HH: Special edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show, and I do mean special. You’ve heard maybe once a year over the years, I have devoted an entire show to talking with an author who matters to me. Whether it’s Vince Flynn or Steven Pressfield, Brad Thor, Alex Berenson, of course Daniel Silva’s been here a couple of times, well, a new author, a new series of books today that I want you to pay close attention to. C.J. Box is in studio with me. Now this is different than the other books I have done, now, because they’re not, but they might be, thrillers. What do I mean by that? There are no spies, except there are. There are no Special Forces, except there is. And it’s just about the American West. You don’t have Gabriel Alon, you don’t have Mitch Rapp, but you do have Joe Pickett, and of course Nate Romanowski. And C.J. Box, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
CJB: It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thank you.
HH: It is so great. We’re going to have fun on this, but people are also going to get a lot of politics, because as I read through the Joe Pickett novels, I became increasingly convinced you’re a man on a mission not only to sell a lot of books, but you’re on a mission. What would you describe that mission?
CJB: Well, I guess a quest for reasonableness in a lot of the controversies involving natural resources, and of course, politics, too. But I try to show both sides, and have it be a balanced view, and let the reader come down where they may. And what I find, which I love, are readers who buy the books for the page-turning part of it, and find out that they’ve been exposed to another viewpoint on a subject that they’ve never been exposed to before. And I talk to them all the time, and they’ll say I never thought about that. And then that’s my goal.
HH: And you know, C.J. Box, I like books that make you smart while they entertain you. And that’s why I’ve got, I love Silva, and I love Vince Flynn…
CJB: I do, too.
HH: And Steven Pressfield, because I get smart, and Bernard Cromwell, who teaches me about…I get smart as I’m being entertained. When I picked up, and I think you heard me say this, you were kind enough to say you’re not going to hate Open Season, because I’m not a mystery guy. I’m not a detective guy. But these are not mysteries…
CJB: Every time I would hear you say that, I would cringe.
HH: But these aren’t mysteries. I mean, there are mysteries in them, but do you think you’re technically in that genre? You’re probably sold in that part of the bookstore.
CJB: That’s the thing. That’s the part of the bookstore I want to be in, because that’s where people buy books. But no, I’ve never thought about it that way. To me, mysteries, growing up, were who-dunnits. And so I never thought about it that way, but I’m glad they’re there. And it’s a great genre, and that’s, you know, look at the New York Times list. Half of them are “mysteries/crime thrillers”. And that’s where I’m happy to be.
HH: Now there are ten Joe Pickett novels. You’ve got a number of other books besides that.
HH: Convey to people who are just hearing about you for the first time, though I’m sure the Box people are tuned in, but the people who don’t know you, how many Joe Pickett novels have been sold, not numbers of a distinct one, but numbers in print.
CJB: Oh, it’s impossible to say, because I know on the domestic side how many hard-covers and paperbacks, and you know, we’re probably into the, you know, we’re into the hundreds of thousands. But then they’re now in 25 languages, and it’s really tough to get numbers that are accurate in any way.
HH: Are you amazed?
HH: I mean, 2001’s the first Joe Pickett novel. It hasn’t been ten years.
CJB: Right. I am amazed, yes, because I thought, I always thought, writing the first one, that if I could get it published, that I would have, you know, I’ve got an ego, I thought people in the Rocky Mountain West would find it interesting. But it’s really surprised me a lot how they’ve grown and what they’ve done.
HH: Now I’m, of course, in my other life, I’m a land use and environmental lawyer.
HH: And so I know the Endangered Species Act. I know these federal agencies. But I don’t know much about the outdoors. I’ve been fly fishing exactly once, and so…
CJB: (laughing) I remember hearing that story.
HH: Yeah, and so I make my Yellowstone jokes, which we’ll come to in just a moment. There’s a whole novel about Yellowstone in this series, America. But generally speaking, I want to compliment you. You’ve done your work when it comes to, like, the ESA and EIR’s, and all this kind of stuff.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: But you are not now, nor have you ever been a lawyer.
CJB: No, I have not.
HH: Okay, just want to make that…let’s do some biography, C.J. Box.
HH: Where are you from originally?
CJB: I’m from Wyoming, originally, born in Casper, Wyoming, grew up in Wyoming. I was a journalist, a high school journalist, editor of my paper, and got a scholarship to the University of Denver.
HH: Which high school did you go to?
CJB: Kelly Walsh High School.
HH: Okay, in Casper.
CJB: In Casper. There’s only two.
HH: Are the Cheney’s from Casper?
CJB: Yes, they are.
HH: I thought so. I read Lynne Cheney’s autobiography, and that, Casper comes up quite a lot. Okay.
CJB: In fact, the Cheney parents used to be down the street from my parents.
CJB: And late in life, my mom was great friends with them.
HH: Do you know the former Vice President or Mrs. Cheney?
CJB: I’ve met him a couple of times. In fact, on one of the book tours, we arranged to go see Dick Cheney in his office.
HH: I imagine he likes these books. Has he had a chance to read them yet?
CJB: You know what? He…I think, I don’t know if he’s read them. He doesn’t read novels. His wife has, and his wife actually commented, and made some recommendations around, but what was funny is that we spent the whole time talking about hunting and fishing, and the fact that he had been arrested by one of the game wardens I use as a technical advisor in his youth.
HH: No kidding?
CJB: And that guy still has the ticket book in Casper to show.
HH: Okay, so you go down to D.U., great university. Why did you pick Denver?
CJB: Well, they picked me. It was the best deal for college. I wanted to get out of the state, like everybody, you know, thinks they do, and it wasn’t that far away. And it was a culture shock for me, because it was a private university, and I’d never been around that type.
HH: Yeah, you and Condoleezza Rice are probably their most famous graduates at this point. So…it’s a great university.
CJB: I agree.
HH: A wonderful university, and so did you study to be a writer there? Or were you pursuing other…
CJB: Mass communications, which is journalism.
CJB: That’s the way I went, and you know, it took a while. That was, you know, from high school, that was the Woodward and Bernstein era. I wanted to be an investigative reporter.
HH: You’re not old enough to have been around in the Woodward and Bernstein era.
CJB: No, but I remember the movie.
HH: The movie, there you go. So you get out…what year do you graduate from D.U?
HH: And so what do you do at that point?
CJB: That was the thing. I found a journalism degree from a nice university got me nowhere. I luckily, luckily found out about a little newspaper job in Saratoga, Wyoming, in Southern Wyoming, and contacted them. And after being bounced around for a few months, went there and was hired, luckily. The job interview took place in a drift boat while fishing. And…
HH: I just shuddered, involuntarily.
HH: My friend, Jan, Jan Janura’s listening, who trapped me in those drift boats for the Bataan drift march. Go ahead, so…
CJB: I don’t consider it trapped, but…
HH: I know. You people are different.
CJB: (laughing) And I was there for three and a half years, four years, working every little aspect of a little, community newspaper, which still serves me extremely well in all of the books. It was like everything I ever did set me up for what I’d eventually do. And I learned a lot about the community, about the ranching, all the issues, just all the tensions that exist in a small community, which these kind of books…
HH: How big is Saratoga?
CJB: It’s only 2,000 people.
HH: Okay, so it’s very much like Saddle String.
CJB: Right. It very much is. Saddle String’s kind of patterned on that.
HH: Saddle String is the mythical home of Joe Pickett, the hero/antihero, I don’t know what we’re going to call him, of these novels, and of this drama that builds over ten books. C.J., did you grow up, obviously, hunting and fishing?
CJB: Yes, I did. Yeah, that’s just something that my relatives did. That was just something everybody did. I think I made some references in the book where you know, certain times of the year in Wyoming, you greet each other with, you know, have you gotten your elk yet?
HH: And how many elks have you gotten?
CJB: Not as many as you might think, two or three.
HH: Okay, did you ever get a bear?
HH: Okay, and so the…and do you still own guns?
CJB: Yes, a lot of them.
HH: And in terms of the Wyoming personality, which comes through in all these books, which is the Western personality, do you think you’re kind of in the center of that? Do you sort of represent that ethic?
CJB: I think I do. I think I do. You know, what’s interesting, and I know we’ll get into some of this, but what’s interesting to me, you know, looking from 50,000 feet down, is that places like Wyoming and Montana are certainly, are considered ten years behind everything else. But really, they’re on the forefront of so many environmental and resource kind of issues. This is where the energy comes from. This is where the environmental movement is rabid on one side, and the energy developers on the other. The windmills are going up like crazy right now, the wind turbines. So there’s a lot of stuff that’s going on. You know, the wolf introduction, all that. We’re in the epicenter of that, and I like to portray that as accurately as I can.
HH: The wolves show up in Nowhere To Run.
CJB: Right, also Savage Run.
HH: And Savage Run. And I gather that’s one of the currents here. This is one of the continuing controversies which we’ll talk about today. We’ve got the whole show to do it in. Before we rush off to that, though, what took your mom and dad to Wyoming?
CJB: My dad was in the Navy, and he and his buddies, once he got out, went to work for the oil refineries. His buddy went to work in the oil refinery, my dad became a teacher.
CJB: And my mother grew up. She was a third generation Wyoming/Montana girl.
HH: And do you have brothers and sisters?
CJB: Yes, I’ve one younger who’s ten, and then two sisters in the middle.
HH: And are they all still in Wyoming?
CJB: Two of the three are.
HH: Two of the three are.
CJB: The other one’s in North Dakota.
HH: Okay, when we come back from break, America, I’m going to tell, we’re going to dive into some of the characters you’ll hear a lot. When did your first book come out, 2001?
HH: And how long did it take you to sell it?
CJB: For five years after it was written.
HH: Wow. You know, I find this always to be amazing. It’s always the same story, whether it’s Vince Flynn or Daniel Silva, they always, it takes a long time to sell that first book.
CJB: Yes. It’s such a weird business.
HH: And you get over rejection in a hurry, huh?
CJB: Well, you have to. Yes.
HH: We’ll tell that story when we come back. I know whenever I do one of these, the writers always write me afterwards, the would-be writers, the wannabe writers out there always ask me why did you not get more detail on that, and I will when I come back…His website is www.cjbox.net. His most recent book is Nowhere To Run. You’ve got to start with Open Season, though.
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HH: I think we’re going to get Western around here real quick. That’s a line from C.J. Box’s many magnificent, wonderful novels, where Joe Pickett is facing what could become a very bad situation in many of extraordinary adventures set in Wyoming and in Montana, a little bit of Colorado in there, there’s some Idaho, there’s Yellowstone. We’ll talk more about that. But if you want sort of an epic set of adventures in the modern West, in the West of the last, of the new millennium and the last ten years, you’re going to want to look up C.J. Box’s books, beginning with Open Season. C.J. Box is my guest here. It’s one of my special day-long conversations with an author who matters, an author who’s changing the way people think. Not just entertaining them, but changing the way they think, as C.J. will do, when you read his books. C.J. Box, right before we plunge in, though, I asked you about your first book, and that meant getting an agent. And so you wrote it, obviously…were you on the newspaper when you were writing this thing?
