#1, “A Note From the Author”

26 Pickup, the Half-ton

Hell And Back, the new Walt Longmire novel, hits the stands this week!

“I’m curious after reading the sample chapter of Hell and Back, this book seems different from all your others, and I was wondering what compelled you to write it?” – Steve Freedman

All haunting is regret.

Whether it’s a result of the things we’ve done or the things we didn’t, and in that way, we are all possessed by something. The human psyche of the missing manifests itself in all the characters of Hell and Back — the limbo of unfinished business. It’s a book about coming to terms with the phantoms of regret and loss that hopefully grant Sheriff Walt Longmire a new life.

Like everybody else, I sometimes dwell on things I shouldn’t, like what is the scariest thing I can think of, and the answer is pretty simple — not knowing who, where or why I am.

Hell And Back isn’t a simple amnesia story but is rather one about a man fighting to reclaim his very existence against an active and malicious adversary. There are times when the good sheriff doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone and this is one of those times. Readers who know my books are aware that I like to tread in the margins as I like to call it, the place where different genres can mix and hopefully enhance each other in something like a fine meal.

This book is different, and even though this isn’t the first time I’ve said that this novel goes out there in the topography of loss, where Walt’s been for the last seventeen years but never at this width or breadth. Memory is the fuel of all haunting but that is sometimes the unadorned and unvarnished truth which becomes clouded and camouflaged by nostalgia in the hostile world I’ve attempted to create in Fort Pratt, Montana — a mysterious western, gothic-romance with tinges of horror.

I was made aware of the current horrifying problem that involves murdered and/or missing indigenous women when I came up with the idea for Daughter of the Morning Star. I knew there had to be a backstory that would provide an underpinning to the more mystical aspects of the tale and remembered that a few years ago I had spoken to venerable Cheyenne Elder Leroy White Man about the Éveohtsé-heómėse that is something of a bogeyman to keep the young ones from venturing off.

His theory was that the Wandering Without was a conglomeration of all the lost souls that had been banished from the tribes — the murderous, the insane, and the evil ones that had been driven out into the wilderness to die alone. His belief was that there was and always had been something out there waiting to take these souls that no one else wanted and that they had banded together to feed a hunger for companionship. What better feeding ground than the infamous town where thirty-one boys lost their lives in a terrible fire at the Fort Pratt Industrial Indian Boarding School?

The Northern Cheyenne have a saying that you judge a man by the strength of his enemies… I couldn’t think of a better statement about Walt Longmire, but what if the souls he’s dispatched on their way are joined together — out there somewhere, waiting for him?

My money is on Walt.

Hell and Back hits the stands this week, enjoy the read and I’ll see you on the trail.

  • Craig

PS: If you’re looking for where I’ll be on the Hell And Back tour, check out the Tour Of Duty on my website which begins on Monday.

#2, “More Willie Nelson Than Jack Kerouac”

26 Pickup, the Half-ton

I saw the mammoth tour you have coming up and was just wondering how your tours have changed over the years with your success?
-John Bradford

Hi John,

When I first started out with The Cold Dish eighteen years ago the publisher set me up with a limited tour of local events befitting a debut cowboy author from a town of twenty-five… It was January. In Wyoming. I explained to them that flying in and out of Wyoming at that time of year was going to leave me stranded either here or there. I finally convinced them to let me drive my truck up through Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.
The funniest stop in the tour was during a blizzard in Missoula where only one guy showed up an the two of us and the bookstore owner sat there and drank a Rainier and discussing the book. Later, it turned out he was the programmer for the Montana Book Festival, and I found myself a year later sitting between James Lee Burke and James Crumley.

