Anne Hillerman is slated to appear at two events in Centre County next week, in conjunction with the New York Times best-selling author’s most recent book release. The third installment in Hillerman’s Navajo mystery series, “Song of the Lion,” follows the career of officer Bernadette Manuelito and is set on the Navajo Nation in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Though Hillerman has seen success in her fiction career thus far, she had some rather large shoes to fill. Her father, Tony Hillerman, first began the Navajo mystery series in 1970.
“My dad wrote 19 books in the series and then I took it over about five years ago, after he died,” she said. “The main change I made was that I took one of his minor characters, a woman police officer, and I elevated her to being a full-fledged crime solver.”
Before her foray into the world of fiction, Hillerman developed an impressive career in nonfiction, where she celebrated her love of the Southwest.
“I started out as a journalist and I did some travel guides to Santa Fe, the town where I live, and I did a book about Santa Fe restaurants,” she said. “Then, in 2010, Harper-Collins published a book called ‘Tony Hillerman’s Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn,’ and that was my last nonfiction book. That was a book about the places on the Navajo reservation that my father wrote about.”
While the transition from nonfiction writer to novelist has proven enjoyable, it wasn’t something Hillerman expected.
“A lot of people who write nonfiction and a lot of journalists have a dream of someday writing a novel, but that was really not true for me,” she said. “I was happy writing nonfiction, but after my dad died I realized I was really missing the stories he had created about these detectives that were working on the Navajo reservation. I felt like his characters were really part of my family, so I think that was what motivated me.”
The result? A very positive response from her father’s readership.
“I think a lot of people, when they write a first novel, no matter how good it is, it usually doesn’t get a lot of attention just because it’s the first novel and nobody knows who (the author is). But I knew for my books it would be a little different, because my dad had developed such a following over the 30 years he had been writing the series,” Hillerman said. “He had created pretty high expectations in the people who read his books. So I was concerned about that — would people be receptive to someone new taking over his series?”
However, the large majority were appreciative of Hillerman’s take on her father’s setting and characters. The industry also took notice of the first book in the series, “Spider Woman’s Daughter,” as it won the Spur Award from Western Writers of America for the Best First Novel of 2013.
While guests at either of Hillerman’s appearances can learn more about her work and the series, Hillerman hopes they walk away with a better appreciation for reading in general.
“One thing I’m going to talk about is how reading is good for our brains, so I hope people will go away not feeling guilty about any time that they might spend with a novel or with a short story ... not think of reading just as sort of bonbons, but really as brain food,” she said.
Catch Hillerman at Barnes and Noble on April 25, and at the Bellefonte Art Museum on April 26.
IF YOU GO
▪ What: Author Anne Hillerman discussion and signing
▪ When: 7 p.m. April 25
▪ Where: Barnes & Noble, 365 Benner Pike, State College
▪ Info: annehillerman.com
IF YOU GO
▪ What: Anne Hillerman book signing
▪ When: 7:30 p.m. April 26
▪ Where: Bellefonte Art Museum, 133 N. Allegheny St., Bellefonte
▪ Info: annehillerman.com