HH: Are were you already moved on?
CJB: No, I was on the newspaper. I graduated, I never took, I could never finish a creative writing class in college. So my whole background was from the journalism standpoint. But when I was on the little newspaper, I started then writing fiction.
HH: And so when did Joe Pickett arrive, the game warden at the heart of this series, which is at the heart of the C.J. Box career?
CJB: It took a while, because my interest with Open Season, the first book, was what the issue was, which is endangered species law, and how, you know, well meaning legislation can go awry on the ground where it actually takes place. So that was my impetus, and it was kind of based on the black-footed ferret story that did happen in Wyoming, where a species thought extinct was found, and then we found out all sorts of locals knew about it for years, but kept their mouth shut. And that fascinated me. I wanted to do that in fictional form. And the first time I went through the, started writing it, the protagonist was going to be a local sheriff. And that just didn’t work for me. Then he was going to be a journalist, which didn’t work for me. But at the time I was working on this little newspaper, I was doing ride-alongs with a local game warden as part of my job. And I realized that’s the guy. He’s, you know, they have districts up to three or four thousand square miles, they don’t have backup, they work out of their homes, their families are involved in the job. Almost everyone they confront is armed and out in the field, and I realized what a fantastic character.
HH: Without backup…
HH: I mean, over and over again, you really do, I think you must be the favorite novelist of game wardens across the United States and the world.
CJB: (laughing) The few that there are, yes.
HH: Do they send you notes, though?
CJB: Yes, they do. And every place I go, I get patches, and it’s pretty great.
CJB: I’m an honorary game warden in North Carolina, and the Wyoming Game Warden’s Association gave me a plaque, which I really enjoy that.
HH: Of course. Now Joe Pickett, who is this game warden, starts out in the Saddle String district, and he’s, what, badge 54? There are like 54 badges, right?
CJB: Right, and their badges go, their numbers go up as they gain seniority, unless they’re like Joe Pickett, who gets in trouble, and they knock him back down to 54.
HH: But so when he starts, how old is he in Open Season, roughly, in your mind?
HH: So these are real time books.
HH: One of the reasons I like it, like the Gabriel Alon of the Dan Silva series, and like Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, he ages. And his family grows up with him, and so you’re following a life as you walk through these various adventures.
HH: Let’s give people, so he’s a game warden, and you talk about the job. They have complete plenary authority as well, right?
CJB: Yeah, they do. They’ve got a lot of responsibility. And it really did surprise me once I really got into it how autonomous they are. And it’s not in every state. It’s not always the same situation. But certainly in Wyoming and Montana, they’re kind of the local authority. They name their own hours, they work the days they want to work. They do have, you know, there is some oversight. They’re not crazy guys. But depending on what they do, they’re out for days. And the kind of things and people they encounter is fascinating.
HH: Now the game warden in California is a completely different character. Up north, it might be different from down south, they’re becoming much more bureaucratic, much more extensions of the permitting bureaucracy. You noted from the time Vern Dunnigan is the first game warden we run into, Joe Pickett through the end of them, the culture’s changing in that lifestyle, isn’t it?
CJB: Right, right.
HH: Who goes into that work now?
CJB: Well, it’s still, I mean, at least in the West, it’s still, you know, people with, sometimes with game management or biology degrees, where at one time it was more of a law enforcement kind of job. But the game wardens I meet and find are, in most cases, very much kind of throwback guys. They’re politically aware, they know they have to deal with the bureaucracy, but they still do what they’ve always done, which I find really interesting.
HH: One of the major characters, Nate Romanowski…
HH: And that sounds like a linebacker, so we like that. He sounds like a linebacker who used to play for, I think, the Browns, but I’m not sure.
CJB: Bill Romanowski used to play for the Broncos.
HH: The Broncos, was that it? Maybe that’s why I flashed on him there. There’s a Romanowski for the Broncos.
HH: And Nate is a retired Special Forces guy. And the West is sort of full of people like this, isn’t it?
CJB: It is. It really is.
HH: And tell people a little bit about Nate.
CJB: He is a falconer, meaning he flies falcons. And he’s kind of an outlaw falconer who has had some kind of unexplained experiences when he was in the Special Forces, so that he’s got his own code, he’s got his own sense of justice, he’s got a somewhat murky stream of income. And he’s an outcast, but he also carries, at least when I wrote the first book, the most powerful handgun in the world.
HH: Now it’s the second most powerful handgun…
CJB: Or the third.
HH: Is that a real gun?
CJB: Yes, it is.
HH: Tell people about where that gun is made – the .454 Casull, right? Am I saying it…
HH: Casull, okay.
CJB: It’s made in Freedom, Wyoming, at Freedom Arms.
HH: And have you been to Freedom Arms?
CJB: I have. I’ve been there a couple of time when I found out…I’m not a gun guy necessarily, but it fit his character so well to have it as…
HH: It’s a revolver.
CJB: Yeah, it’s a five shot revolver that will kill cars. And that was the perfect kind of weapon for this guy. In the newest, the book that will come out next year, he’s going to upgrade to a .500 Wyoming Express, which is even bigger.
HH: Is it made also by Freedom Arms?
CJB: Yes, Freedom arms, yeah.
HH: Boy, they must love you.
CJB: They do, actually. They sold a bunch of guns.
HH: I’ll bet you they’ve sold quite a few guns.
HH: All right, Mary Beth is married to Joe Pickett. They have three daughters, Sharon and Lucy and April. There are complications in this, but I’m curious, as the father of girls, how long have you been married for?
CJB: 25 years, 26 in just a couple of weeks.
HH: Okay, so what does the Fetching Mrs. Box think of Mary Beth, and what do the girls think of the girls who are fictional here?
CJB: The Fetching Mrs. Box approves of Mary Beth. There are, you know, there’s certainly some attributes…my wife’s a horse woman. And she’s also the smartest member of the family, and the one who keeps everything going. So I certainly draw from that. She’s also my first reader, first editor. She gets all the chapters as they’re written, and has been wonderfully helpful. And my oldest, my girls, my oldest who are twins, 24, and they also read the manuscripts, and offer suggestions.
HH: Have they stayed in Wyoming?
CJB: They are now. I’ve got one, I’m sorry to say, who’s about ready to go to law school.
CJB: Leave and go to Drake.
HH: You can’t save her?
CJB: I can’t. I’ve tried. I’ve tried.
HH: And in terms of, I keep thinking, the character I like the least in all of these books is Missy, the mother in law.
CJB: Oh, yes.
HH: Is your mother in law like Missy?
CJB: No, mine’s much worse.
HH: (laughing) That’s not true.
CJB: No, I just say that. No, mine, I have a wonderful mother in law.
HH: You’re in so much trouble. (laughing) You know, we make, we put transcripts of this up, and that’s going to get sent to her. You better make your amends right now, pal. But she’s a recurring character, and sort of another creature of the West, the climber.
CJB: Oh, yes.
HH: Are there more people like that than we know out there?
CJB: You know, I don’t know. And she’s the kind of character where I’m not exactly, I didn’t pattern her on anybody I’ve ever met, or any I’ve really read about, because she’s worse.
HH: She’s much worse.
CJB: But she’s a fascinating character, and as an antagonist to Joe, she’s the most formidable of them all.
HH: There are going to be a lot of people out there. My mother in law’s gone, and I loved her, but there are going to be a lot of people out there, if what I’ve heard is true, will identify Missy.
– – – –
HH: Start with Open Season, then move on to Savage Run, then go to Wikipedia, and make sure you read them in order. You know, it’s one of those tensions. I’m one of those guys that has to read them in order.
HH: And as I got behind, because I just miscalculated when you were coming in, I asked you if I could throw one out. So I threw one out at your suggestion. I think it was Trophy Hunt.
CJB: Trophy Hunt.
HH: Trophy Hunt. But I’ll go back now and read it. But I do read them in order, and…Governor Rulon of Wyoming – is he based on anyone, or just someone you wished was there, and would govern the way you wished he would govern?
CJB: He’s more the latter. He is based on a couple of Western governors who I’ve encountered, because he’s pretty impulsive, he does his own thing. I based him a little bit on a former South Dakota governor, because…and the current…
HH: The one who’s in jail now?
CJB: Yes. (laughing)
CJB: The current governor of Wyoming, I’m happy to say, does read the books, and gives me critiques on them, thinks I’m a little hard on the governor. But I’m happy that he reads them.
HH: Now there are, there is a vast cast of characters. As I said to people, this is like Harry Potter for grown ups in the West. And there are recurring characters. I think my favorite is Large Merle.
CJB: (laughing) Oh.
HH: And they’re all over the place, but Large Merle, how big is Large Merle?
CJB: I think he’s like 350 pounds, six-seven. He’s a cook.
HH: Are you always making notes as you drive around Wyoming of people and places, and how they act?
CJB: I am. Yes, and you know, probably about a quarter of the characters are based on real people. The rest are just types, or people I might see across the parking lot, or in the back of a café or a bar, and then I just kind of come up with that type.
HH: And now, as we thrust into these books and talk about the overarching themes, I want to know, did you know where you were going when you started?
CJB: No, no.
HH: And so when did that develop? When did Joe Pickett become not just a book to sell, a way of testing your writing skills, but a character who was going to inhabit a world, and that world was going to become big and full of people?
CJB: Well you know, I’d have to say with the second book, because the first one was written, in my mind, as a stand-alone, a book about the endangered species law, featuring a game warden. When it took four years to get there, I had an agent who to this day I don’t know actually ever sent it around. I…he’d get mad at me when I’d call as say is anything happening. And later, I went to a convention and pitched the book to a guy, and he said well, don’t you have an agent, and I said yes. I told him his name, and the guy said you didn’t know he had died, and he had been dead for like seven months.
HH: Your agent had been dead for seven months?
CJB: Yeah, my first agent was dead.
HH: (laughing) That’s…let that be a lesson to you, would-be writers.
CJB: So luckily, at that same particular convention, there was an editor from Putnam who showed interest in the book, so that started it. And the first contract offer was for three books featuring Joe Pickett. That’s when it got going. I didn’t have a strategic plan.
HH: So that editor at Putnam, did they read your book?
HH: And that’s when they said okay, there’s something here. And did they say I want three Joe Pickett novels?
CJB: That’s exactly what they said.
HH: So they wanted something to build on. Has Joe Pickett been optioned, by the way?
CJB: Open Season, the first book, was optioned by Bruce Willis’ company. And screenplays developed, and then more screenplays done. Each one got horrifically worse. And then eventually, that got dropped. So no, there’s been interest. It’s been pitched as a TV series, but there’s nothing going on.
