Sunday, October 22, 2017

Literary Connection Part II: Craig Johnson, from book to screen to novella

For my first Oct. 8 post about the Literary Connection, go to

At Oct. 7's Literary Connection at LCCC, I bought three books by Craig Johnson: "Western Star," the newest Longmire mystery; "The Cold Dish," the first published Longmire novel; and "Wait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories," including "Old Indian Trick," winner of the Tony Hillerman award.

I have others on my jam-packed book shelves and undoubtedly in some of the many boxes of books I have stashed around the house. I've read three of the author's Walt Longmire mysteries. They are well-written and exciting, with memorable characters. They are set in the mythical Wyoming burg of Durant in the county of Absaroka. These are stand-ins for Johnson's neighboring village of Buffalo in Johnson County. Johnson is not related to the Johnson of the county name. He is affiliated with Buffalo's Longmire Days celebration which celebrates the books featuring the mythical sheriff. It's a lot of fun -- I attended it during the summer of 2015. Johnson is the master of ceremonies for events. Presenters include a roster of the actors who bring the characters to life on the Netflix series. The writer and actors sign autographs and pose for photos with fans. There's also a street dance and a pancake breakfast. The Johnsons staff a pop-up store on Main Street where they sell Longmire merch. I have several T-shirts and books galore to prove their merchandising skills.

Johnson and his wife Judy live in the town of Ucross, just off the intersection of two state highways. Johnson has written 20-some books st the old homestead. The characters that he dreamed up come to life on the Netflix series. That must be awesome. He's said as much at the various talks and book signings I've attended.

Johnson presented the afternoon talk at LCCC's Literary Connection on Oct. 7. I couldn't stay for it. I had to get home to meet my daughter and go shopping. Family matters come before the matters of writing and everything else.

Netflix airs the sixth and last season of "Longmire" starting in November. The network cited declining viewership as the main reason it cancelled the series. Chris and I are long-time "Longmire" watchers. The Netflix version is edgier than its A&E counterpart. That's the way of Netflix. I have enjoyed the edgy "Ozark," which also features a rural setting -- Lake of the Ozarks in Arkansas. Netflix just cancelled the edgy "Bloodline" set in the Florida Keys. I watched season one and was impressed with the cast and acting and the non-sequential storytelling. Netflix said it was too expensive to produce. Who knows?

What makes a Netflix success? How edgy can you be until that becomes a stereotype? Stories thrive on conflict. You need real characters, too, people that are believable and are a bundle of contradictions too. Just like a great novel.

"Longmire" had something no other show has -- Native American characters or, at least, minorities playing Native Americans on the show. Lou Diamond Philips who plays Henry Standing Bear in part-Cherokee. The mother of Denver native Zahn McLarnon, who plays tribal police chief Mathias, was Hunkpapa Lakota. We have shows with Hispanic characters and African-Americans. With the death of "Longmire," Native Americans disappear from contemporary stories on the screen. A shame. Craig Johnson has gone out of his way to bring Native characters into his fiction and onto the screen. And he does his research.

The show's success has spawned novellas such as "The Highwayman" subtitled "A Longmire Story." The novella's cover prominently promotes the show. So the novels begat the show and the show begat novellas. Kind of interesting how this business works. I knew Johnson back when he was writing his first novel. The encouraging thing is that he's the same good guy he was back then. He rides for the brand, to borrow a phrase from Wyoming's Cowboy Code. Or to quote a line from one of the my favorite movies -- he's bona fide.

For more about Johnson, go to

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