This Wednesday night, Midtown Reader will host Pam Houston, author of two novels, several collections of short stories and essays, and most recently, her memoir: Deep Creek. Houston’s work has been selected for numerous prestigious awards, and she is a Professor of English at UC Davis. For writers and lovers of writing, she’s kind of a big deal.
Houston is also friendly, accessible and down to earth. When she heard I wanted to interview her before her visit, she replied to my email immediately with her cell phone number and an invitation to call her that same day. She said she’s been to Tallahassee before and it’s a town she really likes, plus Sally’s excitement about her visit really sealed the deal.
“If someone [with an independent bookstore] is that enthusiastic, I want to make an effort,” said Houston. She’s making a road trip of it with a friend, and suddenly I realized I wanted desperately to tag along. Houston’s sense of adventure is that contagious, plus she’s exactly the kind of woman I’d want to be friends with, look up to and be inspired by.
Houston is a force. Her writing is uncomplicated but complex, and it pulls you in deeply. She has written extensively about strong women, beginning with Cowboys Are My Weakness and continuing with numerous books. I know absolutely nothing about whitewater rafting, hunting Dall sheep in Alaska or ranching, but as I was reading Cowboys, I wanted to be there.
I’m currently savoring Houston’s newest book, Deep Creek, which she will discuss at the Midtown Reader this week. Full disclosure – I had not finished Deep Creek (or even started it) before I spoke to Houston, but even though she must have realized this, she was still incredibly gracious on the phone. She talked about how deciding to purchase the Blair Ranch and its 120 acres felt like it was led by “fate, providence and the ghosts of old miners.” She said she was most surprised by how good it feels to be attached to a piece of ground and be responsible for it. And you can tell how much she loves her home; it shines through her voice when she talks about the aspens, the mountains, the joy she gets from getting up and feeding her animals every morning.
Another quality Houston seems to possess in spades is the willingness to invest in other writers, both through her teaching and workshops as well as through the unofficial ranching / writing residency she has established at the ranch. When Houston travels, her writing students take care of the ranch while working on their own projects. You can hear the pride in Houston’s voice when she talks about some of the projects that have come to life at the property, although she declined to disclose any favorites.
When I asked Houston what she would tell someone like her, someone looking for a piece of land to love and care for, someone looking for something, she didn’t hesitate.
“Take the advice of your neighbors,” she said. “Let your neighbors help you.”
This article was first published by Midtown Reader.