HH: It’s like an HBO series, is really what it is.
CJB: I think it is.
HH: Yeah. Oh, it’s fascinating. Okay, let’s get to the business end of this stuff. When a book like this takes off, when did, is it Putnam, when did Putnam figure out wow, we have something here that we’re going to be able to build into a brand and drive, because it engages a whole bunch of people like Hugh Hewitt on the West Coast, and suburbia, and your governor of Wyoming, and Lynne Cheney. You know, it just engages hunters, naturalists. I’m sure environmentalists read these with great interest.
CJB: Yes. I hear from a lot of them, and most of them are actually pretty complimentary.
HH: Oh, they’re fair. They’re fair.
CJB: They think I got their side right.
CJB: I don’t know when, I think probably the first book, because it’s one of those deals where, with Open Season, everything that’s not supposed to happen with the first novel did, luckily. It went into multiple printings. It won more first novel awards than any book since in the genre. So it really made a splash, even though it wasn’t a huge number of copies, among those who pay attention to these things, it got me on the map.
HH: And how often do you have to write a Joe Pickett novel now?
CJB: One a year.
HH: It’s just one a year?
HH: And so how long is that going to go for?
CJB: Since he ages in real time, as long as it makes sense.
HH: And are you making notes constantly of controversies into which to insert him?
CJB: Yes. I’ve got a file, I’ve got files and clippings, and I always have two or three out ahead of me. And at the end of the book, then I decide which one of those three or four makes the most sense next.
– – – –
HH: Before I press on a little bit, Blue Heaven is set in Northern Idaho, not Wyoming.
HH: It involves the LAPD and big city crime and big city cops.
HH: It’s the only one of your books I haven’t finished, because I chose to listen to it on an MP3 in my i-Phone, and I miscalculated. It’s a nine hour listen. I never buy the abridged version.
CJB: Yeah, it’s a big book.
HH: Big book. It’s fascinating, and is that a future for you? Joe Wambaugh is not happy that you’re doing this, I don’t think. But is this, are you going to branch out more and more, because it’s a very compelling read.
CJB: I am currently alternating stand-alones, like Blue Heaven, a book called Three Weeks To Say Goodbye, another coming out set in Yellowstone called Back Or Beyond with the series. So every other book now is a stand-alone, which I enjoy doing. And Blue Heaven really has been successful.
HH: Oh, it’s because it’s a real…I have no idea what’s going to happen.
CJB: Good, good.
HH: As I told him as I walked in, and C.J. was in the studio, I’m about six hours into a ten hour listen, and the two key characters have come together, Jess Rawlins and Via Toro. And so I just have no idea what’s going to happen next and I love that. And I’m not going to tell anyone. The hard thing about these interviews is to do it without giving away anything…
CJB: It is.
HH: …but to communicate essence. And I think we’re going to do fine here. Okay, where and when do you work?
CJB: I work every day. I live outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, and I’ve got just a really unimpressive basement home office with a view of the window well. And that’s where I work. I go every morning…
HH: You mean, you don’t, like, have the Madison River in front of you, or some great…Madison’s in the wrong state, but you don’t have some great mountain to look at?
CJB: Well, we do have a cabin on a river that I spend a lot of time on now…
CJB: …and get a lot of work done. But primarily, I’m in the basement office.
HH: And five days a week or seven days a week?
CJB: Five days a week.
HH: Okay, and are you a morning or afternoon/evening writer?
CJB: I’m a morning guy.
HH: First thing, down there?
CJB: Right, yup.
HH: Do you turn on the computer first? Do you want to know what’s going on in the world? Or do you send yourself to the basement first?
CJB: No, I do check out the news and the blogs, and have coffee and work out, and then start.
HH: Okay, and so what do you do in work out?
CJB: I do a spinning class and/or weights.
HH: Now in terms of…what do you read?
CJB: Oh, I mean, I read everything. I read fiction, non-fiction, fiction, non-fiction. That’s how I have my stack. And about every fourth one is a crime or mystery/thriller type book.
HH: So you’re not worried about polluting your ideas by cross-pollination with other thriller/mystery writers sort of thing?
CJB: No, I think, I mean, I’m now comfortable that I have my own voice. But I do learn from reading other thrillers and mysteries. And the good ones are as good as anything being written in fiction.
HH: Who haven’t I interviewed that I ought to interview, that I ought to read their work?
CJB: Michael Connelly is great.
HH: You know, I’ve never read Michael Connelly. The other guy on my list is Dean Koontz. I started Dean Koontz, and I’ve just got to set aside a month, because I like to do it this way. I like to dive in.
CJB: I like you to do it this way, too.
HH: Yeah, this is the way, that’s all fresh then. So in terms of newspapers and current events, where do you get your news from?
CJB: On the computer. I mean, it’s all blogs and National Review Online…
HH: All right, present company…okay, National Review Online. So you’re a conservative?
HH: I gathered that, but you’re a very fair-minded conservative. Are you reading Powerline, the guys in Minnesota?
CJB: Absolutely. Every day.
HH: And so in terms of…do you take the New York Times and all those things as well?
CJB: I don’t take them, no. I’ll go look, but I don’t read them regularly.
HH: Okay. I get them on my Kindle every morning. All right, research. We mentioned the .454, how do you say that?
HH: Casull revolver, the second most powerful, now you say the third most powerful. It’s on Winter Kill, Page 101, it shows up. And then you have quotes all through these things, like Alfred Lord Tennyson. I must lose myself in action lest I wither in despair. Or he is mad past recovery, but yet has lucid interval. I mean, all these things, where do you get this stuff from?
CJB: I mean, I’ve got books of quotes, but I’m also always on the lookout for quotes. I tend to take too many Tocqueville quotes.
HH: Yeah, there’s a lot of Tocqueville.
CJB: But they’re so great, and they’re so prescient, and they’re so perfect for what I’m writing about, that I just keep putting those in.
HH: I thought it might be because the old west, or the mountain west, remains as close to what Tocqueville saw as any part of the country.
CJB: That’s perceptive as well, too. Yeah, but his talk about society and the individual is so perfect, and so modern.
HH: And is the individual in this world the most important thing to you?
CJB: I think so.
HH: That’s what I…you also know dogs, trucks and horses pretty doggone well. Tube, Buddy, and endless display of pickups. Do you own a pickup?
CJB: Yes. Yes, I do.
HH: Do you have a dog?
CJB: We have a dog. We’re getting a new Labrador in a month.
HH: Now your description, I’m doing this from memory, of Tube being a combination of a corgi and a lab…
CJB: That’s right.
HH: A lab loving everyone, and a corgi being an annoying from hell dog.
CJB: That’s right.
HH: Why did you come up with this mix?
CJB: Because I have a lab and a corgi.
HH: Oh, so they’re together?
HH: Okay, and you named him Tube.
HH: Are there such things? Have you ever seen a mix of the two?
CJB: I’ve only seen one, and it, as described, lab body and little, stubby legs, and a bad attitude.
HH: Okay, and now you’ve got a horse woman for a wife.
HH: And there’s a lot about horses in here, which is all Greek to me. Duane’s a big rider as you can tell. (Duane at this point wonders where Hugh got this from).
HH: Obviously. But do you ride a lot?
CJB: I don’t ride nearly as much as my wife does. But we do go on trail rides. I’ve been on wilderness pack trips and fishing trips by horseback. So it’s more like using the horse to get to where you want. I’m not as passionate about horses, but my wife certainly is. And she gives me all the, corrects all my bad horse information.
HH: Yeah, what’s interesting is I consider all these books false advertising because of my experience fly fishing, in terms that you make hunting and packing and camping and elk camp sound really wonderful.
CJB: Well, they can be, actually.
HH: Did you grow up going to these things?
CJB: I did in Wyoming. I mean, that’s what you do. That’s what’s available, and it’s…then later in life, you realize that that’s the best there is, that people will spend lots and lots of money and time to go do the things that we just always did. And so I still love it.
HH: And the outfitters who took care of us when I was on the Madison River last summer, these are guys who live for this sort of thing.
CJB: They do.
HH: Do they read your books? Do they critique you? Because these must be the hardest critics of all, the people who actually live this life.
CJB: And that’s one of the things I love the best, is that my readership includes a lot of crusty guys who you would think would never pick up a book. And I meet them all over the place – truck drivers, outfitters, guides, cowboys, ranchers. I know ranchers who only read them during calving season, because they’re up all night. And I love the fact that they will read if they find something they like.
– – – –
HH: C.J. Box, the author of, well, at least ten Joe Pickett novels, and how many other novels, C.J.?
CJB: Two others that are out.
HH: So there are 12 out there right now, and more coming, and I now have a lifetime addiction ahead of me, and I hope long may you write.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: His website is www.cjbox.net. Let’s dive in. Open Season, the very first book, the one that sets the tone for this, a lot of geography in here. And how much geography and geology do you have to know to write this way, this knowingly about the West?
CJB: You know, surprisingly, it’s not like I study it, but by coming from there, and because the landscape’s such an important part of everybody’s life every day, it kind of coming in just naturally.
HH: When you were growing up, I mean, would you go dead-heading around the state?
HH: I mean, was this something that all kids in Wyoming do, they just grab their pickups and go?
CJB: Well, everything is a long ways from the nick. So yeah, you spend a lot of time on the road, and it’s kind of like, you know, growing up even in high school, the high school teams, you’re going on long trips for every game, and staying in little communities. You know, it’s not across town.
HH: And do you feel comfortable just being anywhere in the outdoors?
CJB: It depends. You know, I don’t look at nature as, I don’t look at it as a benevolent, wonderful nature. I’m a nature lover. I think it’s very amoral, but can also be fascinating and beautiful.
HH: Who writes the best about the outdoors, in your opinion? Who do you look to, to describe not necessarily in a thriller context, but just someone…you’ve quotes Wallace Stegner a lot in your books.
CJB: Yeah. Well, he’s certainly good. I mean, Cormac McCarthy writes beautifully about the outdoors, although he’s not considered that kind of writer, because he can capture things as well as anyone. A guy named Mark Spragg in Wyoming is a great writer.
HH: And do you aspire to be known as someone who is good at that as well as a thriller or a page turner in a political content?
CJB: Well, sure.
HH: Because you’re good at this.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: At communicating beauty. And it’s very different, though, than shoot-em-up and what Vince Flynn does.
CJB: It is, and I tend to pare that stuff back, the description in it. But I think it’s very important for the reader to be able to be there. And in order to be there, they’ve got to know what it looks, smells, and what the light is like.
HH: And all the places that show up in these ten novels, have you been to them?
CJB: Yes, but although some, many of them are fictionalized.
HH: Right, but like Savage Run, book two, which we’ll talk about at the top of next hour. I don’t know if there’s a Savage Run. Is there?
CJB: There is a canyon. It’s not called Savage Run, and it’s not in that part of the Big Horns, but it’s based on that.
