Craig Johnson and Willow Creek Ranch

I’m holding his latest novella while posing with Craig Johnson

by Neva Bodin


I’m exhausted and energized. One week of nursing assistant classes done—making up tests, determining the schedule, covering chapters, providing practice labs and lecturing all day to nine amazing students ages 18-60. Two more weeks to go….

But in the middle of the week I took most of the day off to attend a luncheon at a writer’s retreat while my teaching partner took the class. And I am re-energized to get back to writing.

The Willow Creek Ranch near Kaycee, WY put on a writer’s retreat/workshop that was a week long. Writers came from far way: New Hampshire, Michigan, Washington DC, and others.

We sometimes had to stop for cows and their curious babies on the road and even an antelope lying in the road resting.

The rustic remote setting ( found after miles of winding gravel/dirt, hilly road) surrounded by red buttes and cliffs, the fresh air punctuated by the cries of orphan lambs, the bucolic scene with horses, cattle and sheep wandering through it, spoke to my country yearning heart. The speaker for the unusually delicious lunch the day I was there spoke to my creative soul. We ate under the trees in the yard, and the food was served on the back board of a chuck wagon.

A beautiful setting for lunch and inspiration


The speaker was New York Times Best Selling Author Craig Johnson, a WY rancher from Ucross, who is now a well-known author and creator of the Walt Longmire TV series that played on A & E in the past and is now on Netflix. He is a very nice guy.

I first met him when he critiqued a manuscript of mine several years ago at a writer’s conference in Jackson, WY. My husband went along on the trip (about 245 miles from our home) and we camped in a beautiful valley full of buffalo, which I had to slowly slither my car through every morning as they owned and occupied the road.

Craig was very gracious even though my script needed lots of work. (Another author there delivered his critique with a rather sneering attitude. I am working on forgiveness…) Craig said this week, when I thanked him for his past critique, that he always wants to “fan the flame” of an aspiring writer.

Craig told of his search for an agent in New York and the doors that didn’t open until finally one did, and then his success. He told of his slow start—he interviewed a real-life sheriff in his county, (fictional Walt Longmire is a Wyoming sheriff) and then concentrated on building his ranch for ten years. When he rekindled his interest in his book, and re-interviewed the sheriff, the sheriff ticked him off by remembering his visit, and saying his book had a slow start, and this gave him the inspiration to get it done. I think he said he has written 13 books now, all big sellers, his TV show is a success, and I bought his latest novella: The Highwayman.

He recommended Stegner’s book on writing, I didn’t write a title, but I just ordered ON Teaching and Writing Fiction by Wallace Stegner. I hope that’s the one!

He said the voices of the characters in a book should be so strong, you can eliminate the “he said/she said” from the dialogue. He outlines. He feels there is no such thing as writer’s block and outlining will show you where to go next. He says to “listen to the voices” in your head, but to always remember the writer is in the driver’s seat directing those voices. I was so busy listening, I forgot to take more notes than that. But I felt inspired.

A bucolic setting with cows, horses and sheep completing the picture.

And I sadly (for me) left a friend and the other writers who still had two more days to learn and write in that idyllic setting—a rustic, sun-drenched and generationally owned ranch, in the middle of Wyoming.



20 thoughts on “Craig Johnson and Willow Creek Ranch

  1. Neva,
    Isn’t it wonderful to meet such supportive authors? I’m thrilled you had the chance to spend time again with a gracious person. Thank you for sharing his insights and journey. Here’s to the stories we tell. Doris


  2. Neva- that was excellent that you took the time off for the Writing luncheon. Now your job might be to rein in any frustration over the next couple of weeks till you can get stuck into new fiction writing. Good luck with that!


    1. You have certainly hit the nail on the head with that one! I have to put my life on hold pretty much during the three weeks I teach, and during the month before as I interview and accept students. IT’s amazing how much time goes into that! I had three people who had paid tuition then backed out this time. I interviewed and accepted 18 and ended up with nine students! Which are still a handful when arranging clinical experiences with other facilities and teaching them skills. Can’t wait to get to writing again for my OWN pleasure!


  3. This sounds interesting. I don’t know why there are so many writers’ conferences in one month. I already went to the Wyoming Writers conference in Riverton, and I just didn’t have the strength to attend another in the same month. Oh well…


    1. It was a great break from my class, even though I made a brief appearance in the morning before leaving and met with my partner at the end of the day. But I loved the luncheon and speaker. Thanks for the comments.


  4. What a fantastic retreat! I heard Craig Johnson is one of the nicest guys. I would love to meet him one day. He was a store favorite where I worked as a bookseller. Sounds amazing and inspiring, Neva! Lucky you!


    1. I agree, I was lucky that day, and blessed! Craig is a nice guy, he’s genuine and talented. I also live next door to Frederick Savage, not the actor but the author, he has three books out and is a good writer too. He just became my neighbor last year. No excuse for me I guess not to get going on my writing more seriously!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Neva,
    What a treat to meet and talk to Craig. I read his first book awhile ago and always wanted to read more. I met him at a mystery bookstore I used to work at and he and his wife were very nice and unpretentious.
    We all need a boost to our writing machine and it looks like you got yours.
    Thanks for the post.
    – Stephen


  6. Sounds like a great trip and in inspiring stop. I met Craig at a LCC a couple of years ago and found him very gracious too. I suspect doing real ranching grounds him and gives him a different perspective on life. I’d love to go to that kind of writers’ retreat.


  7. I’m SO GLAD you were able to go!! What a wonderful experience. Now, to plan for our writer’s retreat in August…! Best to you as your class continues forth and your writing awaits your return. Hugs, friend!


  8. We tend to find inspiration and get reenergized when we are around like minded people. Glad you had a chance to escape to the retreat even if it was only for a short while.


  9. I would love to go to the week-long writing retreat in WY, it sounds wonderful. I’ve always wanted to vacation at a Dude Ranch, but a writer’s conference would be even better. I haven’t got to meet Craig Johnson in person yet, but I know he is a native WV, so that makes him seem like family. Thanks for sharing, and I’m glad you got to go to part of the retreat. Cher’ley


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