The 21st Annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor
of Elmer Kelton
March 23-24, 2017
Featured writer: Anne Hillerman
When Anne Hillerman takes the stage at the 21st annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton, we do not expect her to be channeling her late father, Tony Hillerman. She brings insights aplenty from her own distinguished career as journalist, newspaper editor, food critic, and author of a many non-fiction books and two best-selling novels.
Nevertheless, it’s a sure bet that her presentations to the ASU community will include knowledge and wisdom from that other master writer and story-teller, author of the Joe Leaphorn Navajo mystery series.
“Tony Hillerman,” Anne says in a 2014 interview, “was my biggest influence. I thank my lucky stars every day that I had an opportunity to grow up with him, to listen to him talk about both the joy and the challenges of his work. I could see it was not always easy—even though like all good writers, he made the final product look effortless. Through his example, I came to understand the commitment, hard work and frustration that being a writer entails and also the great joy and satisfaction that come from sharing stories and from getting a scene, a character, a section of dialogue just right.”
After her father’s death in 2008, Anne began collaborating with her husband, photographer Don Strel, on the book that became Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn (Harper, 2009), winner of the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Association Award. While promoting the book, Anne listened as many of her father’s fans expressed how much they loved and would miss the Navaho mystery series.
“That,” says Anne, “and the fact that I was missing those stories, too, gave me the impetus to write my first novel.”
The idea of continuing her father’s series was daunting.
“I was a little apprehensive, because I knew Dad’s fans would have high expectations of any book with the ‘Hillerman’ name, and that many of them knew the characters very well. However, I had at least three things in my favor: I understood the series very well; I had already published several non-fiction books; and Dad had created a minor character whom I could develop into my protagonist, giving the series a new twist.”
Spider Woman’s Daughter (Harper, 2013) debuted on the New York Times best-seller list and won the prestigious Western Writers of America 2013 Spur Award for Best First Novel. The novel focuses on Bernadette Manuelito, a minor character introduced in Tony Hillerman’s books as protégée of Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and girlfriend of Navaho tribal cop Jim Chee.
“I thought it would be interesting to move her into the role of a full-fledged, competent officer. Dad had left much uncharted territory with Bernie, and that made my job easier.”
Rock with Wings, a second book with Bernie as protagonist, followed in 2015. A third novel, Song of the Lion, is scheduled for release by HarperCollins in April 2017.
In a conversation with S.S. Bazinet, author of the Vampire Reclamation Project book series, Anne explains what motivates her to write. “I started in journalism, motivated by a desire to get the news out to people and by a lot of curiosity about our wonderful world. After that, writing got to be a habit, in a good way. It became who I was and what I did.”
“What’s most rewarding about writing?”
“Discovering something new, coming up with a darn good idea, phrase, character, setting, sentence that seems to be a gift from the universe.”
Anne was strongly recommended to us by last year’s ASU Writers Conference featured writer, Longmire creator Craig Johnson. Her strong and generous support for other writers is one of the reasons.
Anne is a co-founder and director of the Tony Hillerman’s Writer’s Conference and serves on the boards of New Mexico Press Women and Western Writers of America. She has been an inspirational speaker at conferences across the country, including the National Book Festival.
“Writing well is hard work,” she often says, “and worth every minute of it.”
When she struggles with the writing process, with the challenge of “getting it just right,” she recalls the advice of her famous father:
We have no doubt that she will continue to follow this advice.
And it is just as certain that she will inspire both fledgling and seasoned writers in her audience at Angelo State to do the same.
According to Anne Hillerman:
“One of the many facets of Navajo culture that appeals to me is the lack of value attached to vengeance. This ‘eye for an eye’ notion pervading white culture is looked upon by the Diné as a mental illness.”
- Tony Hillerman’s Landscape
“I love libraries. I spent many, many pleasant and exciting hours at the Santa Fe Public Library as a child, waiting for my Dad to finish his work at the newspaper office. The library was not only a safe haven, it invited me to learn about things I never knew existed and fed my curiosity in a wonderful way. I put my first library card, pale blue with a little metal plate with my name, in my treasure box.”
- Library Quotes (libraryquotes.org)
“Journalism required me to get to the point quickly, to be a good listener, to do research (but not too much research) and to write on deadline. It also allowed me to meet all kinds of interesting people who probably show up in some form as characters.”
- BookPage (bookpage.com)
“Tony Hillerman inspires me still. I can re-read his books and find nuances and moral complexity I missed the first times. I love the way he allowed his policemen protagonists to differentiate between what’s legal and true justice, between doing the expected thing and doing the right thing. Beyond that, I love books that tell a good story with poetic respect for the language.”
- Interview with S.S. Bazinet (ssbazinet.com)
According to readers:
“A daughter takes on her famous father’s legacy in resuming a series focused on Navajo culture, maintaining the integrity throughout.”
- Kirkus Reviews
“From the utterly shocking opening scene to the final twist, Anne Hillerman offers a thrilling Southwestern tale featuring the unforgettable characters of Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, set in the vivid landscapes of Navajo country. Spider Woman’s Daughter is a must read for anyone who loved the great Tony Hillerman novels, now carried on by his amazingly talented daughter, a superb writer herself. I dearly hope this is the first of many.”
- Douglas Preston, No. 1 New York Times bestselling autho
“Chip off the literary block—there are a lot of things Tony taught his daughter, Anne, and one of them was how to tell a good story. Spider Woman’s Daughter is a proud addition to the legacy, capturing the beauty and breath of the Southwest as only a Hillerman can.”
- Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire Mysteries, the basis for A&E’s hit television series Longmire
“In her first novel, reporter Hillerman successfully revives Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, last seen in The Shape Shifter (2006), the final book from her father, MWA Grand Master Tony Hillerman (1925-2008)…Like her father, Hillerman has a gift for combining history and mystery.”
- Publishers Weekly
“Tony Hillerman’s 18 mysteries followed the investigations of Navajo cops Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Fans mourned when Hillerman died in 2008. Now the late author’s beloved characters return in this series relaunch by his daughter, Anne. Pot hunters, archaeologists, controversy over the museum display of tribal objects, and insurance fraud culminate in a heart-stopping, action-packed conclusion as Bernadette and Jim risk their lives to bring a would-be assassin to justice. VERDICT: Fans of Southwestern mysteries will cheer this return of Leaphorn and Chee.”
- Library Journal (starred review)
“Big shoes! Those are what Anne Hillerman has to fill in taking over for her father, the late best-selling writer Tony Hillerman, beloved by critics and readers alike for his iconic Navajo mysteries, which spanned a whopping 36 years…So seamless is the writing transition from father to daughter, it is easy to forget that one is reading Anne , not Tony. That said, Anne brings a welcome female perspective to the table, fleshing out several of the female supporting characters but never forgetting the importance of the two main players who define the series. Nicely done on every level.”