HH: Wow. And so did you go there and look at it?
CJB: I was elk hunting, and found the place where the Indians crossed from one side to the other.
HH: That was fascinating. So that exists?
CJB: Yeah, it does exist, but it’s in Northern Wyoming, and on a private ranch.
HH: And when you do one of those, do you purposefully disguise it so they don’t get overrun with C.J. Box readers?
CJB: If it’s private like that, yes, I do. I don’t want to inundate anybody.
HH: All right, we’ll talk a little bit about the consequences of showing up in a C.J. Box book when we come back.
– – – –
HH: C.J., let’s go right to Open Season. The heart of this book is the Endangered Species Act. I know this well. I’ve lived it for twenty years. You got it. Not many people get it.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: At the conclusion of that, and I’ve done Pacific Pocket Mouse, which is like Miller’s Weasel, a very small number of them living in one place, and then I’ve done gnat catchers, which there are millions of them, and they shouldn’t be on the Endangered Species, at the end of it, what do you think of the Act, having studied it, written it, and been sort of, you tried to represent it, I thought, very fairly.
CJB: I think…good, well-meaning legislation that’s gone awry, that in so many cases, it’s used as a tool and a weapon as opposed to a means of saving endangered species.
HH: And so the black-footed ferret, is that what that was based on? Is that what you were telling me about?
CJB: Right, right. And I found that fascinating when it really came out in Wyoming, when this species thought extinct was discovered, and what the ramifications of that was to the community, and the fact that half of them died because of one of the researcher’s dogs introduced a disease to them.
HH: That’s what…the old adage in the West was shoot, shovel and shut up when it comes to an endangered species.
HH: Of course, that’s a criminal act, and we…I don’t advise my clients to do that. But is that an attitude you found in the West generally about these well-meaning laws which destroy people’s livelihoods often?
CJB: Yeah, I mean, it’s absolutely…you know, that’s a very underlying philosophy. And I don’t want to mean to say they’re all outlaws, but a lot of people confronted with these things make that choice.
HH: All right, in the second book, we’re introduced to Stewie Woods.
HH: …who is an environmental activist, one of perhaps three who show up in the book. There are three distinct ones – the woman, the anti-hunting guy, and then Stewie Woods is the first one. And one of the reasons I like all the Joe Pickett novels is that you make me like some environmental activists. And generally, although some of the lawyers at the Natural Resources Defense Council become my friends over the years, I’m just generally not a fan of them, because they’re very focused, very narrow. They don’t understand what they do to the other side. What do you base these characters on?
CJB: In some cases, real people, real figures. A few, I’ve met. In fact, the Stewie Woods character, I don’t want to say, mention his name, but one of the guys, founders of Earth First, actually read the book and thought, told me I got him right. And what’s fascinating to me with that whole movement, and with the whole idea is that again, it starts out well-meaning, but in order to keep that funding going, and in order to grow that organization, they have to get angrier and angrier, and never be happy with anything that they achieve.
HH: And the organization gets captured from its founders, too.
CJB: Right, and in this case, Stewie Woods, the founder of the fictional organization I cite, has been kicked out by them, because, you know, he’s no longer doing what they want him to do.
HH: So there are obviously tens of thousands of Americans who are deeply involved, not merely contributors. There are millions who are contributors.
HH: But tens of thousands who are deeply involved as activists in various causes, whether it’s Earth First on sort of one end, at Sea Shepherd, or the Natural Resources Defense Council, or the Center for Biological Diversity, or the Sierra Club. Those people who read your books, what do they say to you?
CJB: In most cases, they…I have had a lot of them say, honestly, that they see a different side to issues that they always just assumed were black and white. It may not change their mind completely, but it may open it a little. And that, I’m always happy with.
HH: In your, and for the first time in Savage Run it recurs, you’ve got the outsider who’s coming in to subdivide and sell off the ranches.
HH: Joe Finoda, who by the way, is a trial lawyer, not one of my favorite people around here, I’m sorry Tim Cook. One of my partners is a trial lawyer, and he’s a very good one at that, too. And he’s taken care of a lot of people over a lot of years, but I beat up on him a lot on this program. And…but there are outsiders all over your books who jet in, drop in, and divide.
HH: You’re not a fan of this subclass of character, are you?
CJB: No, I’m not a fan of that subclass of character, although there are certainly outsiders who come in and are stewards as well. But in this case, you know, I do get after them. Any kind of situation where people from the outside with preconceived notions come into any community or area or culture, and say, want to put their stamp on it to right the ship, is always annoying.
HH: Well, how many of these McMansion subdivision of ranchettes are there?
CJB: It’s slowed down a little in the last couple of years, but they’re everywhere throughout Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, all the areas that used to be more resource-based, because they’re beautiful, are now, not all of them, but a lot of them have been developed or subdivided into ranchettes.
HH: And how often are they there? When I went float fishing on the Madison last summer, it didn’t strike me that the land had filled up very much.
CJB: Right, right.
HH: It didn’t strike me that there were many people after this influx.
CJB: Well partially because there’s so much federal land, there’s no development on it.
CJB: But the private areas, the ranches and the private holdings, there’s a lot of subdivisions. And in some cases, they’ll come for two or three weeks. They love to be able to say they own the ranch in Montana or Wyoming. And again, a lot of them are great stewards, but some of them are just annoying.
HH: In this book at well, you’ve got Sheriff Barnum, who’s a good ol’ boy. And you’ve got, in fact, you’ve got an ambivalence about Western law enforcement which is pretty pronounced. What’s that based on?
CJB: A part of it, honestly, is just simply to keep the tension level up. On every page, there should be tension on every page. And in order to do that, you know, I’ve got to always have Joe Pickett, you know, being harangued by somebody for trying to, what he considers, doing his job. But the local sheriff, you know, that goes back, and there are a lot of local sheriffs, because they’re politicians as well, who have their own agendas.
HH: And so some of them turn out okay…
HH: But a lot of them are less than stellar guys. In Savage Run as well, pronghorns are introduced. Now I saw my first pronghorns when I was up in Montana last summer.
CJB: Oh, good.
HH: And you say to them in here they’re your favorite. They’re Joe Pickett’s favorite wildlife. Is that C.J. Box talking as well?
CJB: I like them. Yeah, they’re the second-fastest animal in the world.
HH: And you’re also a falcon guy?
CJB: Yes, although I’m not a falconer.
HH: Oh, interesting, because you wrote a book about falconry, didn’t you, or something?
CJB: No, I’ve included falconry in a lot of the books.
HH: Oh, I thought I saw in your bibliography an article or something about falconry. Where did you learn about falconry?
CJB: From friends of mine growing up in high school. The guy who Nate Romanowski is actually based on was a falconer, then went off into the military. And I spent time with him, went hunting with him, which means the humans are the birddogs, and the falcons are the hunters. So you go out and walk through the woods, and rabbits come out, and falcons come down and nail them.
HH: How many falconers are there? I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever seen it discussed in a book.
CJB: Well, it’s an ancient art.
CJB: I don’t know how many there are, maybe several thousand. But I was in San Diego the other day at a book signing, and a guy brought his falcon in.
HH: Oh, he did?
CJB: Yeah, which was pretty cool.
HH: You’re probably selling a lot of books into the falcon world. Would that it expand.
HH: You also, I’ve got to talk about Matt Sanvick now, and this is because of a guy I knew in high school who became a taxidermist. And whenever I see him at a high school reunion, I kind of steel myself to ask him questions about taxidermy. But you made Matt Sanvick interesting. And I guess there are a lot of taxidermists in the country.
CJB: In every little, well, certainly in every little town, you know, there’s several taxidermists. They’re very competitive.
HH: Yeah, you also have Congressman Peter Salido, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, compliment to you, not many people even know there’s a Natural Resources Committee. Is he your typical Washington D.C. politician? There’s Senator McGlinty as well at the end, but is this the guy you have in mind running wildlife policy and resource policy?
CJB: I would say so, yes, because he’s not close to the land in any way other than he knows every single thing about it and how everyone should live on it.
HH: Do you consider yourself close to the land?
CJB: I think so.
HH: Do most Wyomings?
CJB: I think it’s inevitable.
HH: Okay, and last question about Savage Run. Do you think that potential in the country for that kind of vigilante confrontation between environmentalists and the people who really oppose them, the land owners?
CJB: You know, I think the potential is there. But I don’t know, I mean, I don’t have any inside track on that going on, but I think the potential is certainly there, and the lines are getting drawn, and I think they’re getting a little more extreme on both sides. So yeah, something could happen.
HH: Now this is the week that we’re taping this originally, is the week of the 15th anniversary of Timothy McVeigh’s blowing up of the Oklahoma City building. And Winter Kill has at its heart sort of a meditation on the anti-government movement, the Sovereigns. And they’re kind of built up out of Montana Freemen, they’re kind of built up out of Waco people, and of Ruby Ridge sort of stuff. That’s touchy stuff to go into.
CJB: Yeah, it is.
HH: How did you approach this subject, because it’s very, again, you’re not endorsing them.
CJB: Not at all.
HH: But you try and understand who they are.
CJB: No, and I’m not at all sympathetic. But to me, it was like there’s a certain kind of outlier class that has every right to be that outlier class. I don’t like them, I don’t agree with what they say, but they have as much freedom of speech and expression as anyone else. But they are, you know, through political correctness, you know, hated virulently, officially, by everyone. And I guess I’ve always, I find it fascinating that people who espouse diversity cannot stand that kind of freedom of speech.
– – – –
HH: The book that I think will last the longest, well, maybe Blue Heaven, which is not a Joe Pickett novel, because it’s got some interesting things in it that we’ll cover, is Winter Kill, which is the story of a breakaway group, a cult, that’s based loosely on sort of an amalgamation of Montana Freemen, Ruby Ridge, we were talking about it last segment. The leader of it is Wade Brokius. And how much did you research these marginal outlier groups when you were writing this, C.J. Box?
CJB: I did some research in Montana. And in this case, I didn’t go to their camps, I didn’t have interview with them, but I met with several small town journalists who covered them, especially when the Freemen were going in Montana, and got a lot of information about them, how they thought, actually cut a lot of that out of the book. But it was enough for me to kind of set the stage on their point of view. And it wasn’t that many years after Waco. So I kind of used them both.
HH: Now flash forward to Nowhere To Run, the most recent of the Joe Pickett novels. And they’re kind of back, but it’s a different…it’s Ayn Rand is back.
HH: And the objectivists, and the Upper Peninsula shows up. I’m a Michigan Law grad, so I know about the U.P. And all of a sudden, you’re back there. And again, you’re not sympathetic, but you’re objective about why they feel pressed. And so based upon what you know about these groups and about the West, do you expect that movement is going to grow?
CJB: I have to say yes.
HH: So do I.
