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By Dan Woog
Ryan Quinn calls being gay a “gift.” There are challenges, sure – but, he says, “as you overcome them you gain the rewards of being more introspective and aware.”
That gift has helped him as a writer. He’s “more attuned to the social mechanics of our culture, and the bigger picture of what makes each of us – or each character I’m writing about – who we are.”
Quinn’s understanding of the human condition makes his first novel, “The Fall,” an intriguing work. Weaving together the perspectives of three characters – a film buff fantasizing about a football player, a football star bored with his girlfriend and a burned-out classical musical prodigy – it examines their unexpected relationships at college. The gay aspect bubbles up often, but not obtrusively. It’s a realistic look at contemporary friendships and coming of age, and it works because Quinn is not far removed from that world himself.
A native of Alaska, he was skiing by age 3. Earning a ski team scholarship, he headed to the lower 48 – the University of Utah – for college. He was a two-time All-American in cross country skiing, and as a senior in 2003 the Utes won a national championship.
Quinn came out to his teammates during sophomore year. He knew no other openly gay college athletes anywhere – but even in Salt Lake City, his teammates and coaches were “extraordinarily supportive.” He found that when people “put a face to what it means to be gay,” they are less likely to be homophobic. That, Quinn says, is why gay people should come out. He knows “dozens and dozens” of out athletes – and not one has regretted the decision.
After writing an article for http://www.Outsports.com in 2003 about his experiences at Utah, he was flooded with responses. He realized the impact a writer can have. He moved to New York to work in publishing, and became obsessed with the idea of identity. He realized that college is a time of understanding one’s identity. “The Fall” developed from there.
Quinn weaved several passions – sports, classical music, wine, art history – into the story. When he began, he assumed he would identify most closely with Ian – the gay college athlete in the midst of coming out. To Quinn’s surprise, he found himself intensely drawn to the other two main characters too.
Still, his sports background informed the book on two levels. Though none of the events he describes is autobiographical, his experience as a college athlete helped him understand what it’s like to be on a team, to share the weight room with football players, to go to jocks’ parties, to feel the atmosphere of a sports-minded university.
With the exception of one person – a football player Quinn had a crush on in college, much like Ian does in the book – none of the characters represent someone in real life. They are composites – but Quinn brings them to life, with dialogue and detail.
Yet Quinn’s athletic training also provided the discipline he needed to write. Like cross-country skiing, novel-writing demands endurance. “It requires putting in time day after day, even when you’re not particularly motivated,” he says. “Taking time off just isn’t a choice if you’re serious about the end goal.”
“The Fall” fills an important niche. Young adult literature has proven receptive to gay themes, and several recent books focus on high school athletes’ same-sex attractions. By making his characters college seniors, Quinn stakes out a different spot on the sexuality-and-age continuum. With the real world beckoning, life – and life’s choices – becomes a bit more serious; the stakes a bit higher.
The book has been out for only a month, but reaction is positive.” This isn’t a gay novel,” one reviewer wrote on Amazon.
“It doesn’t contain characters in drag and glitter, betrothed to drama, gossip and victimhood. It’s the coming out story of normal guys, who are completely comfortable in a world of pigskin and beer pong. It’s the ‘gay world’ in which they’re out of place. Any questioning youth who identifies more as a jock than a diva should read this novel – and make this well-told fictional story his own.”
Marketing a book in 2011 is hard – and gay books are even harder. Many LGBT bookstores have closed; mainstream booksellers are consolidating their gay sections. With his background in publishing, Quinn knows he cannot position “The Fall” as either a gay novel or a sports novel. It is, he says, “a coming-of-age journey.”
Maybe that’s the important point about novels in today’s age. Just as out college athletes don’t want to be identified solely by their sport or their sexuality, books don’t need to be categorized. “The Fall” is about growing up in modern America. And that’s something everyone – gay or straight, male or female, jock or musician – can relate to.