This is part two of our interview with author and Walt Longmire creator Craig Johnson, you can read part one here.
Enstars: I heard you respond personally to fan emails. Is that true?
Craig Johnson: Oh yeah, absolutely. Like I've got a contact button on my website…you hit that button and that's my email. For me, it's a wonderful opportunity to talk to people who read the books. Why would I rob myself of that? It's one of the joys of what I do in this era, that someone can finish reading my books and two minutes later email me and start a conversation. That’s a wonderful thing to have happen.
But I also think it’s something that the Walt Longmire, because he’s kind of a technophobe, wouldn't do.
[Laughs] Well, what Walt does for a living and what I do for a living are two different things.
I think the most noticeable difference between the books and series is that the books are narrated by Walt, which gives it a kind of noir feel. But I guess that would a little obtrusive if they included that in the show?
Well, you're absolutely right. You hit the nail on the head. The books are written in first person, so pretty much you're in Walt's head for like 350 or 400 pages. So it's kind of a different breed of cat than when you're on television. When they first started doing the show, they actually had narration in there, where Walt's voice was talking in the background and I voiced that the opinion that I thought that was a mistake that they should let the actors act and not let that interfere with what they were doing.
I'm pretty happy with the direction that they decided to go in, because Robert Taylor and Lou Diamond Phillips and Katee Sackhoff and...everybody, they're pretty wonderful actors. So you don't have to spell everything out for them as you go along. They do have the imagery. They have those vistas of the American west and the ability to allow the scenery and the characters and the dialogue to breathe, which is something a little bit different from what it is that I do with the books.
Has the show influenced how you’ve written the books since it’s started?
Not really. As powerful as it is, and as beautiful as it is, and as fun as it is, and as hooked as I am with the performers and everything. I was writing the books seven years before Hollywood ever noticed that I was alive and all the characters in the books were based on friends and family and neighbors and all that type of stuff. They were pretty well cemented in my mind before we ever got started with the TV show. And in some ways that’s maybe why I enjoy the TV show the way that I do, because it is a separate buy equal alternative universe...There are differences [between the books & the TV show] and I kind of enjoy those differences and like to see what it is they're going to do and how they're going to do it.
Is it true that you intended for the first Longmire novel to be a standalone story?
You're right. [Laughs] The very first Walk Longmire book, The Cold Dish, was just a standalone novel. I had no…NO idea that it would be popular enough that the publisher would actually think that it should be made into a series of books...or snowball into what it is...The only think I hoped was that I would be able to write a book and be able to sell enough copies so that I could writer more books. That's all that I was shooting for.
I also read that there was massive time gap between idea of the first book and writing it.
I'm always telling people whenever anybody talks about writer's block, I'm like, "I got you beat." When I wrote the first two chapters of The Cold Dish it wasn't really very good. I thought, "Okay, what's wrong with it?"
And I thought, "You know what? You need primary research material. You've got enough to write this book, but if you really want to be detailed and try and get it right; sheriffing is a specific style of law enforcement, so you need to go and talk to a sheriff." And so I'd driven into town and had a conversation with the local sheriff there and told him, "Hi, my name's Craig Johnson. I've got a little ranch out in Ucross and I'm writing this murder mystery about a Wyoming sheriff and would you mind helping me with it?" And so he agreed, he said, "Yeah, sure I'll work it like a case. I'll just read each chapter like that." Well, I was so relieved that I came home and added on to my house...and built a barn and some loading shoots and corrals and this other stuff.
And like ten years later, I finally dragged out those two lonely chapters of The Cold Dish from the drawer and set 'em down and reread them and they were just as bad as I remember them being. And I thought, "I'm going to have to go in and talk to that sheriff again." And I hadn't worked up the nerve, but I was actually in town, putting gas in my truck, and all of a sudden this police cruiser pulls in on the other side of the gas station pump and he gets out and tips his cowboy hat back and drops his Ray-Ban glasses and starts putting the gas in his car. And he turns around and folds his arms and looks at me. And he's giving me this look that says, "What did I arrest you for and when was it?" And I thought, "Oh boy, this is going to be embarrassing."
And I stuck my hand out and said, "Sheriff, you're probably not going to remember me..." And he goes, "Your name's Craig Johnson. You're the one that's got the little ranch out near Ucross and you're writing a murder mystery about a Wyoming sheriff." That was from a five-minute conversation from almost ten years previously. I mean, I knew he was still the sheriff because I voted for him three times, but I'd never spoken with him in that entire time. And I looked at him and said, "That is absolutely amazing!" And he nodded his head and he goes, "Yeah. Yeah, if you don't mind me saying so, this book is kind of going kind of slow."
And that was enough to piss me off to get me going again to finish The Cold Dish.