Hillerman Country library cards to make debut

Mike Easterling
This photo by Don Strel is one of eight images chosen by the Farmington Public Library for its new Hillerman Country library cards.

FARMINGTON – As the keeper of her father’s legacy, and the inheritor of his best-known literary creation, Albuquerque author Anne Hillerman is understandably protective of Tony Hillerman’s work.

That’s especially true whenever someone approaches her with an idea for a project that invokes his best-known writing — a series of mystery novels involving the exploits of a pair of Navajo tribal police detectives, Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

“Most of the proposals I get are from people who want to make money,” Hillerman said. “That was certainly not the case with the Farmington library.”

Hillerman and her husband, photographer Don Strel, will be here on Tuesday, Dec. 22 to help the Farmington Public Library roll out its new Hillerman Country library cards in conjunction with the library’s annual winter solstice celebration and the presentation of the Farmington Public Library Foundation’s Let There Be Light Award.

The cards will feature images shot by Strel that were used in a book he and his wife created, “Tony Hillerman’s Landscape – On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn.” The book focused on some of the Four Corners settings that figured so prominently in much of Tony Hillerman’s work.

Library patrons will be able to choose from one of eight images for their new card, and if they stop by the library on Tuesday, the usual $2 fee for a replacement card will be waived.

Anne Hillerman, who writes a series of mystery novels based on some of the background characters and settings created by Tony Hillerman, said she had no reservations about the library’s desire to honor her father’s memory and work by connecting him to the new cards.

“Not a one. I think my dad would be thrilled,” she said last week from her Albuquerque home.

Anne Hillerman and Don Strel will appear Tuesday, Dec. 22 at the Farmington Public Library.

Hillerman said she was delighted when library officials approached her with the idea, explaining that for many years she has had a good relationship with the Farmington library.

“When my first nonfiction book came out, they were one of the first places that invited me to speak,” she said.

From the perspective of Farmington Public Library officials, the idea for the Hillerman Country cards was a natural. The characters in the elder Hillerman’s books were deeply connected to the Farmington library — so much so that, many years ago, library officials issued a card to the fictional Chee and sent it to Hillerman.

Library Director Karen McPheeters said she couldn’t remember which staff member came up with the notion of doing the Hillerman Country cards, but she said the idea evolved from the library’s longtime habit of adorning its cards with images submitted by patrons. She said the library started that photo contest four or five years ago, and it has been very successful.

The library buys its cards in bulk and usually purchases enough to last two or three years, McPheeters said. So when the library began to near the end of its supply, McPheeters convened her staff and asked for suggestions for injecting new life into the program.

“Somebody said, ‘Hey, what if we did this?’” McPheeters said, referring to the Hillerman Country cards. “So we approached Anne and Don about it, and they loved the idea.”

This photo of the Grand Canyon by Don Strel is included in the Farmington Public Library's new Hillerman Country library card series.

Strel sent the library a CD with dozens of images from the book on it, and McPheeters began the process of selecting eight that would be used for the cards. She quickly discovered that, as striking as some of the images were, not all of them were suitable for use in the size of a credit card.

“They didn’t look the same when you run them through and see what they look like in that format,” she said. “It makes a huge difference.”

Kathleen Browning, the adult services coordinator at the library, said there already has been a high level of interest in the new cards, as well as the appearance by Hillerman and Strel.

“People are calling and asking, ‘When can I get it?’” she said last week.

McPheeters said the planned event also has sparked new interest in the works of the two Hillermans.

“We’ve ordered additional copies of their books,” she said. “Tony Hillerman, Anne Hillerman, they’re just flying out of here. We have a lot of patrons who are fans. We’re giving them an opportunity to meet with them and talk with them.”

Anne Hillerman, who spoke at the Bloomfield Public Library in May and the Farmington Public Library in August in support of her new novel “Rock With Wings,” said trips to the Four Corners are special for her.

“The crowds have always been really good,” she said of Farmington and Bloomfield in particular. “That always makes me feel good. And I always meet a lot of people there who knew my dad.”

McPheeters is one of those people who had a personal connection to the late author. She said when she and her husband moved to the Four Corners, he relocated first because he already had accepted a position here. McPheeters stayed behind in Salt Lake City to sell their house.

While she was attending to that matter, she went to a book signing for Tony Hillerman in Salt Lake City. When she met him at the signing, she told him she was moving to the area where many of his books were set, and he responded by writing her a personal message above his signature in the book.

“He inscribed, ‘You’re going to love it there,’” McPheeters said. “I always thought that was kind of cool. And Tony Hillerman was right. I do.”

Tuesday’s event will feature more than the release of the Hillerman Country cards. The library’s popular winter solstice celebration also takes place, with the sun highlighting the solstice marker in the library rotunda at noon. The Ashay Drummers will perform during that segment of the festivities.

Additionally, the Farmington Public Library Foundation’s Let There Be Light Award will be presented to library supporter Richard Fraley. Library program coordinator Jenny Lee Ryan said the award has been presented each year since 2009 by the foundation, which is the entity that raises funds for local literacy programs.

“It’s a way to recognize people who have contributed a lot to the foundation,” she said.

McPheeters said Fraley and his family have been an important part of the library’s work for many years.

“The foundation wanted to take this opportunity to recognize that effort — both financially and the ‘boots on the ground’ support in the early days of this facility,” she said.


The sun moves across the winter solstice marker at the Farmington Public Library during the 2014 seasonal observation. This year's event takes place on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Library officials hinted there might even be some surprises at Tuesday’s event, which ranks among the entity’s more popular annual events. Ryan said the library organized a flash mob one year, but McPheeters was coy about any such plans this year.

“You never know what we might have up our sleeves,” she said.

Browning said the winter solstice observation and foundation award presentation have attracted as many as 300 people in the past, and the Hillerman connection this year is expected to serve as an additional draw.

Anne Hillerman said the program in Farmington this time will involve her asking questions of Strel, who will explain the relevance of his photographs to Tony Hillerman’s stories.

In the meantime, she’s already at work on the follow-up to “Rock With Wings.” She said she’s supposed to submit the new manuscript to her publisher in January. The novel is set partly in Tuba City, Ariz., and partly at the Grand Canyon, and involves development on Indian land. She said the novel opens with a car exploding in the parking lot of Shiprock High School.

Hillerman said the book likely will be released in the fall of 2016.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.


Members of the Ashay Drummers perform during the 2014 winter solstice observation at the Farmington Public Library. This year's event takes place Tuesday, Dec. 22.

If you go:

What: Winter solstice celebration, presentation of the Farmington Public Library Foundation’s Let There Be Light Award and launch of the library’s new Hillerman Country library cards

When: 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 22

Where: The Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave.

For more information: Call 505-599-1270 or visit infoway.org