Viking/Penguin was great about supporting me with tours, but it took a while before I started selling enough books to make it worth it for them. In the meantime, they had moved me into the late Spring, and I had this hairbrained idea of taking an old motorcycle that I’d had that got about eighty miles to the gallon and doing the Great Northwest on my own, relieving the publisher of the responsibility of a quarter of the country.
When I first started doing the Outlaw Motorcycle Tour, I think I had about six bookstores lined up. Things started happening with bestseller lists and the TV show and by the time I got through doing that five-thousand mile loop each year I was hitting about twenty-five bookstores and with the national tour it was turning into five weeks on the road each year.

As the national tour expanded, I had to stop doing the motorcycle tour, but I may do it again someday.

I think a lot of people get the wrong idea about touring in that it’s glamorous and really high-flying, but it’s really not—well, mostly. Let’s look at the average day with a touring writer.

Generally, you must grab the earliest flights to ensure that you get to your next stop and also lessen the possibility of cancellations, which means five or six o’clock flights, which means you have to be there at 4 or 5. So, no sleeping in or breakfast—maybe a cup of coffee. Most of the time you get to the location, snag a rental car, and then zoom over to the hotel, grab a late lunch and then shower, shave and get dressed for the event. There isn’t much time, so you drive to the event and sign stock for the bookstore and then do the event. My events are usually telling a few stories, reading from the new book, Q&A and then signing. Now, back when I was only pulling in a couple of folks per event, I was out the door and Judy and I were eating dinner by eight o’clock.
Did I mention that my wife goes on tour with me? She does, and it’s a blessing. I foot the bill for that, but I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have somebody to travel, eat and generally be with on tour.

But I digress. Now that I’m on the bestseller lists and Longmire is on Netflix, I’m lucky enough to pull in a couple of hundred readers in per event, and I like talking to folks—all of them. We usually get out of the bookstore at around ten and the only things open by that time are fast-food joints. I remember when I first made the New York Times Bestseller’s List we had drive-through at Jack-In-The-Box, and I sent a photo of it back to the publisher to show them I was being frugal with their money.

Then you go back to the hotel and go to bed and get up in five hours and start all over again. Repeat. About twenty-five times.
Viking/Penguin usually gives me a day or two off but when they do, I just sneak more events in.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. Plenty of authors have the opportunity to not do big tours and take it and even more authors never get the chance, so I’m thankful for the prospect and seeing all my friends that read my books every year. An interviewer once asked me about my fans, and I corrected him and told him I didn’t have fans—I have friends who read my books.

I’ve gotta tell you, I’m looking forward to introducing my friends to Hell And Back.

See you on the trail, soon.

#4, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”

26 Pickup, the Half-Ton

It seems like there’s an awful lot of snow in your books, and I’ve heard you profess that winter is your favorite time of the year–I was just wondering why?

-Patricia Simmons

Hi Patricia,

Well, Walt and I live in northern Wyoming where they say there’s only two seasons—winter and the 4th of July, and it sometimes snows on the 4th of July. 

​The old saying goes that you can always put enough on to stay warm, but you can never take enough off to stay cool, and I guess I subscribe to that thought. Most of the ranch work I do requires a certain amount of sweat equity and I’d just as soon do it when it’s cool and that includes the writing.

Edited in Prisma app with Golden Hour

​My wife says my thermostat is broken, that I don’t even know when it’s cold, which could be true. I did a lot of mountaineering when I was young–still do a bit to this day, and nothing will toughen you to cold as much as sixty degrees below zero at 18,000 feet.

I do a lot of speaking events, but they tend to die down a bit in the winter simply because traveling becomes problematic. The first tour Viking/Penguin did with me for The Cold Dish had me flying in and out of Sheridan about four times. I finally had to tell them back in New York that I was going to get stuck somewhere, either here or there. They agreed, and the first book tour I did was in my four-wheel-drive pickup where I had an event during a blizzard in Missoula where one guy showed up. Well, two, including me…

​There are so many things that need to be taken care of here at the ranch when the weather allows, so summer is usually the time when I get the least amount of writing done. I’m happiest when I’m writing and that usually means winter, becausenobody yells at you when you stay inside because it is forty below outside, so I can write without guilt.

