Craig Johnson just returned from an unusual vacation.
I was on an aircraft carrier, said The New York Times bestselling author of the popular Longmire series of books about his invitation to be a distinguished visitor on the USS Carl Vinson out of San Diego.
I got to go fly onto an aircraft carrier and take the tour and spend the night and be with the crew and fly back off again, said Johnson, who lives in Ucross in Sheridan County. It was pretty exciting.
Johnson, who continues to spin tales of Sheriff Walt Longmire to a voracious fan base, told Cowboy State Daily he was nominated to stay on the Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier a year ago. And while the opportunity is usually reserved for politicians and military contractors, a few authors also have been offered the experience.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Walt (Longmire) is a veteran and has a military background," Johnson said. "And all the VIPs are from very different backgrounds. It had kind of an Agatha Christie quality to it."
The Longmire Defense
Johnson often uses personal experiences, like his adventure on the USS Carl Vinson, in his popular books about a small-town Wyoming sheriff. Similarly, he said his next book, The Longmire Defense, (scheduled for release Sept. 5) is based on something that happened very close to home.
There's actually an instance up here in the Bighorn Mountains where somebody found a rifle up there, and it had been left up there for who knows how many years, tucked into some rocks, he said. And I thought, Well, boy, there's a mystery.
Johnson said for his 25th Longmire adventure, he worked that real-life mystery into a backstory about Walt's grandfather, a character referred to often in the series but whose background hasn't yet been fully explored.
It's a really fun one, said Johnson of his upcoming novel. The backstory that you get on Walt as a boy, and as a teenager, and college age, and his relationship with his grandfather.
Johnson said he's held the outline for this story back for 10 years or more, just waiting for the right ideas to come together.
"I just had to think about and work on it for a while. Sometimes that's just the way you have to do it," he said. "You have to take your time and not try and force an idea, but allow those ideas to all kind of coalesce into a storyline and become a plot that you think is worthy of your characters, and worthy of your readers."
Will Rogers Award
The author of the bestselling Longmire series, which was adapted into a top-rated television show on A&E and Netflix, has experienced his share of attention over the last 20 years.
Since the publication of his first book, The Cold Dish, in 2004, Johnson's books have been published in 14 languages.
His list of awards range from the Western Writers of America Spur Award for fiction to being honored with the Will Rogers Medallion for Western literature four times. In fact, this year the association will present Johnson with the Golden Lariat award for lifetime achievement.
"Will Rogers was one of the greatest cowboy philosophers that there are," said Johnson. "And anytime you can have your name connected to somebody like that, it's just a wonderful opportunity."
Johnson pointed out that, similar to that celebrated actor, author and social commentator, his use of humor in the Longmire books is one of the reasons many readers return to Absaroka County with every new novel and television episode.
"I hear from a lot of law enforcement, certainly a lot of law enforcement here in Wyoming, and the first thing they always comment on is the humor," said Johnson. "I think that's a key element to anything, especially when you're dealing with serious issues."
Turning Experiences Into Adventures
As an author, Johnson has made a living turning his life experiences and months of research into tales worthy of his audience. But he doesn't have a plan for using his overnight stay on the USS Carl Vinson in any upcoming Longmire novels.
"I mean, Walts military experiences were from Vietnam in 1968," said Johnson. "And this is a whole another breed of cat these are like F18s, F35s. I mean, Walt would be very impressed with the advances that the United States Navy has made over the last 50 years."
Johnson pointed out that one of his personal standards as an author is to only create storylines in which characters might realistically find themselves.
"I think sometimes there are plot lines for a lot of books that take place in Wyoming that aren't particularly realistic," he said. "We Wyomingans look at those plots, and go, Yeah, that really would never happen in Wyoming."
Johnson said he often jokes that he doesn't ever want to write a book where Longmire is chasing al Qaeda in Wyoming or a storyline that would take place on a cruise ship.
"But, you know what, I may have found a ship that Walt could go on a cruise on the USS Carl Vinson," Johnson said. "So that's when my mind started clicking and I was like, 'maybe someday down the road.' You never can tell."
Thank You, Walt Longmire
Johnson's opportunities for travel are often Longmire-related.
After an appearance for a literary society next week in Palm Springs, California, Johnson will fly to Oklahoma City to present an award to Lou Diamond Philips, one of the stars of the Longmire television show.
"The Western Heritage Museum is doing a Life Achievement Heritage Award for Lou Diamond Phillips," said Johnson. "I'm doing an interview with him and doing an introduction for him."
Johnson's success with the Longmire franchise has resulted in a life he and his wife Judy try never to take for granted.
"We'll be sitting in Paris, having dinner during a book tour in Europe, and we always lift our glasses and go, 'Thank you, Walt Longmire,'" said Johnson. "Just about everything in my life has some kind of connection to the (fictional) sheriff of Absaroka County."