Organizers ensured the success of ASU’s 20th annual Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton by bringing in fellow western writer Craig Johnson, author of 13 books in a Wyoming-based mystery series, as the featured speaker.
Johnson’s best-selling book series, featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire of fictional Absaroka County, shot to a new level of popularity when Warner Bros. turned the stories into a popular TV series titled “Longmire,” first on the A&E cable network and then on Netflix since 2014.
Johnson told the ASU audience of more than 200 at the first of his two appearances on Thursday, March 3, that he keeps a “battered, old, hardbound copy” of Kelton’s “The Time It Never Rained” on his bedside table.
“There are a lot of myths, clichés and stereotypes in western writing,” Johnson said. “You always want to be honest about it and not play into those stereotypes, those clichés. I think Elmer knew how to undercut those clichés and stereotypes.”
Like Kelton, Johnson’s stories bring the appeal of the Old West into the present.
“I deal more with place and with character,” he said. “That’s where the best story is going to be. If you doubt that, just pick up an Elmer Kelton novel.”
Johnson has two new Longmire books coming out this year, a novella titled “The Highwayman” this spring and “An Obvious Fact” in the fall.
“I work in two genres, the western and the mystery fields,” he said. “I write in first person. There’s an energy to that style that no other tense has. It is also a question of mechanics in murder mysteries. You have to allow the reader to be on the same footing as the protagonist.”
“I deal more with place and with character. That’s where the best story is going to be. If you doubt that, just pick up an Elmer Kelton novel.”
Saying writing is always about quality, not quantity, Johnson shared a valuable tip for prospective authors.
“Have somebody read a scene or chapter back to you,” he said. “You will hear every mistake you’ve ever made.”
Kelton, a San Angelo journalist and author of more than 40 books who died in 2009, was celebrated with a special tribute commemorating the 20th anniversary of the conference he helped launch. Drs. Terry Dalrymple, Chris Ellery and Mary Ellen Hartje of ASU’s English faculty, along with Dr. Andrew Geyer of the University of South Carolina-Aiken and Kelton’s son, Steve, spoke of Kelton’s generosity and abiding influence on so many writers in Texas and throughout the country.
The conference, sponsored by the university and hosted by the Department of English and Modern Languages, also included seven sessions over two days of invited authors and poets reading from their works and making presentations.
20th Annual ASU Writers Conference in Honor of Elmer Kelton
Mary Margaret Campbell