Anne Hillerman had some very big shoes to fill when she stepped up to continue her father Tony Hillerman’s much loved Joe and Jim Navajo mysteries, an 18-book series adored by fans as well as admired by critics.
Hi there, I’m your host Jenny Wheeler and in Binge Reading this week Anne talks about how she came to assume her father’s mantle and write five more Navajo mysteries which are all New York Times best sellers.
And we’ve got three E book copies of her latest, The Tale Teller, to giveaway to three lucky readers. A mysterious anonymous donation . . . a precious artifact stolen, linked by a seemingly random murder. . .
Six things you’ll learn from this Joys of Binge Reading episode:
- How Anne came to take on her father’s mantle
- Why writing non fiction led to fiction
- The tragic strength of the Navajo people
- How a fine dress became a holy relic
- Places to go in Navajo country
- What she wishes she’d asked her Dad Tony Hillerman
Where to find Anne Hillerman:
What follows is a “near as” transcript of our conversation, not word for word but pretty close to it, with links to important mentions.
Jenny Wheeler: But now here’s Anne. Hello there Anne and welcome to the show. It’s great to have you with us.
Anne Hillerman: Hello Jenny. Thank you so much for asking me.
Introducing author Anne Hillerman
Jenny Wheeler: We’re both in a global pandemic at the opposite sides of the world and I wonder how you are managing with social distancing. Has it made much of an impact on your life?
Anne Hillerman: Yes and no. I think anyone who’s a writer tends to have some pretty strong introverted genes and so in some ways I have been glad to have an excuse to say, no, I can’t go to lunch, no, I can’t talk to your Kiwanis group, to your Rotary group because of social distancing, and to have more quiet time to focus on my writing.
But the downside of that is I write about real places, and part of my process always has been going to the places that are in the book and then trying to talk to people who live there to get a real sense of what the community is like.
Getting through a pandemic whole
With the book I’m working on now, I had two big interviews set up right before New Mexico, the state where I live, went on not exactly lockdown, but pretty darn close to it. One of the interviews was at a school and of course they were all closed and the other was at a scientific facility and the person I was talking to did the public tours so those were all closed. That’s been a downside of it. But I think once things open up again, I’ll be able to put those pieces together.
I miss my friends and I miss being able to go out to dinner but all in all, I think we just have to all do what we can, so we’ll be done with this. I guess that’s a long answer to your short question.
Summertime is coming soon…
Jenny Wheeler: That’s absolutely right. If we all do our bit, then hopefully. I heard somebody on the TV this morning say, well, it’s going to be like this for the next two years or until we get a vaccine and I guess none of us really wants to think of it that way, but it might be a little bit of a long journey.
Anne Hillerman: I had some really sweet invitations to do talks this Spring and of course they were all canceled and so I missed that. But it’s worth it. I have so many friends who are in the high risk group and I wouldn’t have ever wanted to take a chance on anything happening to them, so I think we all have to do our part to get through this.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes. You’ve got a unique story as a novelist because you’ve continued your father, Tony Hillerman’s, popular Navajo tribal series.
Living up to a father’s legemd
Tony was a legend. His obituary in The New York Times noted that he was a “rare figure, a best-selling author who was adored by his fans, admired by fellow authors, and respected by critics.” Tell us something of his legacy.
Anne Hillerman: My father started the mystery series that people have loved for a long time 50 years ago. He came up with the character of Joe Leaphorn, Navajo detective. In that first book he hadn’t really intended to write a series about the Navajo Indians.
He had always loved mysteries and his idea was that he would bring in this interesting character and do a setting that people weren’t familiar with and that that would give his books a little something different. The Blessing Way came out on March 11, 1970, 50 years ago. It’s amazing.
The birth of Joe Leaperhorn
Then he wrote a non-series book but he loved those Navajo characters and so then he wrote the other 17 books in that series. Besides writing his books, he also taught journalism and creative writing at the University of New Mexico and acted as a mentor to many writers who were coming up and people who really needed encouragement.
Three of his books were turned into movies. He won many, many prizes for his mystery writing. At the time, I had always been a big reader and I loved my dad and I loved reading his stories, but I didn’t quite realize what an icon, I guess you could use that word, what an icon he was in the mystery world until after he died.
