#18: Things That Go Bump In The Night

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

#18 Things That Go Bump In The Night

I have seen a theme of visions and spirits in your stories, beginning with The Cold Dish. I love it, and it appears the theme is getting more intense–especially in Daughter Of The Morning Star. Does this have anything to do with Walt’s deep connection with the land and the Cheyenne?

-Liz Snair

Hi Liz,

I like doing what I call writing in the margins–it gives me the opportunity to include things that may or may not normally be included in crime fiction like humor, history, social commentary, or mysticism. I think it adds a component to the novels that provides a richness they might not otherwise have. It’s a risk, in that there are always going to be people who don’t like those kinds of things, but I think it’s a risk that’s worth it. Anything you do in a book that raises it above the mediocre is going to risk incurring the ire of some reader, whether it be humor, politics, religion, or spirituality. All these elements have a personal taste involved with them and one reader’s devil is another reader’s detail. I think it’s worth the risks becausepeople who are looking for a reason to not read your books are usually going to find one, but the people who enjoy all those layers are going to find something unique. 

In answer to your question, I think it would be hard for me to not include the mystical qualities in my books, but especially the spirituality that’s such a big part of Native life. For the Northern Cheyenne and the Crow that other-worldly element infuses everything. One of the things I’m consistently aware of when I’m standing around a campfire with my buddy Marcus Red Thunder is that my kind of people have only been around here for a couple of hundred years, whereas his have been here for a couple thousand and might know a little more about what’s going on around us.

The next Longmire book, Hell And Back, certainly exemplifies that and it’ll be interesting to see the response. It’s a different kind of book that goes off the diving board and into the pool of mysticism that I’ve toyed with over the years, so after seventeen books, I thought it was time to shake things up a bit. They say all haunting is regret, and I think Walt has carried that burden so long that it’s time to deal with it.

It’s always a fine line with the good sheriff simply because he’s not a believer, and you must make room for the readers that aren’t of that persuasion and allow them to see something else.This novel is going to push those elements about as far as I’m willing to go, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding experiences of my writing career and maybe one of the most revealing of Walt Longmire to date.

See you on the trail,

Craig

19: Beautiful Downtown Hatch

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

Do Walt and Vic ever get to Hatch, New Mexico like he always wants to do?
-Mary Negus

Hi Mary,

I’m not sure how the whole Hatch, New Mexico thing in The Cold Dish and subsequent books started but it might’ve had something to do with my grandparents living in Hobbs, which is the New Mexico alternative to Ucross, Wyoming. I remember when we were filming Longmire the New Mexico crew would ask me how I felt about my Wyoming show being filmed in New Mexico and id say, “Fine, my grandparents live over in Hobbs…” Then they would give me a blank look in that they had no idea where that was.

When Longmire was in production, we’d go down at the beginning of each schedule and it was a nice break in February. I think Hatch came out of my travels down there when I’d go to visit my grandparents. I just thought it was a nice little town and maybe a little more low-key than places like Santa Fe or Albuquerque, and that would appeal to Walt.

Winters are long here in Wyoming but its my favorite time of the year because I lay up about fifteen cords of firewood and settle in and get to work—easily the most productive time of my writing year. It’s a little harder on Judy, so I try and get her out for a warm-up usually in March or so. That, and those trips to France in April keep me happily married.

Walt will never leave Wyoming, but he is predisposed to a melancholia that tends to strike in those dark months and I can see him smelling roasted peppers and catching the lilt of soft, Spanish voices. I think we saw some evidence of that in Depth Of Winter even though his life was in peril the whole time. The scene behind the rubble of the old chapel with Bianca Martinez is an example.

I really like New Mexico and the folks down there were wonderful to work with and hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to get together again, someday. Longmire is still lingering there in the top-twenty shows on Netflix and the books are always on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for the last twelve years, so there’s always hope. The newest piece of information that lit up the rumor mill is that all the big sets down there had been bought up by a producing element. So, we’ll see what happens.

