Popular Southwestern author Anne Hillerman last week kicked off the Cortez Literary Festival, encouraging writers and artists from the Four Corners to embrace serendipity but prepare for adversity.
The inaugural festival, hosted by the Cortez Public Library, convened more than a dozen writers, designers and artists at the Cortez Public Library to share ideas and inspiration. Hillerman’s keynote address and book-signing drew more than 100 people.
The oldest daughter of popular Southwestern mystery writer Tony Hillerman, Anne Hillerman took up her father’s well-known detective series, set on the Navajo Reservation, several years after his death in 2008.
Her keynote address delved into her books, her writing process, challenges she faced in renewing the Leaphorn and Chee series, and the role the Southwest plays in developing her books.
Speaking of difficulties she faced in taking up her father’s work, Hillerman discussed the challenge of plotting out a story when she had previously only written nonfiction.
Quieting her inner critic also proved difficult when writing her first book as she struggled with her desire for perfection and the pressure of living up to her father’s legacy. Overcoming each challenge took time and support from fans, family and friends.
Last Saturday morning, Hillerman kicked off a full day of literary workshops. She opened her workshop by telling the attendees that it was the first workshop she’d ever been asked to teach and that she was glad it was only 30 minutes long.
Speaking to a full room, with a group of children sitting on the floor and eager listeners crowded in and around the doorway, Hillerman shared lessons she had learned from her father. “Pay attention to details ... always have a plan for your book, and your life, but to be open to serendipity,” she said.
Speaking to this, she told how a chance encounter or small detail turned into an important aspect in her latest book, “The Tale Teller.” An early chapter had contained too much talking and needed some action, so she wrote in a young woman collapsing. Hillerman hadn’t intended to mention the character again, but the incident inspired her curiosity, and she developed the character into an integral part of the plot.
Hillerman also shared the hard lessons of the writing process and how the “magic only seems to happen for me when I’m already working.” Her advice encouraged listeners to work hard but have fun and not take their writing or themselves too seriously.
She also advised writers to listen to critics but not to take suggestions without consideration, and not to let critiques hurt their confidence.
“You can’t please everyone and shouldn’t want to,” she said. “Write your heart out. ... Like love, you should write each page as if it were your last.”
Workshops draw all ages and interestsOther workshops last urday spoke to a variety of literary interests, including research and children’s books, drumming and singing.
Fred Blackburn, author of “The Wetherills, Friends of Mesa Verde,” spoke about how to research before writing history and the importance of transforming a chronological list of events into an interesting story. He advised historical writers not to “waste time on the snoozer material” and to “write the gem” when writing about historical events and life histories.
Nancy Bo Flood, an award-winning children’s book author, shared her thoughts on what makes a good children’s book and emphasized that “everything we experience is helpful in writing children’s books.” She discussed the importance of character, setting and motivation in children’s fiction and urged writers to use all five senses when writing for young readers.
The power of place in fiction was the focus of author Dennis Medina’s workshop. He discussed how place can be used to inform readers about how a character thinks, feels and views the world. Medina encouraged writers to put themselves in the character’s place when describing setting. He reminded attendees that a writer’s job was to get the reader to see, feel and think the way the character does in order to allow readers to “truly experience the story.”
Art Goodtimes, a poet and writer from Telluride, discussed Dolores LaChapelle’s life, writing and philosophies and coaxed participants in his workshop into sharing their favorite poems, each taking their turn with the passing of a gourd.
Goodtimes described poetry as a “making of words” and discussed the process of how words are constructed into a poem, deconstructed to be understood and reconstructed to recreate the energy or feeling a reader experienced. Closing out his workshop, Goodtimes made use of his deep voice and drumming to share a song he learned from LaChapelle before her death in 2007.
Rounding out the festival were workshops with DeEtta Johnson, Renee Podunovich, Philip Duke and William Pitt Root, as well as kids activities with Wendi Silvano’s Turkey Time for kids and MaryAnne deLany’s storytelling and read-aloud session.
When not in workshops or activities, attendees had the opportunity to meet more than 30 authors, artists and vendors set up throughout the library in nearly every available space not taken by bookshelves.
Those who could be pulled away from the workshops and vendors were able to step outside and take a lunch break with The Farm Bistro and Sweetwater Gypsies Wood-fired Pizza.
Festival comes to life through art
During Hillerman’s workshop and all the workshops Saturday, graphic recorder Heather Martinez captured each lecture visually. Using Nueland markers, Martinez’s handlettering skills turned talking points, imagery and memorable phrases into works of art. The library and Martinez will display the posters around the library before collaborating to turn the artwork into a book.
When asked whether the library planned to make the festival an annual event, Marketing and Outreach Assistant Cassandra Leoncini couldn’t speak to future plans for a repeat festival but was encouraged by the community support and interest in the event.