Craig Johnson is the author of eight novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim. The Cold Dish was a Dilys Award finalist and the French edition won Le Prix du Polar Nouvel Observateur/BibliObs. Death Without Company, the Wyoming State Historical Association’s Book of the Year, won France’s Le Prix 813. Another Man’s Moccasins was the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award winner and the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year, and The Dark Horse, the fifth in the series, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Junkyard Dogs won the Watson Award for a mystery novel with the best sidekick, and Hell Is Empty, selected by Library Journal as the Best Mystery of the Year, was a New York Times best seller, as are the rest of the series. The Walt Longmire series is the basis for the hit Netflix drama, Longmire, starring Robert Taylor, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Katee Sackoff.
Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.
you're listening to good sentences Podcast that's guaranteed to tickle your literary ear holes and make you wish you'd listen to dear old mom when she said Toe put down those lawn darts on Learn how to read. And now here your hosts, neither of whom listened. Dear old mom, this is Craig A heart and S. J. Baringo
has got assuming you've heard of this relatively new invention called the television, I have seen pictures of them poorly drawn. No, no. The television is a very wonderful tool. You know, we're faced with something I don't understand at all, which is streaming, and we have, like, a 1,000,000,000 different service is now offering various strange. Disney has recently reclaimed all of their material and now offering their own streaming service, which, of course, my kids wants. My daughter is going to be 27 in a week or two and she has it. Yeah, it just isn't one more expensive. They used to call it nickel and dime. You don't even think that applies anymore. When's the last time you spend a nickel or a dime on something? Exactly. I saw. I mean the other day that was making You know, I've seen a lot of them about people that lists like they're they're streaming accounts and it was like, you know, it started out. It was like my old cable bill. $150 a month. And then he starts listening. Who? 11. 99. Netflix volatile and you know it gets on down to live. Asian masseuse girl. $1540. And then the bottom line is how my saving any money right? And that's the only one I can't cancel. The bad you, but to a contract with them, right? It is getting crazy. There are a couple that I I would be hard president give up, one of which is Netflix. That's that's the one that's been around for a while. That's when I've known the longest. Back when they were still know when they used the millions, gets going to say, Do they even do that anymore? I don't think they don't know. I remember It went, that was all they did right, and they started introducing the streaming so you could get a deal with streaming along with your rentals and then they phase the rentals out. Yeah, in The grand scheme hasn't been that long ago, but the technology has moved so quickly. One of the stars in the Netflix platform is the show Longmire. I don't know if if you've seen any of those episodes, you know, I am ashamed to admit I have not. But you, who has my son Evan since Episode one, been a huge fan. Now he's watched every single one. It's a good show, and one of the reasons why is because it has no if you'd say unusual, but in an atypical approved protagonist hero. And in my mind when I first, you know, got the concept of what he was all about, another character came to mind. For me, it was a guy named Shelby that's ringing a bell. Same same promise as your character, Shelby Alexander man no longer in his prime but still can kick some booty when the need be exciting. Part is that we on the show today, we actually have the creator of Longmire, Craig Johnson on. Yeah, I know. I'm gonna bother complimenting You ain't right. It's exactly you know, I got a better Craig way. Craig's are a dime a dozen. It's just you've heard one, you're hurt him all, really. And he actually talks about in the interview that will be listening. Thio. He talks about the character of Longmire and the creation of the character and how much joy and pleasure he gets out of creating characters and how important he feels. Characterization is to the writing process, you know, obviously I've watch the the interview already, and you did a fine job of it, by the way, considering you were speaking to, ah, still photograph for the empire. Yeah, I tried to get him on Skype for that those back during the games and writer show days, and he's like, Yeah, ah, Skype doesn't work too well out here at the ranch. You know, people say that in just back of the ranch. But when he says that, it's really what Wyoming or something? Yeah, I think so. Good point about his his stressing character. I've noticed quite a few of the authors that I really enjoy when you get to hear them talk about craft, character development, the depth of character and consistency, especially if we're talking in terms of a Siri's or better still evolution of that character. over the life of the series. You know, a lot of these really enjoyable authors stress that as one of their key points, and Craig was no exception. The concept of character arc in writing and in particular in and in the stand alone book. But in a Siri's, particularly some people don't know we're talking about when I'm talking about the concept of character arc, it basically is. A character starts at one place, and by the end of the book or Siri's or throughout the Siri's, they they evolve into something else and they end up. It's some someplace else They gave the idea being, If you read Oh, say a book that has no character arc, you get to the point they ended. You wonder what the point? Waas. It's just like you're looking through someone's living room window for right 400 pages, you know, and you found the most boring guy in the entire plant. People never changes, never does anything to better himself, never has anything to tackle. No, no, no hardships to take on, except for maybe to, like, find the remote. Every now and then, we'll have the time. It might be fun to see how boring of a book we could write. I bet we could. I could write a pretty boring book and people say I've already done reviews that I've gotten. I've already mastered that. I think I'm gonna move in the other direction, if possible, try to drag me back. What was your plan here? Another boring bug. Well, one thing that Craig Johnson does not right is boring books, and we're happy to have him here on good
sentences. Good Johnson is the New York Times best selling author of the Walt Longmire Mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim and is the basis for the hit Netflix drama titled Simply Longmire. Craig Johnson. Welcome to the Chair. Hey, thanks to
when you begin writing about Walt Longmire,
did you intend it to be a Siri's? Or was that a concept that kind of came about after the first book was completed?
