Wednesday, May 25, 2011


"He threaded his horse up through gnarled bell-shaped stands of juniper. The trees were heavy with clusters of green buds, and the scent within the stand was sweet and heavy and it reminded him of a gin martini. His horse spooked rabbits that shot out from bunches of tall grass like squeezed grapefruit seeds, and he pushed a small herd of mule deer out ahead of him. It had warmed to the mid-seventies, and as the temperature raised so did the insect hum from the ankle-high grass." From COLD WIND by CJ Box

ROBERTA: I'm so happy to introduce one of my favorite writers to Jungle Red readers: CJ Box. CJ is the author of eleven books in the Joe Pickett game warden series, along with two standalones. 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. He's an amazing storyteller, but the plot is not what I read for because his character and setting are so outstanding. (And don't let the black hat put you off--he's also a really nice guy.)

Thanks for coming over to the blog today, CJ. One of the absolute best part of your series is your main character, Joe Pickett. He's a man of firm principles--so firm that he backs himself into corners because he isn't willing to compromise. And he has complex and believable relationships with his wife, his daughters, his friends, and his dreaded mother-in-law. You've written eleven books in this series and yet Joe springs to life in each book and you push the boundaries of his character and relationships a little further. Can you talk about how you manage to do that?

CJ: Thank you for the very kind words. I never set out with a strategic plan, I have to say. Joe Pickett was to be the protagonist in one stand-alone novel about the Endangered Species Act called OPEN SEASON. Not until the publisher Putnam acquired the manuscript and asked for two more with the game warden and his family did I give it much thought.

I'm a reader, too, and I know that these kinds of series can suspend disbelief. Realistically, no hero or family could be expected to put up with so much year after year and not implode. So, in an effort to make every OTHER aspect of the series as natural and real as possible, I age the characters a year with each book and draw on their experiences from past events to shape their lives. Because they age in real time, they change. Joe, for example, is still no superhero, but he has put on some bark from the many scrapes and betrayals. And his children have aged from pre-schoolers to high school and college students. It keeps things lively and, I hope, true to life.

ROBERTA: Setting is another aspect of writing in which CJ excels, as you can tell by the opening quote from COLD WIND. CJ, please tell us about your connection to Wyoming. And talk about how you weave important environmental issues into your books without killing the pace?

CJ: I start with the issue or topic the book will address, such as wind energy, environmental terrorism, property rights, etc. and do the research. Then, when I think I have a fairly good -- and balanced -- understanding of the issue I try to figure out how to pull a reader through that topic in what I hope will be an interesting, page-turning way. I don't write agenda books and my goal isn't to persuade readers that my view of the controversy is absolutely correct. I try to present both sides as best I can and let the reader come down where they wish. My hope, though, is that some readers may entertain the other side of issues as they haven't before they picked up the novel.

ROBERTA: What's coming next?

CJ: I have a third stand-alone novel called BACK OF BEYOND out the first of August. The protagonist is sort of an anti-Joe Pickett type: a sheriff's department investigator who is an alcoholic who has driven his family away and screwed up his life. He's a loose cannon. His name is Cody Hoyt and he was introduced in THREE WEEKS TO SAY GOODBYE. In the novel, he's investigating an apparent suicide in a mountain cabin in Montana when he becomes convinced it was a murder and the bad guy is currently on a multi-day horsepack trip in the ultimate wilderness of Yellowstone Park. And on that same trip is Cody's estranged son. It's a good one, I think, and similar in structure and style to BLUE HEAVEN with multiple points of view told over a tight timeline in real time.

ROBERTA: And last but not least, since it's twitter week on Jungle Red, do you tweet? Do you see a future for writers in Twitter or are there better ways to connect with readers and get the word out about new books?

CJ: I'll confess that I don't tweet but I do have the privilege of working with some fans who do so on my behalf. I do have a very extensive website which is updated daily (if necessary) and a facebook page with quite a few fans. I think there is probably a way a fiction writer can do tweets that are interesting to followers, but I'm not sure I'm capable of it and I need to spend more time writing. I do interact with readers on the website and on facebook.

ROBERTA: You can find lots more about CJ at his website. Thanks so very much for agreeing to be our guest!

CJ: My pleasure, Roberta.


  1. Hi, CJ -
    I'm a big fan of your work, and though I appreciate the great use of setting and the surprising/believable plots, it's always the characters--and more than that the relationships--that stick with me. Do you think you (author) "know" everything there is to know about Joe Pickett, or do you find out something new with each new story?

  2. No strategic plan?!! I am dark green with envy!!

  3. No strategic plan?!! I am dark green with envy!!

  4. I love all of Chuck's books. He is a gifted storyteller and it shows. I helped him with the medical/forensic stuff in a scene in this book. The erie windmill scene. Chuck had done his research and knew exactly what he needed to know before he asked his questions. This is the hallmark of a professional writer and Chuck is definitely that. Keep the books coming. They just keep getting better.

  5. I'm also a big fan (I actually accosted you at Bcon in Indy to tell you..) What I particularly admire about your writing is that it appears effortless - but of course we know it isn't. I'm many drafts do you generally write?

  6. Hi CJ! So nice to have you on JR. Your decision to keep your series in real time is interesting. When story-time runs more slowly than real-time, as it does in my series, it requires some suspension of disbelief on the reader's part.

    (My first book came out in '93. In fourteen books, only four years have passed in series-time, which leads to some weird anachronisms.)

    Any thoughts or preferences on this from other series writers, and readers?

  7. Hey CJ--I am SUCH a fan! And it was great to connect with you last year at...where was that? Anyway.

    I agree--your writing seems so effortless and natural.

    How hard dot you have to work at THAT?

  8. When I volunteer at The Very Small Library, I always recommend CJ's books/Steve Hamilton/William Kent Krueger/Craig Johnson as a kind of read-alike group. I know there's not a formal genre name for it, but I think of them as "Rugged Good Guy In The Woods" mysteries.

    I also love the way Joe Pickett and his family age more-or-less in real time. It makes me feel like I'm catching up with real people after an involuntary separation!

  9. Crap: I just posted a long comment answering everybody, but when I checked back it was missing.

    Let's see if this works...

  10. Okay, I'll try again.

    First, Roberta, thanks for the opportunity and great job with the interview. You're always a pleasure to work with.

    Hallie, I should know everything there is to know about Joe Pickett, but I'm always a little surprised when he says or does something I hadn't planned.

    DP, thank you again for all your help and for your kind words here.

    Rosemary, I constantly edit and rewrite the manuscript as I work on it. When it's done I do the smartest thing of all: I give it to my wife.

    Deb, all of our series require a healthy suspension of disbelief. I hope that by writing them in real time it mitigates the situation a little.

    Hank, it was Birmingham! And I only wish it was as effortless as you suggest. Thank you, though.

    Julia, thank you and congratulations on the success of your new novel!

    Again, thanks for this opportunity.