PAM’S CURRENT POPULATION The 120-acre Colorado ranch near the Rio Grande looks like a partial list for Noah’s Ark: two Irish greyhounds, two horses, two donkeys, five Icelandic sheep and six chickens.
And of course, Pam Houston herself.
The ranch is the New York Times bestselling author’s home base, a place of refuge and safety, and also the subject of his 2019 book, “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country.”
Ms. Houston will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference.
Due to Hurricane Ian, Sanibel Island is currently uninhabitable and the conference will be held online, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., November 5, free and accessible to anyone who wishes to watch. The one-day event includes novelists, non-fiction writers, poets, songwriters, publishers and agents. (See In the KNOW box and calendar for details.)
New York Times bestselling author Jenna Blum is due to interview Ms Houston from 7-8 p.m.
“She’s already interviewed me; we’re having a great time,” Ms. Houston says. She suspects they will cover a variety of topics.
“We’ll talk about dogs, because that’s what she likes to talk about the most. We will talk about many things. I tend not to avoid difficult things. It will be a few days before the election, so we’ll talk about the climate – that’s what brings us online. We’ll talk about writing and the solace of making art in difficult times. And I just judged fiction at the National Book Awards, so we’ll talk about the exciting new books that have come out.
She must have read 130 books, but, like the other judges, also read parts of the rest of the 353 books, “so nobody missed anything.
“Now that it’s over, it feels like a fever dream; every second I was awake, I was reading. I feel very well read now. And I have all these great new authors (I was introduced).
She describes the process as “fun and difficult”.
For her, the most difficult task was to winnow them down to the long list of 10 finalists.
“There were 50 who deserved it,” she says.
(The 2022 National Book Awards will be announced on November 16.)
“Pam has been on my wish list since the conference began,” says conference co-director Tom DeMarchi. “I have been an admirer of his writing ever since I discovered his work in graduate school in the early 90s. My professor asked the students of my fiction writing workshop to bring a book that we would recommend to everyone. I think five people brought (his first book) “Cowboys Are My Weakness”.
“When the keynote opened and I was considering who to invite, Steve Almond suggested Pam. Luckily she was available and interested. To say I’m thrilled to have her on the Sanibel team is an understatement. .
Mr. DeMarchi even assigned his “Deep Creek” memoir to his Theory and Practice of Writing class this semester.
“It’s such a beautiful, thoughtful book that highlights his deep connection and commitment to his Colorado ranch – the land, the animals, the mountains.
“It also highlighted how much of a city person I am. I may or may not have researched riding lessons after I finished them,” he jokes about how the ranch healed her.
“I grew up in a super violent household that never felt like home, with tons of booze,” she explains. “I wanted to feel like there was a place where I felt safe.”
The topography of the ranch is such that it is nestled between a river on one side and a 12,000 foot mountain on the other.
“It’s really protective, physically,” she said. “And it’s the last place in the universe my father would ever choose.” It was good that way too.
Living on the ranch has also taught her to be more independent.
“You can’t just call a repairman (when something goes wrong.) You have to fix your own fence, and after the house was struck by lightning, (I had to figure out) how to get the lights back on. You become very independent, and it took a long time. I didn’t know how to repair a refrigerator. I’m not really a handyman, I’m tenacious. I learned to work things out. »
But now, she says, due to the currently violent political climate, she doesn’t feel as safe there. She received death threats because of her political views. And, depending on how the next two elections go, she could move, she says.
Her book, ‘Air Mail’, written with Amy Irvine, is about ‘life in the west and the drought and the rise of fascism and what women can do. I’m going to write another on Roe v Wade. I got my first period the month it was signed off,” she notes.
She is also working on another short story book.
“I like short stories. It was the first thing I did,” she says, referring to her first book, “Cowboys Are My Weakness.”
His writing process begins with first noticing things in the world; she calls them glimmers.
“I always believed that if I was very careful while living in the physical world – and for me that often means the natural world – the physical world would give me everything I needed to tell my stories,” she writes in “Deep Stream.” “As I progress through my day, I wait to feel something that I call a glow, a vibration, a little resonant charge that says, ‘Hey writer, look over here.'”
“My process is that I travel the world and wait for loads of stuff, or objects, or visuals or smells or tastes to resonate with me,” Ms. Houston says. “If I put them together, they will unlock my interior. That’s what writing is: it’s finding a physical manifestation of yourself in the world, then pulling them out of the world and putting them on the page.
“It’s the only way for me to create anything. I’m not saying “I want to write a story about X”. I do not do it. I gather these glimmers, the physical manifestation of my soul in the world, bring it back to the page and combine them, and hope that they represent more than their parts, which they do.
This is also what she tells her students. She teaches creative writing at the University of California at Davis, as well as at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
“I don’t like ideas; they’re abstract, but the world is so dynamic,” she says, noting that there are three questions she doesn’t allow in her writing room because they’re not useful: what is what does it mean, where is he going and how is he? I tend to?
“I just want to collect the stuff of the world and put together the stuff of the world that I’ve collected, and let them tell their story. Trust the metaphor, it knows more than you. Eventually they come together and reveal their meaning I can feel intuitively, ultimately, when they’re in their most powerful order. I’m not interested in “about,” what it’s about. I’m interested in how it makes the reader feel.
In this era of memory, she says, her students often want to write about their feelings.
“I say, ‘I don’t want your feelings. I want to see how you see the world with your eyes: how it smells, how it tastes. I want to be inside your skull and look out. I want to know how they experience the world… I want the sensory details; this is how you establish a sense of belonging, without telling me what you think about it.
Ms. Houston’s own writings contain many sensory details; she has a knack for placing readers in a space and making them feel like they’re there, even if they’re unfamiliar with it.
She also writes fearlessly.
“When I went to graduate school, they tried to teach it to me, but they couldn’t,” she says. “We all respond to anyone who comes forward without fear. And that’s what I try to do in “Deep Creek”. I thought, should I say that? What’s the worst that can happen? I was just being honest.
“I learned very early in my career how to bring the reader to the page, how to bring the reader into a scene and see, taste and smell what I see. That’s why I had a long career.
“I learned more slowly to risk sentimentality, to risk confession, to risk sort of trying to get the understory, on the page — not in emotional terms, but in metaphor. By finding in the physical world what connects to something inside me and using it on the page.
“So as not to be afraid.” ¦