Then I saw, like that tribute you mentioned in The New York Times all over the mystery world and I got so many letters from people saying, I feel like I’ve lost a member of my family, we really loved your father and we loved his stories.
Bringing alive the Navajo world
I think his legacy was creating stories that brought to life a part of the world that a lot of people had never thought about and humanized native characters that many people maybe had not ever thought of, or if they thought of them, they just thought of them as stereotypes.
I think the other part of his legacy was his big heart. He was very generous, as I mentioned, in supporting other writers, in offering to talk for free at schools, at universities, and making himself available for writers’ conferences.
I could go on, I could take our whole time talking about my father’s legacy. I feel so enormously blessed and grateful to have had such a fine man as well as a fine writer as my father.
Taking over the mystery mantle
Jenny Wheeler: What gave you the idea to pick up on the series yourself?
Anne Hillerman: My background was nonfiction, and I had been working on a nonfiction book about the places in the Navajo world that my father wrote about – places that he visited and loved.
My husband and I, my husband’s a professional photographer, had spent I guess about two years traveling all through Navajo land, talking to people, taking photos.
I was almost done with the book when my dad died so my husband and I finished the book and a year after my father’s death, the book was published and my husband and I did a little book tour to libraries and bookstores and we’re talking about the book. Every time I would do the talk, the first or second or maybe third question would be, are there any more books in the series?
The fans were missing her Dad
Was there something that your father was working on that was at the publisher, something another editor could finish, you know, a collection of short stories?
And I would say no, sorry, my dad really took care of business before he died. Then the person asking the question would say oh, I love those characters. I love those stories, oh no, this is the worst news I’ve ever heard. I heard that longing for those stories so many times, and at the same time of course, I was dealing with my own grief at my father’s death, and after a while it dawned on me that just like those fans, besides missing my father,
I was thinking how can it be that there will be no more Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn stories? This just isn’t right. I had never written a novel, but I thought I could give it a try and the worst thing that happens is that I use up a few years of my life and then I get it out of my system.
Spider Woman’s Daughter
Those things were the combination that led me to think maybe I could continue the series.
Jenny Wheeler: Now you’re five into your version of Joe and his offsiders, aren’t you, but you’ve found a new way to approach it as well, because in the first book under your name, which was Spider Woman’s Daughter, you introduced a new female protagonist, so you freshened it up a little bit. Tell us about that strategy.
Anne Hillerman: Okay. Well, I’ll go back a little bit. My father and I never talked about me continuing the series and I couldn’t imagine the world without my father, so I never raised the issue. He was very much his own man. Once in a while he would call me into his office and he would read me something maybe that he had just finished, something he was working on.
Introducing Bernie Manuelito
So when I thought maybe I could continue this series, I knew that I could never be Tony Hillerman. I figured if this has any chance in the world of being a success, I need to think of some way to save the integral parts the fans loved but at the same time give it my own touch.
Dad had this minor character who I always had enjoyed, Bernadette Manuelito, and in his last book, Bernie has married Jim Chee. He doesn’t show the wedding but she’s settled into that and I think if my dad had written more books, he probably would have abandoned her to married life and babies and gone on with the two guys he loved.
But I always thought she had more potential than just being the girlfriend who brings the coffee, the sweet young thing who has to get rescued. My idea was that it was time for her to really become a full-fledged crime solver.
A woman steals the spotlight
In Spider Woman’s Daughter I thought if I’m going to introduce her as being on the same level as the boys, I need to come up with a big crime for her to solve. I don’t want to say too much. I know there are people out there who’ve never heard of me or this series and if they are like me, they like to start with the first book, which is Spider Woman’s Daughter.
Anyway, I did come up with what I thought was a pretty big crime for Bernie to solve – Bernadette Manuelito, she’s known as Bernie. She solves the crime and in the process she also manages to rescue her husband Jim Chee, who gets caught up in and endangered by the bad guys.
When I finished that book, I wondered, Dad’s fans are so used to the guys being the ones who solve everything, what are they going to think about having a new girl who comes up and basically steals the spotlight in this book?
First one a New York Times beseller
Luckily, my father’s fans had big hearts and they took a chance on me and on Bernie and on Spider Woman’s Daughter.
That was the impetus for that first book, and then, as a writer yourself, you know as you’re working on a book, you get other ideas that don’t fit in that book but you think these are pretty good, so you squirrel them away in part of your brain. That was what happened with the other books in the series. I was working on them, I’d get another idea and get another idea and so it went.
