CASPER, Wyo. — Craig Johnson is a tirelessly friendly writer, a trait that was on full display as he signed copies of his new book, “A Serpent’s Tooth,” in Casper on Saturday.
People in line at Wind City Books waited patiently while the mystery writer from Ucross heard story after story about people’s connections to Buffalo, the Wyoming town that is inspiration for the fictional Durant, location of Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series.
Lila Ridley Crump’s family “all grew up in Buffalo” and her cousin Dorothy ran the real Busy Bee Café, a major gathering place for Johnson’s fictional characters, she told the author.
Bob Cole’s sister-in-law is actually in the book in her role as a Buffalo courthouse employee. Johnson laughed and said, “The ladies in the courthouse are famous now.”
People were getting Johnson’s signature on books they can’t even take home yet because the actual release date isn’t until June 4. But they were excited to talk to him about the premiere on Memorial Day of the second season of the A&E television series “Longmire,” based on his books.
By far the most urgent topic was why Vic Moretti’s hair is blond in the series. Vic is Longmire’s female sidekick, an Italian-American cop from Philadelphia trying to make sense out of small-town Wyoming and the inscrutable, brave and appealing Longmire.
At least four women in line for books quizzed the author about this deviation from how they pictured the tough woman deputy in the book. Since Johnson has an unusual amount of direct involvement in the television show, he had to admit that he helped choose the actress who plays Vic, Katee Sackhoff, and that she certainly would have dyed her hair for the part.
But somewhere along the line the television producers decided they needed a blonde to balance out the brunette Wyoming characters and Native Americans who are so prominent in the series.
Johnson is partway through a five-month tour promoting his newest book, and he’s enjoying an extra boost of sales thanks to the television series. The first season of “Longmire” was A&E's most-watched scripted series debut. And Walt Longmire’s face appears on the side of a 22-story building in Los Angeles promoting the second season of the series, chimed in Johnson’s wife, Judy.
For Johnson, that meant that the first book in the series, “The Cold Dish,” appeared on the New York Times best-seller list eight years after it was published. Now 63 book signings in five months are normal for him, and he’s learned to write while on the road.
“I can’t be too precious about it,” he said, or he would never get his writing done.
But he does lament that he had to leave his 260-acre ranch near Ucross at the best time of year. “I just got the irrigation in and I had to leave,” he said. But he considers himself lucky to meet the people who read his books during the book-signing tours.
One fan in line, former Casper College librarian Lynnette Anderson, said that it’s hard to find books about Wyoming that really show what the people are like. But Johnson “captures the people, the ambience and he writes a damned good story,” she said.