I guess it comes down to a work ethic, never mind that I don’t consider writing so much of a chore. I really enjoy it, andwhen the world shuts down here in Wyoming, I have a great excuse to stay in and do my job. 

I think there’s a romance to a crackling fire and the tapping of the keyboard that applies to me and the work. Every fall I get about two semi-loads of log lengths brought in and then block, split, and stack them; it keeps me in shape and as they say, warms you twice. I’ve got wood-burning stoves and fireplaces scattered all over the ranch so can keep the place comfortable even in the worst weather—power or no power. I no longer run cattle, so its just a question of keeping the horses fed and warm, which doesn’t take up too much of the day; besides, who would I talk to about the writing if it weren’t them?

​We have a Bernese Mountain Dog, Annie, who sometimes takes walks with me on the ranch while Judy stays back by the fire but nine times out of ten, she runs off back to the house and leaves me out there alone. Usually, when I get back home, I find her and Judy sitting on the sofa next to the wood burning stove, the two of them nice and toasty, wrapped up in a Pendleton blanket. 

​Man’s best friend.

See you on the trail,


#5: “Letting the Cat Out of the Bag to Spill the Beans”

26 Pickup, the Half-ton

When you go out on your book tours, is it difficult to keep on track the book you are promoting, or do you sometimes let out tidbits from the upcoming book?

  • Eileen Everitt

Hi Eileen,

Really good question.
Most people don’t realize the scheduling of publication, and that it can get a little confusing when you’re going out on tour with a book you wrote a year ago as opposed to the book you just finished or the one you’ve been doing research for and just started. Obviously the one that you’re writing is the one that’s on your mind, but the one the farthest out and the one you need to talk about the least.


It’s tough, and I always feel a little for the readers who are there at the beginning of the tour which I usually start with the statement, “The good news is that you’re here for one of the very first events for this novel—the bad news is that you’re here for one of the very first events for this novel…” I’m usually better at doing the event after I’ve done about twenty-five of them.

(You get better at everything the more you do it, except drywall, so if you can’t do drywall just hire somebody.)
Then there are the paperback editions that come out a year after hardback release, which complicates things all over again. It’s only fair that readers want to ask questions about last year’s book, but it sometimes takes a moment to remember the storyline.
People sometimes ask how a writer can keep track of all the fictitious characters in the novels they write, but in all honesty, I spend about eight hours a day, six days a week with those characters. . . and cheat on Sundays. So, in all honesty, I spend more time with the characters than I do with my actual family…

Due to the nature of Crime Fiction, you have to be careful and not give away too many plot points because you might reveal the story of your next book. Last year I posted previews on social media with excerpts from the upcoming book and a lot of people enjoyed them but then a lot of folks refused to read them because they didn’t want to ruin the experience of reading the entire novel, and I can understand that. I was really careful about not letting the cat out of the bag, but there were still segments of the book lifted out of context. I started worrying that they were right and didn’t do it again this year.
Nevertheless, you do sometimes slip up, but I try to be careful and not give too much away about future books. Usually, I try and give those present a preview of what’s coming up next year—at least when I remember. Generally, I have my wife, Judy, to remind me at the end of the event.

I guess I’m odd, but I really enjoy doing the events and the one starting on September 5th is kind of a whopper with twenty-three stops. An awful lot of publishers are pulling back on touring their authors, but I still enjoy getting out there and meeting and signing for folks.
So long as I don’t spill the beans…

See you on the trail,

#6, “The Long Haul”

26 Pickup, The Half-ton

You’ve said on multiple occasions that you plant characters or quick references that are seemingly random in your books and that allows you to build the story arc for the next or another book in the series. Just how many more books do you have in you? I believe we’re about 4 years into Walt’s life, so I do anticipate many more. Sorry for being selfish and possibly adding to the reason your hands will continue to cramp up, but Walt is a joy to read and to aspire to be more like. Thank you.
-Jason Dildine

Hi Jason,

One of my greatest concerns about writing is brought home every time I’m in a used bookstore and run onto a book series or authors who are hugely popular in their time—and I’ve never heard of them. It’s kind of humbling to see these National Book Award/New York Times Bestsellers that have fallen along the way. I know that tastes change and sometimes I pick up those books and it becomes abundantly clear as to why nobody is reading them anymore… It’s tough to be Shakespeare.

