Interview with Craig Johnson, the Bestselling author of the Longmire series…
TSM: What should those of us stuck in the Midwest know about the lure of Wyoming that attracts so many people?
CJ: The lack thereof—people, I mean— Of course, Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Bighorn Mountains, the Black Hills, and the Red Desert are pretty spectacular places in themselves and they attract the world, but for me the real draw is the frontier aspect of the place. It’s been said that nature hates a vacuum, and the High Plains are a living example of that. The people and situations that develop there really couldn’t evolve anywhere else, and that makes for interesting material to write about. I remember doing a ride-along with a local sheriff when we brought an individual into the hospital emergency room, and after a few minutes, the ER doctor came back out and told us, “That’s the first time we’ve ever had that happen… His hair has grown through his long underwear.”
American novelist Craig Johnson speaking about and signing his latest books in Médiathèque José Cabanis, Toulouse, France.
TSM: What inspired you to become a writer?
CJ: I’ve always loved telling stories and writing was just a logical continuation of that. When you live in a town of twenty-five (Ucross, Wyoming), it’s possible that the locals might get tired of listening to them, so I needed a larger venue.
TSM: Do you outline?
CJ: Absolutely. I’m not interested in stacking up bodies like cordwood, which means I need to have a message, and outlining makes that easier. It also helps with the pacing of a novel, and guarding against that bugaboo, writer’s block. All writer’s block is simply not knowing what happens next, but if you’ve got an outline, you always know what’s happening next.
TSM: What are you working on now?
CJ: The 1% Solution, the twelfth book in the Longmire series that deals with Sturgis, the largest motorcycle rally in the world. The criminal element of really bad biker gangs are referred to as the 1 percenters, and the solution part of the title comes from the Sherlock Holmes novel by friend Nicholas Meyer, The Seven Percent Solution.
TSM: Which authors do you enjoy reading?
CJ: Daniel Woodrell, Brady Udall, Willy Vlautin, Joyce Carol Oates, Benjamin Whitmer, Hampton Sides, Margaret Coel, and James Grady, just to name a few.
TSM: Who was the inspiration for Longmire?
CJ: There are a lot of sheriffs I did ride-alongs with, and I think Walt evolved from them. People keep asking if I’m Walt and my wife has the best answer for that. “Walt Longmire is who Craig would like to be in ten years; it’s just that he’s off to an incredibly slow start.”
TSM: Were you surprised by the success of your books?
CJ: A procedural that takes place in the least populated county in the least populated state in the country? You bet I was, but it was also a question of doing something different. When I started writing the Longmire books, all the CSI stuff was really starting to pop and I asked a DCI investigator in Wyoming (where we have one crime lab) how long it took to get DNA evidence. He said about nine months, so I started thinking of a novel that would rely on character and place rather than technology.
TSM: What is the best thing about being a writer?
CJ: Writing. Period. If you don’t enjoy being in a room by yourself, typing about your imaginary friends, you need to find something else to do for a living.
TSM: Are you going to try to work on a stand-alone novel?
CJ: I’ve already got a few started, but I really enjoy writing the Walt books. Viking/Penguin gives me an enormous amount of leeway in writing about anything I like, so I don’t see stopping any time soon. I think it’s good to write other things just to keep your writing limber, but I’m not to that point yet.
TSM: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
CJ: Follow your heart. It sounds corny, but if your heart isn’t in the writing, why bother? Oh, and do something different from everybody else. Being a writer is a lot like being a cop—when you see everybody running in one direction, you need to go in the other.