Pam Houston takes readers to her Colorado ranch in her new memoir, Deep Creek.
How long did you spend working on this book? How does that compare to your others?
This book took longer than any other book I have written so far. Like every book, it started out fast, and during the first year, I thought, wow, I am going to knock this out in no time. And then I hit the wall I always hit around page 100, but it took me longer to get around the wall with this book. There are a few reasons for that. I had said to myself early on, I am not going to rely on all of my old tricks with this one. God knows what exactly I meant. God knows why I wanted to torture myself that way. I meant something about motion and quick changes. This book was about staying put, and none of my others have been. I kept saying I wanted to write deeply into the tall grass. This book is my most earnest book by far, in a career of fairly earnest books, and I was afraid that earnestness would bore people to death. Without the flash. Without the motion. It took every bit of six years to write. That is two years longer than pretty much all of the others.
Did this writing process change you?
Sure. Every book changes me. I told myself I wasn’t going to rely on my old tricks, so I learned some new ones. Or maybe I learned it was OK to be a little more generous with myself, with my thoughts and feelings. Maybe I completed another chapter in the lifelong lesson in how it is better to be kind than cool, less important to be smart than sincere.
What prompted you to begin this self-exploration?
My whole career has been about self-exploration. Every book. This particular self-exploration happened because Alane, my editor, suggested I go on a book-length adventure. She wanted a memoir from me for a change. Not autobiographical fiction. Not something in the middle, as Contents May Have Shifted was. I thought about an adventure. I have always wanted to sail the entire coast of Turkey. I have always wanted to complete a long journey on a dog sled. There were several options. Then one day I was driving home to the ranch after 10 weeks of teaching in California. The drive is 18 hours, and the dogs and I get so happy at hour three, when we get back over to the leashless side of the Sierras. We are elated to be coming home. I got halfway across Utah and thought, wait a minute. The ranch is my book-length adventure. My life-length adventure. This ranch. Sitting still. Becoming responsible for something over the long haul. So I proposed that to Alane, and she accepted.
Any public self-expression is a vulnerable act, but memoir seems especially so. How do you process this?
Telling the truth, the deepest truth, or as close as I can get to it, has always been my objective, whether the book is called fiction or nonfiction. I honestly don’t see any way to be a writer without being vulnerable, and without telling your most delicate and dangerous truths. I guess I just think of it as the price of admission, and when bad things happen because of it, when I get hurt or threatened or shamed, that is just part of that price. There are a lot of benefits to it, too. Like a really great job and sanity.
You’ve spent years living part-time on the ranch, part-time on the road, speaking and teaching. Does the split still feed both your desires for metropolitan amenities and connection to the land?
Yes. As much as I love the land—and I do—I still love an adventure. (I am writing to you from far eastern Uruguay right now, surrounded by Criollo horses, in the middle of a lightning storm.) I also like sushi and bookstores and mass transit. I imagine I will take some version of this split with me to the grave.
Have your neighbors in your small community read the book? How do you think they’ll feel about it?
I can’t speak for my neighbors. I have read the portions of it to those folks who figure in it directly, and they are OK with how they are portrayed. As for the others, a few of them will like it, and more of them won’t like it, and some of them will ask me, if the book is called “Deep Creek,” why is the dog on the front standing in an inch and a half of water.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Deep Creek.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.