I did get an interesting piece of mail a few years back and it turned out to be from the mayor of Hatch, inviting me down for a visit. He was very complimentary of the books and promised me a key, if they could find it… Sounds a little like Ucross.

See you on the trail,
Craig

#20: On The Beach

26 Pickup-The Half-Ton

Randy Murphy: Will there be a book about Walt on a December vacation with Vic on the Caribbean Island and getting drawn into something? Maybe include a little voodoo …
Do you have an “idea folder” where you jot down little ideas, sayings, quotes that may (or may not) fit some future story? If so, how full is it?

#20: On The Beach

Hi Randy,
Walt on a beach, huh? It does seem like the sheriff has earned a vacation, doesn’t it?

It seems to me that the greatest philosophical question is the mountains or the beach—a long time ago I went with the mountains, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss a little sand between my toes occasionally. It’s odd, but as I roam around Wyoming I run into a lot of veterans, and I’ll be darned if the majority aren’t Navy… I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise in a land-locked place that there were young men who wanted to see the sea. Walt didn’t get much of a choice since he was drafted by the Marines, but I figure he spent enough time with the anchor-clankers.

​That brief little excerpt where Vic spent some time alone in Belize, had an amazing resonance with readers, but I guess that’s to be expected, wondering what the characters do in their time off. It’s tempting, I have to admit, but I have a sneaking suspicion the next beach time Walt will have will be back on Johnston Atoll after Vietnam. Possibly a story that combines the two?

Yep, I’ve got folders full of ideas, because if I didn’t have those folders, I’d forget the ideas. Usually, I start off with a number of things such as what’s the message I’m trying to get across in a novel, or an interesting story or situation that might provide a background or plot, and then what kind of effect is this particular story going to have on the characters? It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle and all the parts have to fall into place. I’m pretty sure that if somebody were to go through the files, they wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails concerning what’s in there.

​The story file is pretty sizeable, probably because of my concerns about running out of ideas when I agreed to continue the characters as a series after the first book, The Cold Dish. The big thing for me was to not become repetitious or formulaic, so I started collecting ideas—did I ever. Some of them stay pertinent, but some of them fall away or become of less interest. The key to writing a novel is choosing an idea that’s not only going to hold the reader’s attention but also hold the writers for the year that you’ll be working on a project. I’ve never found myself in a situation where I’ve gotten bored or wanted to give up on a project, thank goodness.

​The Johnston Atoll story has held my attention over the years. Maybe it’s the idea of Walt on some rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with long hair, a beard, flip-flops, cargo shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, wandering around and trying to decide if he’s going to rejoin humanity or not.

I think we all sometimes know how that feels.

See you on the trail,
Craig

#21: Sweets For The Sweet

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

#21 Sweets for the Sweet

Why did you choose Mallo Cups as Virgil’s calling card?

-Scott McCreery

Hi Scott,

You know I love snooping around in the candy section of the Cracker Barrel restaurants whenever I’m there in that it’s a road trip down memory lane. I’m a sucker for old-fashioned candies and they usually come through. I had a friend who was crazy about Moon Pies and hadn’t had one in years, so after finding them there I sent him a box and I still pick up a Mallo Cup or two every time I’m in the place. I still remember collecting those Mallo Cup Play Money cards from Altoona, Pennsylvania when I was a kid and I guess it made an impression on me—maybe I thought I’d get rich.

​I had to laugh when I saw that Lee Child’s TV Reachercharacter needed a signature candy bar that would be both relatable and authentic and tagged the Clark Bar from Boyer, the same folks that make Mallo Cups… I had to wonder, are they aware that I’ve been using their product for fifteen years? It kind of reminded me of when Pappy Van Winkles suddenly showed up on Justified… Oh well, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

​When I came up with the character of Virgil White Buffalo in the fourth Longmire book, Another Man’s Moccasins, I figured he needed a calling card. It would’ve been simple enough to make it a feather or something from the natural world, but there were problems with that in that you could never be sure if Walt was getting a message or that a stone had been kicked or a feather had just fallen off a bird—it had to be something more definitive. 

