Monday, June 02, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Craig Johnson!

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time at all, you know that whenever I find out Craig Johnson is in town, I'm going to move heaven and earth to be in the same location at the same time. The only thing I hope for is that his appearances coincide with Denis's days off so he can come along, too. (Naturally this household would vote for Sheriff Walt Longmire if we lived in Absaroka County.) So the fifteenth of May found Denis and me in the Jeep and headed over to The Poisoned Pen extra early because if Craig gets any more popular, the Poisoned Pen staff is going to have to put chairs out in the parking lot and on the sidewalks.

We were there so early that they hadn't even put up the chairs yet, but we didn't mind. Instead, we found bookstore owner Barbara Peters and other members of her staff in the back putting mylar sleeves on the book covers of mail order books. They are preparing for some huge events-- like local author Diana Gabaldon's new novel this month. The Poisoned Pen is dealing with 3,000 copies of Gabaldon's book alone, and they're bulging at the seams with those and hundreds of books for other authors like another local, Clive Cussler. While I browsed the shelves and tables, Denis headed straight for the back to see what they were all doing. In no time flat, the man in the tan shorts, Absaroka County Sheriff's hat, and Red Pony Bar & Grill t-shirt was busily putting book covers in mylar sleeves. I have proof!

While our hero is offstage getting writer's cramp...

Denis lending a helping hand.
In no time flat, the chairs were in place and people began coming in. By the time Barbara came out, we were crammed in like sardines. (My elbow was firmly wedged against a bookshelf, which made my scribbled notes interesting to decipher.)

The fans of Craig Johnson are a diverse group, but we're all happy to be amongst fellow devotees. Sitting not far away from me was Geraldine, a friend with the loveliest southern accent. She and I have met at several events and happily chatted about books. I also made another new acquaintance whom I learned grew up in another small town just a few miles away from my childhood home in central Illinois.

Barbara Peters

Barbara Peters came out a few minutes early to chat with us since Craig was busily signing books in the backroom. She told us about the big events coming up and let us know that 70% of The Poisoned Pen's business is through the internet, 20% of its business is global (yes, they'll ship books everywhere), and 10% is from the folks who walk in the door of the bookstore.

Asking for a show of hands, Peters learned that several first-timers were attending because of an article in the Arizona Republic newspaper. Then it was on to the Hachette vs. Amazon case. Barbara mentioned the judge who ruled on the Apple case. "Looks like the court sided with the wrong bully," she remarked, "but in case you ever wondered, publishing is the single most dysfunctional business there is."

Just before Johnson made his appearance, Barbara gave high recommendations to two books: David Downing's Jack of Spies and Stephen Hunter's Sniper's Honor

"We never have to worry about..."

L to R: Craig Johnson, Barbara Peters

Craig Johnson walked through the capacity crowd to a huge round of applause. "The third season of Longmire on A&E premiers June 2," Johnson said, "and I've decided that my new motto is 'Yes, there are books!'" He's getting tons of fans from the television series, and many of them are amazed and delighted to learn that there are books they can read in addition to watching the series. Looking out over the sea of faces, Johnson quipped, "Boy, there must be nothing to do in Scottsdale tonight! We never have to worry about parking in Ucross." (Craig and his wife Judy live in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25... err... 23 when the two of them are on a book tour.)

Fans who don't follow Johnson's post-its from his website and those who don't have eReaders have something to look forward to in October. That's when Waiting for Signs will be released. It's a print version of his eBook short stories and the Christmas short stories he emails to his fans each Christmas Eve.

The French love Craig Johnson and, having recently returned from a trip there, Craig was able to tell us that the sixth book in the series, Junkyard Dogs, is currently on the French bestseller list. While in Paris, the Johnsons visited the Louvre. A teacher and her students were there, and the children were enthralled with Craig's cowboy hat, so he passed some time putting his hat on each child's head and having the child pledge allegiance to Gene Autry.

"Am I in this one?"