As an author, you like to think that your books will continue to be read after you’re gone, but I think the only thing that guarantees such a thing is the advice that Katherine Court, my editor and president of Penguin gave me when I first got started—write good books.

I’ve lived by that maxim my entire career, looking at the series as a whole. Nobody likes to look toward the end and calculate how much time you have to complete your life’s work, but I think as an author that it’s necessary. Even though I like to think of each novel as an independent entity, they’re also a part of a larger work as a whole. I’m a big believer in planting seeds in my books that give indications as to future plot points because that’s the way life is. Each day isn’t an event unto itself, but rather a portion of a tapestry that interweaves with all the other days of your life to form an existence. I know I’m getting a little philosophical here, but that’s how I view the novels as having threads that reach both backward and forward.

I love it when readers pick up on the little details in the books, when someone notices Walt studying Cassilly Adam’s Custer’s Last Fight in the book before Next To Last Stand, or that Walt has burns on his hands from Mustard gas immediately following his time on Johnston Atoll, a story we haven’t heard…yet.

That having been said, am I going to get all the Walt Longmire books written that I want to? Probably not, but I have great hopes. I figure I’ve got at least another thirty years of writing in me, which means Walt (with the four years equals one year in Walt’s life, or as I like to refer to it “Longmire Years”) has another eight years to go… Does that mean I’m going to kill him off? I don’t think so, but there’s always that possibility with every book or it’s something of a cheat. Doing what Walt does, it’s a given that any day he might pin the badge on and holster his sidearm and not come back that night–it’s a grim fact that law enforcement faces all the time.

But my money is on Walt.

See you on the trail,

#7, “Walt & Not-Walt”

26 Pickup, the Half-Ton

I’m consistently surprised at the things you have and don’t have in common with your character Walt Longmire. I know Walt doesn’t like motorcycle, but you have several. Walt doesn’t have a cell phone, but I’ve seen photos of you with one. Walt doesn’t like donuts, but you’ve professed a love of them—how do you decide where you and Walt are the same and where you part company?
-Vera Skordos

Hi Vera,

I’m never confused about whether or not I’m Walt—I’m not. He has a very different background than I do, and I want to treat him with a respect that reflects that. First off, Walt is older and has led a very different life so his views on things would probably be different, but then some of the things involved are simple mechanics. I’ll start at the top…

Walt has spent the majority of his life in law-enforcement which includes a lot of traffic work and that means motorcycle accidents. Being as close as we are to Sturgis, we see a lot of accidents, some of them horrific. I think that would have an effect on Walt’s attitude toward motorcycles. I like to go fast, but I don’t think Walt does… There are a lot of things I’ve done in my life that could be branded as thrill-seeking such as car racing, motorcycles, rodeo, mountaineering, but I don’t think Walt would particularly approve of any of those things—he has enough drama in his life.

Cell phones are easy in that I consider them a necessary evil in the world, but talk to me when I’m filming my Facebook Thirty Seconds Of Zen up on the mountain or trying to pick somebody up at the airport. Most of the time they are useless in Wyoming because there’s no service, and more importantly they can be used as a crutch in the writing of a novel where it’s just too easy to pull out your phone and get answers—I’d rather have Walt knock on a door and actually talk to someone, there’s just so much more there. That having been said, mine lays on the windowsill in our bedroom here at the ranch and dies a slow battery death so that every time I pick it up, I have to charge it. I also get about eighty-seven messages every time I take it into town.

