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Craig Johnson concludes his Christmas story tour and focuses on a new direction for his novels

Author Craig Johnson.
Kittling Books
Author Craig Johnson.

AuthorCraig Johnson wrapped up his Christmas story tour of several northeast Wyoming libraries on Dec. 20 with a stop at theOccidental Hotel in Buffalo. Despite the great popularity of Johnson’s books, which have regularly made it onto the New York Times’ Bestseller list, the Christmas story was something he wasn’t planning on making an annual event.

“I had a short story that appeared inCowboys & Indians magazine,” he said. “What happened was I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to give everybody something for Christmas,' and I sent it out to everybody’s [subscribers] inboxes, and [the next year] everybody started writing me emails saying ‘When do we get the Christmas story this year?’ and I was like, ‘I haven’t written one,’ so I had to sit down really quick and write one, and it kind of became tradition.”

What Johnson has created as a tradition in his annual Christmas story is something he’s decided to break from for his future works. Since his first book The Cold Dish was published in 2004, he’s published 20 additional novels in addition to a number of novellas and short stories. In 2012, the Longmire TV series premiered, running for five seasons on A&E and Netflix. Despite the enduring popularity that his work has received, Johnson said that it was time to turn a corner for future projects.

“You try and do something different with each book, it seems like to me, or else you’re going to become kind of formulaic, which is something you really have to guard against whenever you find yourself writing 17 or 18, 19, 20 books,” he stated. “You have to really make an effort, I think to try and do something different with each book.”

Johnson’s latest book demonstrates this point. Daughter of the Morning Star focuses on a topic that has received more discussion in recent years: the disappearance and murders of Indigenous women.

“[It’s] an issue that’s near and dear to my heart just simply because of the locality--the Northern Cheyenne [and] the Crow Reservation[s] are just to the north of where we live,” he said. “And then also, they’ve been such an integral part of the books since the beginning 17 years ago, and so anything that affects them affects me. It became very topical just simply because the issue became very volatile and started getting a lot more play.”

Writing on the plight of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls gave his publisher in New York a bit of a shock. He gave them statistics on the issue, which he says they had difficulty believing at first.

“They were stunned,” Johnson said. “They wanted to make sure that the statistics that I gave them were correct because they’re just so shocking.”

Johnson indicated that topics such as this are ones that he may feature further in future works.

“This is a continual thing for me,” he said. “I don’t really want to write novels as a mystery writer where I’m just stacking up bodies like cordwood, I want to have something to say. I kind of tend to refer to what I write as ‘socially responsible crime fiction’ and that there’s a message to what it is I’m trying to get across. And the message about this one was definitely the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women.”

Johnson said the books are also well-received with Native American readers.

“The books have been extraordinarily popular on both the Northern Cheyenne and the Crow Reservation simply because I think to try and write about this part of the world and not include them in that world would be nothing short of criminal,” he said. “I have an awful lot of friends up there that make my job a lot easier in writing the books and also in the development of the television series, too.”

A new book titled Hell and Back is currently in the works. Though Walt Longmire has had his share of adventures, Johnson gave a sneak peak and said readers this time can expect to find him waking up in the middle of a street in a small town during a blizzard.

Johnson also said that 2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the Longmire TV show’s premiere and that all of the actors are slated to return forLongmire Days in Buffalo this summer. Several of the major studios, including Warner Bros., which produced the show previously, have or are planning to launch streaming services in the near future. However, it remains to be seen as to whether the Longmire will be rebooted, even with its enduring popularity among viewers.

“We’re kind of victims of our own success in that we’re consistently one of the top 20 original content shows on Netflix,” he said. “I do know that we’re kind of coming down to the wire where they [the studios] are going to have to start making their decisions about what it is they’re wanting to do.”

The studio ultimately makes the final decision as to whether to reboot the show or not. Despite the uncertainty, there is an interest in continuing the series from others involved in it.

“All of the actors have made it very, very clear, and even the producers have made it very, very clear that they’d like to revisit Absaroka County,” Johnson said. “So, we’ve got our fingers crossed, and we’ll see what happens.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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