Blue Heaven, C.J. Box's first stand-alone novel, 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 NY Times extended bestseller list. His ninth Joe Pickett novel, Below Zero, became his biggest bestseller to date.
Chuck, how do you manage to write two novels a year? What’s your writing schedule like?
Two books a year is kind of a temporary predicament that came about because I've got two publishers: Putnam for the Joe Pickett series and St. Martins Press for the stand-alone novels. Each wants a book a year. It's worked out because the first stand-alone Blue Heaven was already written so, for me, it's been more like nine months between writing the books which is just about right for me.
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.
I know that you’re an avid hunter-fisherman. Were you in the Wyoming outback when you conceived your series characters, game warden Joe Pickett?
I was working as a newspaper reporter in Saratoga, Wyoming, when I first started working on the novel which would later become Open Season, the first Joe Pickett novel. I spent (and spend) a lot of time outdoors and while I was coming up with the premise I was doing ride-alongs with the local game warden for newspaper stories.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.
Would you rather be hunting or fishing than writing?
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.
How does it feel to not only win an Edgar Award but to make the New York Times bestseller list?
It feels 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 best-selling authors, and all best-selling crime novelists want to win an Edgar.So I'm a lucky guy.
How did your novel, Below Zero, evolve?
I'd heard about carbon offset companies over the years and was both fascinated and repulsed by the concept of, in effect, buying out ones guilt for producing a carbon footprint by paying money to one of the organizations.I researched the concept and built it into one of the primary storylines of the novel.In it, a dying mobster finds out the only way he can reconcile with his extreme environmentalist son is to try and bring his massive carbon footprint to "below zero" by the time he passes.Because he only has a few weeks to live, he has to commit large-scale crimes to make his balance drop.
At the same time, Joe Pickett's daughters start receiving text messages from a foster sister who they thought had died six years before.Investigation reveals the texts have originated from locations where major crimes have occurred.As Joe pursues this, the two storylines merge.
Which of your novels was the most difficult to write and do you 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.
I like all my 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.
What’s the best way to promote your books? Personal appearances or the Internet?
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.
Advice to budding western mystery novelists?
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.
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 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.
You can visit C.J. Box at his website: http://www.cjbox.net/