52 Pick-up 2.0, #29, 7/14/2020
Tammy Legerski- “I have seen you in person a number of times, read all the books and listened to George’s Audible recordings. When you write, are you Walt Longmire writing the story or are you removed from the characters?”
Really good question, and one I don’t have a ready answer for, which usually promotes the most honest response. I’ve been thinking about Walt’s voice a great deal lately, the actors having been kind enough to record readings from the upcoming book, Next To Last Stand, for the Virtual Longmire Days, August 13-16. Anyone who has ever had any questions about the quality of talent in the cast of Longmire really needs to hear these readings… It’s one thing to listen to them perform in the context of a script but to hear them concentrate on pages of text is really a treat. The quality, tempo, pathos, hubris, comic-timing of their presentations is wonderful.
Robert, along with George Guidall, have cemented the voice of Walt Longmire in a lot of reader’s minds to the point that I’m generally embarrassed to read at book events, feeling like I’m letting them down, the good news being that both Robert and George will be participating in our Virtual Longmire Days this year.
That having been said, how do I approach the character when writing him? The sheriff is the narrator and voice of the books, which a lot of people tried to talk me out of when I got started, but I think there’s an energy and a closeness that readers respond to. Judy says the two things that I resemble Walt in the most are humor and determination. Being a writer is a lot like being a police officer in that when everyone is running in one direction you should probably be running in the other—the other being that life is a sticky proposition and best handled with a light touch.
I guess I’m pretty dogged, but I think that’s just a side effect of being too stupid to quit. Determination just means you didn’t have any choice, most of the time. I wrote a novel because we were figuratively starving to death, so I built a ranch because there wasn’t anybody else to do it… Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.
Walt’s voice, for me, is an easy and comfortable place to slip into, sometimes so much so that I’m unsure as to where I end and he begins. The fortunate thing is that I genuinely like the guy, respect him, and enjoy his company. That isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy being in Henry, Vic, or Lucian’s shoes…
Judy, as an expert on such things, especially me, says that I’m all of them to varying degrees—that it’s an ensemble of characters that I enjoy–each providing something special in telling the story and making sparks when they rub against one another.
I think as a writer you need to be removed from the characters and try not to let them be too omniscient. I mean a large part of the joy of a mystery novel is finding out what happened and who done it, but you have to be careful and allow the characters to discover that path on their own or it just doesn’t seem reasonable. Wallace Stegner used to call that “over-running” the story, the point where you begin pushing the characters into doing things that drive the plot but don’t appear very natural. You can have a full-blown mutiny on your hands in no time…
So, I guess the answer is both. I’m there, inside Walt, but I’m also hovering over the story just to kind of keep things in line—and to try to write a good book.
See you on the trail,