Today's guest is S. Chris Shirley.
I met Chris WAAAY back when, in an online community called Authonomy. We were unpublished authors back then. Struggling. Editing. Searching for a break. I got mine in 2009 when I signed my first contract with Dreamspinner Press. It was not for the book I was working with when I met Chris, it was for a short, vampire story I submitted for an Anthology. (Out of print now, but soon to return as a full novel.) The Sci-Fi story I was writing back in 2008 is still around, but unpublished thus far. I learned a lot with that one. For example, I learned I write in passive voice ALL THE TIME and I have to make an effort to change it. Chris also had to undergo the growing experience and learn his weaknesses and after years of pushing to attain the goal, he is now published.
"Flashback Friday" 2010
Chris introduced me to the COSMO :)
I am so excited for Chris. He is a TERRIFIC guy! Sweet, smart, and very gracious, he has welcomed me into his home a few times over the years for dinner parties, and even shown me around New York. I am very fortunate to know him and count him as my friend.
As in previous FREIND FRIDAY posts, I have an interview for readers to get to know a little about Chris. His novel Playing By The Book came out June 11, 2014 by Magnus Books.
When seventeen-year old high school newspaper editor Jake Powell, fresh from Alabama, lands in New York City to attend Columbia University's prestigious summer journalism program, it's a dream come true. But his father, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, smells trouble. And his father is rarely wrong.
Jake navigates new and unfamiliar ways "up North." Starting with his feelings for a handsome Jewish classmate named Sam. What Jake could keep hidden back home is now pushed to the surface in the Big Apple.
Standing by his side are a gorgeous brunette with a Park Avenue attitude and the designer bags to match, a high school friend who has watched Jake grow up and isn't sure she's ready to let him go, and an outrageously flamboyant aunt whose determined to help Jake finds the courage to accept love and avoid the pain that she has experienced.
Provocative and moving, Playing by The Book is a feel-good novel about the pain and joy we encounter in the search for our own truth.
It can be found on Goodreads and Amazon and anywhere you all venture to find book! :)
So, without further ado, here is my interview with now AUTHOR S. Chris Shirley….
ME: What inspires your writing?
CHRIS: My best ideas hit me when I least expect it. They can come from a dinner conversation, a news article, or from just being keenly aware of what’s going on around me. For example, the inspiration for my debut novel, Playing by the Book, came while sitting in a church pew. I heard this fundamentalist Southern pastor—whom I respect very much—say some very hurtful things against homosexuals from the pulpit. I wondered if there was any possible scenario that could bring this Preacher around on the topic, then thought that if he had a son that turned out to be gay, perhaps the preacher might come around a bit. Or not. It was hard to say, but as I turned this scenario over in my mind, I realized that the more interesting story would be told from the point of view of this fictitious gay son and whether he could survive growing up in such a household. Boom! Just like that, I had the idea for my debut.
ME: When did you start writing m/m romance?
CHRIS: I began writing fiction in earnest in 2005 Playing by the Book is really a coming of age story although it does have m/m romance in it.
ME: Are you a full time author?
CHRIS: No, but I do get paid to write in my day job as well.
ME: Who is your favorite author?
CHRIS: I don’t really have one favorite author, but there are many I admire. I’ve mostly been inspired by the great American novelists I read in high school: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, J. D. Salinger, etc.
ME: How many books have you written so far?
CHRIS: Playing by the Book is my debut novel.
ME: Tell us a little about your novel, Playing by the Book
CHRIS: Playing by the Book is about seventeen-year-old high school newspaper editor Jake Powell, fresh from Alabama, who lands in New York City to attend Columbia University's prestigious summer journalism program. For Jake, it's a dream come true, but his father, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, smells trouble. And his father is rarely wrong.
In New York, starts crushing on two of his classmates simultaneously: one is a boy and the other is a girl, and neither is a Christian. While Jake has spent his entire life seeing the world in black and white, he’s suddenly forced to navigate the gray area and eventually, some of the darkest shades of gray.
ME: How long did it take you to complete it?
CHRIS: It took eight years for me to write this book and get it published.
ME: 8 YEARS?? Wow, you are truly an inspiration to all aspiring authors out there!
