SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Anne Hillerman is no stranger to writing. As the daughter of prominent author Tony Hillerman, Anne knew she would be a storyteller but never imagined she’d follow so closely in the footsteps of her father by delving into fiction writing. Now, she’s picking up the mantle and continuing the beloved series her father began.
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After having spent most of her life in Santa Fe, Hillerman attended the University of New Mexico and studied journalism, just like her father did. “When I was in my late teens, early twenties, trying to think of what I wanted to do when I got out of college, journalism just seemed like a logical choice because my father had enjoyed his career in journalism so much,” Hillerman said.
She wrote for The Santa Fe New Mexican, The Albuquerque Journal, and various other outlets, something Hillerman described as an experience that helped her reimagine her life in her 60s. There were many skills she learned as a journalist that she was able to utilize as an author, like learning how to work with editors and how to write concisely.
Her background in journalism is something she is grateful for, as it gives her a unique perspective on the landscape that she calls home. “I was able to go to a lot of places in New Mexico that I probably wouldn’t have gone to just as an average 20-something-year-old, and I met so many different people. I think the combination of the places and the people taught me great respect for diversity and taught me how interesting it is to live in New Mexico,” Hillerman said.
She never intended to make the transition from writing non-fiction to fiction but it was a decision she made after her father died and she realized she didn’t want his famous Leaphorn and Chee mystery series to end. She and her late husband Don Strel took a trip through Navajo land as research for their non-fiction book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: One the Road with Chee and Leaphorn.
“I got to see firsthand the lovely landscape that my dad wrote about. I also talked to dozens of people and all of that, at the time I didn’t think I was going to be writing novels, but all of that really helped me in terms of preparing myself for my next career,” Hillerman said.
The task was daunting, though, as Hillerman had never written a novel before she continued the Chee and Leaphorn series. “I loved his characters, I loved his series, and I hated to think of there being no more of those stories. But I knew I could never be Tony Hillerman,” Hillerman said.
Her father had written about a supporting character in the series named Bernadette. She was a young and naïve Navajo police officer, and Hillerman wanted to continue her story with her version of the series. “She was kind of the guiding light that led me to continue the series, who gave me the bravery to write her,” Hillerman said.
In Hillerman’s newest book, The Sacred Bridge, set to be released in April, she says Bernadette wants to work towards becoming a detective. Hillerman says a number of people from the Navajo Nation, especially women, have reached out to her to express their appreciation of showing a strong female Navajo woman being represented in a series that is adored by so many.
Hillerman will reach out to a couple of retired Navajo police officers when she wants to make sure she’s representing the Navajo community accurately. With each of her previous books, Hillerman has made it a priority to visit the places she would write about in her novels. However, due to COVID, she didn’t have that opportunity, so she relied on previous research she had conducted to help her build the setting.
As for returning to non-fiction, Hillerman said she tries to focus on the current task at hand but hopes to return to writing non-fiction soon. In the meantime, she’s finishing up another book in the Chee and Leaphorn series. “When I start these books, I never quite know how they’re going to end. That’s part of the joy of writing them,” Hillerman said.