Jenny Wheeler: You’re very much a chip off the old block because every one of your Navajo series books has also been a New York Times best seller. Congratulations on that.
Anne Hillerman: Well, like I said, it was the big hearts of the people who loved my dad, who took a chance on me. Now amazingly – I hoped this would happen – I find people who read my books and then they say, were there other books in this series? I say oh, you should read Tony Hillerman.
Trail of Tears background story
Jenny Wheeler: There’s a treasure trove there for them to discover, isn’t there, with 18 of them?
The one that’s the most recent, The Tale Teller, drew its inspiration from a historic tragedy that affected the Navajo people. There are quite a lot of people in Australia and New Zealand who wouldn’t be familiar with that history. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the key events that book is anchored around.
Anne Hillerman: I would be glad to. I think a lot of people, particularly in the United States, are familiar with what’s called the Trail of Tears. That was when so many of our indigenous people were forced from their homeland and marched into basically concentration camps. A lot of those people lost their culture, they were never able to go back to their traditional homeland.
Navajo people’s Long Walk
The Navajo version of that event was called The Long Walk. This was after the Civil War in the United States. The Navajo people traditionally had been hunters and gatherers and farmers and they had roamed the southwest and their lifestyle was, they might steal some sheep from some people, or maybe they didn’t even think of stealing, they would just sort of round them up and put them to use.
As Western expansion in the United States continued, there was less and less tolerance for this sort of lifestyle and so the US Government attempted to do some treaties with the Navajos to get them to become farmers. But the government didn’t understand that, unlike some of the Eastern tribes, the Navajos were organized in bands.
They might make an agreement with one band and the headman would sign the agreement and that band would follow that agreement, but other Navajos didn’t know anything about the agreement.
Force marched to New Mexico
They would continue their traditional practices and eventually the American Government decided they should round up all of these ratty Navajos and move them about 500 miles from their traditional homeland down to a place in southern New Mexico. The idea was they would turn them into farmers.
Well, the Navajo did not want to go, of course. The army at first tried persuasion, that did not work at all so then they killed the livestock, burned the farms, chopped down all the fruit trees and basically starved them out. Women, children, men, all kinds of people then were forced marched – that was why they called it The Long Walk – force marched down to this concentration camp. When they got there, there was no control for disease, there was inadequate food, the water was not suitable for farming.
A failed experiment in repatriation
It was many thousands, I think they said about 20% of the Navajo people who were forced to go down to Bosque Redondo died either on the way or down there. Eventually the Government decided this experiment was not going to work, and so they called together some of the Navajo leaders and they said, we have a deal for you.
We’re going to give you some prime farmland in Oklahoma and we’re going to move you there. The Navajo leaders said no, that’s not what we want. They said just let us go back to our own land. They said even if you only give us one goat, that’s where we belong, that was the land the Holy People gave us. Let us go back there. We promise we won’t return to our bad old ways.
The army said that land looks pretty useless. It’s just dry desert. Who wants to live there anyway?
The Long Walk Back home
So the Navajo were the first of all the indigenous tribes in America that were allowed to return to their traditional homeland. That event is called The Long Walk Out and the Long Walk Back.
This is a long answer to your question but it’s such an important story in native history that I appreciate you giving me the time to tell it in my sort of white girl version here. Anyway, one of the Navajo leaders who signed the peace treaty was a gentleman named Manuelito.
An interesting thing about that is that women had always been leaders in the Navajo society, but the army, of course, didn’t recognize any women leaders back in the 1860’s. Manuelito’s wife was a woman named Juanita, and Juanita also was a very highly respected Navajo leader. There are many pictures of Manuelito and Juanita after Manuelito signed the treaty.
The dress that became a holy relic
In those pictures Juanita is wearing what’s called a biil. It’s a famous traditional Navajo dress, a woven dress, one piece, a simple design, very beautiful, very practical.
About five years ago, the dress that Juanita wore in those pictures, that she had woven herself, was displayed at the National Navajo Museum in Window Rock and something like 10,000 Navajo people came from all over the Navajo world, not only on the Reservation, but Navajos who had been living in Phoenix and Los Angeles and Des Moines, all over the world, came to see that dress.
