This Sunday, June 3rd, the first of ten episodes of Longmire will debut on A&E at 10pm EDT, and I’m just hoping I can watch it.
Having your books turned into a television series is pretty weird, and the only way I can describe the experience is that it’s something like having a houseplant in your house for eight years and suddenly having it start talking to you one morning—wondrous, but weird. The weirdness started when I walked on the set and saw the county designation 24 on the Wyoming license plates for the fictitious Absaroka County (Wyoming has only 23 counties).
Later, I was having a hard time concentrating on what Robert Taylor, the actor who plays Walt, was saying in the back of the sheriff’s cabin in the Bandelier National Forest above Los Alamos on the first day of shooting. I kept staring at the elk horn handles on Walt’s .45 Colt just like the ones my buddy Richard Rhoades (the model for Omar) had made for me, the hat made by my hatmaker Mike Hodges up in Billings, Montana, and the Ray-Ban sunglasses like the ones I’ve worn my whole life.
I was finally aware that Robert had been talking to me for about ten minutes, describing to me the innermost aspects of the sheriff’s character. He paused and laughed at himself, “I can’t believe I’m standing here telling you about Walt Longmire.”
The Longmire novels are written in first-person, which means that the sheriff is never very far from my thoughts or narrative. I tend to refer to Walt as a detective for the disenfranchised, a man whose secret weapon is his compassion for the less fortunate or forgotten members of society. I think he has an empathy for the outsiders because, in a sense, he’s one himself; a rogue male somewhat driven off from the herd, even if it is a self-imposed exile.
Another thing I like about him is his ability to surprise me. I was talking to Greer Shephard, the producer of the A&E series based on the books, and she asked me if I thought of Walt as being a verbose person and I said yes. She told me to go through one of my books and highlight his dialogue, what he actually says. . . . She was right; he thinks a great deal but doesn’t say much—it was a genuine revelation.
Robert got called onto the porch where they were shooting the scene with Cassidy Freeman, who plays Cady, Walt’s daughter. They ran the lines a few times and then started filming the scene where Cady gently rakes him over the coals for not doing something with the tea tin that contains her mother’s ashes, “Dad, people want to know where they can go to pay their respects, and I can’t tell them to go stand in front of the refrigerator.”
There I was watching the first scene of the television show adapted from my books being filmed.
Then something strange happened.
My eyes started welling up, and I had to turn away and walk off the set.
There was something about watching these characters, these people I’d created, going about their lives and discussing the innermost workings of their hearts that hit me like a war lance.
I went up on the hillside and just stood there breathing.
I’m hoping to do better come Sunday night.
[Please stop by at 11:15pm Eastern, right after Longmire’s premiere ends for a full recap by one of our bloggers, and follow us on Twitter @CrimeHQ as we tweet the premiere with hashtag #Longmire.]
Craig Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man’s Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of the year for 2009.