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Author Pam Houston in Chico


One of my favorite contemporary writers, Pam Houston, did a reading tonight at a locally owned bookstore in downtown Chico. She was promoting her new novel, Sight Hound.

Several years ago I read her best-selling book Cowboys Are My Weakness, a collection of stories about backpacking and trips into the wild with various boyfriends. It's a great read.

After she read selections from her new book she answered questions from the small audience of about ten people. Someone asked her to name some of her favorite books and writers. She said: Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee, Paradise by Toni Morrison, anything by Alice Munroe, Richard Ford (especially a short story called "Communist"), Russell Banks and Amy Hempel (but not her latest one).

Houston is currently the director of the Creative Writing Program at UC Davis. She described herself as "a writer of found objects" and talked a bit about how writers need to believe in their ability to "conjure reality." She told us about a four-day writers' conference that UC Davis is sponsoring in Marin County this fall. I would *die* to go but it costs $1250.00! Money needs to fuck off! (Or "Come to mama." I'm not sure which.)

After the talk, she signed copies of her new book and was kind enough to let me take her picture. I asked her if she's ever tempted to steal ideas from her students. She said no, but when they write a really great line she wishes she had written it.

I milled about in the bookstore for a bit and somehow began conversing with an old man in his late 70s. There was something really special about him. He was sharp and open and searching. I asked him if he writes and he said no. He said he had been in a shell his whole life and was just now beginning to come out. I wanted to say, "Me, too!" But I didn't. I wanted to ask him to go for a cup of coffee with me at the greasy spoon down the street but I didn't. I didn't, because I'm still trying to break out of my own shell, I guess. Something tells me that before I can believe in my ability to "conjure reality" I first need to muster the courage to participate in the reality unfolding all around me.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 8th, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
I can't believe there were only ten people there!

Re: the conversation with the 70-year-old. . .
I completely 'get' the shell thing. Still there myself. Maybe one small step toward finding "the courage to participate in the reality" could be writing a story about this particular encounter?? I think it would make for a great read!
May. 9th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
Houston's appearance wasn't publicized very well. I didn't find out about it until a few hours before her reading began.

About the old man: I went back to the bookstore where Houston did the reading and talked to an employee. I asked her about the old man and she said he comes in there all the time so I left him a message and an invite for coffee. Second chances rock!

I definately think there's a story in that old man....

May. 8th, 2005 04:38 pm (UTC)
Christ!! $1250?!? For four days?? $312.50 a day?? That's almost $40 an hour!! (Being an assumed 8 hour day...) I'm sorry, but even if it was the world's most popular and successful writer, I don't believe it's worth it. My Honda's not even worth that anymore! Well...maybe close, but still. I can't think of anyone I'd pay that much (if I had the money) for a workshop...sorry.

Erg. Greedy Americans. >:|
May. 8th, 2005 05:14 pm (UTC)
I believe that also includes room and board for the 4 days. It is pretty expensive though. Maybe they use the price as a filter to keep out the dilettantes. If you are willing to pay that much then you must be serious. Or just have too much money :)
May. 9th, 2005 03:03 am (UTC)
I like how you compare the cost of the conference to your Honda. :)

I think once you factor in all the expenses involved in flying out keynote speakers and writer's to teach workshops, paying them for their time, housing and feeding everyone, it's probably not a huge money maker.

May. 8th, 2005 09:02 pm (UTC)
I'm so obsessive over Pam Houston. I drove two hours up to Phoenix (I'm in Tucson) a couple months ago to see her. I also reviewed Sight Hound for the paper I write for, and it was how I learned not to review books I'm completely in love with and can do nothing but gush over. I turned in a draft of the review to my editors, and they were like "yeah... this is a little over the top."

On the other hand, they also said that mentioning the death of the dog was giving "WAY!!! too much away," so what do they know?

May. 9th, 2005 12:35 pm (UTC)
That's a great review. I haven't started the book yet. I'm finishing up Children Playing Before a Statue Of Hercules. But I can't wait to crack open Sight Hound.
May. 10th, 2005 05:08 am (UTC)
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of her novel, but I still think her short stories are vastly superior. Granted, I have a bias about talking/thinking animals--unless done really well--but the chapters by the young girl and Jonathon were fantastic.

Yes, do not give away the death of the dog. Bad bad bad. Of course, at the Pam Houston book reading I was at she talked about how she couldn't write that part until her dog actually died, so even she thinks it's not everything.
May. 10th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC)
Is that woman as young as she looks? It's hard to believe she is director of such a prestigous program.
May. 10th, 2005 01:48 pm (UTC)
If I had to guess I'd say she's in her early 40s.
May. 11th, 2005 07:50 am (UTC)

You win a kewpie doll. She was born in 62.
May. 17th, 2005 11:26 pm (UTC)
May. 13th, 2005 02:30 am (UTC)
It's been years since I read it, but I loved Cowboys Are My Weakness. I'll have to look for her new book.
May. 17th, 2005 07:38 pm (UTC)
I love Pam Houston. I have all her stuff. She's certainly gotten a lot bigger since I last saw her. I last saw her when I lived in Colorado and she was like a cross-country ski-guide. She was teeny then. Hmmm.

Love her.
Jul. 9th, 2005 08:37 am (UTC)
I saw that you had friended me, and decided to check out your journal in retaliation =P. I love you already.

The short story Symphony in "cowboy's are my weakness" is my favorite story of all time. "This is a difficult story to tell because what is right about what I have to say is only as wide as a tightrope, and what's wrong about it yawns wide, beckoning, on either side..."

I'm weak.

I hope you don't mind me reading you're whole journal now. I have much respect for people who have good taste =D,

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )