Craig Johnson, riding high on the acclaim for the latest book in the Walt Longmire series, The Dark Horse, was in Chicago last Saturday for an appearance at the Printers Row Lit Fest. After his panel, he could be seen enjoying a beer at the Dark Horse Tap and Grille, appropriately enough. While we talked, he sold his very last copy of the book — his reading copy — to the delighted waitress.
What’s the story behind The Dark Horse?
I always try and do something different with each book, and with this one I was attempting a little “high plains noir.” I got the gist of the story from a murder that took place in Nebraska where everybody in town claimed to be under a pool table when the guy got shot. One of the investigators commented, “That must’ve been the biggest pool table in Nebraska.” I used it as an exploration into finding out what community was like out in some of those little outlaw towns on the Powder River where I drink . . . purely for research purposes, of course.
So far in the series, the biggest beast of burden has been Henry Standing Bear’s long-suffering truck, Rezdawg. What gave you the idea to write about actual horses in this book?
Well, Walt’s a Wyoming sheriff and grew up on a ranch so he’s liable to have some experience. It was just another opportunity to show another layer of the west and to write honestly about the relationship between people and horses.
Rumor has it that, although you now live in Ucross, Wyoming, you’ve done some time in big cities. Were you able to write about horses from personal experience — or did you have to do research?
My grandfather was a blacksmith and I grew up riding. I did some rough-stock rodeo events back when I was young and stupid, as opposed to being older and stupid like I am now. I’ve got a ranch and am pretty well versed, but then I’ve got guys like Buck Brannaman, the real horse whisperer, in the neighborhood if I get stuck.
Have you been able to visit any other Dark Horse bars or taverns on this book tour?
There’s one in Philadelphia and another in Los Angeles that I’m headed to — then again, I’ve always wanted to own my own bar.
Where are you headed next — and where is Walt headed in the next book?
I’m bad, I’m nationwide and probably babbling in a bookstore near you. Check out my website [http://www.craigallenjohnson.com/] and hit the “Tour of Duty” to see where I am from day to day.
The next book in the series is a kind of a modern-day range war called Among the Ruins. It’s an examination of the economy of the contemporary west, and might be the funniest book I’ve written.