ME: Who is your favorite character in the novel and why?
CHRIS: This is like asking a father to admit which child is his favorite. Okay, don’t tell Jake but my favorite character is Julie Aaron, a gorgeous brunette with a Park Avenue attitude and the designer bags to match. I guess I’ve always been drawn to strong women—both of my best friends are female.
ME: How much of yourself did you manifest into your favorite character?
CHRIS: Not much at all. Julie is way more sophisticated and gorgeous than I ever was or could hope to be.
ME: When someone reads (your book), what do you hope they gain from reading it?
CHRIS: More than anything else, I hope they delight in the reading of the book.
ME: Can you share four things you’ve learned about the business?
1. Writing a commercial book is a Herculean undertaking.
2. You do have to write for a particular audience to be sure the book has a market
3. Not everyone is going to love your book
4. Book publicity these days is largely left up to the author
ME: How do you keep your creative "spark" alive?
CHRIS: The writing life is nothing you can force—you have to find innate joy in it or you will never finish anything. Of course, it’s easy to get disillusioned and walk away for a bit, but eventually your muse will tug at your heart and you’ll be back at the keyboard.
ME: What is your suggestion or piece of advice to new and upcoming writers?
CHRIS: Write every day but don’t hide behind your keyboard—get out in the world and have wonderful experiences that will inform your writing. Make friends with other writers, read each other’s work, learn to critique graciously and encourage each other. Read great writing and learn from it. Make lists of everything that might come in useful later from random thoughts to great dialogue. And keep a list of people who’ve helped you along the way so you can include their names in your acknowledgements—I thanked 151 people in Playing by the Book.
ME: Where we can find you on the Internet?
ME: Could you please share your favorite excerpt from Playing By The Book with us?
I don’t really have a favorite passage but Kirkus Reviews did. In reviewing the book, they noted that “the debut takes off…when things get hot and heavy between Jake and his new friend, Julie. The picture-perfect moment when Jake realizes who he is despite all he’s done to pray the gay away is nothing short of priceless.” Here is that passage.
I took a deep breath. This was big. I’d never gone home with a girl when her parents weren’t there, much less a rich girl who lived in a Park Avenue penthouse. I was in completely uncharted territory, but Julie didn’t seem nervous at all. She threw her glistening wet hair back over her shoulders, causing a single bead of water to shoot down her cleavage. I felt my face go red and was glad she couldn’t read my thoughts.
As the elevator made its smooth climb to the top, I rubbed the back of my neck and ran through Janet Walters’ three-step approach to French kissing in my head.
When the elevator doors opened, Julie stepped out into darkness, her heels clink-clink-clinking on the floor. Something started beeping and a light above a wall keypad sprang to life. Even in the dim light, I sensed the space was huge by the way those beeps resonated off the walls and the large picture windows in the distance.
She punched a code into the keypad and hit a bank of light switches. As the lights came up, I realized we were standing in a marble hallway with twelve-foot ceilings and sparkling marble floors that could’ve been right out of the soap opera Mamaw used to watch. Phoebe’s home looked like a doublewide by comparison.
I followed Julie into a huge living room filled with modern sofas, chairs, and rugs all in beige, which I was beginning to realize was New York’s signature color.
I was so impressed by the surroundings, I could only think to say, “This sure is a nice place you’ve got here.”
“Thanks. My stepmother and I managed to redesign this room last year without killing each other. That was during my interior design period. Pre-fashion photography. I chose most of the colors. She insisted on that coffee table there.” Julie pointed at an oversized coppertop coffee table surrounded by a host of sofas and chairs. “Isn’t it awful? Feel free to put your feet on it.”
I laughed as I walked over to the big windows. From this height and time of night, the trees in Central Park looked like clumps of broccoli.
“I’m having a glass of champagne—want some?”
“Got any Sprite?”
“If you must,” she said, taking a couple of glasses from a shelf.
I sat down on one of the two sofas and started pumping my leg nervously. I heard a low tick-tick-tick. It came from an expensive-looking black metal clock on the side table with engraved Roman numerals surrounding glass-enclosed hands. I couldn’t resist picking it up, and it was heavier than it looked. I looked at the time: ten forty-five.