​Anyway, whenever I’m coming up with the details of a character, the first thing I take into consideration is their age. Age can be indicative of a lot of details, such as appearance, tastes, and a myriad of other things. First off, it had to be something a man of Virgil’s age would have known, something that would have a part of the wrapper or something that would age appropriately and something not too plentiful or it could simply be mistaken for trash. I see Mallo Cups occasionally, but not so often that they would go unnoticed like say a Snickers Bar wrapper or a Coke bottle.

​It’s gotten to the point that I use the Play Money cards as bookmarks or stuck in the sun visors of all my vehicles. It’s funny because I’m not much of a sweets person, either with candy bars or deserts but that doesn’t mean Virgil isn’t. 

​My seven-year-old granddaughter, Lola, saw one on the center console of my car and asked if she could have it and I told her sure. I watched as she carefully unwrapped it and studied the card as she gnawed on the chocolate-covered marshmallow cup. “What’s this worth?”

​“What does it say?”

​“Twenty-five cents.”

​“Well then, it’s worth twenty-five cents.”

​She studied it some more, still unsure. “Where do I go to get my twenty-five cents?”

​I nodded, sage-like. “That, Kiddo, is a question for the ages…”

See you on the trail,

Craig

#22 – “Jefferson Had An Airplane?”

Or, “What Does Jefferson’s Airplane have to do with it?”

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

I will add to the question about the music in Craig’s books. In The Western Star, Grace Slick makes an appearance. Music is obviously important to Craig. When you add certain songs/characters to your books is it a spur of the moment decision or planned in advance?

-Tim Sager

Hi Tim,

I’m not very good at the seat of the pants thing, simply because I tend to get things wrong. Whenever I’m putting real people in my books, I try to make sure that I’ve done my research and get the facts straight, otherwise it ruins the believability of the book for the reader and annoys the real people. 

In the book you mention, I originally had Walt being picked up by a truck driver, but that didn’t really assist in informing the reader that this was the sixties (early seventies, but basically the same thing). I immediately thought of the music of the period, which is a sure-fire shortcut to getting the reader there. So, I thought that if I could get Walt picked up by a rock band that might be something different and give me a number of opportunities to not only advance the period, but the characters as well.

First of all it had to be a band or an artist that was touring not only that year but at that period of time, and believe it or not it was a little difficult to come up with one… Bob Dylan was touring, but he wasn’t anywhere near Wyoming at the time thatthe book took place–then I discovered that Jefferson Airplane had done a concert in Central Park in New York and at that time would’ve been on their bus on their way back to San Francisco. Well, the direct course would’ve had them coming through Wyoming at just the right time.

I have a good friend out in California who was a Federal Judge and is an enormous fan of Bob Dylan, as a matter of fact I used him as a character in The Western Star… Anyway, I knew he’d be disappointed if I didn’t gerrymander Dylan, but because Walt always seems to bloom in the company of women, I decided on Grace Slick.

​You have to be careful when you put celebrities in your books in that no matter who they are, you need to treat them with respect. I really enjoyed writing a genuine Rock legend into the book and I think the sequence poses a number of questions. What if Walt had taken Grace up on her invitation to stay on the bus and continue on to San Francisco in the late sixties/early seventies? What would his life had been like? Would he have pursued a career in music, instead?

​I think it was fun to include one of those moments that are crossroads in your life, where one small decision would’ve set your life in a completely different trajectory. 

I like to think that I did a good job in portraying Grace in the book and after it came out, I received a package in the mail, and it was my book. I remember being puzzled by it and wondered why somebody would mail me back a copy of The Western Star?

​The mystery was solved when I opened it to the title page where Grace Slick had not only signed it, but informed me that in no uncertain terms, she would’ve gotten Walt to stay on that bus…I believe her.

