Making a Mystery
Longmire creator Craig Johnson brings the dusty township of Absaroka County
to Hernando, Mississippi
Interview by Casey Hilder
The exploits of Sheriff Walt Longmire sprang from the mind of bestselling author and Wyoming native Craig Johnson more than a decade ago, but you could say the world-weary western lawman has been there all along. With more than a dozen novels under his belt and the Longmire television series currently in its fifth season, Johnson brings his unique candor to the Hernando Public Library on March 1.
Click Magazine: Your books often depict a fresh take on many of the classic issues tackled in old Westerns with an air of modern mystery. What are some ways you blend the old and the new in your work?
Craig Johnson: I think you have to when you’re working in two genres, both western and mystery. I think readers are pretty cognizant of both of those themes, so it’s the writer’s responsibility to try and do something new with them so that you don’t fall prey to all the clichés and stereotypes. I think one of the best ways to combat that is to stay current and use humor, which I love, anyway.
CM: How involved are you with the Longmire television series?
CJ: I’m an Executive Creative Consultant on the show, which means I know where the Porta-Potties are on-set... Just kidding. The show is produced by people in Los Angeles and filmed in New Mexico so they sometime times need a little help in getting things right concerning the High Plains of Wyoming/Montana.
CM: What are your thoughts on the series and its actors? Would you consider this a faithful adaptation?
CJ: I love the actors and they’ve all become very good friends, but the TV show is different from the books in that it’s a separate medium; they are true to the characters, although they have different plots and different arcs of story. After all, there will be 53 episodes at the end of Season 5 and I’ve only written twelve books, so I’m okay with that. It’s like having two separate but equal universes.
CM: This is your second time speaking at the Hernando Public Library. How familiar are you with the great state of Mississippi?
CJ: A great deal more recently... I’ve been to Mississippi a number of times in the last few years. With the success of the books and the TV show there are a lot more fans of Walt Longmire, the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in America. What I’ve noticed is that there are a number of universalities that seem to speak to people all over the country, a rural language that appears to know no geographic boundary. The funny thing is, I’ll get an email about the grumpy ladies at the courthouse from a reader in Biloxi asking if I’ve been to their courthouse — it’s a universal.
CM: What can we expect from your talk at Hernando Public Library?
CJ: I’m not sure, but they may run an episode from the TV show, Longmire and then one of last year’s publications was a collection of short stories about Walt, so I’ll probably read one of those, tell stories, and answer questions. It gets a little freewheeling with me, so it’s hard to say what direction we’ll go. It’s always a fun crowd at the Hernando event and they won’t let me get away with being boring...
CM: A love of literature plays a large role in your books. How much of your work is drawn from your own life experiences? I’ve heard that Durant is inspired by Buffalo, Wyoming.
CJ: Well, like Wallace Stegner once said, “The greatest piece of fiction ever written is that disclaimer at the beginning of every novel that says no one in this book is based on anybody alive or dead.” What a crock, I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do — go find interesting people and populate your books with them.
CM: You most recent novel, Dry Bones, released in May. Can you share any details about the writing process?
CJ: Generally, my books come from newspapers and research into the area, which keeps the books grounded in a reality of the American West. I don’t ever want Walt chasing Al Queda in Crook County or on a cruise ship. Dry Bones came from my finding that the majority of T-Rexes in museums around the world all came from Wyoming and then I heard about Sue, the largest, most intact T-Rex ever found and it was found on an Indian rancher’s place and my mind started working.
CM: What can we expect from your next novel?
CJ: In the next one a friend of Walt’s, Wyoming Highway Patrolman Rosey Wayman, is transferred to the imposing Wind River Canyon, an area the troopers refer to as no-man’s-land because of the lack of radio communication, and she starts receiving officer needs assistance calls. The problem? They’re coming from Bobby Womack, a legendary Arapaho patrolman who met a fiery death in the canyon almost a half-century ago. In an investigation that spans this world and the next, Sheriff Walt Longmire and good friend Henry Standing Bear take on a case that pits them against a supernatural Western legend — The Highwayman.
CM: Longmire will debut its fifth season via Netflix, a strategy that has worked to revive cult classics and breathe new life into older series. How did the series’ warm reception and resurgence make you feel?
CJ: Actually, we’re more of a miracle than that. There really aren’t that many shows that have been revived on Netflix — The Killing, which was resurrected for only one season, and Arrested Development are the ones that come to mind. We’re now a Netflix Original, which puts us in a fairly unique category — but then this was the first time a successful series, in fact the highest-rated series in a network’s history, had ever been cancelled. So Netflix realized this was a unique opportunity and jumped on it. As to my personal feelings, I’m tickled to death. The producers, directors, cast, and crew have all become friends and I hated the thought that all that work coming to a close, so I’m pretty happy that we’re trending on Netflix practically every night.