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Q & A with Craig Johnson, Author of the Longmire Series

This article was written and submitted by Robert Lang for the 2022 NFR Edition of Cowboy Lifestyle Magazine

Craig Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Longmire mysteries, the basis for the hit Netflix original series Longmire. He is the recipient of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for fiction, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award for fiction, the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir, and the Prix SNCF du Polar. His novella Spirit of Steamboat was the first One Book Wyoming selection. He lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population 26.

Robert: I have read all the novels, novellas, and short stories. My family looks forward to receiving an email from you on Christmas for your annual Christmas story. I have watched the Longmire series more times than I can count, I have been at many of your speaking events, and I just attended Longmire Days for the first time. In short, I am a BIG fan. But, who is Walt Longmire?

Craig: In essence, he stands in opposition against injustice, a vertical figure in a horizontal landscape. I’ve often referred to the beauty and vastness of the American West as pulling at the corners of your eyes, and I think Walt is a part of that. When I first started writing crime fiction, everything in the genre was noir–gritty, urban, alcoholic, divorced detectives, just not the folks I knew in law enforcement. I thought, what if you wrote about the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populated state in the country, a contemporary man who harkens back to Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey—not perfect, but a guy who tries.

(From left to right) Micaela Lang, Craig Johnson, and Rob Lang at the 2022 Longmire Days in Buffalo, Wyoming. Provided by CLM Author Robert Lang

Robert: In addition to him being an imposing figure, he is well-read, a musician, and extremely intuitive and smart. How did his character transpire?

Craig: One of the big misperceptions about cowboys is that they were only dumb, itinerant, agricultural workers, when, in fact, most people of that period were self-educated. Heck, one of the most referred to books as being read by the cowboys in Louis L’Amour’s novels is Plutarch’s Lives. It also helps that Walt’s a big guy and, between being an offensive lineman at the University of Southern California and a Marine Investigator in Vietnam, he reads and he remembers what he reads, which makes him a formidable adversary.

Robert: Walt is surrounded by a great cast of characters, most importantly a number of strong women. How is that important in the construction of your novels?

Craig: Having spent the majority of my life in the company of men in education, sports, and the workplace, I find women vastly more intriguing. I think men are at their best when they’re interacting with women, they’re also on their best behavior, which creates a conflict. Writing novels is somewhat like conducting a choral group, and those female voices are important to telling any story. Besides, with a wife, two daughters, and a granddaughter, strong women are the only type of women I know.

In Hell And Back, the eighteenth installment of the Longmire series, author Craig Johnson takes the beloved sheriff to the very limits of his sanity to do battle with the most dangerous adversary he’s ever faced – himself. Hell And Back, a New York Times bestseller. was released on September 6, 2022, and is available at your favorite bookstore.

Robert: Only after reading a number of the books, did I realize that four books make up one year of Walt’s life. I don’t think I have ever seen that before. Can you dive a bit deeper into that?

Craig: That was a gift from the great Tony Hillerman, who was working on his eighteenth book when I’d just started. I asked him how he did it, and he told me that you need to find a structure to your work, one that will provide a background and a variation. I thought about it and figured the thing that has the biggest effect on us as Westerners has to be the weather, so I decided to pull a Vivaldi and let the structure of the series be the Four Seasons. Consequently, I get very different environments for Walt in that January ain’t nothin’ like July in Wyoming—so it takes me four novels to get through one year of Walt’s life. Obviously, at some point, I’ll be older than Walt, and I’m not sure if I like that idea.

Robert: Why is Walt’s hometown Durant in Absaroka County, and not Buffalo, in Johnson County, which is the town you use as a model?

Craig: I wanted to give the novels a certain amount of literary license, that I’m not exactly writing documentaries. I’m not the first author to give themselves a little breathing room in that manner. Mostly it’s the history and social aspects that I like to change, but Absaroka is Johnson County. I was having lunch with the Wyoming Office of Tourism, and they were telling me how much they loved the books, and I asked them why? They said that even though Absaroka County is fictitious I use all the businesses, landmarks, roads, and trails so that it’s easy to tell the tourists where they are. I’ve always found it’s easier to remember the truth, even when writing a novel.

Robert Taylor (left) and Craig Johnson (right) with the infamous Sheriff’s Bronco from Longmire. Provided by Craig Johnson

Robert: How did the TV show come about?

Craig: Warner Brothers came knocking on the door of my literary agent in New York. They were looking for strong characters, not particularly crime fiction, not western, but strong, complex characters. She tossed them The Cold Dish, the first book in the Longmire series, and they asked her if she had any other books she wanted to give them. She told them, “Not until you read that one.” Here we are six years after ceasing production, and Longmire is still one of the top ten to twenty shows streaming on Netflix on any given week. 

Robert: Longmire Days in Buffalo, Wyoming, just celebrated its 10th anniversary (including a pause for COVID). It seems like it has come a long way. Can you go into more detail about the events that take place?

Craig: Every year we invite the actors from the TV show to Buffalo, Wyoming along with about fifteen thousand of their closest friends. The first one was something of a FEMA disaster in that the banks and ATMs ran out of money, the restaurants and grocery stores ran out of food, and our one tower couldn’t support the extra fifteen thousand cell phones. People were walking around holding their phones in the air and looking at the little blue circle of death.

Credit to Craig Johnson’s Website

Robert:  A New York Times Bestseller and a successful TV show on NETFLIX, why do you think your stories are so appealing?

Craig: I think there’s an honesty to the characters, an intelligence, humor, and decency that reflects the contemporary American West, that’s not to say there aren’t any rough edges in the stories or the dialogue, but I think that’s honest, too. Walt’s pretty capable and a good guy—decent is the term I always use. I think that makes him easy to root for, and with the situations, I put him in in the high plains of Wyoming, he needs all the help he can get.

“Hell and Back” Craig’s 18th Longmire mystery was released on September 6th. Books, DVDs, and all things Longmire can be found at

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