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C.J.BOX in the Spotlight with Ayo Onatade

Written by Ayo Onatade

 New York Times bestselling author C. J. Box is the author of eleven novels including the Joe Pickett series. He won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009) as well as the Anthony Award, Prix Calibre 38 (France), the Macavity Award, the Gumshoe Award, the Barry Award, and the 2010 Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Award for fiction. His short stories have been featured in America’s Best Mystery Stories of 2006 and limited-edition printings. 2008 novel Blood Trail was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin (Ireland) Literary Award. The novels have been translated into 25 languages. Blue Heaven and Nowhere to Run have been optioned for film.


Is there anything of Joe Picket in you?
Certainly a little!  I’m a Wyoming guy who once worked for state government, and I have a lovely wife and three wonderful daughters.  But Joe is Joe.  I think there’s a bit of every author in each character he or she creates, but not as much as some readers think. 

Have you always wanted to write?
Yes, although I grew up aiming toward journalism, not creative writing.  I’m glad now my background was in newspapers and columns, though.  Writing clearly and on deadline are extremely important.

I understand that your first novel Open Season took a long time to write.  How long did it in fact take to write and why?
It took about three years to write, but that wasn’t writing each and every day.  I was writing on spec, so to speak.  So it took a while.  What really took a long time was getting it published.  An agent (now deceased) had it for four years and as far as I can determine never showed it to anyone of note.  Later, when an editor became interested at Putnam, it took another two years to come out.

You started off by writing the Joe Pickett series but have since written a number of standalones. What initially made you decide to write a series and what then made you want to write standalones?
The decision to do a series was based on what the publisher wanted.  I certainly never sat down and declared, “The world needs a series about a Wyoming game warden!”  After my editor read Open Season, she offered a contract for two more books featuring Joe Pickett.  So the series was born, and I’m glad it was.  I do stand-alones because there are subjects that simply don’t lend themselves to the series and I want to stretch my wings a little.  I like doing both.

What makes a character real for you? Must you work everything out about them before hand or do you just let it flow?
It’s all about motivation.  Once the reader (and the writer) know what motivates a character, the rest will flow. 

Open Season when it was published went on to win a slew of first novel awards. How do you feel about the success of the Joe Pickett novels?
I’ve been astonished and very pleased, especially since it took so long to get that first novel published.  I’ve been surprised that issues portrayed in the books (endangered species, energy development, resource management) have international appeal when I’ve always thought of them as very local.

What is it about the Joe Pickett series that makes them so popular and had you considered that this might happen?
I can’t say I know that answer exactly.  It certainly wasn’t planned.  A protagonist who is a state employee, who is happily married with daughters, and who makes mistakes certainly doesn’t fit the genre very well.  But I’ve been heartened that the character and the series have struck a chord with so many readers.

How would you describe your Joe Pickett novels to someone who is about to read them for the first time?
The novels are contemporary western novels featuring a Wyoming game warden confronting large-scale issues in a small-town setting.

With the Joe Pickett series you tend to use an issue/controversy or premise as a background?  For example in Open Season it is the Endangered Species Act. Why did you decide to do this?
I think novels – whether they are in the crime genre or otherwise – should be about something.  I when a reader gets to the last page and closes the book he/she thinks they’ve not only been somewhere exotic and interesting, but they know more about a controversial topic than they did when they started the book.  I don’t write agenda books, but I do try to present both sides of an issue accurately and let the reader come down where they may.

Plot or character? Which do you think is the most important and why?
A successful novel can’t have one without the other, so the answer is: both.

What was the impetus for the different stories in your standalone novels?
Blue Heaven came about when I learned that thousands of ex-LA cops had sold their homes in California and moved to remote and rural North Idaho.  The combination of big-city cops in a backwoods setting seemed like an explosive combination, and the story was hatched.   Three Weeks To Say Goodbye is a horrific story of an adoption gone horribly bad.  It’s based on something that happened to some friends of mine.

In Three Weeks to Say Goodbye the Brit Malcolm Harris is one of the most unappealing that I have read about in a long while. Did you have fun creating the character and is he based on anyone that you know?
Ha!  No, he isn’t based on anyone I know.  But he certainly is awful, isn’t he?  I actually toned him down from the first draft because he was so dark he nearly took over the book.

Who were your influences when you decided to start writing? Do other books still influence your writing and if so what other types of writing are you attracted to?
My favourite author is Thomas McGuane, who is the best stylist I’ve ever read.  I’m also a fan of Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Chandler, A.B. Guthrie, and Joseph Heller.  How’s that for eclectic?

Were you a reader of crime fiction before you started writing it and if so can you remember the very first crime novel that you read?
Yes, although I didn’t really know it at the time.  The first “crime” books I read were a series for kids about a junior detective named Encyclopaedia Brown.  I ate them up.

Do you still find time to read and if so have you got any authors that you prefer to read now?
I read constantly.  In addition to the above authors, I love John Sandford, my fishing buddy T. Jefferson Parker, Deon Meyer, Denise Mina, Tom Wolfe, Richard Russo, Ivan Doig, Daniel Woodrell, Megan Abbott, and Richard Price, to name a few.

Where do you find it the easiest to write and why?
My cabin on the bank of the Encampment River is my favourite place to write.  When I take a break I walk out the door with my fly-rod and fish.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
Fly-fishing, running my dogs, or just hanging around with my wife.

