Author Craig Johnson has written eight novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, the basis for the popular A&E drama “Longmire” starring Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips and Katee Sackoff. Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyo., and will travel to Summit County to share his novels and to meet with fans, starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18 at the North Branch library in Silverthorne, 651 Center Cirle.
The Summit Daily News spoke with Johnson about where he gets his inspiration, the surprisingly not-so-grueling pace of writing a story a year and his involvement with “Longmire.”
Summit Daily News: What are you planning to discuss at your event here this weekend?
Craig Johnson: I’m a full service author. I’ll be reading, talking, answering questions, signing books, all kinds of stuff. I like to talk about the TV show and my interactions with that, it should be exciting. My latest book, [“Spirit of Steamboat”] was just selected as the first inaugural state read in Wyoming. The nice thing about books, there’s that quote by Steinbeck where he refers to the universality of the human condition, well, small towns in Wyoming are not all that different from small towns in Colorado.
SD: The A&E show “Longmire” is based off your novels. Have you found since the show started that it has influenced your writing in any way?
CJ: I was writing the books seven years before the show ever started, so the characters were solidified in my mind. It’s a marvelous television show, but we were on the New York Times bestseller list since before the TV show was on. The majority of my characters are based on friends and family members, it’s difficult for Hollywood to change your idea of people you grew up with.
SD: How involved are you in the production of the show itself?
CJ: I have a wonderful relationship at “Longmire,” the actors and directors keep me in the loop. I’m a creative consultant so they send me scripts and I give feedback. A lot of writers are stuck in their own mind mud, ‘Oh that’s not the color shirt he wears in book three.’ Who cares, that stuff doesn’t matter. A lot of times they can’t see the larger picture. In Hollywood you hope for the best people to work with and let them do what they do. I’m not an expert on costuming, on set design, on acting. That’s why you have people to do that.
SD: You’ve written a number of books in the Longmire series. Do you set a time limit for how fast you write?
CJ: I write about one a year. But I stepped up my game on this new one. It was a surprise book. It was supposed to be a short story, maybe an extended 40 to 50 pages or so. I started on it and four days later, it was more than 80 pages. So it became a novella all its own. I’m not a believer in writer’s block, waiting and looking out windows for inspiration. I’m part of the blue collar, working class, ditch-digging school of literature.
SD: What does the process look like for you, when you are writing?
CJ: I clean the barn first thing every morning at the ranch, and when I’m standing with the horses, I’ll tell them what I’m working on that day. They offer no advice, so it’s a perfect arrangement. I’ve got to work, it’s too enjoyable not to.
SD: Where does the inspiration for a new story come from?
CJ: I start off with a newspaper article, I collect them wherever I go. I look for realistic ideas of what Western sheriffs have to deal with, imminent problems in the American West, but grounded in reality. Walt isn’t going to be on a cruise ship, on a skateboard, whatever. He’s dealing with things Western sheriffs deal with. Those newspapers are invaluable for me, the West is rife with opportunities for oddball situations that certainly happen. I have file folders full of articles I cut out from all over the Rocky Mountain west.
SD: You said a lot of your characters are based on family and friends. Have you ever had anyone take issue with their character?
CJ: I wrote the first book, and I was at a luncheon and the [publisher’s] lawyer asked, ‘Did you use real peoples’ names in the book?’ And I had to go back to the ranch, sit down in front of the manuscript for the first book, and I got out of the phone book and call everyone — ‘You’re on page 167, and you didn’t kill anyone ...’ In a true Western sense, people didn’t want me to take them out. People lobby me, ask me when they’re going to appear in the books.
SD: What kind of advice do people often ask you about, as far as writing?
CJ: My advice is the same as its always been, you have to follow your heart and do what you want to do, whatever you feel strongly about. It might not be the most marketable idea, not something you’re going to make the most money doing, but do what you want to do in your heart.
SD: Is it important to you to remain true to Wyoming and have a realistic interpretation of the place you call home?
CJ: When I was writing these, CSI and all that was just starting up, all about big cities and forensics. We have one crime lab in the whole state of Wyoming. I was writing a series of books about the least-populated county in the least-populated state, very anti-CSI. The limited resources they have, it’s something different, the advantages of that turned out to be that without all that technology, it became old-fashioned storytelling, relying on character, which relies on place. Through the love of a place where I live, and enjoy writing about, it gave me hidden advantages. Don’t ever be afraid to go in a different direction. If everyone is on the train going east, get on the train going west.