it. It’s the reason why I always felt like it was important that I tell it. I’m gratified if I’ve done it justice.
Sarah: Beyond The Prince’s Psalm, you have a diverse writing resume, including comedy satire with your recent Write Murder, an uplifting tale of gay adoption in Say Uncle, screenplay novelization for the fantastic Queer as Folk, and, of course, ghostwriting for an infamous blonde bombshell. With each of your projects being so distinct, you undoubtedly have taken learnings from each. What has been your most important lesson?
Eric: Write the story you want to read even if it’s not a story you would read! Writing is an accidental career for me. Aside from on-the-job, I don’t have any training as a writer. I took a part time job running errands and writing copy for an ad agency when I was in college and here we are. I was planning to be an actor and have done plenty of that as well. I bring that actor’s sensibility with me. When I can I choose projects that interest me, but sometimes I just need a J-O-B. I take the assignment I’m given and make the most of it. I’ve gotten some of my biggest applause for playing parts I didn’t want and I landed on the New York Times Bestsellers’ List for one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. Bloom where you’re planted, right?
Sarah: I’ve found that to be true, too. My readers, for example, will love the most the characters I least enjoy writing. With acting, that must be even more challenging at times, because you’re on visible display. On the flip side, what was your favorite acting job?
Eric: Golly! What a hard question!! I really love acting so I tend to love every chance I get. Since I haven’t pursued acting as a career, those opportunities have been fewer than I’d like and sweeter as a result. Of course, TheDinnerPartyShow.com has been a huge amount of fun and given me lots of little chances for voice acting and I’m looking forward to bringing the show out as a YouTube channel soon. I did a production of Noises Off once that was sublime. And roles in Robber Bridegroom, Wild Oates, Zoo Story, Arsenic and Old Lace, Dames at Sea, The Country Wife, and I Rise in Flame Cried the Phoenix are stand outs. But a recent role in a little training film called Love Your Customer I did for a director friend was huge fun. I just love doing it. Honestly, I think for me writing is just my chance to play all the parts!
Sarah: From one author to another, let’s talk process. You decide to sit down and write. Describe your process, from how/if you plot your stories, to what your writing setting needs to be for maximum creativity.
Eric: I am so lucky. I learned to write while sitting at the front desk and answering the phone at a busy ad agency. I wrote my first novel in longhand on yellow legal pads. I graduated from college with a major in theatre and a minor in philosophy so no employable skills. Not even typing. Learning to compose on a keyboard was the most remarkable addition to my repertoire. As a result of my eclectic learning curve I have a sort of journeyman’s approach to the task. Every novel is different so I write them all differently. And I can write anywhere, though I try to be comfortable, if that’s not on offer, even that won’t stop me.
Sarah: As a writer, you do have to learn to be versatile, and tune out the noise. And, let’s face it, there’s always noise! Let’s branch beyond the arts, though. If you hadn’t been a writer, what road do you think you’d have taken (not including any creative profession).
Eric: Wow, that’s a stumper. I’d have said actor, obviously, and even my “corporate” life was creative work at ad agencies. I worked at Target when I was in college (they called it Richway back then). And I was really good at that. I sold paint and hardware and took my department from dead last to number one in the chain in 60 days or something. I still have my paint mixology diploma from Glidden somewhere. So I guess I could have done that. But I’d have just become a decorator and made it creative. I actually thought I would be an architect – still creative – when I was a kid but then I took drafting and that was that. I think the answer is whatever I did, I’d have turned it into a creative job. I’m just an artist in my soul.
Sarah: The moral of a creative’s story is that they cannot and should not escape the art.
Eric: Art, there’s no escape.
Sarah: What advice would the Eric of today give the Eric just starting his writing career?
Eric: Don’t wait. Don’t defer your dreams or your happiness. The worst choices I’ve ever made were the ones where I convinced myself I was playing it safe.
Sarah: Finally, the table is yours. What would you like your readers to know most about The Prince’s Psalm?
Eric: Where The Prince’s Psalm is concerned I’m far more interested in what my readers think—how this story affects them. I still cry every time I read it. Every. Time. It’s such a powerful story. Besides The Prince’s Psalm, only It’s a Wonderful Life makes me cry every time. High cotton for me. Now, I’m a crier. I cry during the Making a Difference minute at the end of the news. I’m a big crier. But every time? That’s more than just me being leaky. The Prince’s Psalm is a powerful story on so many levels and the love story between David and Jonathan is the heart and soul of it. But around them there are sweeping epic battles, searing personal conflicts, intense human feelings – comic and tragic – not to mention supernatural elements from prophets and seers to witches, spirits and god himself. My Hollywood pitch is: It’s Gone with the Wind meets Game of Thrones. Something for the whole family!
Sarah: If that’s not a winning combination, I don’t know what is! Eric, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. I appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk about this journey!
Eric: Thanks for this Sarah! And thanks to everyone who gets a copy of The Prince’s Psalm. I hope you love it as much as I do.