Friday, August 29, 2008

Craig Johnson - YES, IT IS SO!

When I read a book that leaves me in sheer awe, it's an inexplicably wonderful experience. It adds to my quality of life. When I approach an author who writes a book like this and he/she agrees to do an interview with me, it leaves me speechless! I am so excited to have the honor of sharing with you Craig Johnson.

I discovered Craig's work this summer at the recommendation of a mystery-reader friend. I originally borrowed The Cold Dish on audio from the library, but once I started listening to it, I knew I had to actually have the book and see the words on the pages because they were so amazing. After the first time through, you would think I would learn my lesson, but I borrowed Death Without Company on audio and had the same experience. The reader for these two books is outstanding, and the audios are well worth listening to; I just need to experience the words for myself, I guess. The two books that follow these up are Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man's Moccasins. Another Man's Moccasins was just released this summer. All four books center around the folks of Absaroka County in Wyoming, especially Sheriff Walt Longmire.

When I finished The Cold Dish, I adored every character in the book. Craig has an amazing gift with character development. As I said in my review, I wanted to go live in Absaroka with these people; they really came to life for me. But, I do have to admit that I especially took a shine to Lucien. So, it was a great surprise to see him have a pretty strong focus in Death Without Company. I'm anxiously awaiting Kindness Goes Unpunished and Another Man's Moccasins now; I have all four books on order. These are definite musts for my library.

Before I start on the interview, I'd like to let you know that I reference an article about Craig from the Los Angeles Times. You can read that article yourself here. It's definitely worth checking out. Craig also has it available at his website. I tried to avoid repeating information that you can find at either resource. Craig's website is a fun experience in and of itself, and I "borrowed" these pictures from his site - there are more, so definitely go check them out. And you can sign up to receive his "Post-Its" in your e-mail as well. I know I'm thrilled every time one shows up in my Inbox. They are always fun - little snippets of his wonderful writing delivered right to your computer!

Well, that's plenty of my ramblings, let's get on to this great writer...Dr. Craig Johnson!

Q. In the L.A. Times article they mention that you are "entertaining" movie offers for your books. The vast majority of the time, I don't think Hollywood does justice to novels-turned-movies, but on a rare occasion it does happen. Are there some actors you feel could do justice for Walt, Henry, Vic - how about Lucien?

Craig: To be honest, and this is the first time I've done it concerning this question, I really don't think in terms of actors. Most of my characters are drawn from people I know, people I'm very close with. Arbitrarily picking a face off a screen, somebody I don't know and assigning them to characters that are very important to me seems a little odd. I guess if I had any say in the casting of a film of my work, which is highly unlikely, by the way, I'd only ask that they use appropriate actors in age and ethnicity. I'd like Walt to be his age, Vic to be played by an actress with an Italian heritage and that Henry and the other Cheyenne are played by actual Indians.

Q. Again from the L.A. Times article, it says after two years on the New York City Police force you decided it was time to move West and maybe write a book. Was there a catalyst for this decision? After all, it's a pretty dramatic change to go from being an officer of the law in NYC to being a writer living in a city with a population of 25!

Craig: It really wasn't as dramatic as it sounds; I'd just reached a point in my career where I was being courted by the warrants, narcotics, and a number of other divisions and was going to have to decide on a path that meant an investment of training and time. I'd been in New York for more than two years and wasn't getting any younger, so I decided to follow my dreams of building a ranch and writing novels. I'm a westerner by heart, and if given the chance I always knew that was where I'd end up -- I just took the chance earlier than later.

Q. Given that your dream was to be published by the same company as Steinbeck, I assume he would be included here, but are there any other writers you feel have influenced your style?

Craig: I'm afraid I'm going to bore you with this list, but here we go...Hemingway, he was so deceptively good at what he did. Dickens, his plot structures and depth of character still amaze me. George MacDonald Fraser for his humor. Harper Lee for the bitter-sweet. Alexander Dumas for his action. Dorothy Johnson for her sense of community. Walter Van Tilberg Clark for his morality. Wallace Stegner for his conservationism. George Bernard Shaw for his wit. Shakespeare for everything.

