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Best-selling author C.J. Box will make appearance in Coalville

C.J. Box's new novel, "Breaking Point," debuted on the New York Times Best Seller list at No. 5. It's the 13th book in the series that features the character Joe Pickett, a game warden who lives in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming. (Image courtesy of C.J. Box)
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In 2001, Wyoming-based author C.J. Box made his publishing debut with the mystery, "Open Season."

The novel introduced a character Joe Pickett, a game warden who lives in Twelve Sleep, Wyo.

It launched Box’s best-selling career that continues with his new work, "Breaking Point."

Box, who will give a public presentation at North Summit High School on May 7, said the book is the 13th in the series and continues the evolution of Pickett’s character.

"(Throughout the years), Joe has developed as a character because the stories in the books are told in real time," Box said during a phone call from his home in Wyoming. "In fact, everybody gets older in each book and over time, and though Joe has aged and matured, he still maintains the values he had in the first book."

Sometimes, keeping the character intact while developing other attributes is a trick, the writer said.

"You know readers of a series like this must suspend their beliefs about the things that happen, but I like to keep the characters as real as possible," Box explained. "They have to change and reflect on things that have happened in previous books. They need to have the scars of their pasts, as real people would. And I think that has helped Joe’s character to grow."

Box began his career in writing as an editor of his high school newspaper.

"I went to the University of Denver on a journalism scholarship and my first job was at a small weekly newspaper in Saratoga, Wyoming," he said.

While at the paper, Box covered everything from sports to environmental issues.

"At a small publication, you cover all sorts of things and can’t really specialize, but that’s good, because you’re out in the community in all aspects," he said.

As he wrote his stories, Box developed a deep interest in the topics he covered.

"I have always been intrigued by Western issues and the controversies and stories that come out of them," he said. "I like the inside-out views of the culture, and that spurred me to start writing fiction on the side."

It took Box 20 years to publish "Open Season," which centers around the issue of the black-footed ferrets that were discovered in Wyoming.

"That issue was interesting to me, because everybody had been on the lookout for them for years," Box said. "When they were found, I thought it was interesting that all the locals in the area knew these animals had been there all along, but didn’t want to say anything. I fictionalized the issue by using Joe Pickett as the protagonist."

After the initial printing, Putnam, the book’s publisher wanted two more novels, and that’s how the series was born.

A lot of that was based on the Pickett character, someone Box created out of different models.

"There is no one person who Joe is based on, and he’s kind of a Western archetype," Box said. "But I’ve certainly met a lot of Joe Pickett-like game wardens, law-enforcement officers and other people over the years who are throwbacks to an earlier era."

Once the character was in place, it was easy for Box to come up with storylines, because of the abundance of issues that can be found in the Mountain West.

"We tend to be on the forefront of so many big topics like energy development, wilderness, environment, resource management and eco-terrorism," he said. "They seem to happen here first, because we have so much public land in the area, and tend to spread out east and west and sometimes internationally.

"So, I keep my ear to the ground and get all these ideas," Box said. "And since I’m interested in these topics, I think they’re fun to research and build a plot around."

Still, Box didn’t think the books would be as successful as they have been.

"Each has outsold the last, and the new one has been on the New York Times list for three weeks, going on four, after debuting at No. 5," he said.

In addition to the Joe Pickett series, Box has written three stand-alone novels — "Back of Beyond," "Three Weeks to Say Goodbye" and "Blue Heaven."

"I wrote these not so much to move away from Joe Pickett, but more to write about topics, plots, hooks that wouldn’t lend themselves to Pickett series," Box said.

A big part of that has to do with the location of these stories.

"The first, ‘Blue Heaven,’ takes place in North Idaho, because that’s where it has to because of the whole premise of the book," Box said. "Thousands of ex-Los Angeles Police Department officers have moved to the Idaho panhandle, so that’s where I set the book."

"Three Weeks to Say Goodbye" is set in Denver, and "Back of Beyond: is set primarily in Montana and Yellowstone.

"I have another stand-alone coming out this August that will take place, again, in Montana," Box said.

While the characters and settings may differ, Box always tries to present the issues he addresses in a balanced light.

"The way I do that, usually, is by having proponents of both sides as characters in the books present their arguments," he said. "That way, the readers can come down on an issue where they may."

The method is not always successful, Box confessed.

"Sometimes my point of view does leak through, but I don’t write agenda books," he said.

However, Box likes it when readers say his books have helped them make a decision about one of the issues he wrote about.

"It’s interesting to me they tell me they’ve thought about an issue and were pretty set in stone, but are now giving things a second thought because of one of my books," he said.

During his presentation at North Summit, Box will talk about the new book a little, and how his writing has developed, and some of the things he’s learned in his career.

"For example, one thing I have always heard growing up in Wyoming, was that a book that is written out in this area has to adapted for a New York-based editor and readership or it wouldn’t go very far," he said. "I’ve found that is not true. The editors I have worked with have always put a high premium on authenticity and sense of place. So, no one has ever told me to temper a remark or that what I had written wouldn’t go over well."

He will also give the audience an opportunity to ask him questions.

"I like having a long question-and-answer session with the audience, because that’s what I enjoy most about these events," he said. "I’m looking forward to coming to Utah. It’s been a while since I’ve been there."

New York Times best selling author C.J. Box will give a presentation titled "Life and Writing in the Mountain Time Zone," which will be followed by a book signing, at North Summit High School, 111 E. 100 South in Coalville, beginning at 6:30 p.m. This event, sponsored by Friends of the Summit County Library, is free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://www1.youseemore.com/SummitCounty/ or http://www.cjbox.net.


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