Curtis Comer will turn 47 this year. Although he still feels like a 26-year-old, he has been forced to endure some unanticipated consequences of aging. For one thing, he found that instead of going out to bars, he preferred hanging out at home with Tim Woods, his partner of twenty years, and a few close friends.
For another, he discovered that it wasn't just the hair on his head that was turning gray, it was also the hair on his chest, which was a little embarrassing at the swimming pool.
None of it was tragic, but it was still, he felt, unexplored territory worth writing about.
"In the gay community," he explains, "you don't think about getting older."
In 2009, after getting laid off from his job, Comer began writing a column about being gay and middle aged for the Vital Voice. Earlier this month, a collection of those columns, expanded and revised, were published as a book, (Not Quite) Out to Pasture by Walrus Publishing.
Comer stresses that the book is not just for the gay community.
"Aging happens to all of us," he says. "Everybody experiences that first gray hair. People look in the mirror and see their moms and dads. It's frightening. Especially when I see my mom."
(Not Quite) Out to Pasture contains reflections on Comer's childhood in southeastern Kansas, his young adulthood in San Francisco (where he met Woods), coming out, merging families with a life partner, dealing with aging parents, moving to St. Louis (chosen because it's roughly halfway between Kansas and southern Indiana, where Woods's family lives), finding a circle of friends without the built-in crutch of the bar scene, raising pets (including a homicidal lovebird named Raoul Gomez) and a very little bit about politics. ("Since I have this bully pulpit," says Comer, "I like to call bullshit when I see it.")
The tone is lighthearted, often humorous. And Woods does not object to playing a major role in most of the stories.
"Tim is flattered," Comer says. "God bless him. I really owe him for letting me put our lives out there."
This is not Comer's first book. That would be Midnight Whispers: The Blake Danzig Chronicles, a novel that came out in 2010. Comer describes it as gay erotica about a paranormal investigator.
"It's not for everybody," he says. "I couldn't let my dad read it. When it came out, I had to tell my co-workers [at Washington University Medical School, where he's an administrative assistant], 'I have a book out, but I don't suggest you read it.' Some of them read it anyway, which was very nice of them."
Not surprisingly, Bold Strokes Books, the publisher of Midnight Whispers, was not interested in such a vastly different work as (Not Quite) Out to Pasture. In the course of shopping the new manuscript around, Comer met Lisa Miller, a neighbor in the Tower Grove South neighborhood and publisher of Walrus Publishing, a relatively new venture dedicated to putting out books by St. Louis authors.
"When I met Lisa, it felt right," Comer recounts. "We just clicked. She loved the columns and was excited about expanding them into a book. Working with her was refreshing. The other publisher was so big, I felt neglected. But Lisa is so accessible. If I need anything, she's there."
Comer is currently in the midst of setting up a schedule of readings to promote the book. The first will be tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Rue Lafayette. A second has been scheduled for Saturday, October 13 at 3 p.m. at MoKaBe's. Comer and Miller are also trying to arrange for out-of-town readings in Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago and San Francisco.
He's also working on another book, a collection of short stories tentatively titled Praying in the Closet. It's not what it sounds like, not exactly.
"My great-grandmother was this tiny Cherokee lady," Comer explains, "and she would go into her closet to pray. I don't know why."