Interview de Craig Johnson : Kindness Goes Unpunished (VO)

Craig JohnsonCraig, could you please tell us about your childhood ?
The most important aspect of my childhood is the fact that I come from a family of story-tellers. We didn‘t have a great deal of money so one of the things we would do after dinner is go out on the porch and tell stories. I don’t think it was that much of a leap from telling, to writing. I’ve got family spread out all over the country, but I’ve always empathized with the western half; there’s something about the West that appealed to my sense of story-telling.

Before being a writer, you used to be a cop, a professor of University , a cow boy, a carpenter, a professional fisherman, did it help to write novels ?
Absolutely. I think you can only learn so much in the classroom, and I figured it was up to me to fill in the gaps of the other, less-technical part of the process—the message. I think you have to have something to say, something that’s important to convey to the reader; I think life experience is the only way to develop that kind of thing. I suppose I’m kind of a throwback in that sense.

Could you tell us about the place you live, is it true that you live in a ranch ? For French people, it makes us dream !
The ranch I built, is near Ucross, Wyoming (population 25). I poured the concrete, stacked the logs and physically built the entire place myself. It’s at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains, up near the Montana border. It’s a great location to focus on the writing. I suppose most Americans would consider it to be a dream place, too…

I heard about a future adaptation of your novels into series, is that correct ?
The series has been developed by Warner Brothers and the A&E Network; they filmed the pilot in the Spring and my wife got to fly into Los Angeles for a screening on the Warner lot. I was in the middle of a book tour with two events that day so I couldn’t go. I’ve seen the final product on my television via DVD and I have to say it looks pretty incredible. We’re waiting for the Board of Directors at A&E to decide whether they’re going to pick the series up—so keep your fingers crossed !

You won the award « 813 » for your novel « Death without company » and the award « Roman noir Nouvel Obs 2010 » for « Little bird », what these French awards represent to you ?
A great deal, they’re some of the most important awards I’ve won in the sense that they reflect the tastes of the French reading public, a very independently minded and intelligent bunch of folks. I think the things that are given to you by your friends means a lot, and I consider my French readers to be my friends. I’ve been to France eight times in the last two years and I’ve enjoyed it so much; the awards are just the icing on the cake. I do have to say that the majority of the credit for how well the books have been received is due to my magnificent translator Sophie Astlinides.

What do your family and friends think of your novels ?
Oh, they like them a lot but the parts they like most are the parts I’ve stolen from them—characteristics, stories… My daughter only reads the parts about Cady, Walt’s dauther who I based on her. My father is Lucian, the crusty old sheriff who used to be Walt’s boss… And now I think you’re getting much too clear of a picture of the similarities between Walt’s life and my own.

Indians have a big place in your novels, why ? Is it to defend them ?
My ranch is only thirty miles as the Crow flies up to the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne Reservations, so they are my neighbors and my friends. I think to write contemporary western novels without including the Indians would be negligent; they have a lot to say about who and what we are in the American West. I don’t think there’s ever been a group of individuals more maligned in the media than American Indians ; the ones I know are incredibly intelligent, funny and complex people—I think it’s important that that be included in my novels.

Sherif Walt Longmire, the main character of your novels, is very endearing. Can you please « introduce » him to us ?
I tend to look at Walt as a ‘Detective for the Disenfranchised’, a man who cares a great deal and takes on case that the majority of people don’t really care about. He’s the Sheriff of the least populated County in the least populated state in America and he’s got his share of short-comings, but he a very smart and capable man. I have to admit that after all these novels together ; I haven’t grown tired of him.

Kindness Goes Unpunished, Craig JohnsonYou totally changed your universe in your last novel « Kindness goes unpunished », Sherif Longmire goes to Philadelphia to see his daughter and troubles begin… Why having changed the setting? To surprise your readers ?!
I was curious as to how a westerner would be out of context—the west within the west is one thing, but the west in the east, that’s something else. It’s not something that hasn’t been tried before, but I was never satisfied with the way the westerner or cowboy was treated—as if he were some boob that just fell off the turnip truck. I wanted to do a more realistic treatment of the idea, that, and I wanted to meet the rest of Vic Moretti (Walt’s under-sheriff) ‘s family.

How are polars considered in the USA ?
Well, it’s a very strong-selling portion of fiction in the sense that it makes up 30% of all book sales. My most recent novel landed on the New York Times Bestseller List which came as quite a surprise.

What are your next plans in the USA ? In France ? I’m so curious !
I just finished a six week tour in America, so I think I’m going to be staying close to the ranch! My next trip to France is in November, but I’m not sure about the exact details.

Can you tell us about Gallmeister ? How did you meet your French publisher ?
Oliver Gallmeister read my first book and was impressed that it wasn’t just a book about cowboys, but that it was more of a book about place. Most of the books he’d published up until then had been about the American West, and he seemed to think we were a good fit even though he hadn’t published that much crime fiction. He’s become a very close friend; as a matter of fact he was just here at the ranch for the last week.

What are your habits when you write ? (in the evening ? in the morning ? sitting at your desk ?)
I’m a blue-collar writer in the sense that I get the ranch squared away early in the morning and then sit down and work all day at my desk in the loft of my log house.

Is there any (young ? new ?) author you’d like to talk about ?
There are a number of them, but I’m not sure if they’ve been translated into French.

Is there any international subject which makes you angry ?
Lot’s of them; the worst are the feeling that we can go into underdeveloped countries and try and solve their problems with firepower. There seems to be more and more of a dichotomy of nations that have and nations that don’t, You would think we’d be working to make the situation better, but we haven’t.

What would you say to your French readers ?
Thank you.

What are your favorite music and favorite song ?
I’m a big jazz fan—probably ‘Night in Tunisia’.

And my last question : when will you come back to France, especially  to Paris ?!
See above. See you in November !