52 Pick-Up 2.0, #9, 3/3/2020
Kelly Sumerton Krochmalny: “What time period does the Longmire series occur? It appears to be in the present, yet that would make Walt 69 years old if he was born in 1950, based on him going to Vietnam at age 18. So, I am having problems reconciling the time period and Walt’s age.”
You think too much… Just kidding.
A long time ago, I was fortunate enough to win a short story contest with Cowboys & Indians Magazine where I got to sit down and have dinner with Tony Hillerman and to say it was informative would be an understatement. I was working on my second Longmire book, and he was already twenty-some books down the road, so I asked him—how do you do this, how do you keep it fresh after all those novels. He said, “At the risk of sounding like a bad sports analogy, you’ve got to play them up one at a time.”
Another thing he said was, “It helps if you’ve got some kind of format or structure to work with.” Well, I started thinking about it and figured the thing that had the biggest effect on me, as a Westerner, was the weather. I figured I’d pull a Vivaldi and divide the books into quarters so that each one took place in a different season, giving me completely different environs for each novel—July in Wyoming is nothing at all like January in Wyoming… I’ve really enjoyed this aspect of writing the books in that I can custom fit the plot I want to write about in the time of year where it’ll fit best. Sometimes I have to shelve a project until the proper season comes around, but it’s usually not too inconvenient.
Now you might be wondering why it is I’ve gone into this extended explanation of my process, but there’s method in my ramblings—it takes me four books to get through one year of Walt’s life.
Walt is only a little more that three years older than we first met him back in The Cold Dish, fifteen years ago… I’d like to tell you I had that all planned out, but it was just a side-effect of the seasonal construction of the novels.
I guess I could get all tangled up in the chronology of Walt’s life and whether or not he’s of a certain age and monkey around with ways of making him younger, but I’d rather not. I’m not the first serial novelist to ignore his character’s age, but I don’t allow him to cruise through life doing the stuff he did fifteen novels ago… Depth Of Winter almost killed him, and he’s still getting through the physical and psychological damage he went through in that book. I guess that’s the price you pay for a chronology that doesn’t allow for skipping time–Walt can’t step into the next book and not have the ramifications of the previous book not follow him.
The sheriff may have lost a step or two in the fifteen novels, two novellas, and collection of short stories, but he’s still here—and that’s where I want him. I could sit down and hammer it all out for the sake of mathematics, but I think a lot of the artistry of writing the novels would be gone and I want Walt to go on as long as me.
At any given time, you can ask me how old I am and it’s a toss up as to whether I’ll know or not. To be honest, I really don’t care. It’s kind of like when students ask me how many words or pages I write a day. I have no idea. I think that if you’re counting, you’re kind of missing the point. The whole thing, whether its your novel or your life, is that you’re supposed to be enjoying the journey, not staring at the odometer.
So, hop in and let’s take a ride and see how far the sheriff can go—I promise, it’ll be interesting.
See you on the trail,