I’d have to leave by twelve-thirty to make curfew. If only I’d brought Phoebe’s key, I could’ve just called the front desk at Carman Hall then headed right to her apartment. I wanted to kick myself.
Julie punched a few keys on another wall pad; slow music came up.
She walked over with two champagne glasses and placed them on the coffee table in front of me, then sat close by, smiling at nothing in particular. It could’ve been the lighting or the way she loosened up at home, but Julie was more gorgeous than ever—her eyes actually seemed to glow. Everything about the moment seemed perfect.
My heart began to race as I raised my glass to hers. “To new adventures.”
She looked deep into my eyes and clinked my glass. “To new adventures.”
Only then did I stop pumping my leg.
We both took a sip and then sat quietly, staring at the room.
Finally, I pointed to one of the sofas. “So what color would you call that fabric there?”
“That? It’s called café cream.”
“And these walls?” I said, gesturing around.
“And that side chair?”
“That’s my favorite, it’s—”
I snuffed out my smile. “Sorry. What color is it?”
“Honeycomb. What’s so funny?”
“Oh, I’m just making a list of all the ways you New Yorkers can say ‘beige.’”
Julie smiled then chugged half her champagne. I’d seen guys in the bowling alley parking lot do that to their beers, but never a girl. But then I’d never met a girl like Julie before. She was so confident, so sure of herself. Not even the smartest, most sophisticated girls back home were in the same league as her. Not even Tracy. I mean, how could they be, living in Tarsus when Julie was in a Park Avenue penthouse? Her confidence and sophistication was as intoxicating as her beauty. Maybe more so.
She looked at my lips and then into my eyes. My heart started racing again and my hands suddenly felt clammy. I took a deep breath and thought back to the three-step approach Janet Walters had taught me.
One: Begin with a slow approach. I sat our glasses down on the coffee table, looked into Julie’s eyes and leaned in. She met me half way. I closed my eyes as our mouths met. Janet Walters’ lipstick had tasted like vanilla but Julie’s reminded me of a crayon I’d eaten in pre-school. But why was I thinking of Janet Walters’ lipstick? I needed to focus.
Two: Be gentle. Her lips were soft and playful. I was careful not to press too hard and kept my tongue in check—that would come later. I pulled away for a moment but kept my mouth close to hers.
I peeked at Julie: seeing her eyes closed and lips pursed, Julie looked like she was standing in front of a birthday cake, making a wish, but then she moved in just like Janet said.
We kissed a moment longer before Julie pulled away and opened her eyes. “You okay?” she asked.
“Absolutely!” I said, then lunged in for another round just to prove to her it was true. Maybe I overdid it a tad because she placed a hand on my chest like she was now trying to slow me down.
I peered over Julie’s shoulder at the clock on the table, which said it was almost eleven. Getting home would require a bus, a walk, and a subway. I’d need to allow thirty to forty-five minutes, which meant I’d need to leave by twelve-fifteen to make our one o’clock curfew. That gave Julie and me an hour and twenty-two minutes. Would we keep doing this for an hour and twenty-two minutes?
Julie cupped my head in her hands. Why didn’t I think of that? She moaned softly then leaned further in.
I decided to kick this into overdrive. I leaned in and parroted back Julie’s moans, but mine sounded kind of silly to me.
Tick-tick-tick. We’d only been making out a few minutes and had well over an hour to go. I started thinking that maybe I should leave at midnight since the buses might not run that often late at night. If I missed curfew, Columbia could send me home. Well, they probably wouldn’t but you never knew.
Wait, what was the third step Janet taught me? With all those thoughts rushing through my head, I couldn’t remember. Focus, Jake! Maybe I just needed a quick jump-start. I conjured up Sam, only in underwear, sitting cross-legged on my bed. Suddenly, that gooey warm feeling came flooding in as I imagined holding him tight, kissing him, then putting my—
Hands! That was the third step. But I didn’t know what to do with my hands. If this were Sam, I would…wait, what am I doing? This is so messed up!
A wave of shame covered me like a lead quilt.
