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Wyoming author writes about modern west

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If you know Walt, Vic, the Ferg and Henry, you’re probably a fan of Craig Johnson, the author who wrote the Walt Longmire series. 

Johnson was on a loop across the western United States to visit small independent bookstores and libraries and to promote his newest book, “Dry Bones,” when he stopped at the North Lake County Public Library June 17. 

He ranches in Ucross, Wyoming, and set his novels in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, peopling it with Sheriff Walt Longmire, Victoria “Vic” Moretti, the Ferg, Ruby, Cady Longmire, Branch and Lucian Connally and Henry Standing Bear, who lives on the neighboring Northern Cheyenne reservation. 

“Walt is kinda damaged goods,” Johnson said, since his wife was murdered in Denver and he’s not dealing with her death well. 

So to draw the story back to the middle, Johnson surrounded Walt with strong independent smart women — Ruby, his dispatcher and all around hand at the office; Dorothy, who owns the Busy Bee Café and is a conduit to the community; Cady, Walt’s daughter, who’s an attorney; and Vic, his feisty Philadelphia-cop undersheriff.

“Walt knows the people, and Vic is more scientific,” Johnson said. “If the sheriff was rural, the undersheriff had to be urban.”

He’s written 11 murder mystery novels featuring these characters and Absaroka County.

Johnson’s first book was “Cold Dish.”

“I put everything into it, it was the ‘War and Peace’ of Absaroka County,” Johnson said, laughing. 

He cold-called for agents in New York City and ended up with a publisher, Viking Penguin, but he had to take 250 pages out of his book to get it published and they wanted more stories with his characters. 

His latest novel, “Dry Bones,” centers on a real tyrannosaurus named Sue, although he calls the dinosaur "Jen" in his book. Sue is the largest, most intact t-rex ever discovered. Sue was unearthed in South Dakota, and was involved in giant lawsuits.  

After he’d written seven novels, Warner Brothers approached him about doing a series and wanted Johnson on board as a consultant.

When they asked what actors he might have in mind to play Walt, Johnson said Joel McCrea, Gary Cooper and Ben Johnson, all of whom are deceased.

He didn’t think they were serious until he got a box of audition DVDs for the part of Walt Longmire. 

“He was a big guy, kinda rangy looking, and he moved like a westerner. He had lines on his face and miles on him,” Johnson said, but what clinched the audition for Robert Taylor was the fact that he took off his hat when he went to a lady’s home to deliver the news that her husband had been killed.

Lou Diamond Phillips plays Henry Standing Bear, who answers the phone at his business by saying, ”It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony Saloon and continual soiree.”

Warner Brothers produced the series. It was shown on A & E until they cancelled it, even though it was their highest-rated scripted drama. So Netflix stepped up to the plate thanks to the “Longmire Posse,” fans who utilized Twitter, Facebook and the Internet to give A & E a public relations nightmare.

“We’re kind of kicked out of the reality basement apartment into the penthouse,” Johnson said, with Netflix doing seasons three and four. “With 22 minutes more, we can elongate the story lines.”

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