What do you find the most difficult when you are writing?
Finding the time between too many book tours and events.

You have had a wide variety of jobs – a reporter, ranch hand, and fishing guide to name a few.  Has this had an impact on your writing?
Sometimes I think everything I did helped me build the framework and provide the experience and background for writing.

You appear to be a person who loves the outdoors.  Has this had an impact on the way in which Joe Picket is as a character?
Sure!  I’m comfortable in the outdoors and have participated in most of the activities Joe Pickett gets involved in: hiking, trekking, skiing, snowmobiling, riding horses, etc.

In Blue Heaven one of the issues that seems to come across is the fact that it appears that the ranching way of life appears to be disappearing. Is this really the case and what do you believe the reason for this is?
I also explore this in a couple of the Joe Pickett books.  The “traditional” family ranch is going the way of the traditional family farm.  It’s very difficult for individuals to manage large-scale ranches and pass them on to their children.  Many ranches these days are owned by wealthy out-of-state owners who hire foremen to run the ranches and they don’t have the same kind of emotional investment in the land than the former owners.  Plus, real-estate in some of the most beautiful places in the Rocky Mountains is worth much more to developers than to cowboys.

How do you find the time to do the volunteer work that you do for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo? As I understand it you also sit on the board of directors?
I did my time on the board of directors but now I’m retired.  I do still volunteer for the largest outdoor rodeo in the world – Cheyenne Frontier Days.  It’s something I love to be involved in.

Is there anything that you wish to do that you are yet to find the time to do it?
Believe it or not, I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m happy.

If you hadn’t written the Joe Pickett series and the standalones is there anything else you would have wanted to write?
I’m mulling the idea of an historical novel about the mountain-man era in the US.  But if I ever did it, it would be very different from any other kind of book of that type.

How do you manage to balance all that you do?
I don’t know.

What are you off to do once you have finished this interview?
I’m answering these questions from a hotel in New York City.  I’m starting the book tour for the newest Joe Pickett novel, Cold Wind, tomorrow.

What are you working on at the moment?
The next Joe Pickett novel, called (for now) Force of Nature.  It’ll be primarily about Nate Romanowski, the outlaw falconer. He’s an interesting character to write.
What is your relationship with Joe Pickett like?
I like him very much and I have no doubt he’d happily write me a ticket if I did something wrong.

Part and parcel of being a crime writer is all the camaraderie that you get within the crime fiction genre. Do you enjoy going to conferences and book signings?
Yes.  I’ve made some wonderful friends among both writers and readers.  It’s a terrific group of people.

Where is the best place that you have ever held a signing?

I once did a signing at a place called Discount Liquors in Wheatland, Wyoming.

It is clear that you love Wyoming where you grew up and where you live, but if you had to live elsewhere where would it be and why?
Probably Montana.

OK, now for some off-the-wall questions: What one luxury item would you take away with you if you were marooned on a desert island?
My iPhone.  Or a huge roll of duct tape. 

If Joe Pickett could invite five people to dinner whom would they be and why?
Good Lord.  Maybe Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, Flanner O’Connor, and Winston Churchill.  I’m sure I wouldn’t get a word in edgewise.

If you could choose five crime characters, dead or alive, whom you could take to dinner whom would they be and why?
Joe Pike, Nate Romanowski, Jack Reacher, Lucas Davenport, and The Preacher from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  I’d be curious to see who would emerge alive.

If I were to look in Joe Pickett’s fridge what three things would I find?
Elk steaks, eggs, and bacon.

What are you reading at the moment?
Ha!  A Life, by Keith Richards.

Any last words?
You’ve worn me out.  I need a drink.

Thank you very much indeed.
My pleasure,
Chuck Box

The C J Box Set

Corvus has announced an unprecedented roll-out of twelve new books by the multi award-winning US crime writer C.J. Box in a single year. Corvus is set to publish one book a month from Box's New York Times bestselling 'Joe Pickett' series in 2011. Together with the paperback publication of the 2009 Edgar award-winning Blue Heaven in January and a new stand-alone novel in August, the ground-breaking venture shows a major commitment by Corvus to publishing C.J. Box in the UK.

Publisher Nicolas Cheetham says: 'Every crime writer needs a series character, and Corvus has the great pleasure of introducing Joe Pickett to the growing number of C.J. Box's British fans. The Joe Pickett books are addictive, each instalment surpasses the last, and that's saying something when the first book, Open Season, won nearly every crime writing award in the USA. You shouldn't have to wait for something this good, so we're publishing the Pickett novels in quick succession. The best way to watch a hit TV series is to buy the box set and watch them all at once... Why shouldn't it be the same for books? In more ways than one, this is the ultimate Box set.'

Cheetham first introduced C.J. Box to the UK, acquiring three stand alone novels, when he launched the Corvus list in 2009. Box's use of very normal everyday characters placed in extraordinary situations has already proved a big hit with male and female readers in the US. Now, his captivating, morally complex and exceptionally written series featuring Wyoming game-warden Joe Pickett should find a broad and dedicated fan base – and as Cheetham says 'should catapult him into the major league of thriller writers in the UK.'

C.J. Box will make his first ever UK tour in July 2011 and will appear at Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate in the run up to the publication of his new stand alone book, Back of Beyond.

Have you been tempted to read THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE? Why not sample Chapter One? Click HERE


More information on CJ Box, his Joe Pickett series and his standalone novels can be found at:- http://www.cjbox.net

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