CJB: Especially now, and I feel very prescient having written Nowhere To Run last year, given what’s going on in the country now. But yeah, it’s just like I mentioned earlier, there’s so many of the issues, big, environmental issues tend to have their epicenter in the West. I think that the anti-government movement which is occurring across the country may have its epicenter in the West.
HH: Are you old enough to remember Sagebrush?
CJB: The Sagebrush Rebellion?
HH: Yeah, you’re a little bit young.
CJB: I’ve heard of it, but I wasn’t…
HH: It was really the precursor to the Tea Parties. It was really the precursor to all this stuff, but it was mainstream. It was not outlier. Then it went away, and now it’s back in the Tea Parties. And the attempt to define the Tea Parties as outlier, I think, is a fundamental mistake by President Obama.
CJB: I agree.
HH: It’s not outlier.
CJB: I agree.
HH: And I’ll bet you you’ll find a lot of people reading these books, and especially Nowhere To Run, and not, again, having any sympathy for law breakers, but understanding what drives, perhaps, people who are just beat up by the government. I mean, Kelo V. City of New London doesn’t show up in a lot of thrillers.
CJB: NO, no, and it does in Nowhere To Run.
HH: Yes, it does.
CJB: And eminent domain is what has forced these people to end up where they’re at.
HH: We’ll come back to that. Now let me also give you a compliment. Melinda Strickland – I know her. All right, I’ve been dealing with the federal government, I was in the federal government, and I’ve been dealing with the federal government for twenty years, and I know Melinda Strickland. I know some great feds who are in the environmental bureaucracies. And I know some, and by saying in know her, it could be a guy. I’m not talking about any one individual person. But I know this character where they’re imperious, disinterested in locals, and completely contemptuous of public opinion. In fact, there is a public meeting on Page 171 of Winter Kill. “As she droned on, several hands were raised in the audience. She looked over the tops of the hands as she spoke, as if she couldn’t see them.”
HH: This is the federal…and she’s in the Forest Service.
HH: And I’ve actually only had good experiences with the Forest Service. Is this what the Western people generally think about federal bureaucrats?
CJB: Many do. I mean, I’ve been in many of those meetings. I covered them as a reporter, and then just had interest in them. And there’s nothing quite like the local meeting in the high school gym, where everybody comes in to make their point. And rarely are any opinions changed, or it’s really not a public meeting. It’s a public informing.
HH: It’s a public lecture.
CJB: Exactly. And somehow, they always seem to say there’s been all these comments against what everybody in the room said, and they have to weigh those against those, and somehow they always win.
HH: Oh, I think back to my years as a Steven’s Kangaroo Rat lawyer, and they’d have meeting after meeting, and all the famers would come, and the farmers would never get to talk. The staff would just go on and on forever, and the local elected officials would go on and on forever, and the farmers would never get to talk. And they’d leave angry as a result, because they just wanted to be heard. And I thought you did a tremendous job in this.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: Reverend Cobb, interesting character. And it made me ask myself, what does C.J. Box think about religion? Are you a religious guy?
CJB: Yes, I am. I mean, we go to Church, Presbyterians. I love your line about I’m a Presbyterian so no one will hug me.
HH: A Church in which you’re least likely to be hugged, that’s right.
CJB: I love that. But…so yes, I’m not Evangelical, but I’m certainly religious.
HH: And are the people of the West, of the Mountain West especially, are they particularly faithful? I mean, Reverend Cobb is a different kind of guy.
CJB: Yeah, that, you know, he’s a made up guy. But you know, I think probably, if you looked at numbers, you know, percentages, there’s probably a pretty high Churchgoing population in the Mountain West like there would be in the, maybe not as much as the South, but close.
HH: And in terms of their political views, generally, it’s a pretty Republican area.
CJB: It is.
HH: But then you keep sending Max Baucus. North Dakota’s got…
CJB: That’s Montana.
HH: …as…that’s Montana. You said that with a little contempt.
HH: I got the whole Idaho-Washington State thing from Blue Heaven. You got that down. But is there a Montana-Wyoming thing?
CJB: No, actually Montana and Wyoming could almost merge. Everybody seems to be very like-minded. And that is unusual, the Max Baucus thing.
HH: But the North Dakotans, they count as the Mountain West?
CJB: Well, not really, no, although I think they’re kind of changing, too.
HH: They’re goofy.
CJB: The big mid-Western thing is, I can’t explain well.
HH: Next book, Out Of Range. And this one’s really a meditation on Jackson Hole, and I’ve got a couple of seconds here to do here. But it’s also got a bear hunt in it.
HH: Now I didn’t…have you been on a bear hunt?
CJB: I have not been on a bear hunt. I’ve been hunting…
HH: This was pretty doggone interesting to me. Did game wardens tell you about this?
CJB: Yeah, I went and interviewed the bear guys who do this all the time.
HH: And they’re the guys who go get the bad bears?
HH: A fed bear is a dead bear?
CJB: That’s right.
HH: And do you…
CJB: Fed meaning feeding, not a federal bear.
HH: Well, maybe…
HH: No, it’s definitely…but, but do you have any desire to go on a bear hunt? My friend, Ron, who’s listening to this, I’m sure, a big hunter in Denver, loves to go bear hunting. I can’t imagine for a moment going bear hunting.
CJB: You know, I don’t want to go bear hunting.
HH: There (laughing)
CJB: But not for the reason that…it’s because one time, I saw a dead bear hanging in a camp, in an elk camp. And it had been skinned, and it looked like a man. It looked like a heavily-muscled linebacker hanging from a pole, and it creeped me out so much that I never have any desire to go bear hunting.
HH: Okay, that’s interesting. In Out Of Range, you’ve got the developer tension again, and you’ve got the good meat movement.
HH: Now I found that, is that like the slow food movement? Is that what you were thinking about?
CJB: It is, and it’s some of the same proponents. I read a, I got fascinated by that, because I read a long story in the New Yorker, I believe, or New York Times Magazine, about New Yorkers who wanted to somehow introduce their children to the fact of where their meat came from, and contract with farmers and ranchers in upstate New York, and take their kids out there and say this is the pig you’re going to eat. It comes from a pig, which I like the idea and sentiment behind it, but it fascinated me that there would be people that would be that far removed from where their meat comes from, that they would feel a need to do that.
HH: There’s actually quite a lot of meditation on meat in this.
HH: And on meat eating, and the whole vegetarian…
CJB: It’s a book about meat.
HH: It’s a book about meat. And people, it’s a fascinating book about meat.
– – – –
HH: In fact, C.J., you and I have corresponded about this, publishers drive me crazy, because they never make it easy to figure out what order you’re supposed to read these in, because they want you to buy whatever is there.
CJB: Right, yeah, I know that that drives everybody crazy. Yeah, you usually have to find a website, or find somebody who will list them for you.
HH: Do you welcome the arrival of Kindle, and now the i-Pad?
CJB: You know, I think so. I look at it a little different. I know that there are some, you know, there’s certain bookstores that are not happy with it, but I think it actually will increase readers rather than decrease readers, just because it makes the ease of reading, you know, fantastic. I’ve got a Kindle…
HH: It also lowers the cost of it.
CJB: Right. My wife has an i-Pad that I think is surgically attached to her at this point, and I see, I’m flying every place every day, I’m seeing so many people on planes reading them.
CJB: It makes it better.
HH: And I just think because of the order, that when you have series that you want to get into, epics, really, of the West or things like that, that you do want to go, you stay in them. You go deep into them, and that that will facilitate. In the old days, you had to wait and do all this other stuff. It’s great. Now I want to go back to the bureaucracy, because as I have said, I spent twenty years litigating with bureaucrats. I’ll spend the next twenty years litigating with bureaucrats at the same time. And you both, you get the good and the bad, and let’s talk about that. You have an eye for the person who is actually running things. I think, for example, of Mary Seals, runs the Department of Fish And Game in Jackson Hole, you’ve got Alice Thunder, who is running the Reservation school in a subsequent book. There are these people in bureaucracies who really run them, even though they don’t have the title.
HH: How did you figure that out?
CJB: I was a state employee.
HH: You didn’t tell me that earlier. Okay.
CJB: Yeah, between the time I was at the newspaper, and my wife and I started a company, I was a state employee for the state of Wyoming in the tourism department. And you know, for three and a half years, learned the bureaucracy, thrived in it, but at the same time, couldn’t wait to get out.
HH: That explains a lot, because I was a fed for six years, and so I know how the feds operate. State bureaucracies are slightly different. I’ve been on a lot of state agencies. But unless you’ve been on the inside, you really don’t understand how a Randy Pope can come to be, Randy Pope a critical figure in your books. Tell people who he is.
CJB: Right. Well, he’s actually the agency director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in the books, Joe’s boss and nemesis.
CJB: And yes, he’s so much like so many bureaucrats who reach that level, and play the system, and have their own agenda, that really kind of despise people like Joe Pickett who go their own way.
HH: Yeah, and I’ve got to say, counting the cost of the trucks that Joe loses, it’s a funny thing. Did you know that theme? When did you decide you were going to bring up that theme?
CJB: You know, it just came. I think by the third truck that was wrecked, I realized this is happening every book. I didn’t realize that oh, now, yeah, he’s famous within the department of having racked up the most number of damage claims.
HH: And I find that so, that kind of detail so winsome, because we’re taping this, and my friend, Bud the Contractor is in, and John Campbell, the Congressman, they’re both car nuts. And I’m not. And they’re always talking about these things, and trucks matter so much in this book, these books, that I just find it amusing. All right, I want to go into Plain Sight, because it’s a short segment. In Plain Sight is about the ranch families of the West, and what’s happened to them.
HH: How long was this aborning, because I’ve heard this story over and over again, and now it’s fictionalized.
CJB: Again, that kind of came from my newspaper days in Saratoga, Wyoming. There was an epic battle going on between two brothers on a ranch, whose mother was going to die soon, and whoever got the ranch got everything, and it divided the town and went on for years of litigation, brutal thing, shootings, all sorts of things. And it had to do, the third generation. That’s where everything explodes.
HH: It’s like Bleak House. Dickens did it in London, and this, what are their names, Arlen, Hank and Wyatt. What’s their last name? Scarlett.
HH: Scarlett family, yeah. So does this happen over and over again in the West?
CJB: Yes, and it’s amazing how many people I’ve heard from around the country who were either involved in or experienced things like that among their family. You know, it can be a shoe store, a third generation shoe store, or whatever, some kind of enterprise where if they haven’t laid out a line of succession, it goes kablooey.
HH: And divides the entire town with it.
