by Jean Purcell
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My husband and I have read every Tony Hillerman (d. 2008) fiction book, and we have watched two Hillerman movies. Finally, when the author's memoir, Seldom Disappointed, was released, I bought it and found interesting tales about writing and life, along with good humor, advice, and insight for writers and fans.
Tony Hillerman became a best-selling author published in many languages. He lived in New Mexico, the scene of his crime novels. At the beginning of his attempts to sell his book manuscripts to publishers, however, a literary agent advised him to drop his Navajo context and characters. "Readers are not interested. It won't sell," was the general point. In his writing memoir, Seldom Disappointed, Hillerman told the story. Ironically, then, readers came to love this new author of Leaphorn and Chee books. Robert Redford made two movies based on HarperCollins books about the fictional Navajo detectives.
Hillerman is not the only author to be encouraged to change directions. How did he know to follow his instincts instead of professional opinion, which he did not easily cast off. The experienced agent was giving professional advice. Yet, in Hillerman's case, it did not fit. Who could know?
A key writer's mantra, "Write what you know," surely helped in this author's life. Like many other authors, he knew the landscape, life, and people that he wrote about. Throughout his career, he was honored not only with writing awards but also with a special Navajo Nation award.
"For all the recognition he received, Mr. Hillerman once said, he was most gladdened by the status of Special Friend of the Dineh (the Navajo people) conferred on him in 1987 by the Navajo Nation. He was also proud that his books were taught at reservation schools and colleges." ( source: New York Times)
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