If there is a point where my life can be easily divided into “before” and “after”, it’s the moment I plucked Pam Houston’s Cowboys Are My Weakness off the shelf at the El Paso Barnes & Noble. Before Cowboys, I was a well-read twentysomething, on track to graduate with a degree in journalism and plug away at some small town newspaper. After Cowboys, I was a writer.
Okay, so technically I was a writer before then, too. I wrote for the campus newspaper, the journalism alumni magazine, and, of course, for my journalism classes, but my heart was never in that writing. I had a
blog, er, online journal as they were called in 1998. That, I loved writing. But it was personal and the blog-to-book success story was still several years off.
Even though I was a voracious reader and had a handful of stories saved to my floppy discs, reading Pam’s book was the first time that I connected what I loved to write with what I wanted to read. From the first sentence of “How to Talk to a Hunter,” I was completely mesmerized. I’d never before read a piece of fiction with a tone so personal and honest. A few days after reading it, I tried to imitate the story in my own journal. What started out as a somewhat creative journal entry took a turn midway and drifted into fiction territory. That’s when I knew I wanted to learn more about creative writing.
Fast forward two and a half years. I was starting my MFA program. The woman who would later become my advisor had gone to school with Pam and encouraged me to attend the Taos Writing Workshop where Pam was teaching. I signed up for Pam’s advanced prose workshop and was deeply inspired by her glimmering moments approach to writing. At the conclusion of the workshop, Pam’s husband brought me a packet — an invitation to her private workshops on her ranch.
Going to a ranch workshop was a little like living a Pam Houston story: the wide expanse of Colorado sky, the hikes in the hills, the dinner table conversation with 14 other writers, the dogs lazily resting on the porch, the wine flowing. At the ranch, it was all about the writing and the experiences and having plenty of both to refuel for an entire year. Pam was one of the most encouraging writers I’ve worked with. I learned plenty about craft in those workshops, but what I mostly learned was to pay attention and to find and write about the things that mattered to me. Coming from an MFA program where it felt like autobiography was sin and the stories that got praised were the stories I wasn’t interested in writing, I can’t tell you how much of a relief those workshops were.
It’s been 15 years since I picked up Cowboys Are My Weakness, completely fell in love with it, and started off on my own wild writing journey. Your books have been my road maps along the way. When the road gets hard (when I spend too much time focusing on plot, on publication, or even just stringing two sentences together) I pull out one of your books and remember why I want to write. Your writing is brave, honest, witty and, above all, readable. Your stories remind me to go back to the beginning, find the glimmering moments, set them next to each other, and see what happens. Doing that, I find the heart in my story and the joy in writing again. All that glimmers is truly gold.
Thank you so much, not only for opening your ranch and encouraging a young writer, but for writing books that I love to read.