Most of the action in C.J. Box’s books — and there is plenty of it — takes place outside.
To some degree, Box is similar to his best-loved character, Joe Pickett, a game warden who finds himself solving mysteries. “I was never a game warden, but I do have three daughters, so I do incorporate that into the books,” Box says. “I’m a pretty avid outdoorsman, and hunting and fishing are a pretty important part of my life.”
Throughout his career, Box has written 15 novels, including his Joe Pickett series, and some stand-alone novels. A native of Wyoming, he lives with his family outside of Cheyenne.
“Open Season,” the first novel in the Joe Pickett series, was included in The New York Times list of “Notable Books” of 2001.
Box won the Anthony, Macavity, Gumshoe and Barry awards for “Open Season,” all in the Best First Novel category.
“Blue Heaven,” Box’s first stand-alone novel, won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel of 2008. He has also won the Prix Calibre 38 Award, presented in France.
When he first wrote “Open Season,” Box wasn’t planning a series. “The subject matter was the Endangered Species Act,” he says.
“Some creatures thought extinct were found,” Box says. “I found that a game warden worked better with that idea than any other protagonist.”
After earning a journalism degree, Box worked for a small weekly newspaper in Wyoming and wrote a column while working on his first manuscript.
“I always wanted to be an author at some point, but didn’t know what that would entail,” he says.
“It took almost 20 years from once I started working on the manuscript to getting a novel published,” Box says. “While I was working at the newspaper, on the side I was working in fiction.”
The subject matter and setting of the novel determine whether it is a standalone or a series book. Box’s newest book, “Stone Cold,” is a Joe Pickett novel that will be published March 11.
“‘Blue Heaven’ had to be set in northern Idaho,” Box says. “That dictated that it had to be a standalone. All my standalones have primarily taken place in places other than Wyoming.
“Most are issue-based in some way or another, about some kind of contemporary issue in the West. I research that issue and incorporate it into the book.
“These aren’t agenda books and I don’t necessarily have a political viewpoint, but I do explore environmental issues, like fracking and that kind of thing,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to find subject matter.”
Even more important than the subject is the writing style.
“In the first few books, it was simply getting a handle on the craft of it to make sure the book is page-turning and things happen when they’re supposed to happen and conclude when they’re supposed to conclude,” Box says. “It takes a while to get into the rhythm of things.”
Characters come next.
“A lot of my characters seem like real persons to me,” Box says. “It’s not like I imagine them talking to me.
“But I certainly know how he thinks and how he would react in given situations mainly because the books have all been told in real time from the first one. Joe Pickett and his family have all gotten older.
“They’ve kind of grown, but changed,” Box says. “I’m a reader, too. I get put off when I read a series where people never really age or have scars from the last book. I can’t buy that.”
After writing in the morning, Box edits what he wrote in the afternoon.
“I do it more by word count than by hours,” he says. “I write a minimum of 1,000 words per day and sometimes I get much higher than that.”
Having a fan base and winning awards is a perk for Box.
“It feels like validation,” he says. “As a writer, it’s a pretty solitary thing. It’s great validation to get an award after a year or two of working.”
When Box meets fans, they are likely to ask about the characters and the issues that are addressed.
“They ask, ‘Did this really happen?’” he says.
Box’s own inspirations include Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Connolly and his favorite author, Thomas McGuane.
“As a stylist, there’s nobody better,” he says. “I read all the time.”
IF YOU GO
What: C.J. Box at Savannah Book Festival
When: 4-5 p.m. Feb. 15
Where: Trinity United Methodist Church, Telfair Square
Go to Facebook.com/DoSavannah and enter to win one of four exclusive early printings of the latest novel by C.J. Box, “Stone Cold.” This book will not be released until March 11, so it will not be for sale at the Savannah Book Festival. These four copies can be taken to the event to be signed by the author. All other books must be purchased on site.