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Author accidentally wrote novel

photo courtesy of PAM HOUSTON
Pam Houston says writers should perform when they read. She'll read some of her work at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Modern Languages auditorium.
By Nathan Tafoya
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 26, 2004
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After graduating from Denison University in Ohio more than 20 years ago, fiction writer Pam Houston rode across Canada and down to Eugene, Ore., for the sake of adding to her repertoire of experiences. When she arrives in Tucson, however, it will be by plane and with tons of experience.

As a guest for the UA's Visiting Poets and Writer Reading Series, Houston will be reading from her new novel, "Sighthound," Wednesday in the Modern Languages auditorium.

The daughter of a Broadway actress, Houston refers to her readings as performances.

"I always get dismayed when writers read from their work and don't understand they're performing," Houston said. "And this could go back to my mother's genes, my acting genes."

Houston said writers reading aloud should think of themselves as performers and interact with their audience.

"And they should keep their audience in mind and strive to please them, or piss them off or something," she said.

"Sighthound" is a story about 12 characters whose lives are connected through and revolve around an Irish wolfhound. According to Houston, Irish wolfhounds are called sight hounds because they hunt by sight and not smell.

If you go ...

Pam Houston reads from her novel "Sighthound"

8 p.m.

Wednesday, March 3

Modern Languages auditorium

Houston, who has written two books of short stories and one book of essays, says she heavily resisted shaping "Sighthound" into a novel because she did not consider herself a novelist.

"I think a lot of writers are afraid to write a novel," said Houston. "Especially if you feel you really know how to write a short story, a novel just seems like a whole other animal."

When Houston discovered that her characters wanted to speak more than once in "Sighthound," she even tried to extend her book to 24 short stories so each character could speak twice.

"I went to great lengths to avoid writing a novel and finally I was like, 'Oh wow. This is a novel,'" Houston said. "It dawned on me quite late. And then, once I kind of gave into the idea, I really enjoyed the form. I think I'll probably write another one."

"Sighthound" took Houston 3 1/2 years to complete, but she said three years per book is her average rate. She said that's usually due to a "gestation" period, following her gung-ho start, usually plowing 60 to 80 pages into her work.

"I run with the idea as far as I can, and then I have to let it gel for some period of time," Houston said about her writing process. "In this case, it was a year. And then when I went back to it, I was ready to finish it."

Houston said immersing herself into 300 pages of the same story was a new experience.

But Houston doesn't shy from happenstance.

"I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to have experiences, so I thought I would have a lot of experiences if I rode across the continent. And so I did," said Houston, recalling her post-baccalaureate sentiments.

With a vague notion of attending graduate school, Houston signed up to take the GRE in Oregon, only to become disenchanted with the rain.

"I couldn't handle it," she said of the rain. "And I was hiding in my tent and I had no money. And so I changed the test to Boulder 'cause that was another place I'd heard of, and rode to Boulder. And that's how I wound up in Colorado."

Houston resides in Creede, Colo., when she isn't teaching creative writign at University of California, Davis.

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