Share This

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Author Interview - Craig Johnson

 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.

-  What do you enjoy the most about being an author?
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 Paris related to your writing.  Please share what were the highlights for you as an author during your visit? 

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. 

            After about an hour, I was getting a little bored, so I slipped my cowboy hat down over my eyes, crossed the pointed toes of my size twelves, and closed my eyes. I’d been that way for about twenty minutes when I heard some whispering and shuffling on the steps below. I raised the brim of my hat and saw three little boys about seven years of age with their backpacks and matching red caps studying me. “…Le cow-boy.” 

            They retreated behind the nearest hundred and fifty foot tall column and disappeared. I lowered the brim, but after a moment I heard more whispering, so I re-raised my hat and discovered that they had doubled in size and there were six of them now. 

When they saw me looking back at them, they scampered again. 

            I didn’t lower my hat quite as low this time ‘cause I wanted to see if they were going to continue to multiply in multiples of three. After a moment, a pretty young woman came around the corner with, you guessed it, nine little boys, and asked in perfectly serviceable English. “Excuse me, but you are a cowboy?”

            I guessed it was a reasonable question, me being out of context. “Yes, Ma’am.”

            “The boys of the class, if it would not be an imposition, would like to have lunch in your archway?”

            I looked around at my archway, as big as the end zone on a football field. “Um, that’d be fine.” 

            She looked around the column and nodded, whereupon thirty or so little boys in matching red caps and backpacks came running around and into the archway—they completely surrounded me. The French, even the very young French, have no problems with personal space, besides, I was offered morsels of sandwiches, treats, and fruit as they peppered me with questions about cowboys, Indians, horses, and the literary life Occidental.

            When my wife found me surrounded by this gang in my archway, I raised my hands and introduced my posse. “Les cow-boys…”

Do you start each mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?
Definitely with a plot idea. I like to think that I’m writing socially oriented mysteries and that usually starts with a social or cultural problem that I want to address. The majority of my books get their seminal idea from a newspaper of magazine article which keeps the novels grounded in the culture of the American west. I refer to it as my ‘burr-under-the-saddle-blanket’ syndrome. There’s something I’m not satisfied with, and I’ve found that dissatisfaction is great fuel for writing. 

- 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?
I think when you’re writing socially-responsible crime fiction you really have no choice but to outline the living-daylights out of your novels because it seems that one of the biggest statements you’re making is who done it—so it follows that you should maybe know that before you start. I’m very detailed in my outlines because I think there’s a tendency to forget what the initial catalyst for a novel is in the long run. Of course all of this doesn’t disqualify the improvisational element where the plot and especially the characters can have a way of startling you. If your story has a chance of surprising you, then you’ve got a shooting-match’s chance of surprising the reader.

- 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?
Pounding the pavement in New York shopping the manuscript to a handful of agents; I got lucky and got picked-up by one of the greatest which led me to Viking/Penguin and I never looked back.

 Thank you so much Craig for that wonderful interview!

 * * * * * If you have enjoyed this blog, then PRETTY PLEASE vote for this blog as best Entertainment Blog (proving reading is entertainment) and also as best Hobby Blog. Thank you most sincerely. There are voting buttons on the sidebar too. You will have to register with Blogger's Choice, but it is a simple process. I am listed under * * * * *

Bookmark and Share


Related Posts with Thumbnails