Printed April 10, 2003
Renowned author Tony Hillerman said that students who wish to be writers should learn three simple rules.
“Elmore Leonard once told me, ‘Leave out the parts readers skip,” Hillerman said. “Another guy told me, the short way to spell ‘writer’s block’ is l-a-z-y. And another person told me, ‘My dad was a mailman. I never remember my dad getting a mailman’s block.”
Hillerman spoke to about 50 students and faculty members Wednesday at the Bobo Room in Hodgin Hall as part of the Communication and Journalism Department’s Colloquium series.
Hillerman is a former professor and chairman of the Communication and Journalism Department and also earned his master’s degree from UNM in 1966. He said he began his writing career as a journalist.
“If you’re a journalist, you get used to not having much,” Hillerman said. “One of the things you learn out there, I didn’t teach this, but you learn very quickly how to be a freeloader.”
He said that his experience as a reporter has helped him in his fiction writing. Hillerman is best known for his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries. He said the although writing about American Indians in a fictional sense required sensitivity, growing up and going to an American Indian school as a child in Oklahoma gave him insight.
“I had one very important lesson when I was a kid,” Hillerman said. “Indians, as they prefer to called, are just exactly like everybody else. I grew up with them and they were my friends. We played cowboys and Indians and we had to flip a coin to see who was going to be a cowboy and who was going to be an Indian, because they knew who won.”
Hillerman also spoke about his writing process and how much work goes into writing a novel. He said he writes in spurts and it usually takes about a year for him to finish a novel. His next book, The Sinister Pig, is due out May 6.
Communication and Journalism Department Chairman Brad Hall said that it was great to have Hillerman speak as part of the series, especially because he has ties to the department. Hall added that the colloquium is largely aimed at graduate students but that all students are invited.
“It’s great when we can get people in here like Tony,” Hall said. “Who come to the colloquium is determined in large part by who the department’s graduate students want to see.”