Farewell, Houston

I’ve always been able to assimilate my experiences into nonfiction more rapidly than fiction. I still force myself to try and tell a good story in nonfiction, but when it comes to “the truth” at least I have real-life events and histories from which to draw my inspiration. So much of what makes good nonfiction is what an author chooses to leave out, how he or she presents certain details and facts. It’s all there, it’s just a matter of sifting and shaping, having an eye for what rises to the top and what makes a better subtext.

When it comes to fiction, I usually despise trying to decipher what came from where or why I thought of a particular event or metaphor. It takes the fun out of it. But I’ll pause here long enough to say that traveling to a different ecosystem or setting, more than anything else, seeps its way into my fiction first. Place and rhythm happen first. I can see/feel a place, I can hear/feel the rhythm of the sentences, the kinds of words that will fit. Then metaphor comes, but only vaguely–like a ghost–and I write my way towards it sideways, rarely looking at it dead on. From there it’s a matter of moving characters around in the story, letting landscape and language play as much a role in plot as a character’s own self-will.

It’s been an intense 25 days in the city, but for every moment I’ve
wished to see the stars, to walk without being heckled, or hear the
sounds of wildlife, I’ve also found pleasant surprises: the ice cream
vendor who talked to me yesterday, the YMCA that gave me a free month’s
pass, the opportunity to see Al Pacino recite poetry, a first-rate
screening of Pearl Jam 20…Either way you look at it, I owe a huge
thanks to Howard–who put me up, toured me around, and made Houston feel
as much like home as it ever could to this urbanly-challenged,
occasionally over-wraught, ever-determined writer. This weekend THE CLAW
and I will hit the road, cruising 300 miles to Medina, Texas where I
was awarded a 3-week residency at Madrono Ranch.

Houston has offered rich psychological and cultural terrain. I feel certain I’ll be writing a story with a prison in it, a story with Hispanic characters (well, I already do that a good bit anyway), and surely a story with cameos from hecklers, ice cream vendors, and the kind of drivers who use Truck Nuts (of which I’ve seen far too many in Texas).

17 of 25 Ways of Looking at Houston: This sunset is the last photo in the series because I forgot I don’t blog on weekends and I’ve been counting wrong all along…but what a sunset it was!
Today’s NY Times title prompt: “One in Five.” (This is the last title prompt, too, but in October I’ll be launching my first prompt/story promo. If you subscribe to my list [upper left on the sidebar] then you’ll get at chance at some freebies but either way, it’ll be announced on The Writing Life. Stay tuned!)

  • Kyle Lang


    Can't wait for the story with truck nuts. I've always been amazed at the cultural phenomenon they have sparked.

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