Friday, August 21, 2009

Craig Johnson: Wyoming author uses sense of humor when promoting Wyoming Libraries

Featured in the Summer 2007 issue of the Wyoming Libraries Roundup
It’s unclear whether or not author Craig Johnson is a cheap date, but the good news is he has a pretty cheap honorarium for libraries—a six-pack of Rainier Beer, cans preferred. “A lot of libraries go ‘wow, just give a six-pack, hmmm, maybe we should give that guy a call,’” the author laughs.
“I think you can judge a society by its libraries, and with that in mind, Wyoming comes out ahead. We’ve got a wonderful library system in the state, and anything I can do to promote them and literacy is a done deal.”
The story of his honorarium began with the Meeteetse library that wanted to bring him in to do an event but were unsure whether they’d have enough money.
“I wrote and said that once you reach a certain level or literary notoriety; you can’t really negotiate your honorarium; mine is the same as it’s always been: a six pack of Rainier Beer,” jokes Johnson.
But jokes aside, Johnson is a serious writer with some serious attention. His books have received high praise. Before his writing success, Johnson spent a long time in what he calls his “bum years.” Johnson says he did everything from being a cowboy to a police officer. “A lot of times, I look back and think thank goodness I became a writer or else all of this would have been for nothing. I would have just been a bum.”
In addition to running the gamut of jobs, life for him was scattered through much of the country. He eventually found and built his ranch in Ucross, Wyoming—population 25. And it’s this place and Wyoming as a whole that have had significant roles in his writing. “To ignore the place is to do something at your own risk as a writer, because it informs everything.
Location informs your characters—who they are and where they’re from. To ignore that would just be a criminal act, as far as I’m concerned,” Johnson says.
He also decided to put an emphasis on the seasons in his books. The Cold Dish starts with fall, followed by Death Without Company in winter and Kindness Goes Unpunished in spring. His next book, Another
Man’s Moccasins, is a summer book.
“I decided I would take into consideration one of the things that has the most impact on us out here in the West—the weather and the seasons.”
Setting his books in Wyoming, in the romantic beauty and epic quality of the West, may have even been one of the reasons his books were published.
“It’s nice to be reminded of the beauty here. Whenever I walk out to feed the horses in the morning and the sun is hitting the hills just right; the dynamic is gold and beautiful, it just reminds you. It reminds you that we live in a wonderful place—a special place.”
Johnson says he shies away from telling people what a Cinderella story his writing career has been. His book earned positive reviews in publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post and Denver Post.
But, after all the national attention his books receive, he’s most happy that his stories resonate with readers in Wyoming.
“There’s the biblical phrase that the prophet hath no honor in his own country.
You worry about that type of thing, but the responses the books receive nationally, internationally, and particularly here in Wyoming are very important to me.”
At the opening of Johnson’s web site it reads,
“People wonder where I get my eccentric characters, but if they lived in Wyoming they wouldn’t ask me that question.”
Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company and Kindness Goes Unpunished, received starred reviews in Kirkus and Booklist and with Booksense and Killer picks. The Cold Dish was a DILYS award finalist and Death Without Company won the 2006 Wyoming Historical Society’s Best Fiction Award and was a finalist for the Mountain & Plains Book of the Year. Kindness Goes Unpunished was 38 on the ABA Hardback Best Sellers List. His short story, Old Indian Trick, won the Hillerman Award, and the fourth in the Walt Longmire series, Another Man’s Moccasins, was published by Viking in
March 2008.When asked if he still did his in-state honorariums for a six-pack, Johnson replied. “Yep, but these days they usually overpay me with an eighteen-pack.”

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