Yeah, no, it wasn't at all like it was just supposed to be. A standalone book was supposed to be the first novel in the what became a series like that was called The Cold Dish, and I think I don't know. I mean, I guess it varies for a lot of authors, but I guess whenever I first started out, I was just stunned. You know that if all I wanted to know if I could get one book published, I
thought that would be so Just had my
fingers crossed for that. So the idea of actually having a series of books or something was just, you know, otherworldly. Um, so I just I just hoped and prayed did like, Maybe just maybe I could get this, You know, this one book? Um, you know, published. And, uh, I guess there were some things that you worked for that and worked against that. I mean, you know, the one of the dirty little secrets is that the first draft of the cold dish was actually about 650 pages long. It's
kind of like war and peace. Like I think I made the mistake
that I think a lot of beginning authors make you know where I thought. Okay, if I can fool them
into publishing this one
book, then you know they're never gonna publish another one. So I'm putting
everything I did, you know, and It was way,
way too long and way too much, you know? And, uh, you know, and I think that actually taught me a good lesson. Um, for subsequent books, because I tend to write long I could I
have a little bit too much in the first draft, you know? But then what? That makes you capable of being able to go back and, you know, kind of chopping and channeling everything and taking out all the stuff that really doesn't have any reason to be in there or elaborating on the things that you really do. I need to be in there and yeah, that was kind of how it all started. But I think on the positive side, I really did my best to try and give a full fledged, um, world, you know, to
book, you know, in an ensemble of characters and the, um, definition of place that I think it was very helpful in continuing on, you know, with those characters, because I had so many questions, you know, even as much as I had put in there. You know, the more you put in, the more questions you know, there
are. So I was looking
for opportunities to maybe tell more stories about some of the other characters that air in that first book, and, uh, and that that kind of opened it up for the opportunity to be able to, um, right a series like it and I have to give credit where credit's due. That it was Catherine Court, the president of Penguin, who sat me down and said, You know, we really like these characters. We really think that they've got, you know, a life and we think that people are gonna want to know more about them and about the relationships and about the place. We just think that says the opportunity of being ah, really wonderful Siri's. And that's when I, with the knowledge of not even having had one book published, started arguing with the president of
Pink. I'm saying I don't think that'll work. I don't think
really good idea, but I've got some other
ideas. I wanna bounce off of you. And she said, Why don't you go back to your ranch and sit down and think
about this because way
think that you re think it does and we think it will get, you know, of course. You know, like an idiot. I came back and started thinking about it, and I thought, Okay. Yeah. You know what? There are a lot of questions, especially about the characters you know about, you know, like Walt relationship with Vic, you know, and, uh, history with Henry. You know, and, uh, in evolution and all of these other characters, you know, the, you know, the only way to find out about those things was to continue one and to do, um, some more stories like that, and, uh, and I think a lot of it comes down to character. A lot of it does, no matter what the source of entertainment, you know, whether it be movies, whether it be TV shows, whether it be games, you know what novels? Whatever. You know, it's always going to come down to character,
I'm doing writer's workshops. I'm always, you know, telling students that, you know, the big thing is character. Um you know, whenever that the book's got turned into a TV show. One of the things that happened was that the big things big agencies out in Los Angeles periodically. What they'll do is they'll send a an agent, you know, to the literary agencies in New York, you know, to just kind of like, you know, throw a net out and see if they can find your material. Um, that might work, you know, is a television show, you know, where is a movie or something along those lines. And it was interesting to me because the agent then came from C A a that the wind into my literary agents office and, you know, it was looking for, you know, kind of netting out there to see if they could be patrolling and see if they could find some material. The thing she asked for what she says. We're looking for material with really strong characters.
