When words and pictures are in balance

2010-02-07T00:00:00Z 2014-09-05T14:46:52Z When words and pictures are in balance Doug Kreutz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 07, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Husband and wife. He is a photographer. She is a writer.

They decide to try something: Working together to produce a book made up of his pictures and her prose.

How in the heck does that work out? What's it like to shift from marital mode to publishing collaboration?

"We had only one argument working on this book - but we had it frequently," says Anne Hillerman, who collaborated with her husband, Don Strel, on a new book that will be featured at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14. "It was an argument about the balance between words and pictures."

The couple's book - "Tony Hillerman's Landscape: On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn" (HarperCollins, $28.99) - takes readers in words and images to locales described in novels by Hillerman, Anne's late father. The popular novels were set mainly in the scenic Four Corners region and featured fictional Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.

"Don would often say, 'With all those words, there won't be enough room for pictures,'" recalls Hillerman, a freelance writer and author of five previous books. "And as he was taking his 500th picture of something, I was wondering if we would have enough room for the words."

The friendly spousal duel over the relative importance of language and lens continued as the two worked on the project on and off for three years.

"It was a constant discussion, but we worked it out," says Strel, 75. He and Hillerman, 60, have been married for 36 years.

One might think the idea for the book occurred naturally to the couple. In fact, says Hillerman, it took some prompting from her author father, who died in 2008 while the book research was in progress.

She says Strel had suggested to another author that it might be a good idea to enhance his books with photos of the landscapes described in them.

"My dad heard that," Hillerman recalls, "and he said, 'How come you've never done something like that for me?'

"Well, that was like a big boulder dropping down from heaven," Hillerman says. "It was a great idea, and that was the birth of our book."

Among highlights of "Tony Hillerman's Landscape" are an introductory chapter called "A Daughter's Recollections," commentary from Tony Hillerman, and short passages from his novels.

As Hillerman and Strel worked - traveling from their home in Santa Fe across the sprawling Navajo Reservation to reach sites depicted in the novels - they came to respect each other's side of the project.

"An editor at HarperCollins told Anne that her writing is beautiful - and it is," Strel says.

Says Hillerman: "Don was very respectful of my words, making gentle suggestions. … But the whole reason we did this book was to show people the sites where Chee and Leaphorn had been. I knew that the pictures were the reason people would buy the book."

Strel, a widely published freelance photographer who has taught college-level art and design courses, says work on the book involved many encounters with members of the Navajo tribe.

"I love the Navajo people," he says. "They have a great sense of humor. They are lovely people."

Collaboration was such a good experience that the couple went on to produce a second book called "Gardens of Santa Fe." It's set for publication in April.

Hillerman said her presentation with Strel at the Festival of Books will include photos from the new book and some photos of Tony Hillerman.

"We'll talk about the process of writing the book," she said, "and we'll also talk about some of the forces that shaped dad as a writer."

If you go

The Tucson Festival of Books will be March 13-14 on the University of Arizona campus. Attendance and parking are free.

In addition to featuring hundreds of authors - including Robert Crais, Frank Beddor, Jon Scieszka, J.A. Jance and Elmore Leonard - the event also offers workshops, children's activities, artists and musicians, and lots of food.

The Tucson Festival of Books is sponsored by the UA and the Arizona Daily Star, and Diamond Children's Medical Center is the presenting sponsor. Net proceeds will promote literacy in Southern Arizona through the Tucson Festival of Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

For more information, to follow the festival through e-mail newsletters, or if you'd like to volunteer at the event or make a tax-deductible donation (under "friend of the festival"), go to tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.

You can follow the festival on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tucsonfestivalofbooks and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tfob.

Watch for the complete guide to the festival, including the schedule, on March 7 in the Star.

Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate
Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals, offers & events

View more...