ROBERTA: Okay, Jungle Reds, you are in for a real cowgirl treat today with visitor Craig Johnson from Wyoming. I'd heard a lot of buzz about his books, and read and enjoyed the first one this winter. On a lark, I signed up for his mailing list, which he calls "post-its." They are highly entertaining and give you a wonderful sense of the man behind the books. I knew Jungle Red Writers needed one of these notes, and Craig agreed. Hope you enjoy this post-it and then feel free to sign up for more by going to Craig's website.
CRAIG: I’m still trying to figure out why I’ was asked to blog on Jungle Red… Not that I’m not grateful, and honored. Maybe it’s the nail polish. I don’t wear any myself, but it does peak my interest, like most things female.
That’s one of the benefits of being a writer; it puts you in contact with female writers. Okay, I’ll come clean. I like women. Most of my life has been spent in the company of men, which has made the opposite sex even more appealing. Judy, my wife, says I’ve never met a woman I didn’t fall in love with in some way or another—and she’s probably right. As the saying goes, I like reading the menu but I always eat at home.
I do cheat.
In a sense.
My female characters are an entire cavalcade with whom I spend a lot of time and energy. I fall in love with them, too. My first novel in the Walt Longmire series, The Cold Dish, introduced me to a pretty wonderful group of women I could fixate on for the rest of my life. I was writing this novel in first-person and knew it was going to have a preponderance of masculinity, so I was going to have to balance that with some really strong female characters. My sheriff was in the throws of clinical depression when I first met him but I made sure to supply him with a cadre of females, mountain lionesses if you would, who protect him and make sure he doesn’t go down the tubes.
In my experience there isn’t much that men need more desperately or dismiss more rapidly than female assistance—but not my Walt. The first character who comes to mind is Ruby, Walt’s dispatcher, who provides the framework for the sheriff’s working day by planting the Post-Its on his doorframe every morning and being in charge of his moral integrity. Walt’s a good guy, but he needs reminders, like when he sucker-punches one of his deputies in The Cold Dish… Most women laugh and nod when I mention the Post-Its, because there isn’t a woman out there who hasn’t had to grab the man in their life by the lapels, stick their face in his to get his undivided attention, and say, “Hey, listen up—I need this from you.” As a gender, we guys are easily distracted.
Working my way down Main Street, Durant, the next woman up is Dorothy Caldwell the chief cook and bottle washer (a term I gleaned from my mother, the real story teller in the family) of Walt’s favorite restaurant, The Busy Bee Café. All right, rapidly following women on my list is food. Here I had this widower sheriff living on his own, mostly deriving nourishment from the pot-pies in the jail commissary, so I figured I had to give him a place to eat regularly. Do you know how often I go into the local restaurants in Wyoming and get asked if I’d like ‘the usual’? Any small town cop will tell you that if you want information go to the local café or bar, hence The Busy Bee became a nerve center for information in the novels.
Cady, Walt’s daughter, is so important that I couldn’t allow her anything but some appearances on the phone answering machine; she was so important to him that I couldn’t let him have access to her in the first book. There was a female officer in Iraq who wrote me that every time she read about Walt missing his daughter and wishing she’d call, she would immediately call her father. I have nothing to add to that and figure if the series does nothing else besides get daughters to phone their dads then my mission’s accomplished.
Victoria Moretti. Hmm… What can I say about Walt’s under-sheriff and second in command? Just about all the characters in my books are based in some way or another on somebody I know. My male readers are always asking who is Vic and what is her phone number? I’ve had the most improper suggestions from male readers. I’m thinking of putting up a 1-900 service, but haven’t found the woman with just the right voice, yet. There is this Italian, ex-Goldman/Sachs stock trader from New Jersey who comes close… But she just doesn’t have Vic’s extensive vocabulary—actually, I’m not sure if anybody does. I’m not sure if the attraction there isn’t because she talks like one of the boys, the bad boys that is, or if it’s just physical. I try to never get too detailed, but here’s an example—“with a body like Salome and a mouth like a saltwater crocodile”.
Works for me.
Craig Johnson has received both critical and popular praise for his novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man’s Moccasins and The Dark Horse. The Cold Dish was a DILYS Award Finalist and was translated into French in 2009 as Little Bird and was just named one of the top ten mysteries of the year by Lire magazine. Death Without Company was selected by Booklist as one of the top-ten mysteries of 2006, won the Wyoming Historical Society’s fiction book of the year. Another Man’s Moccasins, was the recipient of Western Writer’s of America’s Spur Award as Novel of the Year and the Mountains and Plains Book of the Year.
Craig lives with his wife Judy on their ranch in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25.
And he's standing by today to answer your comments and questions!