[From the stabenow.com vaults, October 27, 2008]
Aw, hell. Tony’s dead.
I think we’d all come to think of him as indestructible. He’d survived half a dozen diseases any one of which would have taken any one of us out. But he continued to thrive, and continued to write, thank heavens.
If you want to read a perfect first chapter, go get yourself a copy of Skinwalkers. It’s late at night, and Jim Chee is fretting in his bed because he hears a stray cat coming into his trailer through the pet door. Is he upsetting the balance of harmony in the Navajo way by feeding the cat? He gets up, and a second later a shotgun blasts through the wall of his trailer right over the bed in which he was laying. It is a gotcha moment like none other in crime fiction, and some of the best writing ever in the English language.
I had the incalculable good fortune of being on a panel with Tony Hillerman at my first Bouchercon. If I could have hated him, I would have, because it was immediately obvious that along with being a superb writer he was also a fabulous raconteur, funny, smart, the rest of us should have just passed him the microphone and shut up. I’m pretty sure the audience felt the same way.
Later that year I got a letter from some guy named Marty Greenberg, whom I’d never met and of whom I’d never heard, saying that Tony Hillerman was putting together an anthology of crime fiction short stories called The Mysterious West, and would I like to contribute a story?
I was outraged. It was impossible for Tony Hillerman to even know who I was. All I’d done on the panel was try not to drool in his lap. If he remembered me at all it was as that frizzy-haired, red-faced newbie with stars in her eyes when she looked at him, who in an agony of embarassment exceded only by abject fan worship shoved a copy of Coyote Waits under his nose as the panel broke up and begged him to sign it to her.
Anyway, I called my agent in high dudgeon and told him about this letter that some guy had written to me taking Tony’s name in vain, and demanded that he DO something about it. “Dana,” Rich replied in a voice as dry as King Tut’s tomb, “that’s Marty Greenberg, a very reputable and well-known anthologist, and you will write back immediately and say yes.”
We’re going to miss you, Tony. Thanks for writing all those books so we can at least drop in for a visit now and then.