Journal

“Keep writing. Stay healthy,” wrote Tony Hillerman.

The famed mystery writer of the Southwest wrote that advice to me the last year before his death at 83 on October 28, 2008. I had been complaining, whining really, about the lack of success of my writing life. “Keep writing, stay heathy,” he wrote back. I felt freed up, grateful, hopeful. I still do. In fact, that is my mantra when I feel confused, at loose ends, or discouraged.

I wonder if J. D. Salinger had taken this advice, he would have experienced life differently. When he died at 91 this January 27, 2010, Salinger was possibly the world’s most renown and most successful literary recluse. “Hermit Crab,” Time magazine dubbed him. Here was somebody who was up there with the Grammy winners in star power and prestige, yet seemed cursed with the dismal personality of old Scrooge.

Back in the ’60s when I read Catcher in the Rye, my poor little teenage heart beat along with Holden Caulfield’s. I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too. J.D. Salinger was my writing hero along with Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde and Dostoevsky (No females in that short list, alas, but that is another story.)

Unlike Tony Hillerman who wrote 29 mysteries set in Navajo country, Salinger wrote one novel, a phenomenal success that he disdained, and three small volumes of short stories–then nothing else for 45 years.

By all accounts, J.D. Salinger was a phenomenal writer who refused his success. Was he was sick with self-loathing of his own genius, his own work? He must have felt he had no choice. He must have done his best from inside the worm of his illness.

But he did take some of Tony Hillerman’s advice. His wives and daughters say he wrote all that time. What did he leave us? I am dying to read it. Maybe that’s all he wanted–fans dying to read him. Maybe that’s why he shunned all that fame and adulation. To keep us hungry.

Life is strange. Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.

Published by Margaret C. Murray

Margaret C Murray is a bold Bay Area author whose works burst from an imagination brimming with magical realism. Her novels take place within poignant and vibrant historical contexts, telling stories that draw parallels between disparate worlds and times. She speaks to the enchantment of human existence. Margaret is the founder and director of Writewords Press.

8 thoughts on ““Keep writing. Stay healthy,” wrote Tony Hillerman.”

  1. Chris says:

    Yes, I remember reading “The Catcher in the Rye” and thinking, “This character [Holden Caufield] is very real and very earthy, and very cynical and pubescent at the same time.” It predates “Clockwork Orange.” Nice article, mom!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you so much for reminding me of Grandfather’s words, Kristina! They are empowering. And then he passed on six months later. I wanted to visit him in Costa Rica.

  2. Alice Rogoff says:

    Margaret,

    When I was at Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Tim O’Brien read my story and said one thing: He told me to “have courage.” That advice has actually helped me over the years.

    Sincerely,
    Alice

  3. Shelley Buck says:

    “I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too.”

    Margaret, As you write this of your youthful response to Catcher in the Rye, I realize that you are describing an essential ingredient for a novelist’s sensibility–the very active ability to enter an imaginary parallel universe and engage with it. Perhaps Salinger’s book enabled you to realize your own future lay in writing, too.

    If so, it was a fine early gift from Salinger to a reader who would later become a novelist herself. Passing the torch can take many forms, I guess.

    I hope he had more manuscripts in the cupboard, but what he shared in the 50s was already pretty spectacular.

  4. Annemarie Goslow says:

    Goes to show you that success does not equal happiness. Good advice.

  5. Kristina Strömberg says:

    Margaret, do you remember what Grandfather Little Crow said to you during your long talk when you had a healingsession with him when you visiting me in Sweden, if I remember it right you told me he said, “Walk your talk”, that is what you are doing with your writing, so go “girl”, Keep writing, stay healthy! Mitakuye Oyasin, love Kristina

  6. Michael (and Mary) Smith says:

    Good afternoon:
    Mary (my wife and Queen) and I met you yesterday (7/30) at the State Fair in Sacto. Bought a copy of your book; we discussed our mutual admiration for Tony Hillerman and our profound sense of personal loss at his untimely passing. I am the Buddhist priest who
    wants to visit Chaco Canyon and Four Corners and, at 62, have put that trip on my “Bucket List”.

    I do hope you’ll drop me a line. We have a lot to talk about. As for your impatience…a word that has helped me survive is “Gaman” (Gah..Mahn)! “ENDURE”! Do what must be done to continue walking your Path…and always remember that it is YOUR Path, and you walk it for yourself, by yourself. Others will notice and follow only if you stop halting and looking behind you to see who, if anyone…anything…,is behind you.

    We’re eagerly awaiting your next adventure, Sara!!!

  7. Margaret says:

    Thank you for writing, Michael and Mary! It’s time to empty that bucket! Chaco Canyon awaits you. Gaman! Margaret

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