– – – –
HH: I am going to do a dramatic reading of C.J. Box right now. From the book, Free Fire, which is a novel set in Yellowstone. Dr. Keaton, otherwise known as Doomsayer, is a character close to my heart. And he says, “We are drinking beer right now in the middle of a massive volcanic caldera, Keaton said, leaning across Nate to address Joe directly. Do you know what a caldera is? It’s the center of a dormant volcano. The Yellowstone caldera encompasses most of the so-called park. The edge of the caldera is all around us. We’re in a bowl, in the mouth of it, right now. That’s why we have all of our lovely attractions – the geysers, the steam vents, the mud pots. Magma from the center of the Earth is pushed through the steam into the crust. Keaton screwed up his face with menace. When it goes, when the Yellowstone super volcano goes, it will instantly kill three million people – every human life and all animal life for two hundred miles in every direction. Ash will cover the Continent, asphyxiate the wildlife, clog all the rivers. There’ll be a nuclear winter in New York City, and the climate truly will change as the world enters a vicious, sudden ice age. America will be over, Southern Canada and Northern Mexico wiped out. The Continent will resemble a postmodern wasteland even more than it does now. This time, it will be real and not social. It happens every 600,000 years through geologic history, at least four times we can determine. Each super volcanic eruption changes the world. Last time it erupted was 640,000 years ago. Keaton’s voice dropped to a whisper. We’re 40,000 years overdue.” I rest my case, C.J. Box.
CJB: (laughing) Yeah.
HH: You and Bill Bryson taught me more about Yellowstone. I’ve never set foot in the park.
CJB: Yes, but this guy is a nut, you know.
HH: (laughing) Yeah, I know. I know.
HH: But you’ve got to worry about this sort of thing.
HH: When did you figure out you were going to write this book? It’s a love affair with Yellowstone.
CJB: It is. It really is. I’ve been there over 120 times in my life.
CJB: And I love the place. I love the park. And yes, you know, yes it is a caldera. But the likelihood, you know, we’re in Southern California. I’m scared here.
HH: Well, you should have been here a couple of weeks ago. We could have really said hello.
CJB: But it really makes it fascinating. And the thing about that book is that there’s a lot of features and kind of inside baseball. And all of them are true with just one thing I made up. But all of the bacteria, the thermophiles, the zone of death, all of those…
HH: I was going to ask. Is the zone of death true? Was that actually based upon a real case?
CJB: Not a real case, but a real theory by a Michigan State Law professor who…
HH: So that stuff is all true?
CJB: That’s all true.
HH: Okay, also, bubble queens, pearl divers, pillow punchers, the language, this is one of the things I love about a good read, is that you will enter into a world that exists. We all know subcultures exist. How did you figure this out about Yellowstone, and the language of Yellowstone, and the language of Zephyr, which is the private concessionaire, et cetera?
CJB: Well, because I’ve had so many friends involved, and because of my many trips there. And I was, you see, I’m the kind of guy, I look at places like Yellowstone, and I think who actually lives here, who runs this place, how does it work behind the desks? And I spent a lot time and went in and did interviews with both the Park Service and concessionaires, and said you know, what’s your life really like? Tell me. And I kept buying them beer so they’d finally tell me.
HH: You what I was surprised about this book, I’m surprised that they let you name it other than the Yellowstone zone of death, because there are books like Robert Harris’ Pompeii that everybody reads before they go someplace. And this is the book that everyone should read before they go to Yellowstone, especially kids who want to know about what they’re going to be…this is a way for them, I mean, there’s a little R rated, gentle R rated stuff in it.
HH: Gentle. It’s not bad. But had that happened? Is this like stocked throughout Yellowstone?
CJB: It is.
HH: Does everyone know this is the…
CJB: It is. I’m happy to…you can buy, you can buy all of my books throughout Yellowstone Park in all the gift shops, which is great, because all the other books are trail books or whatever. And yeah, people…so many people are introduced to the park, and the inside stuff of the park through that book.
HH: And are there really geyser gazers?
HH: There are? How many of them are there?
CJB: There absolutely are. There’s a couple hundred in the summer, but it goes down to just a few dozen in the winter. But they actually serve as the park’s unofficial Park Service observers. They’re the ones who observe everything, and then they report…
HH: Is the Old Faithful in, that whacked out?
CJB: It’s pretty accurate. All the back room stuff, the bat’s alley, every once in a while now, they do a Free Fire tour of the Old Faithful, and then take people through all those back rooms and passages.
HH: Oh, I’ll tell you, I don’t want you to read these books out of order. It really will deny you a lot of pleasure. But you want to get to Free Fire in a hurry. I also want to bring up one character that I just love for a lot of reasons, Mrs. Hanson, the fourth grade teacher who’s the environmentalist, who’s never been in the environment, and who is just all green to go, et cetera. Was she based on one of your children’s teachers?
HH: Or is she…she was?
HH: I thought you might have had some experience. How did that person react, or did they even know?
CJB: I don’t think they even know, and that has been my experience, too, is that when I really kind of, when I want to get revenge a little bit, and I pattern somebody after somebody I find really annoying in a book, they never recognize themselves.
HH: All right. Now the national parks, you quote Wallace Stegner here, that, “national parks are the best idea we have ever had – absolutely American, absolutely democratic. They reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” But they’re federal. I mean, these are federal acts, C.J. Box.
HH: So it kind of flies in the face with one of the themes that the federal government screws everything up.
CJB: Yeah, it does. I mean, I’m not a doctrinaire that way. I think sometimes park management is sometimes, certainly operates almost against the intent. But the intent itself is pretty special.
HH: Did you watch, did you watch the Ken Burns’ PBS series on the national parks?
CJB: I watched the first few, and then…
HH: What did you think?
CJB: You know, I liked them, but I got kind of tired of the endless recitations about the reason, you know, of all of the men encroachment into the wilderness to create this thing.
HH: They got…
CJB: Over and over and over. Okay. Got it.
HH: It’s the story, the reason they are lovely is the people who enjoy them, their impact on human beings, not for themselves. Objectively, they’re beautiful, but they have to be experienced to be beautiful. I thought you just did a wonderful job. Everyone who loves Yellowstone must love this book.
CJB: Thank you.
HH: Did you get any critics from it? Do you get nasty…
CJB: No, I can’t think of any.
HH: Did Steamboat Geyser, have you ever seen it go off?
CJB: No, I just missed it by a day once, though, and things were still wet.
HH: Tell people about Steamboat Geyser.
CJB: It’s the biggest geyser in the world. And they have no idea. There’s no pattern, but when it goes off, it can be seen from miles away over the tops of the trees, and it absolutely drenches everything.
HH: You see, I just found this book so fascinating, because I learned more about Yellowstone. I mean, you could watch a show about it, but you’re not going to experience it like this.
CJB: And would you have ever thought that a body who falls into one of those hot springs, it smells like pork stew?
HH: No, I didn’t like that. Bio mining. Does it exist? Does bio mining exist?
CJB: It does. It does. I’ve been to the hot springs…
CJB: I’ve seen the instruments. It actually, what the thermophile they found in this one hot spring has done is make DNA testing go from the two or three weeks it used to be, to as instantaneous as it is now, the properties of it.
HH: That’s amazing.
CJB: So every month or so…
HH: Wait until the Endangered Species Act comes and describes all those microbes as endangered species.
CJB: Oh, there you go.
HH: Oh, it’s coming.
– – – –
HH: Hour Three straight ahead. Do not miss it. We’re going to get into, you got it, global warming, which features very, very prominently in his penultimate book, well, right now it’s his penultimate book. And for the Pittsburgh Steelers fans out there, that means second to last.
HH: Below Zero in the Joe Pickett series. C.J. Box, though, Blood Trail is a book about hunting.
HH: And you are a hunter.
HH: And I must say, in the first five pages, I learned more about hunters and why they hunt than I have ever known before. I’m not a hunter. It’s really quite amazing.
CJB: Well, thank you.
HH: Do you, how often do you get out still?
CJB: I hunt birds every year. I don’t hunt big game all the time anymore, but I grew up doing it, and I will hunt big game again.
HH: And Native Americans are in this book.
HH: And how intimate are you with the circumstances of reservation life? I’m not even sure if, are there reservations in Wyoming?
CJB: Yeah, the Wind River Indian Reservation is right in the center…
HH: So this is not made up. This is all true.
CJB: That’s true. And you know, again, I wanted to portray life on the reservation and among the people as I saw it, as opposed to how people imagine it, and try to be accurate.
HH: And how has it been received?
CJB: Very well. Very well. I haven’t, nobody’s gotten after me.
HH: Okay, how about the anti-hunting activists? Again, our second major environmentalist is, what’s his name, what’s his silly name? Klamath Moore.
CJB: Klamath Moore.
HH: He, like Stewie, he’s much more malevolent than Stewie.
CJB: Yes, he is. Yes, he is.
HH: And the nice lady in Open Range. So what about that, the anti-hunting activists? You have very little sympathy for this particular character. Does it represent a different class of activist?
CJB: That’s true. I mean, these are the eco-terrorist type activists. Yeah, and I try to, I took a lot of the stuff that I based him on from websites that I found of extreme anti-hunting activists, and how many there are out there. And I didn’t realize how nasty they were.
HH: And is that a daily kind of story in Wyoming about…I didn’t…the other thing is the effect of the hunting economy on Wyoming.
CJB: Oh, it’s huge.
HH: It’s massive.
CJB: Yeah, it’s huge.
HH: You have those statistics about every elk is like worth $14,000 dollars to the state budget or something like that.
CJB: I love stuff like that when you boil it down to really that kind of thing. But yeah, and it hasn’t impacted Wyoming as it has in some other states. I know that there’s been, you know, there’s been a lot more controversy in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania with anti-hunt, active anti-hunt activists going out into the field trying to screw up opening day than there have been in Wyoming, but I’m aware of that.
HH: And when you do that, do you go out and actually talk to anti-hunting activists? Or was that all done second person.
CJB: Second person. That was just studying the websites, and studying literature.
– – – –
HH: My guest in studio, C.J. Box, he’s in animated conversation with Bud the Contractor, who’s describing to him his favorite vacation ever in an R.V. Bud will not want to get into an R.V. again if he ever reads Below Zero, because there is a very unfortunate circumstance involving a very big R.V. in Below Zero. My guest is C.J. Box, extraordinarily successful novelist. Some of you will know him quite well, and will have read all of his books. Some of you, I hope, go out and immediately get Open Season and begin what you will thank me for, a wonderful romp through the ten books in the Joe Pickett series, and his other books as well. C.J. Box, let’s talk a little bit about Below Zero, which is really, probably the most political of your books.
CJB: Probably, yes.
HH: It’s got Al Gore in it, it’s got carbon offsets in it, it’s got blog sites like Planetstupido, it’s got all sorts of different things in there. Let’s start, before we talk about the novel, yourself, what is your view of global warming, and who speaks it in these books?
CJB: Well, I mean, my personal view? You’re asking me?
CJB: Okay, I’ve to get out from behind the wall. My personal view is that it’s likely that there could be some global warming, but I doubt that it’s affected by human activity.
