Hello, I'm Chris

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MY NAME IS NOT: CHRISTOPHER

My parents named me Chris and not Christopher because they didn’t want to give me more letters in my name than my identical twin, Craig. Everything was always equal in the Shirley household, except when it came to self-righteousness. Growing up, I had more than my share of that.

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Freak Factor: TWIN

Life as an identical twin is absolutely everything it’s cracked up to be. You’re an instant celebrity the moment you clear the birth canal.

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BIRTH DEFECT: WALL-EYED

 Growing up, my classmates often commented that I was a great friend and a gifted canoer, but they never knew which eye to engage. To say I had a lazy eye didn’t really cover it, since I actually used both eyesjust not at the same time.

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SUCKS AT: SPORTS

Yes, it's a complete cliché that the wall-eyed kid sucks at sports. Enough said, right? Well, no. I've got an axe to grind.

This is my novel, Playing by the Book

The IPPY Award-winning novel about a boy preacher, struggling to reconcile his faith and sexuality.
 This is the book cover for the gay, religious novel,  Playing by the Book  by author S. Chris Shirley. The cover depicts the book's protagonist, Jake Powell, a boy preacher from Alabama who is standing at the Columbia University gates in New York City..

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. 

In Playing by the Book, 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 now rises 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 who's determined to help Jake find the courage to accept love and avoid the pain that she has experienced. 

Playing by the Book is a feel-good novel about the joy and heartbreak we encounter in the search for our own truth.

Reviews

 The American Library Association gave a favorable review to the gay Christian novel  Playing by the Book  by S. Chris Shirley. This image is of the American Library Association logo.

Book review: Playing by the Book

Playing by the Book is a beautiful and profound story that asks readers to question their own beliefs and ability to look at people beyond labels, beyond what they “see.”

 Kirkus gave a positive review to the young adult novel  Playing by the Book  by S. Chris Shirley.

For some, coming out is still hard to do.

Despite the current gay-teen-novel canon that depicts worlds where two boys can kiss in public for hour upon hour or dystopias where teen heroes can just happen to be gay, it can be refreshing to find a good, ol’ coming-out novel.

 The Advocate gave a positive review to the gay novel,  Playing by the Book,  by S. Chris Shirley. This is the image of the Advocate's logo.

The Advocate: 10 Great LGBT Summer Reads

In his debut novel, Shirley — president of the Lambda Literary Foundation— offers up a optimistic but not overly romanticized look at youth, becoming oneself, and the discomfort and joy that comes from finding out who you want to be in the world, whether your parents like it or not.

Every novel has two stories:  the first is captured in the words on the page, and the second is how those words got there.

Here's the second story for Playing by the Book.

 
 S. Chris Shirley's  Playing by the Book  was originally a screenplay.

Original format:  screenplay

Readers often comment that Playing by the Book is "cinematic." Perhaps that's because it was originally a screenplay, but as I was shopping the "movie" around in Los Angeles and New York, I kept hearing that this screenplay would actually make a great book. So, I re-wrote it as a novel. 

  Jake's Dilemma  was the original title for the gay religious novel,  Playing by the Book  by S. Chris Shirley.

Working title:  Jake's Dilemma

It took me nearly two years to adapt the screenplay to a novel, which I originally titled Jake's Dilemma. I workshopped this book diligently with beta readers and on Authonomy, a peer-to-peer review site for budding authors.

 

 

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Big break: Signing with George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic

My big break was signing with the late George Nicholson of Sterling Lord Literistic. George provided great notes on the book manuscript, including the need for a stronger title. I had several alternative titles at hand, and one really stood out for him: Playing by the Book

George sold the novel to Magnus Books, led by the legendary Don Weise, who has worked with luminary writers such as Gore Vidal, Edmund White, Christopher Bram and Edward Albee. Working with Don was a wonderful experience–he is a gifted editor with a great passion for storytelling.

 Cover designer, Tal Goretsky, consults with photographer Richard Gerst during the  Playing by the Book  cover shoot.

Cover Design: Capturing the book in a single image 

Yes, people do judge a book by its cover and Tal Goretsky (right) is one of the best cover designers in the business. Based on Tal's original design, photographer Richard Gerst (left) captured the primary image for the cover.

 This is the final book cover for  Playing by the Book,  the award-winning gay religious novel by S. Chris Shirley. Cover design by Tal Goretsky with photographs courtesy of Richard Gerst and Jonnie Miles.

Publication DATE: June 11, 2014

Eight years after that homophobic sermon, Playing by the Book was finally published. It was worth the wait for me to have readings at such prestigious venues as Books, Inc (San Francisco), Book Culture (NYC), Book Soup (West Hollywood), Calamus Books (Boston), Forbes Library (Northampton, MA), Giovanni's Room (Philadelphia) and Just Fabulous (Palm Springs). 

Playing by the Book also won a National IPPY Medal in Religious Fiction—the first gay "coming out" novel to win in this category. 

But most importantly, thank you to everyone who has taken the time to tell me how much the book has meant to you. That has been the most gratifying part of this entire process.