If you see a ruggedly handsome man in a black cowboy hat looking a little out of place in Telfair Square this weekend, it may be award-winning author and Wyoming native C.J. Box. Christina Kelly sidles up and shares a chat with the bestselling mystery writer.
C.J. Box isn’t your average mystery writer. He’s the New York Times best-selling author of seventeen novels, including thirteen in the critically acclaimed Joe Pickett series. Box’s writing appeals to such a wide and loyal audience because of his memorable characters and riveting plots. Also, he’s not afraid to include real-life controversies in his fiction, undertaking such diverse topics as wind farms, animal rights, and the zero-footprint theme.
As a testament to his craft, he’s won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel in 2009 for Blue Heaven, among other prizes. His books have been translated into 25 languages and both Blue Heaven and Nowhere to Run have been optioned for films.
Fortunately, his fans don’t have long to wait for more from C.J. Box. The fourteenth novel in the Joe Pickett series,Stone Cold, will be published in March and his first short-story collection, Shots Fired, will appear this summer. As well, his Joe Pickett novels are being pitched as a television series by executive producer Robert Redford. Not bad for this outdoorsman who’s as comfortable on a trout river as he is on a best-seller list.
Savannah magazine: If somebody walked in on you writing, what would they see?
C.J. Box: I’d either be at my desk in my basement office in Cheyenne or at a desk at my cabin on a trout river two and a half hours away from Cheyenne. In both cases, it would be a boring sight. I write best when I can’t look out a window and have the fewest possible distractions. I can’t have one of those idyllic light-filled rooms Ernest Hemingway used to brag about. If I could see outside (especially at my cabin) I’d see that trout were rising and I’d have to go catch them. At home, my view right now is of a snow-filled window well. There are rifles and other things on the walls, but if somebody walked in on me writing they’d walk away and say, “What a dull guy.”
SM: What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from those books?
C.J. Box: Very early on, I was a big fan of the Encyclopedia Brown series. I graduated from that to books like A.B. Guthrie’s The Big Sky and I read all of the James Bond novels. My favorite novel is still Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and my favorite writer is Thomas McGuane. Favorite hero? Probably Philip Marlowe from the Raymond Chandler novels.
Savannah magazine: Joe Pickett is your most well-known character. Are there any parts of him that are based on yourself?
C.J. Box: I think for every writer there is a piece of them in every character he/she creates. With some, it’s more than others. Like Joe Pickett, I have daughters and I love my wife. I’m also an outdoorsman. But I’ve never been a game warden or worked in law enforcement, and I don’t seek danger in practically every situation. Also, I’m a better shot.
Savannah magazine: You’re often shown wearing a black cowboy hat which is most commonly associated with villains. Are you more a villain or a hero?
C.J. Box: This is where I can reveal to you a little about the culture in the West! Black hats vs. white hats is an old western movie thing. In real life, men wear black hats in the winter months and straw hats in the summer months. There are a few men who wear silver-belly Stetsons (I’ve got one) but black is the preferred color and it has nothing to do with the color of one’s heart.
Savannah magazine: Have your three adult daughters read your books?
C.J. Box: They’ve read all of the books. In fact, they help me out with first drafts and make suggestions and sometimes offer better ideas. Because they’ve read all the books they sometimes have a better overall perspective of the series than I do. My wife, Laurie, is my first reader and she’s an excellent editor.
Savannah magazine: You’ve written about federal government workers, long-haul truckers, serial killers, and some rather shady characters, so how do you research your books?
C.J. Box: I enjoy the research part of each book and I try to get it right. I’ve accompanied cross-country long-haul truckers, climbed to the top of wind turbines, fired the largest handgun in the world, and traveled to interview the locals in places where I’m setting a novel. I find it very rewarding to hear from readers that I got the details right.
Savannah magazine: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
C.J. Box: As goofy as it sounds, I’m always astonished to learn from (some) aspiring writers that they don’t read much or read widely. I guess they like the sound of their own voice too much. Readers may not. Writers should read both critically and for entertainment to figure out how successful authors do it in regard to craft, characterization, motivation, point of view, etc. It’s right there on the page.
Savannah magazine: You’ve published 17 novels in 13 years. How do you keep up this pace? What gives you inspiration?
C.J. Box: If I was waiting for inspiration I’d be working on Book Two. I write because it’s my job. Plumbers can’t take a day off because they have plumber’s block. I just go to work every day like everyone else. But I also love it and I think I’ve got the best job in the world. I’m just happy so many readers all over the world like the books.
Savannah magazine: Much of your writing is based in Wyoming, where you live. Perhaps it’s time to introduce your characters to Savannah. Possible?
C.J. Box: One never knows. I was invited to give a talk this year in Wilson, N.C. and now Wilson is a location for the book I’m writing at the moment. I’m kind of a location predator.