Craig Johnson
With "Longmire" being such a hit, all the actors involved have a vested interest in the books. Each time they hear a new book is being released, they ask, "Am I in this one? How much am I in this one?" The entire cast travels to Wyoming for Longmire Days. For the very first one, the Wyoming Department of Tourism had two months to prepare, and they expected two to three thousand people to attend. When Craig and Robert Taylor (the actor who portrays Walt) arrived and saw the crowd, Taylor said, "I'm no math major, but this looks like more than 3,000 people." It certainly was. Over 10,000 people attended Longmire Days!

Robert Taylor had a rather scruffy look and was moving incognito through the crowd. At one point, a man came up and stood by him saying, "I came to see if I could see some of the actors." Taylor replied, "Me, too."

Moving away from the television series and on to the books, Barbara said, "Jeff Deaver is known as the master of the ticking clock thriller, but you've got a ticking clock in Any Other Name with the impending birth of Walt's first grandchild." Johnson agreed, but also pointed out that there is a ticking clock element in Spirit of Steamboat as well.

"I thought I was writing the darkest book I'd ever written in Any Other Name when I got a phone call from George Guidall who narrates all the audiobooks. George always checks in with me on the pronunciation of words. I asked George what he thought of the book. He told me that he thought it was the funniest book I'd ever written and pointed out several examples. I had to admit that they were funny. George told me that he thought my inserting humor in the midst of the darkest scenes is a defense mechanism. There may be some truth in that."

Not enough ______ in ______.

Craig reminded us that Spirit of Steamboat had been named the first read in Wyoming's One Book campaign. As a part of this campaign, he'll be visiting each and every one of Wyoming's 73 libraries-- he even has a photo of him with his arm around one of the libraries. (It's a lock box. Hey, the population of the entire state is only 500,000!)

For the first two weeks in May, A Serpent's Tooth, which had just been released in paperback, had been on the New York Times bestseller list, "Something that couldn't have happened without all of you. Thank you," Craig said.

Craig Johnson
Craig gets a lot of emails from fans telling him that there wasn't enough ______ (insert name of favorite character) in ______ (insert name of book). "I knew I'd reached a certain point in my career when people started saying that there wasn't enough Dog in the last book," Johnson quipped.

Craig then admitted that he is dying to write a book that takes place when Lucian was the sheriff and Walt was the deputy. He could possibly have the Hollywood star Robert Taylor figure in somehow, since he had a cabin up around Buffalo, Wyoming, right around the time Walt would've been in high school.

Back then, Taylor was well known in the area for his poor eyesight, and when he was living up at his cabin, deputies would be dispatched to all his favorite parking spots in an attempt to prevent any accidents. However, one day the deputies arrived too late. Taylor had backed into a bright red truck and the woman driving it was giving the movie star hell. Suddenly the woman stopped her tirade and took a closer look at the man. "Are you Robert Taylor?" she asked. "Yes, ma'am, and I'm so sorry about your truck," the star replied. "To hell with that old truck!" exclaimed the woman. "Now in Ivanhoe...."

One for Four

"I don't know if any of you have noticed," Johnson said, "but Walt ages one year for every four books. I don't want him getting to retirement age too quickly." He also went on to tell us that people have written him to say that they'd purchased the ten books in the series and read them all in three days-- and although he did mention receiving angry emails, he didn't bother giving any details.

1968 to 1972 are missing years for Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear, and some of what happened during that time is answered in Any Other Name. "More information could even show up in future books," Craig teased.

Available NOW!
One of the things that makes going to see Craig Johnson so much fun is the fact that he's full of anecdotes, such as the one about a man seeing a large poster announcing CRAIG JOHNSON SIGNS ANY OTHER NAME and exclaiming, "No, I want him to sign his own name!"

A new fan asked which Native American tribes Johnson writes about, to which the answer is the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne. Johnson's good friend Marcus Red Thunder is the basis for the character of Henry Standing Bear, and I was happy to hear Craig say that Graham Greene ("Dances With Wolves") will be appearing in the new Longmire episodes.