See you on the trail,

Craig

#23 Up on the Rooftop

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

You have often said that people in real life end up in your stories. Who was your inspiration for the character Geo Stewart in Junkyard Dogs? That is perhaps the most-read story in my collection. I love laughing out loud. And also, did the chimney, roof, rope to the car and somebody being dragged from the back end of the car really happen to someone you know?

-Ingrid De Groot Mannisto

Hi Ingrid,

In short, yes…

​I can’t give you all the details, but like a lot of the outrageous tales in my books, the story is true. I remember when I first heard it, I knew I had to put it in a book, but the challenge then became where? I figured if I put that story in the middle of a novel it would stop the book dead, so it had to be either the beginning or the end. 

​I like writing a variety of books from the dreadfully serious to the overtly comedic and even though Junkyard Dogs dealt with some dark issues, it was essentially funny. When you’re a writer like I am, I think you have to signal what type of book the reader is going to be dealing with, so I decided to plop the story like a centerpiece right there in the beginning.

To protect the guilty, I can’t tell you exactly where the story came from, but I can tell you the person I drew from to develop the character of Geo Stewart.

​When I first bought the property that would become my ranch, the only other going concern other than the Ucross Foundation and the guest ranch was Sonny George’s Junkyard which sat right at the apex of Ucross, population 25. 

​A thorn in the side of the more affluent neighbors, a battle went on for decades where everyone tried to get Sonny’s junkyard out of there, but he held fast. Most folks don’t know it, but Sonny’s father had had a junkyard in the larger town of Buffalo until the founding fathers thought that maybe that wasn’t what they wanted tourists to see as soon as the pulled off the highway. They bought a beautiful piece of land out at the confluence of Clear and Piney Creeks in the shadow of the snow-peaked, Bighorn Mountains—perfect place for a junkyard, right?

​Well, the junkyard and Sonny stayed there for the better part of a century, including a couple of decades at the beginning of my residency here. Sonny was something of a character, but I got along with him fine. So fine, in fact, that when the local sheriff needed to get Sonny into the emergency room after he fell off of one of his stacks of cars, he enlisted my help. 

​After a little finagling, we got Sonny into the hospital, and they whisked him away but after a few moments the attending physician came back out and said that that was the first time that had happened. We asked him what it was, and he informed us that Sonny’s hair had grown through his long underwear.

​I remember the sheriff saying. “Way more than we needed to know, doc.”

​And all I could think was—how can I get that in a book?

See you on the trail,

Craig

#24 Soothing the Savage Beast

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

I discovered the music of Phillip Aaberg because of a reference you made in an interview. Do you create different musical set-lists for each book you write?

-Janet Yager

Hi Janet,

I love music and always have. I’m not particularly musical, but I truly enjoy it in every aspect of my life. All my trucks and cars have radio/cd players in them, along with the entire house, guest cabin, tack shed and even the cabin I have on the mountain that doesn’t have electricity—it has a hand-crank Victrola.

​I’m kind of old-fashioned in that I’m still one of those dinosaurs that buy cd’s. I guess I don’t trust all the download/cloud stuff, and I like holding a book, and still like holding a cd, cassette (Yes, I still have them) and vinyl albums.

​I even send a cd a month to my granddaughter as something we can share, and she should have quite the music collection by the time she’s 18…

​Music is important to Walt as well—predictably—and I knew there had to be a connection for him. But rather than having it be something common, I made him a boogie-woogie aficionado and a pianist. Why piano? I’m thinking his mother had something to do with that, a way of civilizing a rambunctious boy growing up on a ranch in Wyoming. I guess I thought it might be a little more refined than a cowboy with a guitar. I like to think that just when I’ve got him figured out, he takes a hard turn in another direction.

​I talk a lot about how it’s very difficult for any other art form to compete with reading as far as the way that it enters your mind through the interpretation of words. 