I was raised as a Catholic and I often think it’s as if there was a relic of the Holy Cross that had been on display in our cathedral. People from throughout the South West would have come to see it. It was the same with Juanita’s dress.
A mystery for a 150th anniversary
When I started working on The Tale Teller it was the 150th anniversary of the signing of that treaty which created the Navajo nation. I thought of that treaty and I thought of how the Navajo people came to see that dress and what an important relic it was of that very sad time in Navajo history.
Then, because I write fiction, I thought what if there was something else that Juanita had woven that had been in some collection of some museum or some collector. And what if some generous soul decided that that dress should come back and be part of the Navajo Museum collection? And then what if something happened?
Again, because it’s a mystery, I don’t want to say too much about it. But the confluence of those events was what gave me the idea for The Tale Teller.
Learning more of Navajo wisdom
I know that when I read fiction, and it’s probably the same with you and the same with readers everywhere, besides a good story I always feel more satisfied if I come away thinking that I’ve learned a little bit about history or a little bit about how some other person thinks or a little bit about science.
So when I write my books, I always try to include a little bit of information like that and hopefully I can include it and also have the mystery keep moving along.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s a great answer. You mentioned just a little disparagingly your “white girl version of history.” How did you become so well versed in Navajo culture?
Anne Hillerman: I think everything is relative. I’d say I probably am well versed for somebody who did not grow up with Navajo culture. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.
The cultural riches in museums
I try to use all of the resources that our fine libraries have. In Santa Fe we have two wonderful museums. One is called the Wheelwright Museum of Native American Art and it originally was a museum specifically about Navajo culture. It was founded by one of the Navajo hataalis, the senior medicine men, and a woman who had big connections with Navajo trading posts back at the turn of the 20th century.
The other thing I do is try to talk to as many Navajo people as I can. Another good thing about living in the southwest and a good thing about the Navajo culture itself is that many Navajo people are very open and very eager to share what it is that makes their life special with outsiders who have a legitimate interest and aren’t writing for exploitation, are just trying to help to tell the story.
Navajo culture – where to go
Jenny Wheeler: The books are all set in Navajo country but you do focus on different geographic locations in different books, don’t you? I wondered, for somebody who’d never been to the southwest, is there a way that they could visit and become a little bit better informed.
Obviously not in the next few months, but when international travel resumes again, are there well-known ways that you can really get to know more about Navajo culture on the ground?
Anne Hillerman: Yes. It’s really not that difficult. When I was working on Spider Woman’s Daughter, I also worked for a company called Road Scholar. They used to call them Elderhostel and then they decided that all of us elders would rather have a more upscale name.
They do tours, I think they are about 10-day tours into Navajo country. They also go to Zuni Pueblo and they bring in Navajo artists, Navajo historians to talk to the people who are on those groups and it’s a way to explore Indian country without having to drive yourself if someone is interested in that.
Window Rock Cultural Center
As I mentioned, part of The Tale Teller is set at the Navajo Cultural Center in Window Rock. It’s run by the tribes themselves, it offers a wonderful, wonderful introduction to Navajo culture.
They have a video all about healing plants and how they’re used both in weaving, how they’re used for healing and also how people can use it if you have a sore throat and you want a cup of tea.
It’s a really interesting video. The museum itself tells the story of the Navajo people from their own perspective. Window Rock is the capital of the Navajo nation and if I were planning a visit to Navajo land, I would start in Window Rock.
Canyon de Chelly Monument
When you come into the museum, they have another wonderful video that explains the Navajo origin story. It’s in Navajo and in English and it’s really such a gift to people who are curious about the Navajo culture.
The museum is arranged as it would be if you were going into a hogan and it talks about sheep and rodeo and the Navajo language and Navajo jewelry and Navajo education. That’s another wonderful place.
The Navajo nation has a good website for tourists, and I would highly encourage people who are interested in visiting to look that. Canyon de Chelly Monument Valley. Definitely put those on your list. There are many, many resources. It’s like anything, the more you learn, the more any kind of a visit to Indian country will mean to you.
Life before Anne became novelist
Jenny Wheeler: I will make sure we put links to those places on the blog posts so that people can follow through. That’s wonderful. Turning to your wider career, you mentioned that you were a journalist before you became a novelist. Tell us a little about life before you became a full-time novelist.