HH: This is the Steven Hayward position, which is that temperature’s gone up a little bit…
CJB: But now, it’s gone back down.
HH: We have had a little bit to do with it.
HH: And it’s doubtful that we could do anything about it, even if we did have something to do with it. And certainly, the United States couldn’t do anything by itself.
HH: Okay, but you also are very sympathetic to people who are passionate about it in this. Not the crazy people, but you’ve got Nate Romanowski, who is our anti-hero hero. And he gives a couple of speeches in here about living lightly on the land and having a small footprint. Why do you have him do that?
CJB: Because I think, I mean, I admire, and I think it’s admirable to be thrifty, to not make a huge impact when it’s not necessary. But that has more to do with philosophy and economy than a quasi-religious belief. And I think just like most stewards of the land don’t tear it up. They take care of it. So it’s that kind of thing.
HH: What do you make of carbon offsets?
CJB: I spent a lot of time researching carbon offsets, and going to those websites, and finding out how much would it cost me to pay for my daughter’s wedding, and how many guests, and what would the check be to alleviate my guilt. And I was fascinated by the fact that they existed, and that people actually do them. And that’s kind of the premise of the book.
HH: You also discovered that a lot of the carbon offset make ups end up bringing in non-native plants to sensitive ecosystems around the world like eucalyptus into Thailand.
HH: That was fascinating. Not many people know that.
CJB: Well you know what? Even the people who are really debating that issue within the carbon offset community don’t like that getting out much, that there is some objection to the fact that they may actually be, yeah, introducing species, and too many of them to areas that they shouldn’t be.
HH: What is your view generally about the planet, and where we are as an ecosystem right now?
CJB: Wow, that’s a question. I think that this planet, I mean, nature is self-healing to so many degrees. It changes, but it’s self-healing. It’s so much bigger than us, that for us to think that we can do one or two, you know, these things and actually affect it, has more to do with how much huge self-regard we have than what is actually possible.
HH: Are you ever going to put Joe Pickett in Alaska for some crazy reason?
CJB: You know, I’ve thought about it. It may happen. I kind of have sort of bridled against the idea of making him start to do some globe-hopping, but you know, if there was the right kind of issue that he had to go there for something, that might be fun.
HH: Because Wyoming’s pretty big. I’ve only been to Wyoming once. I turned left on the 25 once and went up to Cheyenne. I wanted to see that old hotel where all the cattlemen used to hang out in Cheyenne, went past the big statue and all that stuff. And Wyoming’s pretty big. You can get lost there. And Colorado’s pretty big. But it hasn’t got nothing on Alaska.
CJB: Oh, that’s true. Yeah, my wife and I were there a few years ago and really loved it.
HH: Are there game wardens? Do you talk to the Alaska game wardens?
CJB: I haven’t talked to them, no.
HH: I can’t even imagine being a game warden in Alaska. That’s kind of like losing before you get going. Okay, a couple of quick questions. The Hole In The Wall Canyon, and you have a character, again, I’m not giving anything away, who happens to use the Hole In The Wall Canyon.
HH: Does it really exist?
CJB: It does.
HH: Okay, tell people about it.
CJB: It does. I’ve been there. It’s on a, some of it’s public now, but most of it’s on a private ranch. It’s where outlaws in the old, the real West, the 1880s era, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, where they would, where they would hole up. It’s a perfect geological hiding place.
HH: Explain to people why.
CJB: Because it’s a huge canyon in the middle of the foothills leading up to the Bighorns, that from the areas inside, from the caves inside, you can see anybody coming down as they try to approach, but from those trails, you can’t see where the caves are.
HH: It was fascinating, and you covered it so well. But you also had a section, I think it’s in this one, some of them I don’t have notes on, where you compare the various mountain ranges.
CJB: Yes, that’s the new book.
HH: And you don’t like the Sierra Madre too well. Oh, is that in Nowhere To Run?
HH: And so you like the Bighorns. That’s your, those are your mountains. Which ones don’t you like? Which ones are we talking about as the universe of ranges?
CJB: Well, I didn’t say I didn’t like them. I said Joe Pickett has different viewpoints of different mountain ranges, and he considers the Tetons, the Grand Tetons, kind of like the Eurotrash supermodels of mountains.
CJB: And that each one has their own characteristics.
HH: And the Black Hills feature prominently in this book, and people like the hills as opposed to mountains.
HH: Particularly Chicago gangsters.
CJB: Right, and they only get as far as that, because it’s comfortable. Yeah, actually, there are stories, there are some great stores about Al Capone during his hideout days coming out and playing cowboy a little bit on some of the ranches.
HH: That must be amusing. Now obviously, when the Chicago gangsters show up here, Stenko, it’s a new element.
HH: But why did you, was that a risk as a writer to say okay, I’m going to introduce, like the carbon traders introduce a foreign species into my ecosystem, I’m going to introduce an outsider into the West.
HH: Was that a big risk?
CJB: I don’t know if it was a risk, but I always loved the juxtaposition. I always love to view the West through an outsider’s eyes, and that’s a way of doing that. And I never had a traditional gangster in any of the books, and I really wanted to go with that, because of the stories that I’d heard about Al Capone.
HH: All right, now I’m going a little psychodrama here, but environmental activists in this book, the crazy one, is the son of an outlaw looking for love, looking for…is that a generalized view of the hyper-activist, in your view, that they’re looking for significance, or to replace something they didn’t have?
CJB: I see it as a supplement, or a replacement for, you know, extreme religious fervor, and they choose to make environmentalism their religion, and therefore, anything they do is justified.
HH: At the same time, there’s a very poignant scene among some young trust babies getting married, where they’re having a conversation…
CJB: Oh, that’s a vicious little…
HH: …about what their moms, don’t you know my mom runs the Green Day in San Diego or something like that, sort of like the tony environmentalism gets slapped around in here, too.
CJB: Yeah, it does. Yeah, it does. That’s…what this is, I mean, not giving too much away, is that it’s a quest by this gangster before he dies, he’s going to die soon, to pay down his carbon footprint as quickly as possible, and that involves some horrible crimes. And it’s all done to try to reconcile with his son.
HH: You gave away a lot more than I was going to give away.
CJB: Well, that’s jacket flap stuff, so that’s okay.
HH: That is, oh, you see, that’s…don’t you hate to write jacket flaps for mysteries?
CJB: I don’t. I don’t. I don’t do the writing of it.
HH: You don’t.
CJB: No, and sometimes, I do really have problems when too much is given away.
HH: It’s like a movie. I don’t want to know anything about a movie until I sit down, and I’m conducting this in such a way that hopefully, it will confuse everybody about every novel, but tease them a lot.
HH: All right, I’ve got to go to Page 222 here, because it’s Nate. And I was thinking to myself, because I covered the Bird Flu a lot, and you’re very, very hard on people who covered the Bird Flu a lot here. I was thinking to myself oh, gosh, C.J. Box doesn’t like people who covered the Bird Flu.
HH: I try to live low impact, Nate explained. I’m concerned about the environment and the planet. The whole world is in a tizzy about global warming, but I never take these crises for face value. If I did, I’d never get any sleep. Remember Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Mad Cow Disease? We’re all going to die from those if you recall? What’s Bird Flu, Sheridan asked? Exactly my point. Sheridan doesn’t even know what it was supposed to be – a big time pandemic, and that no one would be safe. One great crisis steps forward, replaces the last one, we don’t give it a second thought. Don’t forget the Millennium Bug. Ha. And I distinctly remember when I was growing up, we were headed for a new ice age. Remember that? I remember reading about it in grade school. People like to think they’re doomed. It brings some kind of black comfort, I guess. Anyway, since I’ve got the satellite internet dish and plenty of time on my hands, I’ve been doing lots of research on climate change. I’m not sure what I believe yet. There’s no doubt there’s an increase in temperature – not much, but definitely real. The rub is whether it’s our fault or a natural cycle. There’s some pretty convincing arguments on both sides. The problem is the issue has moved from science into religion, with true believers on both sides. There isn’t even a debate anymore. Both sides believe what they believe, and their positions have hardened.
CJB: That’s prior to Climategate, yeah.
HH: That was part, but I thought you summed up my view completely on everything about this sort of stuff. But what do you do then in that situation as the novel is moving forward, when people are reading your book for information? I disagree with you about the Bird Flu. We will get a pandemic like the Spanish Flu of 1918. We will, because it’s just going to recur. I’m with Bush on this sort of thing.
HH: What do you do then if science is discredited, and no one believes anything anymore?
CJB: Boy, I don’t know how to answer that. I guess all you do is, you know, another great institution or belief is you can’t believe it anymore. Hopefully, that will make them clean up their act. Other than that, I’m not sure what to say.
HH: Do you believe in the wind power that is now decorating Wyoming with windmills?
CJB: That is the subject of the next book. I’ve been researching that.
HH: Oh, interesting. Stumbled onto something. I’ll be right back, America.
– – – – –
HH: C.J. Box, are you a sports fan?
CJB: Yes, I am.
HH: The Wyoming Cowboys are in this book occasionally.
CJB: Yes, they are. They don’t do that well, but of course we follow them.
HH: They break your heart, don’t they?
CJB: Yes, they do.
HH: I saw the University of Colorado Buffalos crush them last year.
CJB: I was listening, and I knew you were at that game, and I thought oh…
HH: Yeah, so is that like a fetish among all Wyoming people, they try and root for the Cowboys?
CJB: We only have one university.
HH: That’s it?
CJB: So that’s our team.
HH: Okay, Nowhere To Run is the most recent C.J. Box book, and it’s very different. I mean, I think it’s completely different than the ones before that. Am I right in this?
CJB: No, you are right. Yeah.
HH: And we start with the Grimm Brothers. I’m going to let you tell people what they need to know. They’re introduced early in the book, so I don’t mind giving them a little hint about them.
CJB: Right. Joe Pickett is investigating some weird things going on in the Sierra Madre, and doing a five day horse trek over the top of the mountains. And on the top, he sees a lone fisherman on a lake, and goes down to investigate, and the guy is very strange looking, very aggressive, belligerent back, claims he has a fishing license, and offers to take Joe to his camp to show it to him. Joe follows, and Joe realizes that there are two of these guys, two brothers, identical twins dressed alike, both in their own world, both aggressive and belligerent. And he knows just simply by the vibe of the place, that they’re going to be coming after him.
HH: There are also other characters in this book that reflect parental discord quite a lot. And you also have a little meditation in here, and I’ve got a lot of friends who are triathletes and marathon runners, you’ve got a little meditation on the people who do that kind of thing as well. What’s the C.J. Box or the Joe Pickett view on ultra-athletes?
CJB: You know, I don’t really have one. And don’t assume that if Joe Pickett has a thought about something that it’s mine, necessarily. But in this case, it’s just about, it’s the parents of these runners who feel that they’re so self-absorbed with their running that they’re disconnected.
HH: Yeah, there’s also a mad archer.
