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Posted on Mar 24, 2011
Kasia Anderson: Did you gather them together and make a group announcement, or was it …
Ryan Quinn: No, nothing …
Kasia Anderson:… one by one …
Ryan Quinn: … Yeah, nothing that dramatic. I actually told a couple one-on-one ahead of time, and then … you know, the guy who I’d been rooming with for a while, and one of the girls. And then after that went well, I decided to tell everyone else, and … I mean most people found out, we were at a party, and I sort of went around and told everyone. But one-on-one; it wasn’t like I stood up on the coffee table and shouted things.
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Ryan Quinn: There’s always been a sort of hypothesis, I guess, or just anecdotal feeling, that people in individual sports like skiing or swimming or diving … it’s easier for them to come out than if you’re on the football team or the basketball team. I’ve always thought that that was untrue. Or not untrue, but that it just discounted … you know, there’s nothing inherent about a contact sport or an individual sport that makes it more or less accepting towards gay athletes; it really has nothing to do with it. And I think perhaps, you know, when you’re a skier, for example, an endurance athlete—I do cross-country skiing—you spend a lot of time alone, skiing through the woods, and it’s a very reflective sport. And perhaps the nature of that brings you to a different conclusion than if you’re always surrounded by teammates who are in a sort of hyper-masculine environment.
Kasia Anderson: And in one of your interviews I read that you linked coming out to, you know, it had sort of an intrinsic value in terms of your performance in your sport. Is that right, you felt like you couldn’t really be yourself and perform the way you wanted to with that as a secret. Is that true?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I mean I think … I know at the University of Utah they have one of the best ski programs in the country, and so when you’re pursuing the highest level of your sport, one of the things you do is try to get rid of all distractions that you don’t need to have. And, you know, having a secret like that was a pretty big one, so. … [Laughter] That was also part of my decision was, you know, this is … having this secret is kind of exhausting, and I need to be done with that. It helped me be a little more free to pursue the sport, and I think it made the team a little bit closer as well.
Kasia Anderson: That’s a great outcome. I wanted to ask you, before [segueing] into the book discussion, you said you wrote an article for OutSports in 2003 and you got a lot of responses. What were the responses like, first of all, and second of all—if I may piggyback on that question—what do you think has changed, if anything, in sports since then?
Ryan Quinn: Well, at the time, there wasn’t stories like that that I could find online; this was about 2001, 2003, something like that. I would look online and there were stories of, you know, gay people coming out, but none of them were athletes, and certainly none of them competitive college athletes. So when I came out, Sid and Jim, who run OutSports, asked me to write about my experience, and I did. And it was a little overwhelming, actually, the number of emails I got from people who read it. You know, hundreds of emails within a week or two. So since then, it’s just been … that sort of reset, sort of, the bar in my mind of “Oh, there are thousands of gay athletes out there, at every level of seriousness.” And I think since then, like now you can go to OutSports and other websites and find dozens and dozens of these stories. So if anything, that’s what’s changed, is it’s no longer uncommon to hear about stories like mine.
Kasia Anderson: Do you have any predictions for when we might actually hear of a still-active football player or basketball player coming out? Seems like they’re always retired when you hear about these things. …
Ryan Quinn: Right. I mean, it could be any day. It could be five years from now. You know, one of the … a famous soccer player in Europe just came out last week. [Editor’s note: Click here to see an article about this month’s disclosure by Anton Hysen.] I guess Europe is a little ahead of the curve in terms of these …
Kasia Anderson: Spain allows gay marriage, so …
Ryan Quinn: … Right, anything to do with sexuality. …
Kasia Anderson:… Catholic Spain.
Ryan Quinn: Anything to do with sexuality, the United States is sort of stubbornly shooting itself in the foot at every step of the way. But I think … you know, that doesn’t, I don’t really worry too much about that. I think it’s more likely that a college athlete will be out and will be drafted into the NFL or the NBA or something like that.
Kasia Anderson: Hopefully, then, it will be just a matter of time before more people start doing that.