​Then there’s music…

​Okay, I’ll admit that one of the most emotive forces is music, which is why we dance, march and a million other things, but when you introduce music into a book you have to be careful—like humor, it can take on a number of personal connotations. 

​I listen to music while doing everything, so it probably won’t come as a surprise that I listen to music when I write. What do I listen to? Everything. If you were to visit me at my ranch, I can’t help but think that you’d be puzzled by the eclectic quality of my tastes. Personally, I’m a big blues fan and enjoy combing the record shops in France for old and strange stuff I can’t find here. I love old Country but have to admit I’m not much into the new stuff, and then there is classic Rock & Roll and any kind of Jazz or Classical.

One of the secret weapons I’ve got is a good friend in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts who gets the soundtracks from all the movies that come out each year. Living in a town of twenty-five, I don’t get out to the movies very much, consequently, I don’t have any imagery to connect to the music she sends me. Soundtracks are wonderfully evocative and when you don’t know the movie they are from you can just listen to them as your own.

Of course, I sometimes listen to the soundtrack from Longmire.

See you on the trail,

Craig

#25: “And The Horse You Rode In On”

26 Pickup—The Half Ton

Idea: A story or book from the perspective of Walt’s horse.

-Jane Dusek

Hi Jane,

I read the other day that horses can hear your heartbeat from ten feet away, and that they can infer your moods and condition long before you arrive. I’m not so sure I believe that, but I do think that they’re incredibly intuitive animals and have an almost psychic ability to read human beings when in close contact with them. 

I don’t know how they do it, but whenever I head down to the barn in the mornings or at night, I can always tell that those horses know what kind of mood I’m in before I get there.

​I’ve spent most of my life on horseback, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. To this day, they’re still my favorite writing partners, listening closely to what all I have to say about whatever novel I happen to be working on, and never uttering a word of advice.

​As knowledgeable as I am, I’ve got a specialist in the field that has forgotten more about horses than I’ll ever know, a fellow by the name of Buck Brannaman. Buck was the model for the character in the book and movie, The Horse Whispererand is the world leading practitioner of horse handling in the vaquero tradition. Buck’s place is about ten miles from mine and whenever I get a question I go straight to the horse’s mouth, Buck. There’s also a marvelous documentary on his life and work called simply, Buck. 

​Writing an entire book from the perspective of a horse though, that might be a bit challenging… I’ve seen those books where the story is told from the perspective of animals, but I can’t help but think that it’d be a challenge in that there’s no dialogue unless you wanted to go full Mister Ed. Of course, you could use an internal monologue, but that presents a number ofproblems, too.

​Maybe a short story, but I think there would be another character in line before I could get to a horse, Dog. I have to say that I really enjoy writing Dog as a character and think the TV people really missed the boat by not including the character. He and Walt have a pretty unique relationship, and I take advantage of that by not having the Dog talk—he doesn’t have to… I’m not sure if there’s anybody else in the books who knows Walt as well as Dog. Dog spends the most time with him, and it goes without saying that Dog is extraordinarily smart. 

​I don’t know. I have learned enough to know that you should never say never—so, you never know…

See you on the trail,

Craig

Boarding School Blues, 26 Pickup #26

26 Pickup—The Half Ton:

In Daughter of the Morning Star, the photo of the young ones at the school was faded except for the one face. Did that mean that the one person is still alive?

-Mary Murray

Boarding School Blues:

Hi Mary,

​No, that’s not exactly what it indicates.

But in answer to your question, I was made aware of the current horrifying problem that involves murdered and missing indigenous women when I came up with the idea for Daughter of the Morning Star. I knew there had to be a backstory that would provide an underpinning to the more mystical aspects of the tale and remembered that a few years ago I was talking to venerable Cheyenne Elder Leroy White Man about the Éveohtsé-heómėse, a taker of children something of a bogeyman to keep the young ones from wandering off too far. I asked him where a being like that could originate, and not so oddly he told me that in his long life he had actually given it some thought.

