Monday, April 18, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Craig Johnson

When I began blogging about books in 2008, the one author about whom I would wax poetic was Craig Johnson. I'd still be doing it, but I'd just as soon not be dismissed as a starry-eyed, gushing groupie.

Johnson's books are a wonderful blend of story, setting and character. He's a born storyteller, he lives in the wild and beautiful land about which he writes, and when you live on a ranch outside Ucross, Wyoming (population 25), it's flat out normal to have an eye for two-legged and four-legged characters.

Craig's dog
I knew that he has a book coming out in June and that he's the toast of Europe (he's in Belgium right now as a matter of fact), so I almost didn't ask him if he would agree to an interview. What's that saying-- nothing ventured, nothing gained? I went ahead and asked, and when I got his affirmative response, I yelled, "Yippee!" so loud that I startled the neighbor's hound into barking up a fuss.

Craig has six books published with the seventh appearing on June 2, 2011. (I have my pre-order in, and I fully intend to be at his signing at the Poisoned Pen!)

Available June 2

The Cold Dish (2004)
Death Without Company (2006)
Kindness Goes Unpunished (2007)
Another Man's Moccasins (2008)
The Dark Horse (2009)
Junkyard Dogs (2010)
Hell Is Empty ( June 2, 2011)

Local sign

One of the exciting things for Craig now is the fact that A&E wants to turn his books into a television series, and I've found the entire process to be fascinating as Craig shares it.

The way I see it, it's time for me to shut up, and time for Craig to do some talking. Let's get to it!

Craig Johnson
What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

You know, I remember reading The Red Pony by Steinbeck; I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first book I read, but it’s the one that stuck with me. It starts out with that part about the difference between a man afoot and a man on horseback and coming from a rural background that made sense to me. The writing, as with all things Steinbeck, is incredible. The ending is sad, but it’s honest, and maybe that’s the thing I took away from the book—that not everything had to be happy, but it had to be true.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

Hah. Ride; work down at the barn. I think any time spent in the company of horses is time well spent. When I start off for the barn in the morning, those horses spot me from a hundred yards away and know what mood I’m in better than I do. I also have a few old motorcycles that I tinker on, which is probably just an extension of horseback riding. I built my own ranch, stacked the logs and poured the concrete; so it’s a work-in-progress that continues to keep me busy.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Well, when you live in a town with a population of twenty-five, you would think the options are limited, but they're not. We have the Ranch at Ucross which is a full-fledged dude ranch just down the road with a pool, tennis courts, horseback riding and a pretty good menu. Another option would be the Ucross Foundation which is a world-class artist’s retreat and their Big Red Barn art gallery. You can also walk down to the bridge where Piney and Clear Creek meet and drop a line in to tempt the trout….

Robert Taylor
You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Well I don’t know, but the guy that’s playing my Sheriff Walt Longmire on A&E, Robert Taylor might be a good start. My wife refers to him as a television version of me—you know, taller, more handsome, better voice.

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Probably Chee and Leaphorn from Tony Hillerman’s novels. I think Wes Studi said it best, “They’re stories about these two Tonto’s, and the Lone Ranger never shows up." I think people forget how gutsy it was for Tony to start a series about two Indian cops back in 1968 when ‘Native Americans’ weren’t considered that cool. He was truly a wonderful man, and I’m glad I got to know him and his work before he passed.

Before your very first published mystery, what else had you written (short stories, articles, unpublished manuscripts)?

Zip, squat, nada. My first true, honest piece of work was The Cold Dish, the debut of the Walt Longmire series. It was a Cinderella story from there on—I got picked up by Gail Hochman who directed me to Kathryn Court over at Penguin and I’ve been wearing the glass cowboy boot ever since.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

The first books I saw in a bookstore was at a Barnes & Noble in Billings, Montana; it was quite a rush. In celebration of having my first book published, I just stood in the kitchen of my ranch house, frozen with a funny look on my face. Writing them got me out of a ticket with a Highway Patrolman over in the Red Desert one time. He was looking at my license and said, “I read your books, Mister Johnson.”

I leaned over to my wife and said, “This could go either way.”

A&E is currently casting a television series based on your books. What thoughts are foremost in your mind as they turn your "baby" into film?

How lucky I am to be working with a talented crew like the one I’ve got. Greer Shepard (The Closer, Nip/Tuck) is the head ramrod along with John Coveney and Hunt Baldwin (The Closer, Trust Me) as screenwriters, and Chris Chulack (ER, Southland) at the helm as director. We’re only at the point of producing a pilot with Warner Brothers, but if A&E says it’s a go, then we’re off. Like I said, Robert Taylor is Walt and Lou Diamond Phillips is Henry with a whole load of other people I can’t talk about until Warner or A&E lets out a press release.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

I signed the leather cover of an E-reader just the other day; that was the first of one of those I’ve done… I’ve kicked off a few book tours at the Autry Western Cultural Center in Los Angeles and that was fun. I do a yearly event at The Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, Wyoming (population 351), which is a hoot.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

I still get paid no matter what the medium, and I’m pretty much in favor of anything that gets people to read. Personally I like books; I like the feel, the smell, the weight, but then I’m pretty old fashioned.

Thank you so much, Craig, for sharing your time, your words, and your photos with us. It is very much appreciated. You know... there's an app for autographing eBooks now, so be prepared!

Craig's ranch


  1. I enjoyed this, and even laughed out loud at Craig's comment to his wife about the patrolman. :) I really must stop dillydallying and pull The Cold Dish off my TBR shelves!

  2. First of all, seriously Joy, you have to read THE COLD DISH. Seriously. It's wonderful. Secondly, I'm so excited you interviewed Craig Johnson, Cathy. Great choice. Love, love, love his books. Thirdly, I knew about the TV pilot and also knew about the casting of Walt - did not know that Lou Diamond Phillips had been cast as Henry. Wahoo! I'm gonna love this.

    And, I loved Tony Hillerman's two Tontos too and loved Wes Studi's Joe Leaphorn. Wish they would film all those books.

  3. Well you and Craig Johnson have just sold me on buying and reading his books. I loved the two Tontos remark, so true, and I loved Tony Hillerman's books.

    Thanks for letting me know about another author I'm sure to like.

  4. Awesome awesomeness :) This was fun to read!

  5. Forgot to mention that I just love his truck. :D

  6. Joy-- YES, YOU MUST!

    Kay-- I wish they would film the rest of those books, too, even though one of the ones I watched seemed to have no clue that there aren't saguaros up on the Navajo Nation!

    Barbara-- You're very welcome. You've got some wonderful reading ahead of you. I'm almost jealous!

    Sheila-- He's a fun man to listen to as well. Can't wait till he's here in Phoenix in June!

    Barbara-- Yes, that is one well-loved (and used) truck, isn't it? Did you notice the "traffic" on the ranch road?

  7. Of course the first thing that has my interest is the picture of his dog. haha! It looks like a Bernese Mountain Dog, which is similar to A Greater Swiss Mountain dog..which is what I have. Just love the colors and marking, what a pretty doggy (his..not mine..although I think Miss Myla is as cute as can be).

  8. Kris-- I like Craig's "Dog", too.


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