Other People's Books

A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a reading by Anne Hillerman. I wanted to go partly out of curiosity - I like meeting authors - but also because I very much wanted to get a signed copy for the upcoming father’s day. Despite having read plenty of Tony Hillerman, I realized as I settled in how incredibly unaware I was of Anne Hillerman herself. I didn’t know if she’d ever co-written with her father, or how these two latest books of hers, continuation of her father’s saga, came to be. (By way of excuse, I’ve been living mostly under a toddler-sized rock the past few years.)

But I do know mysteries. Both my parents are ardent readers of most every genre, but my mother in particular favors mysteries, and my father loves them second only to science fiction. I grew up reading Hillerman along with a diet of many other mysteries long before I moved to New Mexico, and it felt suddenly strange realizing the author I was about to meet in a crowded back-room gathering at a local bookstores was effectively my neighbor, writing about my home.

I also began to realize, not ten minutes into her presentation, how tremendously brave Anne Hillerman is. It’s never easy working in the same empire as a successful relative, perhaps most especially the empire of your parent. She began the gathering forthrightly addressing what she assumed our first question was - why she had dared to write a sequel to her father’s works. She also discussed what exactly she thought she could bring to it, and as she shared those thoughts, I felt a sudden tremendous sympathy. How exhausting, to have the first thing on your agenda at every reading - I can’t help but assume - to be to address why you had the right to write your books. She also spent a fair amount of time sharing memories of her father, and I could almost feel people literally drinking those stories in with their thirsty minds, their eagerness visible. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t read her first book; I wished I could say that I was there just for her.

There was nuance in all that she said, I should note, but generally, it seemed her reasoning for writing was that a) she missed the characters b) she missed her father and c) he had never listened to her and let the female characters be anything more than girlfriends. And with all those factors, out came a book, and with her mother’s permission, pursuit of publication.

I hadn’t realized Bernie was the focus of Hillerman’s books, having bought but not yet read them: a female character from her father’s cast of characters, finally getting her own show. When I went up to get my copies signed at the end, I wanted more than anything to say I was an writer, too, and a mother of a daughter, and I was so glad that she was bringing women to the fore of these books, and that she shouldn’t have to apologize, and that I was glad she was doing what she was doing.

Instead, of course, I mumbled a request to put Happy Father’s Day on the copy I planned to give my father, and just to sign my mother’s copy, and scampered away like a nervous kitten. If economy of words were literal, I probably hadn’t spent more than a quarter.

For what it’s worth, I’m rooting for you, Anne.