Tales of the American West have been popular since at least the U-S Civil War. One of the most celebrated modern writers of Western fiction will be coming to Tallahassee October 2nd.
That writer is Craig Johnson. He has now penned a total of 15 books about one man whose name is Walt Longmire. Although Johnson insisted he never intended the character to be more than a one-off.
“I remember when I wrote the first book in the Walt Longmire series, it was ‘The Cold Dish,’ they set me down and said they’d like to do this as a series. And I remember looking at them and thinking this wouldn’t work. I had some other ideas to bounce off of them. And they told me to go back to my ranch in Wyoming and think about it.”
Johnson did think about it. And the more he thought, the more the character of Walt Longmire himself began to suggest new plotlines and adventures. Mainly, said Johnson, because Longmire is so relatable and authentic as a person.
“He’s like us,” Johnson chuckled. “He’s overweight, overaged and overly depressed. But he still gets up in the morning and tries to do the job. That’s one thing. And the other is a word you just don’t hear too much these days and it’s kind of gone out of fashion, but it says a lot: ‘Decent.’ He’s just decent. He cares about the people in his county and cares about what’s right. He’s got a code that he lives by and he tries to do the right thing.”
It was all of these qualities, on top of the bestselling nature of the Longmire series and plenty of critical acclaim that eventually had TV producers knocking on Johnson’s door to propose a Netflix series of shows.
“Whenever Warner Brothers came to me and said they were thinking about doing a television show, I went into it with my eyes open, knowing that they would do some things a little bit different from the way that I did the books. I remember having a conversation with the producers and one of the first things they said was they were thinking about making Walt and Henry (Standing Bear) about 10 years younger than they are in the books. And I had the immediate redneck cowboy response, ‘Why are we doing that?!’”
Johnson quickly learned that in TV, there’s a reason for everything and that reason usually has to do with ratings and revenues.
“And they said it was because they’d like the show to run for about 10 years and they’d rather not have Walt and Henry wind up on walkers by the time they got through with it (the series.) So I had to concede that point,” he laughed.
And now, Johnson’s 15th book in the Longmire series is out.
“The title itself ‘The Land of Wolves’ comes from a Basque proverb: ‘The land of strangers is the land of wolves,’ he explained. After Walt’s experiences in ‘Depth of Winter’ in northern Mexico he comes back a changed and damaged man. There he is in his home county and state where he was born, grew up and lived the majority of his life, was married, had children and a career and he doesn’t recognize any of it. It’s a situation where he’s not only a stranger in a strange land but a stranger to himself.”
Yet, somehow, that elemental decency that Johnson referenced earlier, once again emerges to pull Longmire through the crisis. The evening of October 2nd, Johnson will be visiting Tallahassee, courtesy of Midtown Reader. But because of the incredible popularity of both his books and the Netflix TV programs, his appearance will be at Holy Comforter School. Unlike so many authors, he promises not to simply read a few excerpts from his works and then hawk signed copies for the rest of the night.
“I enjoy sitting and telling stories about what’s going on, whether it be stories about being out on the road or fishing in Alaska or talking about the TV show and the actors. We have ‘Longmire Days’ in Buffalo (Wyoming), so there’s always stuff to tell people about. And one of my favorite aspects is always the Q&A. I love opening it up and letting people ask questions because there’s an improvisational aspect to that. The other stuff you can prepare for, but when people are asking questions, you never know what direction that might go.”
And, like his signature character Walt Longmire, Craig Johnson is a real, honest-to-gosh creature of the American west. The stories should be hum-dingers.
For more information and tickets: https://craigjohnsontallahassee.bpt.me/ or call Midtown Reader: 850-425-2665