she said. She didn't say Western. She didn't say mystery. She didn't say, you know anything other than we're looking for material with really, really strong characters, and, uh, and I think that there's a lesson to be learned in that you know that, Um, because people are always wondering, How do I get my book published? How do I get my TV show made? How I get my movie done. You know all of these things, you know, and it's always gonna come back to the characters. It's, you know, if you're not interested, if you're not involved, if they don't draw you in, um and you know, literally make themselves, you know, a part of your life where you actually care about them
in some way.
Um, then I think you know, you've got an uphill battle to try and get something done.
I think you're absolutely right about the character side of it. And you've done such a great job of creating those so But Longmire eyes a different kind of hero. Certainly not like the six pack abs invincible guy that so often shows up in books as the hero. Why did you decide to take a different route when creating his character?
Well, I think you know a lot of times, you know, whenever you're doing any kind of creative capacity, I think the first thing you have to look at and see which direction everybody's running in and then
go the other direction and try and do something different and, uh,
you know, it's you know, for me it was pretty simple, like that because it just made him more rial. You know,
you know those comic
book characters that you see and you know, I mean, you know, whenever I would, like, run in tow, You know that the investigators, you know, we're detectives or anything like that. You know, they they couldn't go spend four hours in the gym every day
that their life did not allow for that. We're doing the job.
So for me like that, Walt became, you know, kind of emblematic of that every man kind of aspect where you know, even more like us is what he is like. I mean, I don't know. You physically look it
so you know
I can't speak for you. You may have those six pack abs. I don't know.
No, e, I
don't know. I just find that to be, you know, kind of, you know, untruth. You know, whenever looking at those characters, you know that they're fine for, like, you know, for for comic books and then that kind of thing like that. But for a real character, you know, for a real person. You know, I think you've got to delve a little bit deeper and you know, Waltz. You know what? I tend to refer to that sadder but wiser, you know, kind of character. You know, he's lived a life like that. He's had things happen to him like that, and some of it good, some of it bad, you know? And the big thing about him is that he still gets up in the morning and tried to do the job. He's
tenacity, Um, that allows him, you know, to continue on, you know, when everybody else would give up, you know, he'll knock on one more door, he'll make one more phone call, he'll go through one more transcript, you know of an interrogation or interview, and, you know, and if you're out there and you're doing bad things is the last guy that you want after you because he's not gonna give up. You know, he does have that tenacity. Um, there were two things I kind of gave him, you know, when was that tenacity and the other was a sense of humor.
I think is another aspect that, you know, sometimes missing, you know, in a lot of time, um, in the type of material like that. Um, anybody that's ever had a tough job knows that the way that you get through to the end of the day, you're gonna do, you're gonna do one of two things. At the end of the day, you're either gonna laugh, you're gonna
cry. And I know which one it is that I would rather do. Look, it's so for
me, becomes really kind of essential toe have that development of character toe where they all have, um, very distinctive voices, you know, where they all have very distinctive senses of humor. And, um, I just think that it makes the characters, you know, infinitely more believable, um, and and certainly makes them more fun to be around when they have a sense of humor. I mean, when I'm doing writer's workshops, you know, I'm working with young riders. You know, one of the questions they'll always ask, How do you get readers to empathize? You know, with your characters? How do you get them toe, You know, to really, you know, connect with their characters and I'm always like, Well, who do you like hanging around with? You know, people that make you laugh, give your character's a sense of humor. Let them realize the situation that they're in, or you know what it is that they're dealing with, you know, with a sense of humor. That's what we all do every day. You know, it's kind of important. Inevitably, the next thing out of her mouth is, Yeah, but what if I'm not funny
and you're like, Whoa, And then you
problem develop That sense of humor that we want
to be funny is
like trying to teach him
not to sweat.
Kind of impossible, but I
think it's something you can work at, like a lot of things like that. I mean, very rarely are you gonna go into any art, you know, any any form of art, you know, and be, you know, absolutely secure in, You know, every facet of it, you know, you're gonna have to work on the weaknesses, you know? I mean, you obviously, you know, try and utilizes much of your strength that possible, but also realized that their weaknesses you need to work at
Yeah, I think all of us just being specifically, his writers have our strengths and our weaknesses and just learning how to minimize the weaknesses and capitalize on the strengths can make all the difference. But speaking of personalities, so your wife has been quoted as saying that Walt Longmire is who Craig Johnson would like to be in 10 years. It's just these off to an incredibly slow start. You making any progress on that
front? Are you gaining on Longmire? It all?
