“It Is What It Is” – 52 Pickup, #26

Question #26, 11/06/18

Walt Robertson: “How do you manage to stay so accessible to your fans? I’m a fairly outgoing person, but in this day and age I would be scared to death to be as accessible as you make yourself. You’re either incredibly brave or hopelessly naive, or is it something else?”

Walt (good name!), since I can’t imagine Craig Johnson’s modesty permitting him to take on this question himself, I’ll give it a shot and try not to embarrass him too much.

Since I first met Craig Johnson and his “secret weapon” (a/k/a his wife Judy) on a book tour, I’ve been privileged to get to know him “backstage” as well. He’s universally described by any who get the chance to hear him speak or attend his book signings as “funny, warm, engaging, and a masterful yarn-spinner”. All true, but in addition, I’ll add an adjective he often attributes to his fictional alter ego Walt Longmire: “Decent” – with a capital “D”.

One might be forgiven in assuming this admirable quality is a product of his upbringing in West Virginia, where concern for others is commonplace, or of being born to a family of talented storytellers with a healthy appreciation just how easily triumph can tip into tragedy. You may think it’s the “cowboy creed” ingrained by years of hard work out West building a ranch, or his experiences running a business and the lean early travails that left their mark.

Personally, I believe it’s in his DNA, passed down from a line of decent folks, and magnified by the love of an adoring woman. The man is fearless, and I don’t mean that just in the sense of his willingness to take on daunting tasks or improbable odds, though there is that as well. He exhibits a quality possessed by those in the service professions, first responders, and health providers; that is to say, he cares about others even when it’s not always in his best interest.

He genuinely cherishes the art of conversation, often giving better than he gets, and remembers everything, though he speaks with reverence and a little envy of his father’s amazing memory skills. According to Craig, his mother was the best storyteller in the Johnson family, yet we all know he’s no slacker himself in that regard.

He clearly enjoys interacting with his many fans. Though Craig is clear-eyed and recognizes not everyone wishes him the best, those concerns he chooses to put aside. Those who know him well say it’s mighty hard to provoke him, but ill-advised to try. His many friends are fiercely loyal, and not without cause. The man sets an example that’s humbling and inspires emulation, yet he’d be the first to deny it. It’s just the way he is.

There was the time he was late to an event at Longmire Days, yet insisted on stopping en route because he spotted some confused visitors on a back street of Buffalo Wyoming who needed his help finding their way. There’s his near obsession about supporting the small independent booksellers and libraries who helped him early in his quest to become an established author. Or, even the way he reached out to bolster a struggling fan group with a popular contest and weekly personal insights (thanks, Craig!). We could go on and on, but you get the idea.

His wildly popular signing events and speaking appearances are legendary for turnout as well as for his generosity with attendees. Craig clearly enjoys these opportunities. He refuses no reasonable request, and draws energy from the throngs of fans, but if you ask him when his guard is down, his special place is home, the ranch in Ucross (pop. 25) he literally built by his own hands, enjoying some tranquility with Judy, their animals and his writing desk.

So to answer the question, Walt, Craig Johnson is plenty brave, optimistic and maybe just a little naive, but mostly he’s simply decent and willing to risk some downside in the short run to give others a lift, figuratively and literally. Like I said…it’s just who he is.

—Ry Brooks


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