Recently, I had the great pleasure of talking with local author Curtis Comer about his new book (Not Quite) Out to Pasture.
Congratulations on your newest publication! (Not Quite) Out to Pasture is, effectively, a collection of pieces you had written for the St. Louis LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) magazine – The Vital Voice – right? Where did the idea for your column (Not Quite) Out to Pasture come from?
Well, I was laid off in 2009 and that is what prompted my novel writing. At the same time, the Vital Voice was looking for contributors, so I approached them and said: “if it will help at all, I’ll write a column.” I had a vague notion of what it would be about – the Out to Pasture idea – and the Not Quite came about so as not to offend…I wanted to keep some humor in my writing about my personal life.
Out to Pasture is written in the first person – you share stories from your own life. At the same time, you do include some socio-political commentary in your work. Was that a part of what you set out to do? For example, you tell us about the process of “coming out” – for both you and Tim – and you talk about current socio-political issues like gay marriage. Did you aim to create a platform/forum for yourself to be able to speak openly about such issues?
I never intended for it to have any socio-political commentary. But whether or not we want to be, we are political. Being gay, we are kind of forced into it. I recognized I had this opportunity and the responsibility with the column to speak out about things I saw as unfair.
Where have you developed your characters from for your other books and stories? (Midnight Whispers: The Blake Danzig Chronicles, Ghost of a Chance (not yet in print), Wonderland, and short stories)
My short stories have been mostly gay erotica – the kind of stories I wouldn’t be comfortable with my Dad reading! Midnight Whispers: The Blake Danzig Chronicles was the first novel I wrote. It was published in the fall of 2010 after I was laid off. I’ve always been a fan of those silly ghost hunting shows on TV, so I thought ‘why not have a gay ghost hunter?’ As far as character development, well… I’ve never admitted this…Blake Danzig is physically based on David Blaine, the street magician. I think he is so hot! And I know I’m not the only gay guy who feels that way…I can’t believe I just admitted that after four years! So, for Blake Danzig, I just flipped the initials of David Blaine and came up with his name and turned him into a paranormal investigator.
Who is your readership? Mainly LGBT audiences?
Well, I wrote Blake Danzig thinking primarily of a gay male audience. But to my surprise, I’ve been happy to find out that lesbians like it, too. But (Not Quite) Out to Pasture is a book that appeals everyone. I’m mostly talking about aging, plucking the grey hairs, and this applies to everyone – even a housewife in mid-MO can relate to having grey hairs and crow’s feet! Out to Pasture includes the day-to-day, for example: Chore Day. These essays shouldn’t be limited, everyone has to clean house and go grocery shopping.
You write about family members in Out to Pasture. Has writing about them, including them, influenced your writing?
Even three years after writing about my family, my brothers and their homophobia in particular, I still think about it and I think about how I would re-work my ideas about it all. I recognize that I have a role to play in their homophobia, I am older than they are and I have to take responsibility for putting distance between us. I’m talking about the unintended consequences of my having moved away from home when they were young – and how I now think that may have had some influence on their feelings towards me. I left them alone in a small town. I come from a very small town in Southeast Kansas – there were 30 people in my graduating class. So when I moved out to California, I moved to another world. And now Tim and I have been living here in St. Louis for 10 years (this is mid-way between both our families).
Has the “fear of the blank page” ever afflicted you? If so, what have you done to overcome it?
Oh, constantly! Oh, that blank page… Right now, to be honest, it’s a blessing and a curse to have a full-time job. I am glad I have the job, but I have a hard time finding the time to write and sometimes I’d rather be writing again. But when I am writing, oh, that blank page! Right now, I’m sitting on two novels and I can’t find publishers. So then I start thinking that I’m a poor writer, that I didn’t create the characters and the story well enough… When I start thinking like that, then the words don’t come easily and that’s when I miss smoking the most! (A neurosurgeon and ex-smoker I know says that tobacco actually opens up the neural pathways. I believe it!) Every writer has to have their own regimen, morning is mine, writing for one hour. But it’s the discipline of doing it that is hardest.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
The toughest criticism: The second Blake Danzig book (Ghost of a Chance) was pumped out in six months. When my editor said to me: “I don’t think it’s ready”, he might as well have slapped me in the face!
The best compliment: Colin Murphy of the Vital Voice wrote about my work by saying: “…great style and a gift of unvarnished honesty.”
In your free time, what types/genres of books do you like to read?
I’m a fiction writer but I enjoy reading non-fiction. For example, I love Patsy Cline and I love going to the National Archives and researching her plane crash. I think I just might write a non-fiction piece one day, a straightforward storytelling piece based on historical fact and my own personal theory about her death. I’m not so sure her plane crash was due to pilot error…
What are some words of wisdom you could share with St. Louis writers who aspire to be published?
Don’t give up! Keep at it, keep re-working your writing and be persistent in finding a publisher. Believe in yourself.
Curtis, thank you kindly for taking the time to share your stories and experiences with me!