Our buddy Craig Johnson’s latest Walt Longmire novel, Any Other Name, hit the shelves this week. In preparation for his visit to the store Wednesday, June 11 at 7PM, we caught up with Craig for a quick Q&A about the book and the success of Walt.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Serpent’s Tooth was such a game change of a novel for many of the characters in the series, how much of an effect did that have on this one?
CRAIG JOHNSON: There are large-scale reverberations in Any Other Name. The life-altering acts happened to be in A Serpent’s Tooth, but the fallout is in subsequent books. I’ve said it before, but the lifeblood of a series is in the ability of the writer to allow the characters to grow and change. I think it’s easy to become complacent and sink into a formulaic style, but I don’t think that’s the kind of novel my readers expect and Lord knows that’s not the kind of book I want to write. When I was writing this one, I noticed there were an abundance of head to head conversations between Walt and the other characters and that very few of them had to do with the actual case. It’s a book about relationships—a redefining of them.
MP: In many ways the book deals with the conundrum of doing what is right and what is legal for law enforcement. What did you want to express about a lawman caught in that debate?
CJ: It’s always going to be judgment calls in law-enforcement, very rarely are the situations cut and dry. It’s easy to have some tough guy stand up and throw off some bon mot that supposedly strikes fear into the heart of evildoers, but that’s really crap writing. Generally it’s about untangling and cleaning up the mess no matter how legal or right.
MP: Wyoming is such a beautiful state, yet it seems like you went out of your way to depict its less scenic locations. Was there a particular reason for that?
CJ: It’s the most beautiful place in the world, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is beautiful… The first thing I did in the acknowledgements is apologizing to the city of Gillette and Campbell County as a whole. You really have to think about the environs of a novel before you start writing it, what are the aspects that are going to amplify or illustrate what the story is about. This is a dark book, all of the humor aside, and it’s hard to write a travelogue about a place where the strip clubs get raided and the dancers pay their fines with one dollar bills, and the courthouse ladies count the money wearing plastic gloves…
MP: You did a wonderful job of depicting the officer who shot himself before the story starts. How do go about giving dimension to a character who is dead before the story begins?
CJ: Gerald Holman is the reason for this book. When you’re in the throes of a novel or an investigation it’s easy to forget the victim but Walt always seems to bring the investigation back to the essential question of the novel—why did Gerald Holman kill himself? Gerald Holman is a living, breathing question in this book and everything he did in those last few weeks of his life loom large in this investigation. He was a by-the-book kind of guy who, as Lucian says, “Never broke a law by force of bending it.” And then took his own life. It’s tragic, really, and Walt’s job is to follow this story to its tragic ending in both the beginning and the ending of the book.
MP: Lucian has a prominent role again. What does he provide the series as a character?
CJ: In this particular investigation Walt is out of his jurisdiction and only becomes involved because of a debt owed by his predecessor, Lucian. A lot of the more procedural questions are a comparison/contrast with the way Walt and Lucian approach a case; they both want justice to be served, they just rarely agree on how it should be served. One of my favorite scenes is when Lucian warns Phyllis about Walt when he thinks Walt is asleep, “He’s like a gun; once you point him and pull the trigger it’s too late to change your mind.” I think both of the characters have limitations on how far they’ll go in solving a case, and probably both are beyond what is deemed as reasonable and prudent.
MP: Besides a new lifestyle of glitz, glamor, beautiful women, and fast living, what has the recent bump of success of the Walt Longmire novels provided?
CJ: I have a new Carhartt jacket, it’s the fancy kind with a hood.
Craig Johnson will read from & sign his new novel here at BookPeople on Wednesday, June 11th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Any Other Name now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.