Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Surrounded by Beautiful Women: Craig Johnson

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!

24 comments:

Terry Odell said...

And yet another new author to try. I've written the small-town cop stories, and love looking at others. There's a lot in here that looks very much like the dynamic in my current WIP as well.

Patty said...

I love Craig's work, he is so true to his characters and they change and grow, but slowly, like it real life. If you haven't tried him, this is the cattle prod you needed. What he doesn't mention is the Indian (not Native American) characters and how they are integral to Sheriff Walt's life.

Craig said...

Terry,
Honest, I haven't been looking in your computer..!
Best,
-C.

Craig said...

Thank you, Patty
That's another thing I should've mentioned about the women in my life... They have to keep reminding me about things. :)
Best,
-C.

Terry Odell said...

And honest, I didn't take my story from your books! (Having just confessed to the world that I haven't read them)

Roberta Isleib said...

Hey Craig, we're so glad you're here today! We needed a little dose of cowboy:). When you get a chance, tell us a little bit about the new book, and for readers who haven't read any of yours, do they need to start at the beginning of the series?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Craig! I was at some convention recently, and "cowboy" was all the buzz...some publishing big wigs were saying they thought that was the next wave. (Everything is new again.)

Did you always love the West?

Your books sound wonderful..thanks, Roberta! (But the spurs are scratching the hardwood floors at the JungleRed Cafe. We like it that way, though...)

Rhys Bowen said...

Welcome Craig! You were brave to allow yourself to be surrounded by six ppower-babes.

I have a question about foreign sales. Your work is intesnely regional. Does this restrict foreign sales or do other countries enjoy reading about the American West?

All best
Rhys

Craig said...

The newest...well, it's Walt undercover, which he realizes after about 5 pages in, is a bit difficult in a town of 40. Seriously, it's the most Western of the books in the sense that it is the stranger comes to town and even with the suspicious nature of the folk who live there, solves the crime. You know, Walt venturing into a town without pity to save a woman without hope. And, it's my noir book as well...
And no, you don't have to read the series in order. DARK HORSE particularly. But, you'll read 'em faster than I can write 'em, so start with the first one, THE COLD DISH as it's the one that can take the time to develop the characters' backgrounds....

Craig said...

Yep, well, cowboy has always been a popular icon of our American society, so it isn't surprising that it is again the "new" rage. At least, I hope so! And yes, I've always been a fan of the West. My grandparents lived in Hobbs, New Mexico, and I'd visit as a child. And my grandfather was a blacksmith, so I was always around horses. Even as a six year old, I insisted on boots and wouldn't wear shoes, much to my mother's disappointment on Sundays, so there was always the sound of spurs on the floor....Cowboyed as a teenager, then toured the country and got the big-city thing out of the way. Always thought about coming back West and satisfied my dream of living in Ucross, Wyoming in 1992. Go figure, a town of 25...

Craig said...

I think that the European and Japanese markets have always been perceived as ones that love the American West, cowboys and Indians and such, from Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show to Elmer Kelton, and that's true to an extent, although I think at the moment it's more the trappings that are popular than the literature. I am trying to single-handedly change that, however, as THE COLD DISH was just translated into French--it's called LITTLE BIRD in France-- and has been selling very well. Selling as a mystery, or what they call a 'polar', but also as a treatise on open spaces. As a matter of fact, it was just named as one of the best 10 pieces of crime fiction in the country by Lire Magazine! And received 3 stars, one of only three books so far this year to be rated this highly.
As far as the rest of the world, well, we'll see....

Terry Odell said...

My blog features stories from a local homicide detective on Fridays. As I was formatting his post for this week, I thought of this blog. His topic: "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys."

He makes some excellent points. I invite you to check in on Friday and see.

Silver James said...

Welcome, Craig! *eyes TBR pile warily, considers how many Craig Johnson books she can add before it topples*

I grew up reading Louis L'Armour thanks to my dad's influence. He grew up outside of Wheatland and while he ended life in Oklahoma, he instilled a love of the West, wide-open spaces, and good books in me. I wish I could call him every day.

I get the impression your books may be a combination of Tony Hillerman and LL - if he wrote contemporary. I can't believe I've gone so long unaware of your books. If your writer's voice is anything like your interview voice, I'm betting each one of the books is a keeper!

Thanks for dropping by today.

Craig said...

Try 'em, you'll like 'em. I'm honored to think that I am a bit like Tony--Louis as well. A bit of humor and open space descriptive thrown in and presto, Craig Johnson. Really, thank you.

Judi said...

My local indy bookstore recommended Craig's first and I was bowled over. I especially enjoy the close contact with the Cheyenne Nation.

Craig said...

Judi,
Ya gotta love those Indy booksellers! Thanks so much for the kind words... And Henry says 'Hi'.
-C.

Barb said...

Craig, Just wanted to say hi. We met at last year's Hillerman conference. (We had dinner with your lovely wife and Rob Kresge, among others, after your bookstore signing.) Anyway, as I expected, I loved The Cold Dish. I'll eventually make my way through all your books, so please keep 'em coming!

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks for the introduction to another author. I think I'd enjoy these.

nancy martin said...

Craig, I gave your book to my husband for Father's Day after I read the first page in the bookstore, and he loved it--I mean he loved it A LOT. Gave it to his best friend before I had a chance to snag it. I hope to get it back asap---otherwise, looks like I need to buy another copy. Great writing!

Jen said...

There's nothing that puts a bigger smile on my face than to see a Post-It in my email Inbox. This was another wonderful snippet from Craig. They help to fill in the voids while we're waiting for the next installment of Walt Longmire.

As I've mentioned to Craig before, I love his female characters and admire him all the more for them.

I love "chief cook and bottle washer" because my dad always uses that phrase. Makes me smile. As does "the usual" and Walt's response, "this is my usual?"

I'm quickly hooking my entire office on Craig's books. Each time I have someone read THE COLD DISH, they're back at my cubicle within 2-3 days (sometimes not even that long) asking for the next book! Gotta love it!

Colleen Collins said...

Loved the post-it! Your books have been highly recommended, and after reading your entertaining post-it at Jungle Red, I'm ordering your books.

btw, just did a business trip through Wyoming. Beautiful country, great sheriffs (had to stop in and interview a few).

Colleen

Craig said...

Thanks to everyone who have read and liked the books and to those of you who will read and hopefully will like them. Hello to everyone whom I have met and whom I have yet to meet! Hope to see you all at one event or another before the next book tour in June 2010. That one is being edited now and is titled LIKE JUNKYARD DOGS. It's a winter book--for those of you who haven't heard me, I write in seasons so that although a book is published just once a year, Walt only ages 1 year in 4. Just signed a contract for another two after that as well--that's breaking news!

Anyway, looks as though I'll be in Centennial Wyoming in a couple of weeks and then in Cheyenne for the Wyoming Book Festival (Sept. 19), Philly at Chester Country Books and Music (Sept. 24), The National Book Festival--BIG DEAL--in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 26). Then in October, Loveland, CO, on the 2nd and 3rd, Deadwood, SD, for the South Dakota Book Festival, and then Bouchercon, the 15-18. Whew. See you then?

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

See you at Bouchercon..and so eager to meet you!

Have fun out there...sounds like you have some wonderful times coming up.

Come back and visit soon..

Craig said...

I certainly will. Thanks for having me. All the best,
Craig