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All that glimmers

Caramie SchnellVail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily Colorado author Pam Houston subscribes to the glimmer method of writing - writing the experiences and images that resonate.
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Author Pam Houston has a small, yellow, leatherbound book where she writes down the moments that resonate with her – the small girl picking plums so plentiful in a tree they’re like grapes. Or the trot of a moose at 4 a.m. near her ranch in Creede.It’s those “glimmers,” as she calls them, that get her writing. For her to sit down and write about a recent trip to Tibet is nearly impossible, she said. But if she focuses on just writing down a few of the glimmers? Well, that’s different.”If I think to myself, what were the glimmers? The big stamp of Mao’s face at the fallen down temple. Or the smell of the butter lamps. Then it seems like a fun day of writing, and possible.”Twenty-some women and one man filled a classroom at CMC in Edwards this weekend for a writing workshop with Houston. Houston, bestselling author of “Sight Hound” and “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” is in the middle of her next book, called “Flight.” She hopes to finish the novel (a term she uses loosely regarding this book, she said) this year for release in 2008. The book, she revealed, will be comprised of 144 glimmers. She has faith, she said, that in the end there will be an overeaching arc that connects the vignettes.

Readers as detectives Over four hours, Houston shared her glimmer method with the class, explained her writing philosophy and read other writers words about the craft to the group. She even assigned the group three writing assignments. In turn, the group listened attentively, laughed, one person cried, and some people even got the courage to read their own words aloud. The themes of love, death and dogs seemed to carry through many people’s work. An older woman with long, curly white hair timidly raised her pinky finger to share some of her own glimmers, including her father’s funeral years ago. Another woman, her voice choking with emotion, recalled a man she met, for just one night years ago and how he left the next morning without saying goodbye. Readers, Houston tells us, want to read with their senses. They want to see and hear, smell and taste. “(Readers) don’t want to hear ‘it was the saddest day of my life and I wept bitterly.’ They want to see the doe on the side of the road, dead, with the fawn inside its belly. Readers want to be detectives. They want to find their way to the emotion through the image.”Though Houston says the lawyers at Norton, her publishing company, tell her to get up in front of the audience and say she made everything up, that her books, categorized as fiction, are not her own life. But she never has, she said – “Instead, I just lie to the lawyers,” she grinned.

Indeed, some of Houston’s contemporaries have called her the ultimate cannibal since essentially, she writes her experiences and hardly ever makes anything up. Sometimes she’s writing just 10 days behind her life, she said.A glimmerLater, at dinner with seven local women, Houston told us that sometimes she has to ask the question is the book writing the life or is the life writing the book? “Sometimes it gets confusing.” Over glasses of French red wine and crisp pommes frites, Houston told our attentive group about her whirllwind life the past few weeks, about the fellow writer she met at a writing workshop and how he’s touched her soul. How maybe, at age 45, she’s ready for love again.



The conversation shifts, to a discussion about Indians in a far off place that hear and write music as patterns rather than notes. They weave the song into cloth and the other Indians can translate the song just by “reading” the fabric. Digging through her purse, Houston pulled out her scuffed yellow notebook and a pen. Something must’ve glimmered. With everything that’s been going on in her life, Houston is paying close attention to everything, she said.And we, her latest students, are too. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll be reading about this particular glimmer some time next year.Arts & Entertainment Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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