What would you say? You know, I've been riding wall for 14 years now, and I like to think that I have of, uh, you know,
of advancing myself is a better person. But, you know, I don't know. Maybe not. Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe I'm losing
ground. I don't know. Yeah, that definitely. You know, one
of those things. I mean, one of my favorite quotes, You know, when writing is the one from Wallace Stegner, you know where he says the greatest piece of fiction ever written is the disclaimer at the beginning of every book
that I based on anybody alive. What a crock that is. I
think you know, whenever you're you're writing a character in first person, you know? I mean, that's that's 300 pages of, you know, basically a a stream of consciousness, you know, internal monologue, Because basically, you know what Walt's thinking the whole time. And so a certain amount of yourself is gonna have to leak into that
to a certain extent, you know? And I think there are aspects. There's certainly a sense of humor, right? I like to think is something that we share. I think a sense of justice, I think, is another thing that we share. I'm a big believer on a level playing field that everybody gets the same treatment that everybody gets the same chance to do the right thing, you know, and, uh, um, those are all important to me. But then there are also aspects of Walt's characters or so completely alien to me. Yeah, the fact that what he has led an entire life, basically, once he lost his deferment. You know, you know, in California, USC playing football, you know, the sixties gnome was drafted, you know, went into the military, is a military police officer
like, and then came
back toe Wyoming and the only job that was available was a deputy share up and then graduating from that to being a sheriff his entire life has been in law enforcement.
So I think it's given
him, um, a really definitive kind of view of you know how it is to do his job, you know, whereas I've kind of been a jack of all trades and master of none, you know, where I've
in all these different things like that. And, um, I think that, you know, that that gives him a very clear perspective on things. The other thing that's, you know, that's a major part of his character is he's had a lot of, ah lot of tragedies in his life, you know, Mostly the biggest one, of course, being the loss of his wife. Um, and I haven't had those kind of tragedies in my life, you know? And so I don't have that that kind of deep seated depression that I think you know, it's something that he battles against with that sense of humor with that camaraderie, you know, with the people that he works with, you know, and with Henry and all of his friends on the reservation, um, I think that he knew he combats that, you know, to Ah, great extension. Almost on a on a daily basis like that. And and I think that that's one of the key elements to, ah, dramatic conflict within the character, you know, and not just your plot driven, but, you know, actually within himself,
speaking of the Netflix show, So the books obviously have been made into the long running show highly popular. But how close is the show to the books? And what are some things that they've changed between the two mediums?
Well, I was very fortunate, you know, in the sense that I kind of went into it with my eyes open,
realizing like it
that you know, that this is a collaborative effort, you know, that it takes, you know, ah, village, You know, to kind of get this kind of thing off the ground and you hear and see, You know, like all of these situations where you know these riders are unhappy, you know, with what it is. It's been done, you know, with their work. And they would have preferred this. They would have preferred that my media response to that is Well, then you shouldn't have taken the cheque
should yes said no when they ask you to sign on
the dotted line rather than, you know, doing this like, 11th hour bitching session, you know,
were you know,
you're unhappy with what it is. It was done. I
mean, the biggest, you
know, probably ability that you have as a writer. You know, in these the strongest power that you have in these situations is before it gets done, you need thio realize you know who these people are that you're working with, what it is that they've done. Um and so I was very fortunate in that. You know, what I got from Warner Brothers, you know, was and see a was more of, ah, collective agreement like that where it was a package deal where I got to meet the directors and the producers and writers and everybody before, you know, I signed on the dotted line and they were marvelous people like it. We had a really incredible track record, you know, of all of these shows that they had done, and, um and I thought, OK, this might just work. And I got said, you know, kind of going into it with my eyes open, realizing that they were probably gonna be some changes made because what makes for a good book series or what makes for a really good novel might not work the best. Um, you know, for a television series or for a
movie be changes, you know,
that they're gonna have to make. And like I said, it's collaborative effort. So, you know, you've got you know, the producers have their input the directors have there and put the actors have their input all the way down to, like, you know, the cough doing people have been put on the set. People have input, location. People have been put even. You know, when you're dealing with television, you know, the advertisers, you know, suddenly have input, you know, and so you kind of have to be open to the idea that things are probably gonna change a little bit. But then, you know that doesn't make it always easy. I remember one of the first meetings that I had with the producers. They said, you know, well, we're thinking about making Walton Henry about 10 years younger. Then they are in your books. And I had the immediate redneck
cowboy. You ought to respond. Well now,
why are we doing that?
