An interview with Joe Eszterhas, whose book, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith, will be published by St. Martin’s Press
PW: What made you decide to write about reclaiming your faith?
JE: It was part of a deal with God. I was a functioning alcoholic and I smoked four packs of cigarettes a day. After my throat surgery, they told me that I had to stop smoking and drinking immediately or I wouldn’t have a chance to live. About a month into that regimen, I was really freaking out. I was walking twice a day just to tire myself so my cravings would be less; my nerves were completely jangled. I still had a trach from the surgery and one day on one of my walks—it was 92 degrees and I was having difficulty breathing because of the trach—a bunch of mosquitoes and bugs decided they were going to attack the trach, because of the wound. It was just an absolute moment of despair and I sat down on a curb and started crying. And sitting there crying I heard myself—inside my head, of course, because I couldn’t speak—praying and saying, 'Please, God, help me.' I hadn’t prayed since I was a little boy; God had been irrelevant to me all my life. After sitting there for five or 10 minutes, I got up and I felt better; I felt the strength I hadn’t felt since the surgery. And in terms of dealing with the smoking and the drinking, it became much easier—for the first time I really thought I could do this, and thank God I have. As the months went by, because I hadn’t had any kind of relationship with God in so many years, I was loath to ask God to help me live. But eventually I said that if God would help me live I would tell the world about what happened to me, and how it happened.
PW: What’s been the reaction of your Hollywood friends—do they think Joe Eszterhas has lost his mind?
JE: Very few people have actually seen the book, but of course all of them know that I have a deep faith and that it’s a big part of my life. And yes, I think there are certainly some who look to me and think, well, he’s finally lost all of his marbles, not just some of them. And I certainly felt that reaction, but there have been many others—their spirituality may be more “new age-y, if you will—who I know respect my faith. My old agent, Guy McElwaine, died in April, and I saw him about four hours before he died. I sat and prayed with him in a room filled with people. I held him and kissed him and then I saw that the people in the room were very moved by that. So it’s been both ways; I’ve seen people glance at me, and some have said, 'So you’re born again, huh?' And, of course, I’m not: I’ve been through a kind of inner conversion which has brought me close to God, but also has brought me back to a great extent to my boyhood Catholicism.
PW: What kinds of personal difficulties did you experience in writing the book?
JE: It was very, very hard in the beginning simply to be able to write because for a couple of years I literally couldn’t—my writing had always been tied together with chain smoking and, as I got older, with drinking, whether it was a glass of white wine or a cup of coffee laced with cognac. I started drinking when I was 14 and smoking when I was 12, so suddenly at the age of 57, I didn’t have my favorite pals there when I was writing. I was lucid and straight and simply couldn’t do it. When I was able to write, this particular book was difficult totally. Just because you find God and God lives inside your heart doesn’t mean that you’ve been lobotomized, or castrated, or whatever. There are things that have been part of my writing and part of me forever, and I wanted to maintain that tone and that point of view and at the same time tell a devout story. [My editor] Elizabeth Beier at St. Martin’s was a terrific help; she had very good suggestions and she made me deal with some of the things that may have been too painful to deal with. Finally we were ready, but it was a struggle.
PW: Do you anticipate using your renewed faith as a theme in your future work?
JE: I’m sure that I will, because I would like to write other things that express what’s in this book—maybe in fiction, maybe in other ways. The thing I’m certain about is that my writing, in whatever form it may be, will never be as dark as some of the things that I’ve written in the past. It’s not that I want to proselytize, and be a missionary, convert people, but I think I see a brighter side of life, and a day-to-day reality than I did before, and I see a brighter side to people than I did before, and I’d like to bring that out in some of my writing.