On meeting your heroes

So last week as my wife and I were waiting in the shuttle bus to the VIP reception for the Gaithersburg Book Festival, I overheard a conversation between two women in the seat behind us — discussing living in New Mexico, the beauty of the Southwest, one of my favorite places — and how extraordinary it felt to realize that I was eavesdropping on Anne Hillerman, Tony Hillerman’s daughter.

Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels have been part of my life since I was very small indeed — I remember reading Listening Woman much too early to really appreciate it, but being struck by the gorgeousness of the description nonetheless. My family took a lot of vacations out to Utah and Arizona when I was growing up, and Hillerman’s novels served as a kind of passport to the stark, vivid, changing beauty of the landscape, which is a character in his work just as much as Joe Leaphorn or Jim Chee. Being out there on my honeymoon years later, and knowing where I was driving because i’d read about those very roads in Hillerman’s books, felt a little bit like coming home.

I’d known that Hillerman’s daughter had continued the series after his death, but hadn’t got around to reading her work, but here she was in this shuttle bus right behind me. I fangirled all over her, of course — but later on, at the reception, I got a chance to talk to her about the series and how much it has meant to me all my life, and how glad I am that she’s continuing it — especially because she’s focusing on one of my favorite characters, Bernie Manuelito — and about the writing process itself. Being able to talk one-on-one with someone you look up to that much, being an author talking to another author instead of just a fan — that’s one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me through this entire bizarre journey of publication.

It seems possible to me that one day I might be that author sitting in the shuttle bus discussing my ordinary life and being overheard by some perishing neophyte who’s read my books and wants to talk to me, and that is kind of incredible. Books bring people together. They always have done, and they always will.