I remember in The Cold Dish, when I introduced Walt at a crime scene, I thought it would be funny if he was a cop and went against type in not liking donuts. He’s an older guy and has to keep an eye on his waistline, so I can see him avoiding the things. I remember reading about Robert DeNiro gaining weight for Raging Bull and saying to put on the requisite eighty-some-pounds he just ate donuts… Big deal, I do that every winter.

It’s interesting, but I think it sometimes slips the mind of readers that I’m not just representative of Walt but also of all the other characters in the books like Henry, Vic, Lucian, and even Dog. As my friend James Crumley used to say, “Hell, I’m the only one in the room.”

See you on the trail,

#8 Extra, extra… Read all about it.

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?
-Julie Powers

Hi Julie,

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,

#9, “On The Road Again”

26 Pickup, the Half Ton

I just saw you posted a huge tour for Hell And Back, your newest novel and was wondering if you ever got tired of doing events? It seems like you do a lot all year round.

-Dave Hughes

Hi Dave,

Last year, when I was one of the few authors who went out on a live tour, I had a number of booksellers come to me and say, “Gee, you’re the last author we had here two years ago…”

I started feeling like a canary in a coalmine.

I don’t know. . . It’s a strange time for authors in that a lot of them, either for their own reasons or pressure from their publishers, are doing less actual touring and more virtual events. I can see the appeal of doing an entire tour from your kitchen table, but there’s something missing in the experience–there’s no real contact and the readers can’t get your book signed and personalized. Viking/Penguin has always been incredibly supportive of my books and the investment they make in a time when author tours appear to be getting shorter and shorter is something for which I’m greatly appreciative.

I like travelling, having gone so far as to expand my early tours by jumping on my motorcycle when the national tour ended and doing a five-thousand-mile loop through the Great Northwest.

I like meeting the people that read my books for the same reason I’ve got an open, personal email that people can use to get in touch with me anytime. I’ve had a few bad experiences, but the good ones have far outweighed those. I always think of the authors that never had the chance to meet their readers and feel lucky to live in a time when technology makes that kind of thing possible. I’ve had people drive across three states to get to an event—now, how do you not appreciate that?”

Any kind of travel can be a challenge these days, but you just have to learn to roll with the punches. The international tours are particularly tough, but once again I’ve been lucky enough to meet all kinds of people around the world and go to places I never would’ve gotten to see. I’m a bit of a workhorse and tend to not take vacations, preferring to get back to the ranch whenever I can. As much as I love traveling, I built the ranch with my own two hands, and it’ll always be home, but the tours give me an excuse to get out in the world.

I do have to admit that I might’ve overdone it lately. With COVID keeping us in lockdown, I pretty much said yes to everybody over the last few months and then suddenly discovered that I didn’t have two weekends at home until November…

And then I go to Europe.

See you on the trail, and I mean it.


#10: “They’re Riding Shetland Ponies”

26 Pickup, The Half-ton

Just an observational question. Why is Longmire’s head always down on the cover of the books?
-Kathy Golden Frisch

Hi Kathy,

It’s interesting you should ask in that I’m sitting here in my kitchen at the ranch looking over at the original cover painting for the very first Walt Longmire novel, The Cold Dish. Well, not the very first cover… The prototype Viking cover in 2005 was a photograph that had some snow-covered trees in what was supposed to be the Bighorn Mountains along with, of all things, a sidewalk.

In the original Penguin version that hangs on our kitchen wall, Walt is trudging up a snow-covered hill with the Wyoming landscape in the background. The artist is Gregory Manchess and the painting is one of my prize possessions since I had requested a painting for the cover art just because it gave another artist work.

In it, Walt has his head down, and his hat is covering most of his face.

