NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wyoming-based author C.J. Box has just released “Force of Nature,” the 12th in his series of mysteries starring Joe Pickett, a game warden in the Bighorn Mountains.
“Force of Nature” features Pickett’s longtime friend Nate Romanowski, a man with a secret past that comes back to haunt him and puts Pickett and his family in danger.
Box spoke to Reuters about the series, developing his characters and the writing process.
Q: You’ve said you never set out to write a series. How did it come about, and how do you keep the characters fresh and appealing after 12 books?
A: “There are writers out there who sit down and say, ‘I’m going to write a series about a game warden.’ No, nobody says that. Nobody is that dumb, but (to write about) some kind of sleuth with a quirky something and I didn’t do that.
“The first book “Open Season” in my mind was more about the issue of endangered species and how well-meaning legislation can go screwy on the ground, and the protagonist happened to be a game warden. To me it was more about the issue.
“It took four years after I finished it for a publisher to want to publish it, and it was Penguin Putnam, and when they bought it, they offered to give me a contract for two other books with Joe Pickett. So that’s how it got started.”
Q: So how do you keep the characters fresh and appealing?
A: “The books take place in real time. Most of them take place a year after the last. So the characters age a year, the kids in the family age and because they’re all growing up and they’re not stuck in time, there’s a different scenario with each book. That change, I think, it keeps them fresh.”
Q: A lot of your plots have to do with everything from energy production to developers to ecoterrorism, natural gas, wind power, mining. Where do you get your ideas?
A: “I keep big clip files on contemporary issues and controversies in the West. Also, I live out here so I’m not cloistered somewhere. I hear what people are saying.
“I follow the news and the politics and try to explore a lot of things that people are talking about in I hope a well-balanced way. I try to have characters give their opinions on both sides and trust the reader to come down where they want to.
“To me, a book whatever the genre, needs to be about something besides who done it so that when the reader is done, you feel like you’ve learned something about an issue that maybe you didn’t even think you cared about.”
Q: Your books have some gruesome depictions, like the dead body swinging from the wind turbine in “Cold Wind.”
A: “When you write these kind of books, you look at everything, every object as a potential murder weapon.”
Q: Are your characters bits and pieces of people you know? Are they composites? Does anyone ever recognize themselves?
A: “People claim to ... and I just sort of smile because generally they aren’t based on people.”
Q: Is there any of you in the characters? Is there any of you in Joe Pickett?
A: “Like Joe, I tend to look at a lot of controversial issues as looking for a reasonable middle in a lot of things.
“I kind of take his outlook. I have a family and daughters and I know what it’s like to not make much money and come home and try to reconcile work with family and that kind of thing.”
Q: What about your writing process? How long does it take to write a book? Do you have more than one in the works?
A: “The Joe Pickett ones tend to take seven to nine months after the research is done. That’s kind of fast, but that’s simply because with a series you start with a set premise and characters and you kind of know a general direction and an arc.
“First I do the research. I build kind of like a casebook of facts and figures knowing that 90 percent of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor but knowing that I’ve got an understanding.
“Then I do an outline and then I always try to figure out a way to pull the reader through an issue in a page-turning way and then I build the plot.
“Then I literally write on top of the outline, and I outline it all the way to the end so I know where it’s going, although it seems half the time I change the ending when I get there.”
Q: Who do you read? What kinds of authors?
A: “I read really widely. I tend to read fiction, nonfiction and probably about every fourth one, or maybe more, is a mystery or crime thriller.
My favorite author is Thomas McGuane, who is considered a literary novelist. He lives in Montana and I think he is the best.”
Q: Have any of your books been optioned for film or television?
A: “Yes, and it’s really frustrating because nothing ever seems to get made.”
Q: Who would you like to see play Joe Pickett?
A: “Joe Pickett in my mind is a game warden and not an actor, so I don’t have anybody in mind. He’s never actually described other than of middle height and middle age, so whoever you think he is, he is. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I’m glad I did it that way now.”
Editing by Patricia Reaney