Best selling author Craig Johnson visits PA and MD

Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire series, recently recalled his first visit to Gettysburg. “I remember seeing the medical kit at one of the museums and it was mostly saws…It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

While the Western crime fiction writer spends much of the year in Ucross, Wyoming, population 25, Philadelphia holds a place in his heart as well. Johnson was doing graduate work at Temple University when he met his wife, Judy. They have two daughters and a granddaughter who call the city their home. “Philadelphia is kind of an epicenter with as many visits as Judy can squeeze out of me,” Johnson says.

The author has begun a three-week book tour for his latest Longmire mystery, “First Frost.” Four stops are scheduled in the PA/MD area: Wayne, June 9, Mechanicsburg, June 10 Sykesville, June 11 and Phoenixville, June 12.

The crime series is set in Wyoming, where Sheriff Walt Longmire, his lifelong friend, Henry Standing Bear, and his deputy, Vic, work to keep the peace at home and other locations. Johnson first began publishing the books in 2004. A television series, based on the novels, premiered on A&E Network on June 3, 2012, and moved to Netflix in 2015 until its end in 2017.

The new novel features a dual timeline with protagonist Walt Longmire and his best friend Henry Standing Bear. “It’s always fun to go back and see where these characters come from, especially in the formative parts of their lives. As the title indicates, this is the First Frost of Walt and Henry’s young lives, a wartime situation where they’re not quite sure they’ll make it through.”

Philadelphia is the fictional home of one of the main characters in the 20-book series, Victoria (Vic) Moretti, Walt’s tough-as-nails, big-hearted, provocatively verbal deputy. “A lot of Vic is based off of my wife who has a ferocity that I think is native to the city,” Johnson said. His wife Judy, said, “Vic Moretti is one of my favorite characters in the book; I always wanted to be like her, but my mother wouldn’t let me.”

Johnson said he chose Philadelphia as the character’s home because he felt well acquainted with the city where he had lived for two years. He loves the city for its walkability, architecture, food, and music. “We usually make it back to Philadelphia at least twice a year but with the Phillies playing as good as they are we may have to add a trip…,” he added.

Victoria Moretti is the undersheriff in the Longmire series and hails from a long line of prominent law enforcement officers from Philadelphia. After a four-year stint as a Philadelphia cop, she ends up in Absaroka County, Wyoming, when her husband’s job moves them there.

“When I wrote the first novel in the series, I knew that with Walt and Henry, there was going to be a really strong masculine narrative to the book, and I knew I was going to have to have a lot of really strong female characters to pull the novel back toward the middle. All the women I know are strong, are there any other kinds?” he added.

In one of the protagonist’s first interactions with Victoria Moretti, his new deputy, Longmire notes, “I nosed the three-quarter-ton out to the west side of town, and Vic must’ve passed doing an even eighty, sirens and lights all going full blast. She gave me the finger as she went by.”

The character is well known for her “salty” language, for which Johnson does not apologize. “There are people who speak like that, especially in the tension of law enforcement and to not have a least some that language in the books would be a form of censorship and that is something I can’t tolerate—besides, most of the time it’s funny and you never cut funny,” the author said.

In the novels, Vic is a slightly smaller-than-average woman with dark hair and hazel eyes, who is feisty times a bunch. The television series stars Katee Sackhoff in the role. She is rather taller than average and has blonde hair. Describing her as a “marvelous actress,” he explains the blonde hair.

“It’s simple, really. We had so many Native actors in the show that practically everybody was brunette, so they kept her a blonde so she’d ‘pop’ on screen.”

Johnson admits that when an author allows Hollywood to “get its hands on your work,” it’s a collaborative effort. Overall, however, he believes the production stayed true to the tone of the characters in the books.

“It’s a different medium and the structure is not the same so I’m actually glad they didn’t slavishly follow the books. Besides, when people say they would read the books, but they’ve already watched the TV show seventeen times, I can tell them the books are a whole other world.”

This is Johnson’s 20th book tour, and the locations of his visits are selected by his publisher Penguin Random House, based on the enthusiasm of the booksellers and their sales record. “The readership in Pennsylvania is very strong and I imagine that’s because of Vic and her family. One of his novels, “Kindness Goes Unpunished,” is set almost entirely in Philadelphia.

When they’re not traveling, Johnson and his wife enjoy a quiet life on their ranch. “I suppose I like it because it provides the quiet and solitude that my work needs.”

Longmire has won many awards for his novels and short stories, including the Western Writers of America Spur Award for fiction, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award for fiction, the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Library Journal’s Best Mystery of the Year, and the Will Rogers Award for Fiction.

The New York Times best-selling author whose work has been translated into a couple dozen languages, is pleased with his career. “The best part is getting to do what I really enjoy—write. It’s like they say, ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’

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Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

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