Craig Johnson
Photo Credit: Johnny Louis

Craig Johnson

Bio

Craig Johnson is the author of eight previous novels in the Walt Longmire series. He has a background in law enforcement and education. He lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson

Books

Q&A

Q. Why did you move to Wyoming? “There’s like, nobody out there…”

A. When I was about twenty-four years-old I delivered some horses for a rancher up in Montana to the UCLA area; Ucross, Clearmont, Leiter and Arvada. I got there but the cowboy from Oklahoma who was supposed to meet me hadn’t shown. I called the rancher and he said to just sit tight, that the other fella hadn’t left yet… “From Oklahoma?” I said. Well, he said that I should just go get some idiot cubes (seventy-five pound bales of hay) and turn the horses loose in the public corral. That kind of gives you an idea about Ucross (population 25); we’ve got a public corral, but no post office. I said, “That’s fine for the horses, but what about me?” He said, “They’ve got a bar, what else do you need?”

I had an old Rand-McNally atlas behind the seat of my truck, and I marked that spot where Piney and Clear Creeks run together. I marked a few other spots in a few other states, but I always seemed to drift back to Wyoming, to that spot, and almost thirty years later, here I am, living on the land in the house that I built, writing books about the place that I fell for when I was a teenager.

Q. Your post-graduate work is in playwriting, how has that influenced your novels?

A. I don’t think I was intent on writing plays, but I was interested in the way people talk, the words they use, so playwriting seemed to be appropriate at the time. When the audio versions of the books were being produced, I got a call from George Guidall with some questions about pronunciations of the locations and Cheyenne language, and he asked me about my formal education in writing. When I told him that it had been in playwriting he said, “I knew it!” When I asked him how he knew, he said it was because I almost never use the tag phrases, ‘he said’ or ‘she said’. He was right, I don’t. I think it’s a weak way of getting the information across—if you do your job well enough, the reader should be able to tell who is speaking. The voices should be very distinct, and I think that phrases like ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ only remind the reader that they’re reading a book, and that’s not what I want; I want them to be in the work. I tend to use physical action to delineate character—it’s much more informative and interesting. I guess that’s the playwright in me as well…

After I’d built the first part of the ranch, I started thinking about what it was I wanted to write. I figured I had a background in law enforcement and an education in playwriting. Dialogue was something that I had studied and which came kind of easy to me, so I figured with those two tools in my belt, I’d have a pretty good shot at getting something out there that was worth reading. But wouldn’t you figure, when the first reviews came out for The Cold Dish, everyone praised my descriptive passages and hardly anybody said anything about the dialogue… They came around, though. A good series is character driven and character relies heavily on dialogue—kind of character unfiltered.

Q. There’s a rumor that you built your own house. Do you have pictures?

A. Yep, I have pictures and yes, I did build it—designed it, poured all the concrete, and stacked all the logs myself. I had one of those fathers who felt that in life you could either learn how or pay somebody else to do things—that there might be times when you won’t have money, but you’ll always have the knowledge. I came to Wyoming in a boom period when every cowboy in the country was slipping a four-foot level into the rifle rack of his pickup and calling himself a contractor, and I’ve always suffered under the delusion that I can do anything anybody else can do, no matter how poorly. I think an awful lot of us have a vague notion of striking out, buying a little land, and building a place—the same way a lot of people think about someday writing a novel. I think the longing has to override the fear of failure. I’m lucky in that I am not afraid of much. Of course, that might just be an innate stupidity and not an asset.I think it was an important transition in my life, building the ranch. I did it in three parts—kind of a metaphor for writing a novel, and I learned a lot and not just about construction. I would stack logs from sun up to sundown, turn around and look, and it seemed like I hadn’t accomplished anything. But I had. Writing is a lot like that, the feelings of accomplishment comes in increments, and you have to be satisfied with that. Pacing and patience are important in building a house as they are in writing a book. It took years of persistence to finish the house, and I think the experience proved invaluable when I started The Cold Dish. It certainly would have been a different book if I had finished it before I started the house.

Q. There’s another rumor that you have a baseball field in your back pasture. What’s that about?

A. If you build it, they will come… I really like baseball. I’m a big guy, but I’ve always liked the sport because it’s a competition where one team can’t physically dominate another; if you’re smart and determined, you’ll usually win. I grew up when the Cincinnati Big Red Machine was the baseball force to be contended with, and my favorite player as a kid was Johnny Bench. I always wanted to be like him. I’d heard that he was six feet tall and two hundred pounds, and always wanted to be that big—I got to the six foot mark, and have been trying to get back to the two-hundred pounds ever since… I did bodyguard work at the first annual Rawling’s Golden Glove Awards at the World Trade Center. All the ballplayers wanted to do was talk about being a cop, and all I wanted to do was talk about baseball.

Have you ever seen cowboys play baseball? They’re horrible. First off, they want to play in their boots and hats. Anyway, we decided that we’d have this Fourth of July baseball game, which now has about a hundred and sixty players each year; seven through seventy, everybody plays—it takes hours to get through the line-up, and even though there are nothing but people playing in the infield the ball usually gets through, but it’s great fun.

Q. Who is Dog?

A. When I was building the ranch, I finally felt like I’d gotten to the point in my adult life when I could take care of a dog. I’d lived in so many places and so many cities where it just wasn’t feasible. So while I was building the ranch, I figured it was time. I went to the pound. I saw this huge, red dog leaning up against the wall with this forlorn look and commented to the guy in charge that it must be really difficult to find homes for the more mature dogs, at which point he informed me that the dog in question was only six months old—and was scheduled to be put down the next day. Of course, I took him. So I hauled him over to get his shots, and the vet looks at me and says, “What kind of dog is this?” I tell him with all the authority of my little dog pound papers that he’s part German Shepherd, part Chow, and part Lab. He shakes his head and calls me over to look at the dog’s tooth structure and informs me that he may have some German Shepherd in him, but that he’s mostly Saint Bernard. I named him Max, and he leveled off at just under a hundred and fifty pounds

Series

Extras

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On Tour

Craig Johnson
Elisabeth Roger
Fort Knox, KY
10/22/2014 AT 12:00 PM
BARR MEMORIAL LIBRARY
62 W. Spearhead Division Ave.
Fort Knox, KY 40121
Craig Johnson
Elisabeth Roger
Washington, DC
10/23/2014 AT 07:00 PM
POLITICS & PROSE
5015 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
Craig Johnson
Elisabeth Roger
Mechanicsburg, PA
10/24/2014 AT 06:30 PM
MECHANICSBURG MYSTERY BOOKSTORE
6 Clouser Road
Mechanicsburg, PA 17055
5/22/14

Craig Johnson’s tenth Walt Longmire Mystery, Any Other Name, makes its debut on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list at #6 for the week of June 1. This showing on the NYT list… Read more >