Today we have an interview with Craig Johnson, author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire novels. His latest book, JUNKYARD DOGS was just released May 27th. I will be reviewing it (hopefully Saturday). I am on business travel for that pesky day job! But I am sure you will enjoy this wonderful interview. Mr. Johnson's writing style is much like his personality in this interview, sparkling and unpretentious, which equals highly enjoyable.
Probably the relationship I have with my readers. I enjoy the in-person events and the emails. I think it’s a chance to get to know people and let them get to know me better than any other way. The novels provide a context for the relationship that seems to continue with the series. With all the modern technology, it’s a great time to be an author. I’m a story teller, and you have to have people to tell your stories to—maybe that’s a result of living on a ranch where the nearest town has only twenty-five people in it… By spring, they’re really tired of hearing my stories.
- You have recently spent some time in
My wife spent another afternoon in the Louvre, and I waited reclining on the steps underneath the archway Denon in the great courtyard, I like art, but I think it’s important to set limits in any relationship. I’d already traipsed through a half-dozen museums looking over the heads of Japanese tourists and their cameras, so I decided to forgo the greatest art museum in the world and, instead, do a little people watching. Of course now to watch one must be willing to be watched—that’s just the way the rules are written.
- Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc) before sitting down and writing?
- What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?
Most of the characters in my books were introduced in the first novel, The Cold Dish, which had a decade-long preparatory period. By the time I sat down and started writing, the characters were closer than family. As to the consequent ones, they’ll develop as tools to tell the story. My first and foremost thought is always going to be—how are they going to help me tell this story? I rely on real people to assemble my characters; bits and pieces, like a Doctor Frankenstein. A gesture, a phrase… Anything can inform a character.
- How do you find time for writing, what works for you - and do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
I’m a blue-collar writer; I get things squared away here on the ranch, and then make a big pot of coffee and sit down and write. I think if you get too precious about the conditions of where, when and how you write—you’re just setting yourself up to not write and I don’t have time for that.
- What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?
Mornings are my most productive time and I try to write about six days a week. It usually takes me about six months to write a first-draft, but then I re-write it until the editor takes it away from me and won’t let me have it anymore.
- Setting seems as important as the characters in your mysteries, any tips on conveying a sense of place well?
Be specific. Most writers fail in attaining that universality of people and place by thinking that they can get away with being vague—don’t do it. Be as detailed and as exact as you can. Notice the things that say something about where your story takes place; environment, not inventory. Like Chekhov used to say, “There can be a rifle over the mantelpiece in the first act, but the damn thing better go off by the third.”
- Your novels are uniquely a mix of modern western and mystery, was that simply a case of writing what you know or was that by design?
Well, it’s where I live which makes my job easier but I think the two genres work well in conjunction with each other. There’s a lot of baggage that goes with both western and mystery, but I’ve found that a liberal dose of humor goes a long way in keeping the novels fresh. I enjoy both, so it was an easy choice for me. You better write what you read, or else you’re going to be in deep trouble pretty soon.
- What are you currently reading?
Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist. I got to meet him at the Tucson Book Festival this year after reading his The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint and he’s wonderful.
- What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Keeping weapons on my desk; anybody ever comes for me while I’m writing—they better be loaded for bear. Just kidding… Actually, I find it useful to be able to handle the things my characters are handling in the novels, and weapons are kind of in the forefront of crime fiction.
- How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?
Thank you so much Craig for that wonderful interview!
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