An Old School Sheriff For A New Day And Age

May 27, 2015

Craig Johnson is the author of several novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim. The books have also been adapted a successful television program.
Credit craigallenjohnson.com

Walt Longmire is a fictional Wyoming county sheriff who returns to work after his wife's death. Assisted by his friends and his daughter, Longmire investigates major crimes within his jurisdiction while campaigning for re-election.

Host Frank Stasio talks with Longmire creator Craig Johnson about the Longmire Mystery Series and about the books becoming a popular television show on A&E and now Netflix. Johnson reads Saturday at 11 a.m. at McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro and Sunday at 3 p.m. at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.

Johnson first conceived his series with a simple question: “What if you did a book with the protagonist – he was the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in America?”

Then he needed to develop that protagonist, and he noticed a trend in characters of other crime stories.

“There’s a certain type of protagonist you tend to see in crime fiction, whether it be in books or in television,” Johnson says. “It’s the 6-foot-2 of twisted steel and sex appeal. Every woman wanted him. Every man feared him. He could kill anyone with a No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil in 3.2 seconds–kind of guy. That’s the guy I hate more than any other character.”

Instead, he created Longmire who was more relatable to the average person.

“He’s what I tend to refer to as ‘over,’” Johnson says. “He’s over-age. He’s overweight. He’s overly depressed, but he still gets up every morning and attempts to do the job.”

Johnson's inspiration for plot comes from real events.

“As soon as I lose the subscription to all the newspapers I get, I’m not going to have a thing to write about,” Johnson jokes.

He borrowed ideas from a 1989 story in Glen Ridge, N.J. where everal high school athletes raped a mentally handicapped girl. In the book, he moved the story to Wyoming and made the woman a product of fetal alcohol syndrome.

On a trip to England and France, he noticed multiple Tyrannosaurus rex fossils from Wyoming and looked into it. His last book, “Dry Bones,” came from a three-way dispute over ownership of the T-rex fossils known as Sue in South Dakota.

“I thought, ‘Boy doesn’t that sound like a Walt Longmire mystery?’” Johnson says. “All the permutations and political problems and everything.”

Johnson initially thought of Longmire as a standalone book, but its success led to 14 more books. Then Warner Brothers came calling to gauge his interest in turning the novels into a television show. Johnson liked the idea and came on as a creative consultant.

A&E initially picked up the series and it received solid ratings. But an ownership disagreement after the third season led to A&E canceling the show despite its viewership.

During the months following announcement of the cancellation, a tide of support for the show grew. Fans took to social media, and actors and others associated with the show wanted to see it continue. Netflix picked up the show, noting its previous popularity, and the move from cable to online has given episodes more room to breathe. Despite working with the show, Johnson says it is still odd to see his creation on the screen.

“It’s like having a potted plant in your house for eight or nine years and suddenly waking up one morning and having it talk to you,” Johnson says. “You think you’re prepared for that type of thing but you’re really not.”