This was at my request because I didn’t want a definitive face for the character, preferring the readers to fill in the blanks with the face they saw from reading the book. This was a motif we continued until the cover design changed a number of years later with the photographs from the TV show. Once again, I asked that we not have close-ups in that I didn’t want Walt’s appearance to be so concrete. The original posters and ads for Longmire also had Walt’s head down, and I can only guess that they took the cue from the books.

It’s interesting to me how often publishers change the cover designs on a series, and it seems that if you keep the same design for more than five years you’ve really accomplished something. I guess its all in pursuit of sales and since I’ve been lucky enough that my books have increased in that department for the last eighteen years, I don’t have much to complain about.

Another point of interest is that the only portion of my initial contract with Viking/Penguin that was in bold print, was the statement that the “The author will not have final say on cover art…” which led me to believe that publishers have had a lot of trouble with writers along those lines. I can understand it in that you work on a book for twenty years and you’ve probably got an image in your head as to what, exactly, the book should look like. That having been said, most authors don’t have a hoot-in-hell of an idea about the publicity and marketing involved with selling a book, which is one of the main purposes of a cover. I always listened to what the publisher and sales reps had to say on the subject, figuring they must know more than some cowboy from a town of twenty-five.

The only time we ran at odds was when they sent me the rough draft of the cover and had spelled my name wrong.

The books have been translated into about thirty languages, and interestingly enough, the foreign covers have mimicked the design where Walt’s face is somewhat hidden. It even got to the point during the filming of the TV show that they had a competition with people doing “a Longmire,” head down the way it always is.

I didn’t win.

See you on the trail,

#11 – A Land Far, Far Away

26 Pickup: The Half ton

“I’m just curious, when I read your books, I sometimes have a map and follow the roads and trails you use in your novels and they’re pretty accurate for Johnson County and Bighorn surroundings—why did you decide to develop the fictitious Absaroka County in your books?”
-Donald Zane

Hi Donald,

I remember when I was doing the research for The Cold Dish, the very first Walt Longmire novel, and was doing ride-alongs with Larry Kirkpatrick then sheriff of Johnson County he said, “You’ve got a mistake there in the first chapter.”
​“And what’s that?”
​“If you take a right on Fort Street, the next street on the left isn’t Aspen.”

All I could think was that I wasn’t going to fight that crap for the rest of my life—hello fictitious county. I’m not the first author to do such a thing, with Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, James Hilton’s Shangri-La and so many others. I think a novelist needs a certain amount of creative freedom. As my friend Curt Wendelboe once said, “It’s not a documentary.” If people want literal fact, then they should probably read non-fiction, but what I’m concerned with is something far more elusive, truth.

​For me, one of the big reasons for creating Absaroka County was to move the environs to the Montana border where I could have the characters be in closer proximation with the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations. You have to remember that at this point, Walt Longmire wasn’t going to be a series, but rather a stand-alone novel. As things turned out, it was a fortuitous decision.

​Another reason for not only the fictitious county but the made-up county seat, Durant, is that Buffalo, the actual seat of Johnson County is just too big. Approaching five thousand people, buffalo has a police department and that’s a complication that I didn’t want to have to deal with, not that I may not sometime in the future. It’s an interesting difficulty that Durant would get large enough to have a police department and that Walt would have to share his duties—something he’s not used to doing.

Back to your question, I had lunch with some of the staff from the Wyoming Office of Tourism one time and they mentioned how much they valued the books and I thanked them but asked why? They said that an awful lot of people get in touch with them about the locations of novels that take place in Wyoming and that the thing they appreciate is that I include street, route and even trail numbers so that people like yourself can follow along or even visit the places where the novels take place.

​I can see how an author would be lured by the possibility of being able to just make everything up, but the challenges of working your fiction in the real world are just as enticing to me—besides, it’s a heck of a lot easier if I don’t have to remember all that stuff. I have enough of a hard time remembering where I live without pinning my address and phone number to my Carhartt…

See you on the trail,