Ryan Quinn: Yeah.
Kasia Anderson: So let’s talk about [your novel] “The Fall.” When did you, what was the germinating idea to write a young adult-slash-adult book, for you?
Ryan Quinn: Well, interestingly, that article I wrote for OutSports was sort of the trigger for me, in terms of realizing that I liked the power of words and, you know, shaping them to tell a narrative. And so it was about a year after that, I guess, when this idea for the story and these characters sort of kept creeping back into my consciousness, I guess. You know, there’s plenty of times when I’ll, like, run off and scribble some idea down that I have—I always have a notebook nearby—but what’s interesting is, it’s usually the best ideas are the ones that just recur on their own and that you don’t need to write down. Those are usually the ones you ought to be writing about, and that was what happened with the beginning of this book, is these ideas just kept coming back. And I felt like I had to write it. It was kind of the book that I wanted to read, especially going through college—this is the book that I would have wanted to read then, and it didn’t exist.
Kasia Anderson: In terms of the themes it brought up, or the resolution at the end, or …
Ryan Quinn: Yeah …
Kasia Anderson: … what was it about it that you felt you would have wanted to read?
Ryan Quinn: … and the characters, too. I think there’s a lot of books about high school characters that are young-adult books, and there’s a lot of books that go older or tend to, you know, adult books that discuss college tend to look backwards. And so there’s not a very, like, in-the-moment sort of college or life experience. And more than about college, it’s about this time in life where you have your first stab at controlling your development as a person, and the identity and sexuality and independence that comes with that. And so I just felt like these characters didn’t exist in fiction, and so I wanted to explore their story.
Kasia Anderson: What is the market like, or the status, of young gay adult books at this point?
Ryan Quinn: For young adult books, it’s actually kind of booming right now; it’s interesting. There have been several best-sellers over the last few years that have gay main characters, and interestingly the same is not true on the adult side. I’ve worked in publishing, and I wouldn’t say that publishers intentionally shy away from that, but there’s definitely a feeling of risk to taking on a book that has a gay main character. And part of that is, you know, every bookstore has sections. And there’s a gay section, and it’s sort of like this vortex where if there’s one character in a book that’s gay, the book sort of falls into that category. So I don’t know if my book is a gay book or not; it has a gay character in it, but it’s … it has three main characters, and one of them’s gay.
Kasia Anderson: What was the inspiration for the characters? Were these based on real events, real people?
Ryan Quinn: Not particularly. This is, I think, the question that I get the most, is how autobiographical is it. And in one sense, I only have my own experiences in life to draw from—any writer does—and so it’s all me, there in the book. But on the other hand, nothing in particular, no particular person is in my life, or moment or scene happened to me. And that’s the cool thing about fiction, is taking the experiences you’ve witnessed and fantasized about, or seen, or feared, and picking out the interesting ones and assigning them roles and stories, and creating something that hopefully is universal, instead of something that’s just particular to me.
Kasia Anderson: And you didn’t have to call any of your friends from college and say, heads up, this is … you might recognize yourself in this. … [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: No, though I do have friends, you know, who say “It’s so weird reading a book where you know the author,” because you can’t help but look for things. I mean, like, “Oh, is that me, or is that so-and-so, or where did he get that?” But that’s inevitable, and some of it’s conscious and some of it’s subconscious.
Kasia Anderson: I noticed at the beginning that you had an “It Gets Better” mention. Is that something that you picked up on when you were about to release the book, Savage’s campaign?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. I hadn’t thought about a dedication until the book was about to come out, and I think that this book has a very wide audience, I think. You know, I just spoke with, via Skype, a book club who is all sort of 30-to-60-year-old women, and they all loved it. And so I didn’t sit down and write the book for anyone in particular, but I think there’s something about the passion and the vulnerability that resonates with young people who are figuring out who they are in life. And so my hope is that giving … the way that I did not have a book like this to read when I was going through that stage in life, hopefully other people will. And sort of, they can add that to the calculus of figuring out who they are.
