Friday, March 4, 2011

A Visit with Tony 's Hillerman's Daughter, Anne

by Jean Henry Mead

Anne is the author of the award-winning Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn, as well as seven other books. Her latest release, a collaboration with photographer Don Strel, is Gardens of Santa Fe.

She served for more than twenty years as editorial page editor for the Albuquerque Journal North and the Santa Fe New Mexican, and as an arts editor for both papers. She's written the Santa Fe restaurant reviews for the Albuquerque Journal since 2001 and works as a writing coach on fiction and nonfiction projects. In addition to writting a new book, she's the director of Wordharvest Writers' Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writers' Conference: "Focus on Mystery."

Anne, your father must have been pleased that you inherited his writing talent. Has being the daughter of Tony Hillerman helped you in your writing career?

As the eldest of Tony and Marie Hillerman's six children, and the only writer in the mix, I have been lucky to have received some of the residual good will my father built up over his long career as a journalist, teacher, writer and lover of the West. The name gives me a great ice-breaker at writers' conferences!

What does your book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape entail and what prompted you to write it?

Tony Hillerman's Landscape is a visit to the country my father loved with selected quotes from his mysteries, photos of the places he uses as settings, and my own recollections. The idea came from Dad, with a tip of the cap to New Mexico mystery author Michael McGarrity. McGarrity was keynote speaker at one of our Tony Hillerman Writers Conferences. Photographer Don Strel (my husband!) suggested a slide show of the places McGarrity writes about and offered to take the photos. When Dad saw it he said, "Why don't you do something like that for me?" That suggestion led to the book.

You’ve written a number of award-winning books. Which was the most difficult to research and write, and which did you enjoy writing most?

Gosh, I've enjoyed them all. Each had its own challenges and its own pleasures. Tony Hillerman's Landscape was fascinating because it involved re-reading each Navajo detective novel, and visiting the Navajo reservation to find those places where Chee or Leaphorn had to pull over because the scenery is so stunning. I had to examine my own memories of time spent with Dad, and make the book personal as well as informative, something that my journalist self initially resisted. Gardens of Santa Fe, my newest book, involved deciding which of the beautiful gardens to include and then pruning my interviews with the wonderful, outspoken gardeners to stress the uniqueness of each.

Have you considered writing Western mystery novels?

Well, sure. I've got a decent first draft of a historical novel set in Oklahoma, complete with horses and a family farm. My other experiment with fiction is a mystery in progress set in Arizona and New Mexico. It's not a "Western," but certainly flavored by the landscape and people of the Southwest.

Tell us briefly about your Santa Fe-based Wordhavest Writers Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference.

Wordharvest began as a way to celebrate New Mexico's writers. Instead of paying to hear out-of- state experts, why not use our own experts and let out-of-staters come to hear them? My business partners and I quickly expanded to draw on regional talent such as Margaret Coel and Sandi Ault (who live in Colorado but have family in New Mexico) and Arizona's J.A. Jance. Wordharvest 's first weekend program featured Tony Hillerman. When we decided to do a conference, Dad said we could name it after him (as long as we did the work). He also agreed to sit on a panel and be our first keynote speaker. The conference started with "Focus on Mystery" as its subtitle, but now we focus on good writing in general. The 2011 dates are November 10-12 in Santa Fe.

What prompted you to create the $10,000 Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery novel set in the Southwest?

We were looking for another way to promote our conference and to offer encouragement to writers. I went to the well-organized Pikes Peak (Colo.) Writers Conference to steal some of their ideas. We were thinking of adding a session with agents/editors and I wanted to see how their model worked. They had invited Peter Joseph of St. Martin's Press. I told him we'd like to work with St. Martin's and he suggested a writing prize. After more brainstorming, the Hillerman Prize was born.

You’ve received a number of honors,including “Outstanding Woman Author” by The New Mexico Chapter of Women in the Arts. Which means the most to you and why?

The honor that touched me most was being invited by the New Mexico Library Association to be their keynote speaker and present our slide show on Tony Hillerman's Landscape at their annual conference. Don Strel and I did a lot of benefits for libraries in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and California as part of our book launch. My Dad was a staunch supporter of libraries, as are Don and I. I was also thrilled and honored when the legendary Barbara Peters hosted us for our first Hillerman's Landscape signing at Poisoned Pen in Scotsdale.

Tell us about your journalism background.

After several years of dillydallying, I earned a degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico. My dad was the head of department there--and he was tough on me! I worked in a variety of jobs, some in television and radio, but mostly for newspapers and magazines. I was the first woman to head the editorial page at the Santa Fe New Mexican, one of the oldest newspapers in the West and still an independent, family-owned operation. I also started the opinion page and wrote the editorials for the Albuquerque Journal's Northern New Mexico edition. I currently work as restaurant reviewer for the Journal. That job lead to my book Santa Fe Flavors: Best Restaurants and Recipes, which won the New Mexico Book Award.

What’s your fondest memory of you father?

That question is too hard! I think of my Dad every day and miss him tremendously. I'm grateful for his sense of humor, his curious mind, his gentle kindness, and his absolute passion for skillful writing and well-told stories. And that he had the good sense to find and marry my mother.

Advice to fledgling writers off the West.

Read voraciously. Keep writing. Do your best and don't stop because you can't yet live up to your own standards. Only you have your voice and your stories. Be brave.

Thanks, Ann, for your visit.

You can visit Anne at her website:
and her blog site:

© 2011 Jean Henry Mead