Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

November 12, 2013

Mystery novelist opens up to fans in Ashland

Lana Bellamy
The Independent

ASHLAND — Craig Johnson never dreamed of being a writer, growing up in the Appalachian area of Huntington. He didn’t major in creative literature studies or write novellas as a young man. For this New York Times bestselling author, his writing pursuits began merely 10 years ago with the art of the spoken word.

“I learned to write in a number of different schools, but where I learned to tell a story was on the front porches of Appalachia,” he said, saying storytelling is more important than the dry mechanics of composition.

Johnson held a book signing at the JSF bookstore in Ashland as part of his Eastern Kentucky tour where fans were granted the rare opportunity to meet the man behind the words, ask book-related questions and engage in discuss his literature-based A&E television series, Longmire.

Jim Hawk of Huntington is an avid fan of Johnson’s writing and has met the author on numerous occasions.

Though Johnson now lives in Wyoming, the two men can always relate to each other through their West Virginia upbringing, hardly ever being but a short drive away from the Ashland area.

But despite not knowing Johnson until he became a published author, Hawk has been a fan since day one, attributing his initial interest in Johnson’s first book, Cold Dish, to their shared demographic background.

But what really captured the heart of Hawk was not engaging and mysterious plots Johnson weaved, but the depth of his character development.

As Johnson sat in a quaint room of the bookstore, talking wildly with each person seeking his mark, he told story after story about his characters, giving them life outside the bound pages held between their hands.

But although his characters are his driving force, writing mostly in first-person perspective of a war veteran named Walt, Johnson always stays in control of his own stories.

“When authors say they hear ‘voices’ in their heads of their characters telling them what to do, that makes me a little worried,” he said with a laugh.

“Your subconscious mind is the one doing the outlines, doing the typing, doing the research, it’s kind of just like a backseat driver.”

Outlines are key for keeping Johnson focused and organized as he leads his readers to solve clever mysteries.

Johnson has received recognition for his art across seas in Europe, where he claims his audience is fascinated with modern Western life and the contrast between stereotypical ‘cowboys-and-Indians’ with true Native Americans and ranchers.

In fact, at one point while Johnson and his wife visited a Parisian museum, Johnson received a small surprise after dozing off under his cowboy hat on a bench.

“All the sudden, he peeked out from under his hat and saw two little girls with bagged lunches and then more kids joined the crowd until their teacher came back to him and said, ‘My kids would really love to have lunch with you. They’ve never seen a real-life cowboy before.’”

Johnson has penned eight novels in the Walter Longmire mystery series, with his next book, Any Other Home, releasing in June 2014. A new season of Longmire will also be premiering that month on A&E.

Today, he returns to Gallaher Branch Library in his hometown of Huntington at 5:30 to have another meet and greet.