In a recent stop at a café in Red Lodge, Mont., I happened to be wearing one of the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Dept. hats from my website, and if you didn’t know that there was no 24th county in Wyoming, I can tell you, they look pretty real.
The woman behind the counter leaned forward and asked, “Where did you get that hat?”
Figuring she’d mistaken me for a real deputy and not wanting to chase someone who had dined and dashed down Main Street, I came clean, pointing at my head: “Absaroka is not a real county.”
Staring me down, she dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “The hell it’s not—it’s Walt Longmire’s county.”
When signing novels for people, I used to laugh when they asked, “When are they going to make a movie or television series out of your books?” I figured that I had used up my quotient of miracles in simply getting published a series of books about the sheriff of the least populated county in the least populous state in the country.
But then Warner Bros. came knocking, and Longmire became the highest-rated scripted TV series in A&E’s network history. When it was suddenly canceled, it was picked up by Netflix for another three seasons, and I ended up laughing at myself.
Through the years, though, something somewhat predictable happened—I started selling more books. I did a little research and noticed I wasn’t alone in those results, and that one of the surefire ways to elevate books from midlist was to be touched by the golden wand of Hollywood.
There’s a fallacy among the reading public that having the motion picture industry take notice makes you noteworthy. I can go through a list of marvelous books that have never been made into movies or television, a list that’s almost as long as the horrible ones that have been made—but my books are now appearing in grocery, drug, and big box stores where they had never appeared before. I’m troubled by this, even more than when I used to make fun of authors whose names appeared on their covers larger than the titles of the books, a group of which I am now an uneasy member.
We recently celebrated our sixth Longmire Days, a weekend-long event that celebrates both the TV show and the books, with more than 15,000 people— including just about all the stars of the TV show—crowded into the tiny town of Buffalo, Wyo., my model for the fictitious Durant in the novels.
With the cowboys v. Indians softball games, motorcycle poker runs, horseback rides, and autograph sessions, the event has grown to the point that the banks and ATMs find themselves out of money, the restaurants and groceries run out of food, and you can’t get a motel room for 90 miles around. It’s a nice way to pay back the area at the base of the Big Horn Mountains I call home (especially since the TV series is filmed, by necessity, in New Mexico).
Longmire enters its sixth and final season this September, and I can’t help but be a little maudlin about its end, even with the talk of TV movies and limited-run series flying about. Readers ask whether I’m going to continue writing the novels after the demise of the television series, and I reassure them that I’d written seven Longmire novels when Hollywood found me, and I’ll be writing them long after the cinematic version is in syndication.
“I’m Craig Johnson,” I told the waitress in the Red Lodge café.
She continued to study me. “So?”
Tipping my Absaroka County Sheriff’s Dept. cap back on my head, I smiled. “I’m the one who writes the books.”
“What books?” she asked.
It was at this point that the little voice in the back of my head advised me to simply hand her the check and slink out with whatever dignity I had left, but my pride wouldn’t let me. “The book that the TV show Longmire is based on.”
She looked perplexed. “There are books?”
Yep, indeed there are.
Craig Johnson is the bestselling author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire mysteries. The next in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Viking in September.