Friday, August 6, 2010

C. J. Box Has Nowhere to Run

C. J. Box
by Jean Henry Mead

I'm always happy to feature a fellow mystery writer from Wyoming, and C. J. Box is among the best. His first stand-along novel, Blue Heaven, won an Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2008 and has been optioned for film. Three Weeks to Say Goodbye was published in January 2009 and debuted on the New York Times extended bestseller list. His ninth Joe Pickett novel, Below Zero, released in June of last year, also became a bestseller.

C. J. writes for two publishers: Putnam for the Joe Pickett series and St. Martins Press for his stand-alone novels. "Each wants a book a year," he said. "I work every day with my best work in the mornings. I edit and do other things in the afternoons. When I'm at my cabin or an isolated place, I work in one or two more writing sessions and sometimes go deep into the night. My goal is always 1,000 good words a day, but sometimes I exceed that. And sometimes I fall short."

An avid hunter-fisherman, he was working as a news reporter in the small town of Saratoga in southern Wyoming when he began work on his novel, first Joe Picket novel, Open Season. He spent, and still spends, considerable time outdoors and went on ride-alongs with the local game wardens while formulating the premise for his own fictional game warden-sleuth. He said, "As I learned more about the duties and responsibilities and home life of a game warden, I thought a game warden would be a great protagonist. I'm glad I chose correctly."

Winning an Edgar Award and finding himself on the New York bestseller list  was "fantastic because the Edgar is an honor bestowed on my fellow novelists for quality and being on the NYT list means readers are buying the books. I think all Edgar winners want to be bestselling authors, and all bestselling crime novelists want to win an Edgar. So I'm a lucky guy."

Which of his novels was the most difficult to write and does he have a favorite among them? "Blue Heaven was the most difficult because of the structure. The novel is told from six points of view within 60 hours in real time. Only the reader knows completely what's going on. Multiple points-of-view can get really, really tricky. If the reader doesn't think of the structure or difficulty, that means it worked. But getting there is tough." He likes all his novels for different reasons, "the way a parent likes his or her children. But if someone held a gun to my head and made me choose, I'd say Blue Heaven, Free Fire, Winterkill, and Open Season are my favorites."

When asked about the best way to promote his books, he said, "Books are still sold one at a time by people to other people. It's a very basic, low-tech business and it's driven by word-of-mouth. Getting out and meeting readers and potential readers is the best way to build a career, I think. Of course, if the books aren't good it doesn't matter either way."

His advice to aspiring novelists is short and to the point: "Read! It always amazes me when fledgling novelists don't read widely or often. More can be learned from reading than classes or courses. And if you choose to use the west as your location, please be authentic and stay away from western 'characters' and hokum."

But what makes a novel successful? "The reader must empathize with a character or several characters. And the novel should be structured so the reader wants to keep turning pages. There are so many entertainment options out there. And an author must realize the reader has choices, and one of the easiest choices of all is to put the book down if it isn't compelling."

His latest Joe Picket novel, Nowhere to run, was based on a real-life Wyoming game warden's encounter with sinister mountain men who happened to be twin brothers. His tenth Joe Pickett novel takes the game warden into darker territory than he's ever experienced before. "Pickett's eerie last patrol as a temporary game warden in a remote mountainous area turns into a savage brush with death, followed by a crisis of conscience that drives Pickett back into the same mountains to rescue Diane Shober, an Olympic runner who vanished there—and to bring the Grim brothers, who are suspected of poaching--and maybe worse--to justice."

He's currently working on another stand-alone, Back of Beyond, and reports that it's going well. I asked if  he'd rather be hunting, fishing or writing, to which he replied. "I'd rather be combining the three, to be honest. Do a productive session at the computer, grab my fly rod, and come back later to write a little more. That, for me, is the perfect day."

Visit his website at: C.J. Box

1 comment:

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks for the post, Jean. I always enjoy reading about other people.