His theory was that the Wandering Without was a conglomeration of all the lost souls that had been banished from the tribes–the murderous, the insane, and the evil ones that had been driven out into the wilderness to die alone. His belief was that there was and always had been something out there waiting to take these souls that no one else wanted and that they had banded together to feed a hunger for companionship.

Think of the thousands if not millions of those souls.

The Northern Cheyenne have a saying that you judge a man by the strength of his enemies… I couldn’t think of a better statement about Walt Longmire, but what if the souls he’s dispatched on their way are somewhere out there waiting for him?

Where would the perfect feeding ground for a creature like the Éveohtsé-heómėse possibly be? A storage place for the tender, young souls it finds so irresistible?

In the long list of incredible wrongs that have been implemented against the Native People, the boarding schools that separated children from their families, cut their hair, forbade them from speaking their native language and a million other atrocities must be forefront. With the discovery of unmarked gravesites scattered across the West, the true horror of these places and their genocide is only now becoming known. These were children.

When Walt is given the postcard you mention, a strange, scallop-edged photo of the young boys of the Fort Pratt Industrial Indian Boarding School with the number 31 printed on the back—Walt notices that the faces of all the children are blurred—almost all of them.

In the photographic process of the late 1800’s, the subject had to remain completely still; any movement at all would ruin the development of the tin plates. Not moving at all would be relatively impossible for children of any age, hence the only boy who stood still. Or was that it? The child couldn’t still be alive after all this time, but could his lineage?

What if the good sheriff decides to cross time and space in an attempt to rescue the tiny souls marked by the thirty-one crosses on the hill above Fort Pratt where the Indian Boarding School used to stand—an act that would right a tragic wrong.

Hell And Back 9/6/22

See you on the trail,

Craig

A Visit From Craig Cringle

Some years back, I took liberties with the classic Clement Moore poem – from a cowpoke’s perspective, no less. I apologize.


A Visit From Craig Cringle

‘Twas the night afore Christmas, an’ all ‘crost the spread
All the cowpokes were drunk, an’ the hosses were fed.
The bunkhouse was warmed by a fire of cut wood,
All the Pappy’d been finished, but it was sure good!

Most fellers were passed out, but a few could still move,
An’ one o’ the hombres had crawled ‘hind the stove.
I was jes’ semi-conscious, yet was sure that I’d heard
The clatter of hooves, but said nary a word.

Who could that be ridin’ in from the cold?
So out the winder I peered an’ lo an’ behold
Was a wagon behind eight hosses, all roan,
With a white-whiskered red-suited driver, alone.

He sported a 50X hat from H-Bar
The color of whiskey, as I saw from afar.
His cheeks were so rosy an’ his smile was so wide
I was sure he had sampled the jug by his side.

He hopped from his seat and pulled down a sack
Then hoisted it up and clambered ’round back.
The bunkhouse door creaked, and he paused just a tick
Afore sneakin’ inside, an’ then he worked quick.

Set out bottles of likker an’ new cowboy boots,
A couple of sidearms for them as could shoot,
Some Kings ropes an’ saddles for riders galore
An’ bottles of likker…oh, I said that before.

He crept out the door without making a sound
Then he mounted his wagon and turning around
Looked me right in the eye an’ winked with a grin,
Hollered, “Boy Howdy!” then I recognized him.

“He’s the hombre what writes them novels I think,
‘Bout the Wyoming sheriff, the one likes to drink
Rainier by the case-full, an’ sometimes some Pappy
An’ plays chess with ol’ Lucian, ’cause it keeps the man happy.”

Afore I could think of a nice thing to say
He hollered “Boy Howdy!”, an’ then rode away.
But I heered him exclaim as he rolled out of sight,
“Happy Post-Its and more Longmire stories tonight!”

— Ry Brooks

Git yer annual Christmas Eve Longmire story by signin’ up over at http://www.CraigAllenJohnson.com