Kasia Anderson: And you said that you had a sort of unique experience getting the book to its finished form and getting it out. What was your process like there?
Ryan Quinn: The whole process has been a long one. It took about four and a half, five years. The first draft was too long, and so there was a big revision process. And I was fortunate enough, having been working in publishing at the time, to work with a literary agent and to have some generous editor friends, who worked in publishing in New York, read it and give me very honest feedback. So it became very polished. And my concern is, as I just mentioned, I was afraid that publishers would not find it commercial enough to take seriously. The marketing and publicity budgets for books are nonexistent unless you’re a huge bestseller, and a young debut novelist just doesn’t have access to that. So I was, frankly, nervous about having it get lost on somebody’s list. So we kind of pulled back and waited. And then some great advancements in print-on-demand publishing and e-book publishing have happened in the last few years, and my publisher brain started working. And sort of experimentally I wondered, you know, what this would entail. And perhaps I should have known better; it’s a lot of work [laughs], publishing a book. But it’s my passion, I guess, so I was happy to do it.
Kasia Anderson: Does it give you more freedom, do you think, in terms of how it’s categorized or not categorized, or how you’re able to appeal to different demographics and not get sort of pigeonholed in one section of the bookstore, figuratively speaking, or the other?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. Yeah, I mean you give up some access to obvious channels of distribution. Like, Barnes & Noble isn’t knocking on my door to …
Kasia Anderson: Yet. [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: Yet. Yeah, you’re right. But at the same time, you do have more control over … basically, it gets the writer closer to the reader, which I think benefits both the reader and the writer. And so there are less sort of boxes that you have to fall into, in terms of ‘Is this book … what section does it belong in, what age group is it for?’ And it’s more of a discovery process than a sort of top-down approach.
Kasia Anderson: Do you have an associated website with the novel?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, my website is RyanQuinnBooks.com. And there are links to excerpts of the first few chapters there, links to the e-book and the print book; everything’s there. Also, RyanQuinnBooks the Facebook page has similar content.
Kasia Anderson: Can we look forward to you being a one-man publishing house, then? Is this what you’re telling us?
Ryan Quinn: No. [Laughter] Well, I don’t know, I mean … writing’s my main passion, I guess. So that’s what I want to do. And, you know, I guess as a word of caution, I think the main issue with self-publishing … I think it’s fantastic that floodgates have been opened by what Amazon and Barnes &Noble and other print-on-demand publishing outfits are doing now. The main value of a publisher is editing the book. And it’s hard to overstate the importance of editing. And I think a lot of authors who are eager to self-publish their book overlook that, or take shortcuts on that, or don’t …
Kasia Anderson: Or think less is more with editing.
Ryan Quinn: Right.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah.
Ryan Quinn: And when you think the book is ready, put it away for six months.
Kasia Anderson: Guess again! [Laughter]
Ryan Quinn: Yeah. Come back—and do that about three or four times. So that’s sort of my—not advice, I mean who am I to give other writers advice—I don’t think …
Kasia Anderson: Hard-won knowledge, maybe, yeah?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, is don’t forget that there are a lot of steps in the process and that is perhaps the most important one.
Kasia Anderson: And last question for you here, do you have plans for a follow-up novel, or an entirely different one?
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I’m working on a new novel, and it’s totally unrelated to “The Fall.” Although I’ve heard … a lot of the feedback I’ve gotten so far is that people already miss the characters when they get to the end of the book. And several people have asked if I’m writing a sequel, but that didn’t occur to me.
Kasia Anderson: Well, that’s the kind of feedback you want to get, though, from a first novel. That’s great.
Ryan Quinn: Yeah, I guess.
Kasia Anderson: Well, thank you so much. This is Kasia Anderson from Truthdig, and I’ve been talking with Ryan Quinn, athlete and author. Thanks for coming.
Ryan Quinn: Hey, thanks for having me.
Peter Scheer: Coming up, Howie Stier reports from the front lines of the anti-war movement.
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