Q. Your education was in playwriting. Has this training affected your prose writing? Do you think you differ from other novelists because of it? (One of the reasons I ask this is because your dialogue is out of this world. Is that simply your God-given talent or did some of that training contribute to this gift?)

Craig: God-given talents are a little worrisome; if God gave them, doesn't that mean that he can take them away? I think a lot of daily miracles come down to one simple thing, work. Writers can be lazy as it's a profession without defined parameters - no office, no time clock, no boss or co-workers - so they have to be super attentive. That translates to dialogue and I continue to refine and listen to the way people talk. I think that studying playwriting helped me tremendously with that. Dialogue is always going to be tough - we're all experts at it - spending our days talking, and hopefully, listening to others. There's no litmus test like dialogue in writing; it's character unfiltered. You write bad dialogue, and it screams and bites you in the ass.

Q. When you aren't writing, what kinds of activities or hobbies do you like to take part in to keep yourself busy?

Craig: I have a ranch, so I'm not sure what you mean by 'hobbies'...? Just kidding. One thing, though, just because I said I built my ranch, doesn't mean it's finished. I have the horses and a number of old motorcycles, trucks, and tractors that I try and keep running. I think everybody has a 'technological year' inside them -- the year that technology advanced beyond where they're comfortable. I think mine was 1948.

Q. Can you share with us a memorable experience from a recent book tour? How was riding your motorcycle to your events this summer?

Craig: I decided to ride my motorcycle on the northwest portion of the tour this year and had a really wonderful time.

After finishing an event in Sunriver, OR, I had a day off and decided I’d hot-foot it down through Lakeview, swing north through the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge, do the loop at Steens Mountain, and then head south to Winnemucca and a Basque dinner at the St. Martin’s Hotel (more on that, later). So, for some strange reason, I decided to seek out and explore the part of Oregon and Nevada that was almost identical to Wyoming—maybe I was homesick. I’d eaten lunch at the French Glen Hotel (population 11—I told you it was like Wyoming) and had a family style lunch with one other man, who was a park ranger. I told him what I was doing, and he thought I was nuts. "That’s eight hours on dirt and gravel roads." I nodded as he continued spooning beef stew into his mouth, "Well it’s your rear-end, not mine."

Later that afternoon, I was whistling down the high desert valley toward Denio Junction and hadn’t seen another human in hours. Off in the distance, with a vista as straight and flat as a mason’s rule, I saw this orange sign on the side of the road that said Flagman Ahead. I slowed, and after a mile, there’s this young woman standing out there in the middle of nowhere. She’s holding the Stop side of the sign toward me, so I pull up and cut the engine. She was from the Fort McDermitt Paiute Shoshone Reservation. As she studied the Indian-chief badge on the front of my bike, she asked, "You Indian?"

I pulled off my helmet, and it became obvious how non-Indian I was. "Nope."

"Just traveling?"

I glanced at the tiny red and white cooler sitting on the gravel at roadside; it didn’t seem like a lot of supplies for a whole day. "I’m on a book tour."

"Really? What kind of books?"

"They’re mysteries, about a Wyoming sheriff." I rattled off a few titles.

"Nah, I haven’t read you. I read that guy, the one that writes about those two guys…"

Even with that vague of a description, I knew whom she was talking about. "Tony Hillerman."

"Yeah. That’s him." Her radio crackled as she slipped it from her belt and talked with someone, somewhere.

I looked around and still couldn’t see anything. "Are you out here alone?"

"Yeah, they got a highway patrolman comin’ through at speed, and there’s some road damage ahead and they were afraid that someone might change lanes."

"How fast is he coming?"

She looked back down the road behind her. "Fast."

We both saw him from a full mile away, and in twenty-four seconds he passed within ten feet from where I straddled my motorcycle and she stood. Her dark hair was still trailing after his slipstream when she turned the sign around to Slow, and smiled a dazzling grin. "You can go now."

