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Local Author Highlights Houston's Characteristics and Quirks

Cindy Burnett
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Houston Books

William Dylan Powell's latest books details Houston's fabulously unique and sometimes eccentric characteristics. 

Looking for a great, fun gift to give a Houstonian? William Dylan Powell’s new book, Houston Culture Shock: Quirks, Customs, and Attitudes of H-Town, fits the bill perfectly, whether you are looking for something for a long-time Houstonian or someone who has just moved here (a Newstonian per Powell). 

I first discovered Powell several years ago at the bookstore where I work. For the holidays, we were selling Lost Houston, a beautiful coffee table book about the many buildings that are no longer standing here in the city. I bought every copy the store had, and I had great feedback on it from those people to whom I gifted it. Then last fall we stocked Secret Houston: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, and I included it in my fall book talks where it sold out every time. One friend even bought dozens for her firm to gift to clients. 

This year, Powell writes about the things that make Houston unique (and sometimes eccentric) including the bayou, the medical center, the museum district, the theatre district, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, and the Nutcracker Market and explains about the pollen, the humidity, the gazillion pickup trucks, the traffic and our allegiance to Whataburger. I interviewed Powell about Houston Culture Shock, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

William Dylan Powell

William Dylan Powell reflects on his new book, Houston Culture Shock: Quirks, Customs, and Attitudes of H-Town.

Tell me a little bit about your latest book.
Houston Culture Shock is all about the everyday quirks of living in Houston—the kind of things you don’t always get in tourist literature. We’re talking stuff like the lifestyle, cityscape, tips for getting around, nature, events, local heroes and that kind of thing. Did you know there are wild peacocks running around the westside? Or that Houston is as humid as Vietnam? Or that we have three different allergy seasons? It’s all stuff like that. It’s like a cheat sheet for what it’s like to live here. 

What is the most difficult part about writing (this one and generally) for you?
For this project, the hardest thing was presenting the city in a broadly accessible way. I mean, Houston is a huge place with all of these cultures and lifestyles. It’s a very different city for a working single mom in the Third Ward, a Montrose artist, a wealthy socialite in the Memorial area or an engineer with a big family in the Energy Corridor. How do you present “what it’s like to live here” for all of these diverse ways of living? I initially wasn’t going to take the project because I didn’t think I could get around that. 

But, one-by-one, things came to mind that everyone in Houston experiences. Hey, all of these people have to deal with hurricanes. They all drive around the same city. They all eat. Soon I had 85 or 90 different things I felt most people could appreciate, and by the end I had to cut several spreads from the book because I’d written way too many entries. (I saved that stuff to share during special events.) The publisher thought it could be fun to do it with a little humor, too, and he was right. In the end, I’m really happy with it and glad I took on the project. Generally, the hardest part about writing for me is deciding which project to work on. Every writer has a ton of ideas; it’s deciding how to invest your time that can be tough.  

What was your favorite part and least favorite part of the publishing journey?
I’ve been pretty lucky on the publishing front. This is my ninth book. Time management is always tricky. My publisher for this book, Reedy Press, is very gracious about time. But usually authors are under intense pressure. It’s like, you bring an idea to a bunch of strangers in New York, you sign a contract and now they’re like “Cool. We need a manuscript in 90 days.” And you’re like it took you five months to answer my query letter. Now it’s on fire all of the sudden? My favorite part is unboxing the finished product when it shows up. I always take a picture.

Are you working on anything at the present that you would like to share with me?
I’m 40,000 words into a fiction project right now that’s a lot of fun, but it’s kind of a niche piece that won’t really be mass marketed. It’s like a contemporary kung fu fantasy adventure sort of like the Wu Assassin series by John Wirth and Tony Krantz. It’s just a labor of love for kung fu enthusiasts. I used to study kung fu and never really got to write anything in that world, so I’m indulging myself before returning to some more commercial projects in 2021. 

What do you like to do when you are not writing or reading?
I’m totally an introvert and a homebody these days. Reading and writing are my favorites. If I have some down time, I like to play a bit of golf, maybe go hiking or just have a beer with friends. Things where I move around and get sun because I sit at a desk all day. Usually I’m the guy who gets his feelings hurt if you don’t invite him, but then almost always politely declines, hahaha. 

Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.
I’m a cancer survivor. In 2014 doctors found a tumor in my chest the size of a Nerf football. They said I had a 50-50 chance of living five more years. I fought it hard for about a year—six months of chemo, a month of daily radiation treatments and months of recovery. That sort of ended kung fu training for me, but I had some of the world’s leading doctors at M.D. Anderson. Now I’m in total remission. I’m actually a much more laid back person on the other side of it. I work hard, usually 12-hour days, but I stress a lot less. I’ve learned not to make small problems feel like big problems. When life gives you a big problem, you’ll know it. 

I hope you will check out Houston Culture Shock: Quirks, Customs, and Attitudes of H-Town and while you are at it, Secret Houston: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. Do not forget to shop local – your Houston business really need the support!

For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.


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