Houston, I have an apology …

I admit I was cruel and heartless!

“I’m from Texas, and one of the reasons I like Texas is because there’s no one in control.”
Willie Nelson

I lived in Houston for a number of years, driven more by circumstance than choice. My final few years in Houston were hard times, both personally and professionally. I left Texas blaming my tough times on Houston — I told people that the place has bad vibes and that it brought me ill luck.

I am now far, far away from Houston, in both time and space. And this distance from Houston has led me to a different perspective. I actually find myself instinctively stiffening up when I hear someone ignorantly criticizing Texas. I find that the knowledge of Texas by most “outsiders” is so shallow that their criticism is more like superstition than judgment.

And then, a while back, I read a review in the Wall Street Journal of the book, “Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas”. I have not read the full book yet, but the review highlighted aspects of Texas and Houston that anyone who has lived there would recognize instantly. Houston is, by far, the most vigorous, diverse, and “can do” place I have ever visited — it’s like my vision of what all America was once like when it was younger, more rambunctious, and more interested in opportunities rather than outcomes.

Houston is always near the top of the list in the number of business start-ups created per capita — given that Houston is the fourth largest city in the USA, that is an incredible statistic — in raw absolute numbers, Houston dwarfs nearly every other region of the USA in entrepreneurial activity. Those start-up businesses span the range from nanotechnology and other high-tech firms to restaurants and lawn maintenance operations. And they include aspiring writers as well …

In spite of my perceived bad times in Houston, I realized one morning that Houston is the place where I took the great leap into trying to survive as a full-time writer. I lived on the edge (and beyond the edge) of oblivion while spending time writing the romantic suspense novel, At Any Cost, that eventually brought me a contract with Diversion Books. The inspiration for the book was my experiences in Washington, D. C., but it was in Houston where I performed the hard work of actually writing it!

Houston is also the place where I launched my (now) long-standing blog, Enron Online: The Enron Blog and where I wrote the lion’s share of the posts for that blog. And it is that blog and those posts that inspired my book, Blogging Enron: The Enron Broadband Story.

One of the unusual things about being a writer is that everything that happens to you is gist for your craft. Hard times can be invaluable sources of wisdom and, strangely, even of inspiration. I cannot say that you must suffer to be a good writer — I know fine writers who appear to lead charmed lives. And I don’t know if my writing is of better quality when I am going through hard times; however, I am sure that bad times motivate (or force) me to an end result. And until I have a book or an essay or a blog post that somebody else can read, I don’t really feel that I have done my job as a writer.

But I think there is more than just hard times that helped me create my commercial books. Something about being in Houston played a role — I’m sure of this even if I cannot describe it clearly.

Could I have written those books somewhere other than Houston? Probably I could have. But I suspect there was something in that wide open, “go for it” Houston atmosphere that finally gave me the grit to take the risk and get the work done.

So, Houston, I apologize for the cruel things I’ve said about you. You will always be that wild boy who I loved, but just could not live with.

— Cara Ellison

I love Houston. / Photo illustration by Sarah Rufca (2010) / fair use under U.S. copyright laws

[This essay was written for Rumble Press by Cara Ellison. Cara is the author of the romantic suspense novel, At Any Cost, and the nonfiction book, Blogging Enron: The Enron Broadband Story. Her current project is a paranormal romance novel. Cara is also an intrepid blogger and photographer. She currently lives near London.]