really like the TV show to run for about 10 or 12 years, and we'd rather not have Walt on Henry. And
on Walker's way got through to the end of it. So I had a hard time arguing with that. I think
you know, you have to realize that they're gonna be changes. And I think we were extraordinarily fortunate because, um, one of the first things they said to me was also look at that. Um, hey, you know, um, your books don't break down to a 42 minute teleplay very easily.
A man. I said, thank
they did, you shouldn't be reading them.
They get only fit so much of a book into a 42 minute teleplay looking. And since we had a lot of pressure from the original network that had us that they wanted beginning the middles and ends, you know, to to all the episodes which changed. You know, whenever we went over to Netflix, it was gonna have an effect. And, uh, I think they did a pretty marvelous job, really. Kind of like, you know, working with the limitations that they had and doing the things that they did. And then, of course, you know, Then there's the casting like that that they did, which was spectacular, that the casting people were actually the ones that do all of the HBO shows. And they went out on a search like it and, you know, did an absolutely magnificent job. Um, you know, in finding Robert Taylor and Katie
Diamond Phillips like Martinez, Madam Bartley, all of these really incredible actors that were just waiting in the wings that
maybe had not
had the opportunity Thio, you know, to really kind of, like, you know, get their wings out there and stretch them, you know, in a you know, in something that's maybe a more realistic kind of drama of the contemporary American West. Um, and with a depth of character that, you know, that maybe they hadn't had a chance to work with before. And, you know, they really, you know, showed what it was that they could do. Um, once again, it goes back to character, you know? And, you know, we were extraordinarily fortunate to have some very, very talented people, you know, to do the show with
Yeah, they they are absolutely fantastic. And I think you're wise to go into it with your eyes open and in that regard, because writing is such a solitary thing. And but there isn't a field much more collaborative than film. Not one of those things you can do by yourself, you know? And,
you know, like the writer's room that, you know they're along. My had a writer's room with
it. This entire
group of writers and the producers would be in there and the directors would be in there. And, like all these people in the writer's room, is they're hashing out. You know, these episodes they would send to me and I would give them feedback.
They always sounded like hell
like a roomful of people are doing for your ideas. I don't do that very well.
I don't work and play well
with E. I want my
way like that, you know, which is why I live. You know, in a little
ranch, you cross Wyoming population 25 years, Wyoming Montana border like and
you know that that's that's what I like. That's what I love like that that's my life. But I don't know. I don't completely answered your previous question, which is, you know, the characters are very similar. You know, Thio, the books. Look at the world that they lived in. A very similar, um, they use bits and pieces from the books, but And there were actually episodes of that used your large plot lines from the books. Um, but most certainly like it. They kind of women from different directions, you know? And they were pretty smart about it because one of the things that they said to me was that, you know, um, were you know, we don't wanna slay visually reproduce the books
we don't want to ruin the books for all the people that are going to see the TV show. And then again, we also don't want to ruin the in the TV show for people to millions of people who have read the books. So I'm not always consistently amazed, like, you know, every once in a while I'll meet somebody and they'll say, Oh, well, I would read your books, but I've already seen the television show, so I guess I don't have I'm like, Oh, no, you can jump in and and read the books. It won't hurt you one bit like a you're in for a whole another universe in all actuality. And it doesn't doesn't hurt to approach one from the other.
All right, awesome. What you working on right now? Something that we can look forward to from you.
Well, let's see. I've got the land of wolves like that, which is from a Basque proverb that land of strangers is a land of wolves. Like That's the book that comes out on September 17th on. But I'm working on the next Walt book. That's for two years from now, which is called the next The Last stand. Um, and then I've got a couple of other projects I'm working on that appear to be getting a little bit of traction out in Los Angeles. Like I've got a, uh, got a feature film that I'm working on like it and then actually a pilot for, ah, potential other television series like it. So we'll see what happens. Keep your fingers crossed.
Absolutely. We definitely keeping tabs on and looking forward to Well, pretty much anything you come up with. Craig Johnson. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate your time. My pleasure. My pleasure.
joy. Good. Yeah,