Author Pam Houston is funny. Like, really funny. I knew from reading a few of her books (Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat) that she was witty and clever, but she had a group of about 60 fans cracking up like little kids when she was reading from her newest book, Contents May Have Shifted at the Community Library Lecture Hall. Houston was in town on “her own book tour” going to places she was invited—and actually wanted to travel to—on her own dime. “I wanted to go to places where my readers live, places like this,” said Houston. She was brought here in conjunction with the Community Library and Iconoclast Books. (Houston went on an “official” book tour with her publishing house, W.W. Norton & Company, when the book was first published.)
Houston’s new novel consists of 144 short stories. Not 100 or 150, 144. See, Houston thinks in 12s. 12 apostles, 12 months in a year, 12 in a dozen, 12 days of Christmas, 12 districts in the Hunger Games … you see a pattern and maybe a method to her thinking. Houston is also very, um … methodical? In the last process of editing her books, she goes through her manuscript, line by line, deleting widows (broken up or hyphenated words) in her Word document. Read that sentence again. She deletes every widow in her 190 page book; and you know when it gets typeset, the word flow changes and it will create a whole new set of widows. “I deleted 17 pages from a 200 page book,” said Houston. “My one criticism of many books is there are too many words,” laughed Houston. So this is her way of cutting down on her words.
Although some chapters didn’t need to be cut down–like the one below, that Houston read to us:
“Chapter 80. Portland, Oregon. Rick says, 'Pam, if everyone deserved a down pillow there wouldn’t be any more birds.'”
Houston writes about “things that arrest [her] senses.” She said she could have written forever about these “glimpses” if she “didn’t have a balloon mortgage payment due.”
Author Pam Houston (left) poses with local fan, Rachel Eastop.
After Houston read several chapters from Contents May Have Shifted, she took a few questions from the audience and told us some stories about her life. She talked about being an only child and how her babysitter, Martha Washington, taught her how to read by reading her the backs of cereal boxes when she was two years old. By the time she was three, she’d learned to read. She was an English major (and a ski bum in Winter Park, Colorado) and finished her schooling at the University of Utah (where she also finished writing Cowboys are my Weakness)
Houston talked about her new love of Turkey and all things Turkish. “Turkey is my new obsession,” laughed Houston.
She ended the evening signing books and chatting with fans. Houston is definitely someone I’d like to have dinner with and know we’d get along famously. She is approachable and witty and genuine. For now Houston’s faithful fans will await her next book, re-reading some of our favorites like Cowboys are my Weakness.