In the era of Live PD and body cameras, law enforcement has become increasingly more reliant on cutting edge technology. But at its core, enforcing the law is based on people and relationships. And nowhere is that more evident than in Craig Johnson’s Longmire collection of novels, which is also the basis of the popular Netflix series by the same name.
Johnson will be in Tallahassee for a book signing and Evening with Craig Johnson at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Holy Comforter.
Johnson said he got the idea after talking to two different law enforcement agencies about their use of technology, and decided he wanted to focus on character and place—specifically, the sheriff of a sparsely populated county in the least populated state, Wyoming.
“Sheriffing is a very community-oriented form of law-enforcement,” explained Johnson. “I did a lot of ride-alongs with sheriffs in Wyoming and Montana, and the phrase they used was ‘my people.’”
Protagonist Walt Longmire, he decided, would be a decent man. And according to Johnson, decent isn’t a word you hear much these days, but it’s an important one, especially in law enforcement. That’s important to Johnson.
“I write what I refer to as ‘socially responsible crime fiction’—I’m not just looking to pile up bodies like cord wood, but to have something important to say that will resonate with readers,” he said. “To do that, I outline my books very carefully.”
With 15 novels under his belt in the Longmire series and more than 3 million books sold, Johnson certainly has a formula that works. But he doesn’t rest on those laurels. Each book, he said, is a mountain you’re going to have to climb, but each one should be different from all of the others. The challenge, he acknowledged, is keeping the storytelling fresh.
Land of Wolves, the newest book in the Longmire series, follows Sheriff Longmire through his investigation into the death of a shepherd and his interactions with a pack of wolves. For such a serious plot, Johnson said, he’s always surprised by how much humor ends up in the story, but he said that comes from getting the characters into situations and letting them have their say.
“Fortunately, writing a book isn’t a destination, but more of a journey; you may change directions and surprise yourself,” he said. “If you do that, you have a good chance of surprising the reader, too.”
His journey to becoming a professional author was also something of a surprise. Wanting to be a writer, he explained, is like wanting to be an astronaut. The odds are so against you, you might as well not tell anybody; that way if you succeed, it comes as a surprise.
“I came from a family of oral storytellers and I was the worst one, so I thought that maybe if I wrote [my stories] down it would give me an advantage,” he recalled. “I wrote the first Walt Longmire book, The Cold Dish, and it got picked up by a big agent in New York who passed me over to Viking/Penguin and a year later I was on the bookshelves. Sometimes lightning strikes.”
This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.