26 Pickup, The Halfton
I’m always amazed at the topicality of your novels, the social issues that are dealt with such as the plight of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Daughter of the Morning Star and from the small amount I’ve read of Hell And Back, the situation concerning Native boarding schools. How do you choose these issues for your books?
You know, my wife asked me that question about a year ago when I was working on Hell And Back. She has this joke that I’ve got some kind of social-issue radar, because it seems that when I choose one of these problems they often seem to explode in the public eye. I have no idea why that is although I have a theory that it might have to do with grounding the stories within the particular locale of the Rocky Mountain West and the high plains. The issues the characters handle are ones that sheriffs in this area are forced to deal with. I think there’s an honesty in that.
I’ve always said that I never want to have Walt chasing Al-Qaeda in Crook County, or Longmire on a cruise ship, but instead I would rather deal with the things that western sheriffs actually confront on a daily basis. Another reason might be that I tend to pick those issues from an emotional perspective rather than just fishing around for plot devices. Years ago, I was genuinely appalled at the situation with murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the horrors of the children that were torn from their families and sent away to these boarding schools simply breaks your heart.
I had an individual who read the synopsis of Hell And Back and said it just seemed too political and that he was probably going to pass on this one. Fair enough. There are a lot of books out there that don’t deal with topical or social issues, and he’s welcomed to move on to those, but I don’t deal with these issues lightly, and when I’m writing a novel that takes up the better part of a year of my life, I really want it to mean something. Voltaire once said that “Clever ideas come and go…” Nothing expresses that more than being halfway through a novel and then becoming bored with it. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid that, instead putting everything in there along with the kitchen sink, and then taking things out that are no longer pertinent once the book is done.
The Northern Cheyenne have a saying that you judge a man by the strength of his enemies, and I think that reflects the issues in the books. You don’t want the plot to be so simple that the protagonist kind of walks through. I don’t think readers want me to write books about just another day with Walt Longmire, but rather, the things that are extraordinary.
Anyway, I wouldn’t want Walt or you to get bored.
See you on the trail,