For all I know, she’s still there. I've decided that Oregon is almost as weird as Wyoming.

Q. It sounds like you had ambitions to write a book for most of your life. And your life experiences have taken you from rural America to the center of urban life, giving you quite a diverse background. Was your goal always to write something in a Western style or did some other factor come in to play to make you decide on a small town sheriff in Wyoming?

Craig: No, it was always about the west for me, and I thought sheriffing was an aspect of law enforcement that hadn't been done to death. Walt has to be elected, so he's in constant contact with his constituency. I like that in the character; he's no 'lone wolf', but there's just something about a vertical figure on a horizontal landscape that haunts me.

Q. You've said that you don't plan to spend the rest of your life writing about Walt, Henry, Vick and gang, but is there still more to come for them?

Craig: I think that when I said that I was intimating that I wasn't going to write just that, but I really enjoy writing the series and don't see any reason to stop Kathryn Court, the president and publisher of Penguin USA, once looked me in the eye and said, "We're in this for the long haul, just so you know." I'm aware that I'm in a pretty wonderful situation -- and I'd miss these characters dreadfully if I weren't writing about them.

Q. Have you read anything, personally, in the last six months that you would recommend to folks who enjoy your books?

Craig: Richard Price's Lush Life. Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone.

Q. And finally, I like to ask this of everyone I highlight on my blog: There is a book out called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. What would be YOUR six-word memoir?

Craig: "Good man, yes it is so."

If you've read any of Craig's work, you know the significance of his six-word memoir. How fitting! I absolutely love it! If you haven't read anything yet, put him on your 'must read' list. You definitely won't regret it.

If you receive Craig's Post-It's, does the motorcycle response sound familiar? I was tickled pink when he used that question as a topic for his Post-It!

Many, many thanks to Craig for taking the time to share some responses to my questions. I know he's still in the throws of his book tour for Another Man's Moccasins, so I deeply appreciate his willingness to participate! I'm looking forward to the "long haul" with Walt, Henry, Vic, Lucien and gang - and anything else Craig decides to throw our way! We're in for the long haul, too, Craig! Best of luck with all your future endeavors.

Happy Reading, All!


Kay August 29, 2008 at 7:27 AM  

Thanks so much for this. I really enjoyed it and will get to these books soon. As I said yesterday, I think I will have my mystery group read the first book for October or November.

Jen August 29, 2008 at 7:32 AM  

Thank YOU, Kay, for stopping by. It was my pleasure to post this interview. Craig is such an incredibly nice person. Let me know how your book club likes A Cold Dish!

beauvallet August 29, 2008 at 10:34 AM  

Great interview, Jen. As I have such good timing, I ordered 'The Cold Dish' from Foul Play yesterday. I like his recommendations, too. 'Winter's Bone' is a great story, and I'm working my way through 'Lush Life.' I'm not loving it thus far, I guess, but I have to say it's mighty impressive, if that makes any sense.

Ruth August 29, 2008 at 1:10 PM  

What a great interview! I haven't read any of Craig Johnson's books yet (been stuck in a romance rut all summer), but have added these to my buying list now. Thanks!

bermudaonion August 29, 2008 at 2:21 PM  

Fantastic interview! I need to add his books to my wish list

Jen August 29, 2008 at 4:04 PM  

Thanks everyone for stopping by! Definitely let me know what you think of Craig's work when you've read it!

Sam Houston August 29, 2008 at 8:35 PM  

Great interview, Jen.

Thanks for introducing me to a new writer...makes me wonder how in the world I've missed him up to now, but I'll be checking him out soon.


Jen August 29, 2008 at 9:50 PM  

Thanks for stoppin' by, Sam! It is my pleasure to introduce's a small payback for all the authors I've learned about from you!

Cathy September 25, 2008 at 10:25 PM  

I've been a Craig Johnson "evangelist" for a while now, so it was a treat to read this interview. Yes, it is so!


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