Anne Hillerman: Okay. Before my dad became a novelist, he also was a journalist and I don’t know if it’s in your genes or if some of it is in the environment, but when you grow up with a parent who is so passionate about what they do – certainly my dad’s passion for journalism had an effect on me.
I know when I was growing up, like a lot of young people I loved to read, I loved to write and people would say to me, so are you going to become a journalist like your dad, or are you going to become a scientist like your mom? I’d say, no, I’m my own person.
I went to college and I took all kinds of courses. I took Anthropology and Biology and Music.
Journalism became the vocation
Luckily when I was in school there was something called a University College Major where you could put all those courses together and get out of school. After about three years of doing that, it dawned on me that I did not want to be in school for another three years and that I might need to get a job someday.
I looked at all those credits and I had to admit that I really did love to write and I loved being on the cusp of finding out what was happening. That’s the gift that journalism gives you. So I decided I would put all my credits into a basket and see if I could get a degree in journalism.
Fortunately or unfortunately at that point, my dad was head of the Journalism Department. I have to say he was a great dad because he never pressured me, but when I said I think I’m going to major in Journalism, he said, I think you’ll really enjoy it. I think you have the right personality and the right set of skills to do that.
Moving into writing travel books
Anyway, I got my degree in journalism and then I worked at the newspaper in Santa Fe for about 15 years and then I had always thought it may be a good idea to be a mom. I got pregnant and, amazingly, was able to work part-time while I was raising my son. I became the editorial page editor for both our local papers here and I think when you’re in journalism, a lot of people see your name, they see your byline, and they see that you know how to put a story together. So I got some offers to do some nonfiction books.
While I was working full-time in journalism, I did some travel books. Then my son was getting older and I’m thinking, I’m going to have to put this kid through college. As much as I loved journalism, I didn’t love the salary. I had a friend who had worked for a financial company doing investor communications.
Sante Fe restaurant guide success
I thought, that doesn’t sound as exciting as journalism, but it sure would be nice to be able to help this kid’s pay tuition. So I did. It was a venture capital company. I did that for a year and that was when we had our first big recession and of course venture capital was one of the very first things that went down and investor communications was one of the very first things that got cut.
Luckily I had been doing some freelancing and I had been doing restaurant reviews for most of the newspapers. One of the publishers said, why don’t you put together a little restaurant guide? I live in Santa Fe, which is, or was, one of the prime tourist destinations – we’ll see what happens after COVID-19. Santa Fe has a lot of really fine restaurants, so I put together a little book, it was called Santa Fe Flavors and it did really well. I loved the editor I worked with there.
Santa Fe Garden guide follows
It was a small publisher in Utah called Gibbs Smith Press. Then they said to me, we’d like to do another book on Santa Fe gardens. What do you think? My mom had been a master gardener and I’m not much of a gardener, but I appreciate a good garden and I know how to interview people. I said, sure, that would be fun. So my husband and I went out and we did this book, it was called Gardens of Santa Fe. That was Don’s and my first experience working together on a long-term project. That book did really well too.
In the meantime, because I had lost my other job, I had a friend who knew something about the business of putting conferences together and she said, why don’t we do a writers’ conference in Santa Fe?
Sante Fe Writer’s conference
The traditional model for us out here in the boondocks is that you bring in some big guy like John Grisham and you pay him a ton of money and then you get all your little New Mexico people who want to be writers to come in and listen to him.
And I said, why don’t we use my dad? I think he would be happy to be a faculty member and he knows people and we know people. So we used my dad for a couple of years as the keynote speaker and used his connections in the world of New Mexico writing and southwest writing and did that writers’ conference.
This is a long way of telling you how I got into fiction. Anyway, through that writer’s conference, not only did my dad do some workshops but we brought in other pretty big name New Mexico writers – a guy named Michael McGarrity, Craig Johnson, who was not well known then but is well known now, a writer named Margaret Coel, who set her stories on the Arapaho nation, and that’s some good nonfiction writers.
Moving from non-fiction to fiction
I really was not thinking of going into novels but listening to those people I realized afterwards when I got the idea for Spider Woman’s Daughter that a lot of what they had to say about how to develop characters, how to pace your stories, how to write dialogue, all those skills you need as a fiction writer – I think listening to those people, some of their information kind of subliminally soaked into me. When I was thinking of moving from nonfiction to fiction, a lot of that experience really came in handy.
