I’m thrilled to welcome New York Times best-selling author and the writer inspiration for not one but two TV series C. J. BOX to my author nook. I met him at the PrimeCrime Writers Conference in Indianapolis in October of 2022 and was immediately taken by his gracious personality and his willingness to engage with the assembly of writers. Plus, I love a great western tale, and C.J. has crafted over thirty novels, which include the Joe Pickett and the Hoyt/Dewell series as well as several stand-alone works. He has won an Edgar Allen Poe Award as well as an Anthony and continues to grow his readership with new adventures. The latest in the Joe Pickett collection, STORM WATCH, releases on February 28.
A Wyoming native, the setting for many of his novels, Box has worked as a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, and a small-town newspaper reporter and editor. He and his wife Laurie also owned an international tourism marketing firm. An avid outdoorsman, Box has hunted, fished, hiked, ridden, and skied throughout Wyoming and the Mountain West. He served on the Board of Directors for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo and currently serves on the Wyoming Office of Tourism Board. CJ and Laurie have three daughters and two grandchildren. He and his wife Laurie live on their ranch in Wyoming.
Janet Irvin: C.J., welcome to the nook. I’m excited to introduce you and your work to new readers as well as share your thoughts about writing and your books with those who are already fans. One aspect of your novels that stands out to me is the setting. Having visited Wyoming, run the rapids, ridden horseback there, visited museums, and attended a rodeo, I found the grandeur and beauty of Wyoming intriguing. For you, as a novelist, what is the most compelling part of plac your stories there?
C.J. Box: As you mention, Wyoming is a huge state (about the size of France) with a low population (650,000 residents) with very diverse landscape and scenery. I try to incorporate the physical attributes and environmental reality of the state into all of my books. Over the years, I’ve moved the storylines to different places within the state, and to different situations. Since they’re all “outdoor” books, the terrain and weather play a very important role and I strive to get it right.
JEI: Your stories focus on families, and several feature children front and center. How much of this was a conscious choice and how much was an organic outgrowth of each plot?
CJB: I’ve included children in the novels since the very first book, and several of the books have points of view from young people included. I think I do this because it makes the books more realistic and serious. I enjoy writing from different points of view, and I hope it makes the novels richer overall. Plus, I think the stakes are higher for the reader if they get to know and identify with members of the family.
JEI: You are a prolific writer. How do you keep your ideas fresh and original?
CJB: I used to be a journalist, and I still get fascinated by things I read, hear, or observe – and I want to know more about them. All of the books contain certain issues or controversies aside from the mystery or crime element, and those topics (I hope) keep the ideas fresh and original.
JEI: You have held many jobs, providing you with a wealth of experience in a variety of roles. How did each experience contribute to your storytelling development? Was one area more influential in making the decision to write novels?
CJB: I think writers are hard-wired to write, no matter what they do or whatever the circumstances. In some ways, every job I ever had was unconscious training for me as a novelist. I’ve been able to travel widely around the world as well as within the mountain west states, and I hope those experiences enrich the novels.
JEI: You obviously love the outdoor life and you have a family. How do you structure your writing to fit with your active lifestyle?
CJB: I now try to get as much work as possible done during the long winter months on our ranch so that time is freed in the summer and fall for outdoor pursuits. It works pretty well.
JEI: What is the greatest challenge to writing a series?
CJB: Keeping it fresh and interesting. I’ve abandoned many series as a reader when I start to think each subsequent book is too similar to the last one I read. The fact that my books progress in real-time allows for the maturation of the characters and makes the characters more interesting, I think. Longtime readers of the Joe Pickett novels have literally watched the entire family change and grow before their eyes.
JEI: Which part of the writing process brings you the greatest reward? (Besides the monetary…:))
CJB: Well, the sales are pretty important! But besides that, I’m always thrilled when readers who may not read a lot (usually young men and retired men) embrace the books. Often, it leads to these people reading further and not just me, which is always good. Plus, it’s rewarding to confirm that there’s an audience out there for “outdoor” rural stories with complex characters.
JEI: In the past, much of what was written or filmed about the West romanticized or criticized the region. It seems that is changing, but old ideas persist. How do your novels contribute to dispelling stereotypes about the West?
CJB: It has always annoyed me (and still does) that so many books set in the west relied on worn-out cliches and mythological storylines. The mountain west is a complex region filled with interesting people. I try to portray the region as it is, not as people have seen it in movies or western novels.
JEI: With the success of your work and the current series on TV, it would seem you have achieved a great deal. What goals have you set for yourself going forward?
CJB: Actually, two TV series: BIG SKY on ABC and JOE PICKETT on Paramount Plus. Both have helped introduce my books to more and more people who might not have known about them otherwise. I don’t consider television series or movies to be the pinnacle of success. For me, writing good books is my goal.
JEI: Thinking about all your books, do you have a favorite character? A favorite villain?
CJB: I’m very fond of both Joe Pickett and Cassie Dewell. I don’t think I could write about them otherwise. When it comes to villains (there have been a LOT of them), I think the Lizard King from THE HIGHWAY and the Cates Family in the Joe Pickett books stand out as bad folks.
JEI: What’s next for CJ Box?
CJB: STORM WATCH will come out at the end of February 2023. It’s the 23rd Joe Pickett novel. I’m already working on the next one now.
JEI: Long-time followers of the author feature know I like to diverge into something a little lighter at the end of the interview. So, of all the great places to visit in Wyoming, which one is a must-see?
CJB: Everyone should visit Yellowstone National Park. It’s a place so unique that the concept of national parks was born there.
JEI: And what’s your favorite meal?
CJB: My favorite meal is steak from our ranch.
JEI: My thanks to C.J. Box for joining me this month. His new novel — STORM WATCH — comes out at the end of the month. Below are the covers from a selection of his novels.
For more about C.J., visit the following:
To contact C.J. Box: Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency, 212/684-6936, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Joe Pickett Novels: Katie Grinch, Penguin/Putnam, 212/366-2574, email@example.com
The Cody Hoyt/Cassie Dewell and Stand-Alone Novels: Hector DeJean, St. Martins Press, 646-307-5560, firstname.lastname@example.org