This month, we’ve been celebrating the tenth anniversary of Craig Johnson’s first Longmire novel, The Cold Dish, heralding in a decade of Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire, one of the best heroes to come out of the beginning of the millennium. We caught up with Craig before he flew off to France, where the character is just as popular, to talk about his time with Walt.
MysteryPeople: What has been the best thing about your ten years with Walt?
Craig Johnson: In all honesty, Walt Longmire began as a man on borrowed time. He was intended to be in a stand-alone novel so I packed as much as I could about him in that one volume because I was sure that was the only chance I was going to get. When Viking/Penguin approached me about continuing the character as a series it gave me an opportunity to open up all those aspects of Walt’s character and life that I felt got shorted with the first novel. I think that might be the best thing, continually discovering Walt.
MP: How have you tackled a series character who was originally intended to be in a standalone novel?
CJ: I’m sure I could’ve done it better if I’d planned for it, but The Cold Dish was written with a focus on character rather than plot. As Voltaire used to say, clever ideas come and go… I think the key was the creation of Walt and the ensemble of characters that surround him; they’re not very good at staying put physically, intellectually, or emotionally—kind of like the rest of us. The nice thing is that the original novel gave me a treasure trove of information about the characters and their world, if I was just smart enough to go back and refer to it.
MP: How has Longmire changed since The Cold Dish?
CJ: In the first novel the reader is given a chronically depressed narrator grieving for his departed wife who can barely get out of bed in the mornings. It’s the case in The Cold Dish that brings him back to life and it’s the subsequent cases that keep him going. Walt’s become more dynamic and connected, but there will always be difficulties on his horizon. I just think he’s more equipped to deal with them now.
MP: I know Walt’s age was one of the reasons you made each novel take place in the season following the next, instead of each year like many, but what were some unexpected virtues of doing it that way?
CJ: There’s only a month or two between novels, which gives the series a sense of continuity; it’s very difficult for the characters to ignore the things that happened only a few weeks ago. The other thing it provides is that evolving backdrop of the contemporary American West; not only the seasons, but also the social, economic and political landscapes that are constantly changing and keeping it vital.
MP: As a writer, what makes a character worth coming back to?
CJ: There’s his sense of humor, but I think it’s the fact that he’s a good guy, a guy you can depend on to do the right thing. I’m not saying Walt’s a Pollyanna, he’ll bend the rules when he has to and he’s capable of some pretty spectacular ferocity, but he always does these things for a very substantial reason. When I was talking to the head producer and person responsible for developing the TV show, Longmire, she said she felt that the viewing audience might have had enough of the anti-hero and that maybe they were ready for a man like Walt. A man, as my grandfather used to say, covered the ground he stood on.
MP: You said in an early interview that Walt is a man you’d like to be one day. He’s ages three years to your ten. Have you gotten any closer?
CJ: Not one damn bit.
Copies of Craig Johnson’s Longmire novels can be found on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.