The other thing I didn’t realize I was even learning but that I did learn from nonfiction, was how to take care of a big project from beginning to end, which is totally different from journalism.
The writer’s journey
How to write a book that’s 200 pages instead of an article that’s 2000 words, how to manage my time with that, how to work with editors, how to walk that fine line that you walk in either fiction or nonfiction, which is, when do you say I agree with your corrections, when do you say, give me some time to think about it, or when do you say, what else can we do, this isn’t the vision I have for the story.
I think that experience in nonfiction, although I didn’t realize it at the time, really paid off for me when I made the switch to writing fiction.
Jenny Wheeler: Sure. Is that Santa Fe writers’ festival still going? Has that become a continuing event?
Anne Hillerman: It was continuing when Spider Woman’s Daughter came out. I was able to have that book at the festival. I was so pleased with that, but then I realized that teaching myself how to write fiction as I was writing fiction was a big job.
Anne Hillerman’s reading choices
And at that time my business partner, who took care of booking hotels and ordering the books and doing the contracts, she also had a part-time job and she was ready to retire from that job and she said, let’s take a break. I said, okay. We still have our company and it could be that we’ll resurrect it again, but no, we haven’t been doing them for the last few years.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, I know what you mean when you say learning how to write fiction is a big job. You don’t need to be distracted, do you?
Turning to Anne as a reader, because we are The Joys of Binge Reading, tell us a little about your reading tastes and what you’re enjoying at the moment.
Anne Hillerman: Let me see. One of the wonderful things about getting invited to writers’ conferences is that you have a chance to meet new writers that you would not have otherwise come across.
Some exciting upcoming authors
Last year I went up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the Jackson Hole writers’ conference and one of the other writers on the program is a wonderful, wonderful writer. I recommend her to all of your listeners.
Her name is Louisa Luna and her first book was called Two Girls Down. The second I think is called The Janes. She is dynamite. They’re hybrid books between thrillers and mysteries because with a regular mystery, your protagonists might not be in much danger but hers always get their butts kicked every time. She is a wonderful writer. I love her books.
I just finished a new book by another new writer named Chris Kelsey. He writes books set in Oklahoma in the 1970’s and he has a wonderful sheriff who is a guy with a strong moral compass who also has a strong affinity for bourbon and jazz. You wouldn’t think that would go together, but Chris Kelsey is another writer who deserves a lot more attention.
Navajos Wear Nikes
I love his books and I would love to see both Kelsey’s books and Luna’s books on The New York Times bestselling list and Amazon and all those places where people looking for new books might go to find a new writer.
Jenny Wheeler: It’s sometimes a bit arbitrary, isn’t it, the ones that make the headlines and the ones that don’t?
Anne Hillerman: I know. Sometimes I look at those books and I think this book is here because people love this writer, but this book itself is not the writer’s best work. It’s a challenge to readers with so many books to choose from and so many books that are maybe overly hyped and so many other good books that don’t rise to the top because people don’t know about them.
I also love to read a lot of nonfiction, particularly nonfiction that has to do with life on the reservation. There’s a writer named Jim Kristofic. He grew up on the Navajo reservation and his first book was called Navajos Wear Nikes.
Funny heart breaking memoir
It was published by the University of New Mexico Press. Because people can find anything anywhere, I’m sure people can find it. It’s a wonderful, funny and heartbreaking at the same time, memoir of his early years. He just did a sequel to it and I’m not remembering the name of it right away and I wrote them down but of course my notebook’s in the other room. I think maybe it’s called Reservation Restless.
He’s a fine writer and I would highly recommend both of those books to anybody who’s looking for a new voice and for a chance to learn a little bit more about the Navajos and the southwest.
Jenny Wheeler: We’ll make sure we put links to those as well. We’re coming to the end of our time together so circling around, pausing where we are and looking back down life’s tunnel and the way that you’ve done things, is there anything that you would change if you were doing it all over again?
What Anne would do differently
Anne Hillerman: If I knew that I was going to be brave enough to take on this landmark series, I would have talked more to my dad about it and I would have said, what do you do when you reach a point where you need to move the action along but you still want to be respectful of the tone of the Navajo way of life, which is you don’t rush things, you give people time to say what they need to say.
