How an East Coast Reader Came to Southwest Writers

AUTHOR:  SONNIE SUSSILLO

Back in the DC-suburbs of Maryland, a frequent Friday night date with my husband was dinner and an hour at Borders Books. I explored the tables of new releases, both hardback and trade paperback, and lingered over the buy-two-get-one-free trades. I fondled covers and flipped pages. Read the first paragraph and often some random opening. Occasionally, I made it to the stacks, where I’d pull books out based on title-appeal. Once in a while, I remembered favored authors and searched the shelves for their works. Staff would often find me juggling a pile of books and offer to take it to the register. Very dangerous- it left my arms free for yet another collection.

Fondling and flipping books–that’s how I discovered southwest writers such as Craig Childs with A Secret Knowledge of Water or JA Jance’s series on the Bisbee Sheriff, Joanna Brady. Tony Hillerman was the gift of a reading friend. After 100 Years of Solitude, I was re-directed by another friend to magical writing closer to home–Bless Me Ultima–which started me on Anaya’s New Mexico trilogy. Edward Abbey I discovered on my own and only later learned of the import of his writing, keeping company as he did with the likes of Wallace Stegner and Wendel Berry.

We moved to Silver City in 2008 and one of my first reads as a southwest local was, again, A Secret Knowledge of Water. Now that I lived where water is scarce and precious, his story had a more familiar context. Other stories set here in the southwest have a different resonance because I often recognize the names of the canyons and street corners.

And, it turns out I live in an author-rich, story-rich town. I could read “local” for years and not exhaust the possibilities. Sharman Apt Russell. “Pip” Parotti. Phillip Connors. Bonnie Buckley Maldonado. Susan Berry. Dutch Salmon.

Extend the map a bit and add cultural layers and the list becomes a library. I remember Robert Fulghum of All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten fame writing that he once started at Aa in his library with the intent of reading straight through everything there, right down to Zu. It almost feels like that’s what I should do with all the great writing generated by southwest authors. Yet, I haven’t even dented the work of those writers featured at last year’s Southwest Festival of the Written Word and here we are getting ready for the next one!

Which brings me to Jonathan Miller. He was part of the panel, “Something Wicked This Way Comes: Crime and Mystery Writing”. I missed him at the 2013 festival, having my seat in a seat at a different panel. He’s coming back to Silver City to offer a writing workshop this month and he’ll be participating in the next festival in 2015. I think I’ll forget reading through the alphabet for now and give one of Miller’s Rattlesnake Lawyer stories a try.


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