My toes curled and I suddenly felt nauseous, like I’d just swallowed spoiled milk. It was the taste of disgust, and it wasn’t because of Julie—I was disgusted with myself and suddenly wanted to hightail it out of there and never look back.
“Do whatever you want. Whatever makes you feel right,” she whispered.
She clearly wasn’t picking up on what was happening inside my head: the only thing that was going to make me feel right was to explain that I wasn’t feeling it at all, but what explanation could I give? That I just wasn’t into hot, intelligent, rich girls? It was a little late to say I only dated Christians, but I needed to give her some reason so she wouldn’t go around blabbing that I hadn’t used my hands the way Janet Walters had done. Knowing Julie, she’d come right out and say it—Jake doesn’t like making out with girls.
While still kissing me, Julie slipped her hand down the front of my shirt then started unbuttoning it in a tender but greedy way, moaning all along.
My throat seized up with a sudden realization: I was gay all right—I hated hunting, I hated college football, and I hated making out with girls. How many more data points did I need? There was just no pretending otherwise. God hadn’t healed me that day; I was probably just having some sort of nervous breakdown. I suddenly had to get the hell out of there.
I giggled and backed away from Julie’s probing hand, trying to pass my withdrawal off as ticklishness. “Julie, I’ve gotta check in at the dorm before midnight or they could send me home on the next bus.”
“Isn’t curfew at one o’clock on weekends?”
“No, I—I think it’s midnight,” I lied.
“Sam told me it’s at one.”
“It’s midnight—I’m pretty sure,” I lied again.
I wanted to just up and run but had to play it cool so Julie wouldn’t suspect anything. I leaned in and pecked her on the lips, then stood and smiled down at her while buttoning up my shirt.
She looked into her champagne glass. I collected mine and walked it over to the bar. “Talk tomorrow?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
I stood there, wondering if I should just tell her the truth, but once that genie’s out of the bottle… “Julie, I—I—”
She looked up at me and forced a smile.
“It’s not just the curfew. I think you hung the moon and, well, I feel I should go before things get, you know, too carried away.”
I felt awful—I was now leading her on even more.
We just looked at each other for a few seconds, until I finally turned away. “Okay, I’m going to go then.”
She nodded but didn’t stand.
I walked into the entryway and laid down on the elevator button.
Click. Click. Click.
Her footsteps were getting louder and louder—she was coming up behind me. I held my breath, willing myself not to turn around.
She stopped right behind me.
A chill coursed through me, like Julie was staring daggers right at me.
The elevator doors opened with a ding. I jumped in and tried not to look up but couldn’t help myself. Julie stood, arms crossed, looking confused and disappointed. She wasn’t staring daggers at all.
But tomorrow she’d be pissed as hell.
THANK YOU FOR SHARING THAT EXCERPT!!! (* sorry about the formatting issues, Blogger had its own ideas for indents. And as always, if you are reading this on Goodreads, I appologise for the way it smushed everything up. Always happens.)
On Chris' bio it says: S. Chris Shirley is an award-winning writer/director and President of the Board of Lambda Literary Foundation. He graduated from Auburn University where he served as photo editor of The Auburn Plainsman. He later received a graduate degree from Columbia University and studied filmmaking at New York University. He was born and raised in Greenville, Alabama and now resides in Manhattan. PLAYING BY THE BOOK is his first novel.
For Wade Kelly fans, NAMES CAN NEVER HURT ME is out in 3 days! You can PRE-ORDER this book at DREAMSPINNER Press. And hey, check out the excerpts I am leaving all over my blog tour.
August 4 - Joyfully Jay
August 7 - Prism Book Alliance
August 11 - The Blogger Girls
August 12 - Rainbow Book Reviews (Review only)
August 13 - Smoocher's Voice
August 14 - The Novel Approach
August 16 - Jeff Adams' Blog
August 17 - FACEBOOK takeover of Dreamspinner's FB page. I will chat in the afternoon with whoever shows up!
August 20 - GGR Reviews
August 22 - Multitasking Momma
August 25 - Rainbow Gold Reviews
August 26 - Tammmy Middleton's blog
August 27 - back at Joyfully Jay