Sunday, July 11, 2010
Bellevue Public Library (University Books Sponsor ) 7-10-10
The short version: Author Craig Johnson is a must see on the Book Tour circuit.
The real life cowboy/author/ volunteer deputy sheriff, from a town in Wyoming so small only twenty five people reside there came to the big city Seattle and knocked the socks off the modest audience while promoting his newest mystery “Junkyard Dogs.”
There were so many reasons why this reading was fantastic.
I arrive half an hour early as my usual habit, to find someone sitting ON the authors table talking to four fans.
After years of watching out of town authors delay readings hoping more people arrive or show up late after hiding in green rooms, here was an author who intentionally came early to informally meet readers "so they don’t get bored waiting around for the thing to start." I dare you to not buy a book from someone like this.
Mr. Johnson's only requirement from Library staff was confirmation his motorcycle was parked in the right place. That’s right, this cowboy mystery writer goes on his tours from town to town riding a Steel horse and showed up in the land of Bill Gates
complete with Cowboy hat (removed like a gentleman off his head when inside a building) motorcycle boots and the Western style shirt. For a moment I wasn’t sure if he was going to read from his new book or feed cattle.
The author is funny and polite with a delightful laugh and never once interrupted an audience question or concerns. The Librarian tries to set up a microphone. “Don’t bother with that thing. I’ll just use what my daddy called my ‘field voice’”
It's a rare sunny Saturday in Bellevue. A smaller crowd attends but it matters little to the cowboy. Mr. Johnson reached out to people as if he were hosting a family reunion at his Wyoming ranch. “Hey how you doin? Come on in.” If this behavior might not seem like a big deal you have never been to an author reading.
The veteran Bellevue Librarian, accustomed to the pomp many authors treat as a birthright, comes to the front of the room to begin the obligatory, ego massaging, intro speech. She evaluates the cozy environment created by the author, then she actually giggles before saying “Okay I guess we started” It was perfect.
Mr. Johnson writes a mystery series with the protagonist Sheriff Walt Longmire, modern day law enforcement man of letters who deals with the characters and times of the modern Western United States.
As all good reading should, Mr. Johnson reads from the beginning of the novel. Every good reading should be this way. There is nothing worse than having to listen to an author prep an audience before reading. The work should speak for itself and then the audience decides if they want to buy.
Oh, by the way, when did you ever see a Western Crime novel open with a poem from Robert Browning? No wonder Walt Longmire is in development for a television series.
The opening of "Junkyard Dogs" is funny, but Mr. Johnson, who has a passing resemblance to comedic actor Blake Clark, reads hysterically funny. Only one other author I ever saw, the actor Marc Acito, ever read a multiple character chapter using distinct voices and body language as if the pages were a one man play.
In fact Mr. Johnson doesn't read so much as he launches the scene off the pages and into the audience.
“I always wanted to write novels. The fact is that I ran out of excuses not to write.”
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. That is just being lazy.”
-He never planned on writing a series. First novel was a stand-alone until President of Penguin/Viking Press asked for more.
-Mr. Johnson praises Penguin/Viking for the freedom they allow him.
-Refuses to write the same novel over and over again so not all recurring characters appear with the same amount of page time and removes the formula from the series.
-He always outlines. This can take as long as six months or longer. He writes one novel a year while doing research for next novel.
This man is a book seller's dream.