52 Pick-Up 2.0, #12
Nancy Swaney Moss: “Now that you and all of us readers know Walt, is there anything that you would have wanted different about him, but cannot change at this point?”
Surprisingly, I get that question every once in a while, and often wonder if there’s an underlying message in it… The one that people ask that’s more definitive is usually pertaining to Walt’s age, but I think I answered that one or something akin to it a few weeks ago. I guess whenever I think about Walt, I think about him in association with myself.
When you write a character in first-person, there’s going to be some rubbing off in both directions. You can’t help but have a few of your virtues and vices filter into the character, and if people read the novels carefully, it’s possible that they’ll soon know you better than you know yourself. I think if you ask anybody if they could change things about themselves, they’d come up with a lengthy list pretty quick, but what if, like everything else, there was a price? Sure, I’d like to be about ten years younger, but would I lose all the priceless experiences I’ve garnered over that period? Would I like to look like Gary Cooper, sure, but would my wife Judy have been as drawn to me if I looked different? (Actually, Judy says yes.) If I’d been rich, would I still have had the drive to be a writer? Anyway, you get my point.
When I was putting the components together to assemble Walt Longmire, I was very aware that a lot of the things that make us are not particularly the things we want in our lives. I think the most poignant example of that is the death of Walt’s wife Martha–it’s something that will define him for as long as he lives. I haven’t had that kind of tragedy in my life, so I’d imagine Walt is quite a bit more emotionally tougher than I am.
So, to the point—what would I change? Not much.
One of the things I think makes him so enjoyable to write are the same things that make him gratifying to read—he’s good company. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s kind and decent, tough, and fair. He has faults in that his temper sometimes gets the better of him, he’s incredibly naive when it comes to women, and he can be steadfastly stubborn, and a little obtuse and pedantic, but those are all the things that create the conflicts that populate the stories of his life.
I have to admit that my absolute, least favorite characters are the ones that are too perfect to believe. I guess I have enough trouble looking at myself in the mirror every morning without writing about some six-foot-two of twisted steel and sex-appeal guy who has sex forty times a book or manhandles an entire bar—what’s the appeal to that comic book stuff?
I’d like to think I created Walt the way I did all those years ago by design, but to be honest, I think a lot of it was luck. I was fortunate enough to find a guy that I’ll probably be writing about until I keel over, and that’s okay. Mortality is one of those things that creep up and touch your elbow as you get older and cause you to think about things that might not have crossed your mind up until then. Things like, have I made any difference in this world? What have I done, what have I left behind? I’d hope that people will still be reading the novels and that I’ll be remembered as the guy who wrote those Longmire books.
I don’t think I’d change that, either.
See you on the trail,