In author Craig Johnson's mysterious thrillers, it's not so much about killing characters off in a book, but rather, keeping them alive.
In his new novella, "Spirit of Steamboat: A Walt Longmire Story," Johnson's characters do just that.
Walt, a sheriff in fictional Absaroka County, Wyo., and Lucian Connally, a World War II vet, risk everything to fly a decommissioned plane through a terrible blizzard in order to save a little girl's life. Fighting time, weather and outdated flying equipment, the story reads like a roller coaster set in the sky.
The short story-turned novella is part of Johnson's Walt Longmire mystery series, which was the basis for the A&E TV series "Longmire," now in its third season.
"I got started on this one and after four days, it was over 80 pages long," Johnson said of "Steamboat." The author has written 10 Longmire novels and various short stories he calls "connecting tissue."
"They're like extended chapters that go between the novels," he said. "('Steamboat') is part of the Longmire series, but a story unto itself."
Johnson will be the featured guest at University of South Carolina Beaufort's Lunch With Author Series beginning Oct. 24. The university's seven-part series will bring in an acclaimed author each month through April. Johnson will talk about "Steamboat," answer questions and sign copies of his book.
Writing about adventures in Bighorn Mountain country is familiar territory for Johnson, a man who would be lost without his cowboy hat and says things like "you betcha."
Johnson lives on a ranch in Ucross, Wyo., population 25. His day usually begins early to tend to the animals and take care of chores. (He took a break from chopping firewood for this interview).
"By the time the sun comes up, I've made a big pot of coffee and started writing," he said.
Although he travels often for book tours, Johnson said Wyoming is a "pretty wonderful place to have solitude and quiet and focus" for writing. His Longmire books are also set in Wyoming, in the least populated county in the least populated state in America.
"Place informs everything. Even in the most beautiful of places, some of the most horrible things happen," he said.
The majority of Johnson's story ideas tend to come from local newspaper articles. "I'm always clipping out newspaper articles and putting them in file folders. It gives me an opportunity to have something to say about contemporary American society."
"Steamboat," like many of Johnson's novels, is character-oriented and social-problem interested.
"That's more of an honest challenge than just trying to come up with clever ways to kill people," he said.
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