You respect a person’s privacy and if you have to go back eight times, you do that. How do you reconcile that with the pacing that you need for a modern mystery? And a million more questions I would have asked him if I had it to do over again. But then I don’t know if I would have had the courage to actually do it if I had talked to him about it because I would have felt like it was such a huge responsibility.
What would Tony Hillerman think?
That’s one thing I would have done differently. I would have paid more attention to how to use commas properly. I think my editors would have appreciated that.
Jenny Wheeler: I was going to say, isn’t that what editors are for? What do you think your dad would make of it? Some men who are extremely successful have that Type A personality, they don’t like to think about the fact that they might be able to be displaced. Do you think he would have been pleased?
Anne Hillerman: I think he would have been pleased because I know he had such affection for these characters. Sometimes I think he enjoyed spending time with them more than he did with his six rowdy kids. Also he took such delight when readers would come up to him and they would say, I never read mysteries but because of the setting and the cultural information in your books, I love your books and now I’m learning to enjoy other mysteries.
Three generations love the stories
Dad loved to hear that and I think he would be happy to think that these readers who loved his books are still able to see what Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn are up to.
Jenny Wheeler: Yes, I was touched by a comment that I read in that New York Tines obituary that he got more pleasure out of the Navajo children who came up to him and said they were enjoying the mysteries than all the rest of the popular acclaim.
Anne Hillerman: One thing that really tickles me when I am doing talks in Farmington or Gallup, in the border towns to the Navajo nation, and after the talk a Navajo mother and her daughter and her mother, the three generations, will come up and they’ll say, could we have our picture taken with you? It makes me feel like a hero.
Jenny Wheeler: What is next for Anne the writer? I believe you’ve got a sixth Navajo mystery, Stargazer, that’s in the editing process now. What else have we got coming up for 2020?
Next book is Stargazer
Anne Hillerman: One of the good things about the coronavirus is that I’ve had more time to work on Stargazer and I’m finishing another rewrite of it and I think it’s so much better than it would have been if I hadn’t had this quiet time to focus on it. That book will be out next year. After that, there’s a character in Stargazer who I really like and I’m thinking I may pull her into the next book.
There are three main characters in the series and I try to give each of them their time in the sun, so now it’s Jim Chee’s turn. I’m thinking of a good story for Jim Chee and I’ve hinted at it a little bit in Stargazer. I’m really looking forward to getting to work on that and I’m looking forward to when I can go back out to the Navajo nation and visit some of the places that really inspire my stories.
Finding Anne Hillerman online
Jenny Wheeler: It’s funny to think, isn’t it, but if this series has been going 50 years, Joe Leaphorn must be getting very old.
Anne Hillerman: Well that, as you know, is the wonderful thing about fiction. Characters don’t have to age at the same rate that we age. I figure if Joe were 20, now he would be 70, but I think from the way he acts in The Blessing Way, he’s probably more like 30. But you know, he’s a tough old bird so I expect him to be around for at least a few more books.
Jenny Wheeler: That’s lovely. I can tell that you love interacting with your readers just from what you’ve already said, but where can they find you online?
Anne Hillerman: I have a Facebook page which is Anne Hillerman Author. I have to confess I’m not as good at Facebook as I ought to be, but as soon as I’m done with these revisions of Stargazer, I’m going to get back and give it more attention.
Contact through Anne’s website
I have a website and I’m better at keeping that up. The website is just my name, annehillerman.com.
Jenny Wheeler: Wonderful Anne, we’ll make sure all those links are there in the blog post as well. It’s been wonderful talking to you, and it has opened the window on a world that a lot of us didn’t know very much about.
Anne Hillerman: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure for me too.
Jenny Wheeler: Bye now.
Anne Hillerman: Bye.
Thanks To Our Technical Support:
The Joys of Binge Reading podcast is put together with wonderful technical help from Dan Cotton at DC Audio Services. Dan is an experienced sound and video engineer who’s ready and available to help you with your next project… Seek him out at firstname.lastname@example.org or Phone + 64 – 21979539. He’s fast, takes pride in getting it right, and lovely to work with.
Our voice overs are done by Abe Raffills, and Abe’s another gem. He got 20 years of experience on both sides of the camera/microphone as a cameraman/director and also voice artist and television presenter. Abe’s vocal delivery is both light hearted and warm and he is super easy to work with no matter the job. You’ll find him at email@example.com