Craig says he's a bit miffed that-- not only has actor Lou Diamond Phillips (Henry Standing Bear in Longmire) been adopted into the tribe of the Northern Cheyenne-- he's going to be made a chief. "And here I've written ten books... have I been adopted? Have I been made a chief?  Noooooo!" he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Ucross, Wyoming, population 25 (when the Johnsons are in residence) allows him to focus and write. Johnson's favorite tipple is Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23-year-old bourbon, and it's not always easy to find. He did manage to find it in a store, and when he said he'd like to buy a bottle, the snooty clerk looked at him in his worn jeans, cowboy shirt and hat and told Craig how expensive it was. "Better make it two," Johnson replied.

"You know, I haven't bought beer in seven years," Craig said. "I make a lot of appearances at libraries, and I won't let them pay me, but after they kept insisting I did let it be known that I like Rainier beer. The librarians started bringing beer into their libraries in brown paper bags. They make it look like there's a drug deal going down."

Due to events like "Longmire and Longnecks" every Monday night, distributors have been known to run out of Rainier beer two weeks into the Longmire season. "It's like the Super Bowl every Monday night," Johnson said, and local bars in his part of Wyoming tell him it's the best thing that's happened since they took Gunsmoke off the air.


  1. Oh, Cathy, a double delight - Craig Johnson and a PP trip. So glad you enjoyed it, and thanks as ever for sharing.

    1. It would be extremely difficult NOT to enjoy Craig Johnson. Glad you liked the recap, Margot!

  2. How I adore that man! What a great write up. I saw him at the Tucson Festival of the and 400 of my closest friends, and I even WON a copy of A Serpent's Tooth. He announced that he had a free ARC for anyone who shared his birthday! You have never seen anyone shoot out of their chair so fast as when they announced, January 16th!!!! I felt like I was on the show, Let's Make a Deal! (Now that should date me!) He gave me a hug and the book and made ME feel like the celebrity! Wow, all that and funny too! What a great night. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank YOU, Gaye, for sharing your TFOB story-- it's great! :-)

  3. Why wasn't this event on pp livestream, any idea? Lately they haven't been posting events.

    1. Bella, it can all be blamed on an equipment failure, and they've been waiting for new parts (which must have been shipped on a slow boat from somewhere in Antarctica). When I went to an event last week, they were expecting everything to be back up and running for the weekend. Personally I've kinda liked not being in the shot when an event is being livestreamed, but not everyone has the same aversion to cameras that I do!

    2. Thanks for clearing that up for me. Dang it all the interview with Craig is lost. Hope he's back there soon.

    3. He's always made a point of coming down to The Poisoned Pen whenever he has a new book. He's done this since The Cold Dish-- even when he had to come down here from Wyoming on his motorcycle. I wouldn't be at all surprised if he's here for Waiting for Signs this fall.

  4. Thank you so much for this fabulous write-up, Cathy. I don't know who is funnier,
    you or Craig Johnson. What a hoot!

    Thanks for the reminder about the TV series. I ddn't know it started today, but
    will watch it if I still can.

    I have to get into this series. The humor alone is a draw.

    The mention of Gunsmoke raised my blood pressure. I used to watch
    it when I babysat decades ago. One of the few Westerns I've ever liked,
    but who could resist Jim Arness and Amanda Blake? (Is that right?)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Kathy. (And Craig is much funnier than I!)

      I have tonight's episode of Longmire on DVR. Denis and I will watch it tomorrow night when he's got a day off. He might disown me if I watched it without him!

      Yes, those are the actors who portrayed Matt Dillon and Miss Kitty. I have to admit that I was no fan of Chester, but I loved Festus... and Doc Adams.

  5. I don't remember Festus and Doc Adams, haved to look them up.

    1. Ken Curtis and Milburn Stone-- two wonderful character actors. Gunsmoke would not have been the same without them.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!