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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Longmire author Craig Johnson, actor A Martinez will hit Gonzaga stage together as Johnson launches 20th Longmire novel

At his current pace, Craig Johnson is five years away from publishing as many novels in his Walt Longmire mystery series as the population of the Wyoming town where he lives.

The New York Times bestselling author said he has a strong idea of where his characters will be at the end of the series, but he doesn’t want to get there too soon.

“I feel like I’ve got another 20 years ahead of me before I have to be concerned with where it is that they’re going to end up,” Johnson said. “And yeah, I still am having a great time writing these books.”

Johnson, 63, will launch “First Frost,” the 20th novel in the series, Tuesday at a Spokesman-Review Northwest Passages book club event at Gonzaga University. Actor A Martinez, who played Jacob Nighthorse in the popular “Longmire” television series, will join his friend, Johnson, on the Northwest Passages stage.

“He’s one of the great public speakers,” Martinez said of Johnson. “He’s a storyteller on the highest level and funny and utterly at home in front of an audience. He’s very much akin to the confidence level that Walt Longmire has.”

Besides “Longmire,” people may know Martinez from his starring role in the television soap opera “Santa Barbara,” which ran in the 1980s and early ’90s.

“That show was the first chance I got to start building an audience,” Martinez said during a phone call from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he’s shooting the TV series, “Dark Winds.” “It’s remarkable how many people still love that show.”

He also played a supporting role in the 1972 John Wayne movie, “The Cowboys.”

“To actually get to work with him just seemed surreal,” Martinez said of Wayne. “He was amazing to watch.”

Martinez played in “She-Devil,” starring Meryl Streep in 1989.

“I’ve just had an amazingly varied series of opportunities,” he said. “It’s really more than a person could even dream of.”

Martinez, 75, said “Longmire” “revived” his career and he’s extremely grateful for the show.

The book and TV series center on Longmire, a sheriff in Wyoming who investigates an array of gripping cases.

“I just couldn’t believe how well suited I was to play Jacob Nighthorse,” Martinez said after he read the script.

Martinez said he and Nighthorse, an antagonist who is not in Johnson’s book series, shared a willingness “to speak truth to power” and approached language poetically.

He thought he’d landed the part after a great audition, but had to wait three days for the good news, which was longer than he expected.

“It wasn’t until Friday that my manager called and said, ‘Wow, I don’t know what you did in there, but they sure love you,’ ” Martinez said.

The TV series debuted in 2012 and became the highest-rated original drama series on A&E, where it ran for three seasons. Netflix picked up the series after A&E failed to renew “Longmire.” Three more seasons ran as the series concluded in 2017.

Longmire continues to be a Netflix favorite among viewers.

Martinez and Johnson attributed much of the success of the novels and TV show to Longmire, who Martinez called a “hero.”

Martinez said people are hungry for someone who is committed to doing the right thing, and that’s Longmire.

“I think that’s something that satisfies a hunger that’s incredibly widespread among us,” he said.

“First Frost” reverts to 1964 when Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, embark on an “epic road trip” on infamous Route 66 after the recent college graduates chose to enlist to serve in the Vietnam War with the draft looming, Johnson said Tuesday from his home in Ucross, an unincorporated town of 25 people.

“It’s like the first frost on their lives,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the novel was fun to write and “freeing” to go back into characters’ pasts instead of writing chronologically as some series proceed.

“For me, you’ve got to be pushing the envelope a little bit and trying to do something a little bit different,” he said. “There’s always going to be people that are going to write me after every single book and say I didn’t like the last one. I immediately write them back and go, ‘Don’t worry because the next one’s going to be completely different.’ ”

Johnson is already about 10 chapters into the 21st Longmire novel, “Return to Sender,” slated for next year.

“I like to be at least halfway through a book before I go out on tour for another book just so I feel like I’ve got the momentum going on that book,” he said.

Johnson said he read a story about a Wyoming woman with the longest daily postal route in the U.S. – over 300 miles. The majority of his books originate from news stories.

“With the kind of criminal bent that all crime fiction writers have, my first thought was if she went missing, where would you look for her?” Johnson said.

Johnson will make his fourth appearance on the Northwest Passages stage while Martinez, who grew up and lives in Los Angeles, said he’s never visited Spokane.

Martinez does have a couple of associations with the Lilac City.

He said his uncle played a brief stint for the Spokane Indians decades ago and Martinez met former Indians manager Tommy Lasorda and former Indians player Steve Garvey. Lasorda was managing and Garvey was playing for Martinez’s lifelong favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, when he met them in the early 1980s after a Dodgers win in San Francisco.

Johnson said Martinez, who he called “ferociously intellectual,” read the Longmire series and discussed the novels with Johnson when he started playing Nighthorse. Johnson was a consultant for the show.

“I was just kind of blown away by how insightful he is to the written word,” Johnson said.

The two men have done events similar to Northwest Passages together.

Johnson said Martinez is “a little bit of a day at the circus.”

“He’s an actor, so you never know what you reckon he’s going to do or what might happen,” he said. “So, it’ll be a little bit of a wild card as far as that’s concerned.”