HH: And it sort of stand, there’s a recurring theme in all the Joe Pickett books about people who abuse the Fish & Game laws. You’re not big fans of these people.
CJB: No, I’m not.
HH: You’re always down on them. And the mad archer is always shooting things out of season for cruelty. What percentage of hunters are this sort of cruel person. It’s very, very small, right?
CJB: I think it’s extremely small. It’s very unusual, and they’re not hunters. They’re just…
CJB: Gangsters, yeah.
HH: They’re sadists. And there’s a scene here where rough justice is going to be delivered. Is that generally what the West views about people who abuse the Fish & Game laws?
CJB: Yes. Yeah, in fact, you know, they certainly…I mean, because it’s somebody who’s affecting their resource. So it’s beyond some criminality.
HH: You also talk about most people turn themselves in. It’s a little aside in one of the books, I can’t remember which one, that most Fish & Game violators turn themselves in?
CJB: Yeah, they do. Yeah, they do.
HH: Now explain that.
CJB: Because most fishermen and hunters are ethical people. And when they do something wrong, sometimes they go, if a hunter is shooting at one animal and hits the wrong species, will go turn himself in and say I did it, I screwed up, give me my fine.
HH: One of the cultures discussed in Nowhere To Run is the objectivist culture.
HH: And you’ve obviously read your Ayn Rand.
CJB: In college, yes.
HH: Well, tell people about why you decided to write about it. Do you think this is driving a lot of this separatist movement, a lot of this kind of outlier movement right now?
CJB: Well, yes.
HH: I agree.
CJB: And like I said, I finished this book a year ago, but have you ever heard in the last twenty, thirty years as much about Ayn Rand as now?
CJB: And suddenly, people are reading those books for the first time, which I find fascinating. So yeah, I think that’s something to latch onto, as kind of a way to focus some of the frustrations.
HH: Can people lose themselves in the Mountain West? I mean, you keep in your books talking about how vast these areas are, and how a lot of the game people, the wardens, et cetera, have to go out on horse. You can’t get anywhere unless you’re out on horse. Is it, can people actually lose themselves and go off the grid?
CJB: Well, to answer this question, this book, Nowhere To Run, is based on a real incident.
HH: Oh, it is?
CJB: There really are those brothers, the twins. In the middle of the Wind Rivers, the game warden that serves as my technical consultant was the one who found them, and they’ve never yet, they haven’t been spotted again since.
HH: Wow. When did that come out?
CJB: Three years ago. Three years ago. He’s even got some blurry photos of them in the camp.
HH: Kind of like Sasquatch, huh?
CJB: A little bit, yeah.
HH: Now your technical advisor, they must all have like a million stories, right?
CJB: They do, yeah.
HH: And so is that where you get most of your creative material from?
CJB: No, this is the only one I’ve actually based on a real game warden incident. All the other are, you know, based on the issue.
HH: There’s also an incident here of a wounded person surviving, which is very riveting. How did you figure that stuff out?
CJB: Is that, are we talking about the Hugh Glass story?
HH: No, well that story is in there, but your character who is wounded thinks about Hugh Glass to power them forward.
HH: Tell people about Hugh Glass. That’s a true story?
CJB: That is a true story.
CJB: Yes, he was one of the original mountain men. He was with Jim Bridger on an expedition, and was attacked by a grizzly bear, left for dead, absolutely mauled. But it is in the middle of Indian country, so Jim Bridger, the famous mountain man, and his buddy stayed with this guy, waiting for him to die for three days, figured we can’t stay any longer, the Indians will find us, we’ll be dead, so they left him. And then the guy came out of his coma, and for months, traveled on his own until he could walk again, solely to find Jim Bridger to kill him. And he never did.
HH: He didn’t kill Jim Bridger?
CJB: But he did survive.
HH: That’s remarkable.
CJB: It’s an amazing story. It’s a story, you know, that’s greater than any fiction.
HH: How much of the old West do you know, C.J. Box?
CJB: I think quite a bit, and it’s just sort of in the genes. It’s not like, I don’t read a lot of Westerns, but I have read a lot of history.
HH: And when did that fixation or obsession or hobby begin? How old were you?
CJB: As soon as I could read.
HH: Oh really?
CJB: And because I think simply because Wyoming is the West, you read Western stuff.
HH: Did you watch Deadwood on HBO?
CJB: I did. I did.
CJB: And I got into it, but I got tired towards the end of it. I felt like I wasn’t sure where it was going to go.
HH: Okay, Robert Duvall did not like it.
CJB: I heard that.
HH: He said that the men of the West did not…
CJB: I heard that interview.
HH: Yeah, didn’t talk that way, didn’t exist that way.
CJB: I agree with him.
HH: Based on?
CJB: Based on reading journals and historical Westerns. They certainly, certainly cursed, but they didn’t curse in a Shakespearean way.
HH: Well, that’s true. But was it that violent?
CJB: Deadwood was.
HH: All right. There’s also in your book an occasionally user, a crystal meth user, an absolute drunk. Are these people common, more common in the Mountain West than you’ll find them elsewhere?
CJB: Well, I mean, in the rural America, it’s crystal meth. It doesn’t have to be just the Mountain West. I mean, it’s everywhere.
HH: Have you noticed a change in Wyoming in the years that you’ve been alive in terms of the kind of people who are casualties of the new culture?
HH: And how do you find, where do you see them?
CJB: Well, I mean, they’re everywhere. And plus, if you talk to law enforcement, that’s where a huge amount of hours of the day are spent with those types.
HH: And in terms of the influx of the people who are retiring, in fact, we’ll come to this in the next segment when we talk about Blue Heaven, do they come up there, and are they surprised by what they’re not leaving behind?
CJB: Ah, that’s a good way to put it. I think so. I mean, a lot of people don’t come to the Mountain West because of the winters. But those who can get through the winters tend to really stick, and really enjoy it. And they make the place better.
HH: Most of your books are not about the winter.
HH: Winter Kill is.
CJB: Winter Kill is.
HH: Yeah, Winter Kill is.
– – – –
HH: You know, the media is another theme in your books, C.J. And in Nowhere To Fun, you’ve got Farkas. And by the way, named after, I’m sure, a character in A Christmas Story.
HH: Farkas is the guy who gets beat up, and he’s kind of a nebbish in this book as well. But as his role unfolds, he sees the opportunity to score with the media, and so he checks his hair, he checks himself, and he plans on getting a contract. He becomes, you know, he wants to be an authority on this and that, so he rides off. There is a real current in the Joe Pickett novels of contempt for modern media.
CJB: (laughing) You know, there is, I guess. I don’t think about it that much. But I certainly do watch cable news.
HH: You listen to talk radio.
CJB: I absolutely do. And I’m a member of the Hughniverse.
HH: Thank you, thank you.
CJB: But no, just obviously it’s not new, but anybody who’s following anything, if there’s a blond on an island, we’re going to hear about it 24/7 for the next several weeks. And that drives me crazy. And yes, I do have sometimes a very cynical view. But you know, I don’t try to pound anybody over the head with it.
HH: No, but it’s very knowing about how the rules are, and how people rise through media. Is that based upon your time as a reporter?
CJB: Yes, I think so. Yeah, and I still have friends in the media.
HH: Does anyone in the media read your books, I mean any of the New York people? They normally don’t read these books.
CJB: I don’t know of any of the New York…there have been a few, though. I’ve been surprised by a few that have contacted me or had their people contact me and say they really enjoyed it, and would like the new book.
HH: I think it would be fascinating to put you on whenever these things happen, which brings me to Blue Heaven, because the media is big in Blue Heaven.
HH: I’m going to let you set it up to tell people what Blue Heaven is, and why, this is so different from the Joe Pickett novels. It’s the one I haven’t finished. As I said earlier in the program if you’re just tuning in, I’m about six hours through the ten hour listen. Most of the other, I’ve read all the other books, but this one I’m listening to.
CJB: Yeah, this actually came about, I was on a book tour in L.A. about, I think five years ago, and a little store where LAPD guys would come in and help with the book signing, actually. And one of them found out I was from Wyoming, and he said oh, you’re from that Blue Heaven country. A bunch of my buddies have retired there. I’d never heard the phrase, I didn’t think it was Wyoming, and when I investigated it further, it was, he meant the panhandle, extreme North Idaho – extreme North Idaho.
HH: Thirty miles from Canada.
CJB: Right, and that up to over a thousand ex-LAPD, at that point, had moved up there and retired. And I found that fascinating – big city cops in a very rural area. I thought there’s a story there. So I went up and did some interviews, and talked to some of the retired cops and the locals, and the story came from there.
HH: Now there’s some aspects to this story. For example, it involves Arcadia racetrack.
HH: And what’s the name of the horse?
CJB: Or Santa Anita.
HH: Is it Santa Anita?
HH: In Arcadia.
HH: And the famous horse about whom the book…
CJB: Sea Biscuit.
HH: Sea Biscuit. And so you know, you’ve got one character walking around the track, going to the jockey club, et cetera. Did you go there?
CJB: Yes. I don’t want to tell this long, long…I went out to see the park, because I was here, and I just wanted to see what it looked like, and it was not a race day. And this is probably going to get me in trouble, but I walked up to a fence, it was open, and I went inside.
HH: Just like Via Toro, okay.
CJB: Exactly. I walked through the restaurants, the paddocks, I walked through everything. Never saw anybody, took notes the whole time, walked out, and had the entire experience.
HH: And that became the chapter?
HH: Oh, that’s amazing. So that’s what you do, because I was wondering how you got that sort of detail. You actually go to the place and wander through it.
CJB: In this case, yeah. I had contacted them, said I’m a writer, I’d love to come tour the park, they never responded. So I went there anyway, and found a gate open.
HH: Now since the book came out, have you heard from any of the stewards or the people there about, by the way, was that a real incident?
CJB: No, I made that up.
HH: I was wondering. I haven’t had a chance to look it up yet, because I’m listening to it. So you made up the crime about which this…
HH: And how did you figure out all the details like on money laundering, and money tracing and banking, and all that stuff?
CJB: I just started thinking how hard it is these days to have, to get a bundle of cash. There’s very few places where there’s a lot of cash. And there would be at a race track, so it came from there.
HH: And so you needed that to power it forward. And what about, you’ve got for the first time Latino characters, Hispanic characters, because Wyoming’s not exactly culturally diverse.
CJB: Oh, this is Idaho.
CJB: Which is even less so. (laughing)
HH: Is it less so than Wyoming?
CJB: I think so.
HH: So how did you go about this, because the pronunciation made me laugh, because I pronounce almost every name wrong, much less people of ethnic variety. I get them all wrong. How did you go about learning this subculture?
CJB: You know, I don’t know if I learned that much about it other than there’s a friend and a fellow author named Via Toro in L.A., and I would go to his house on the book tours, and he’s just in a documentary, and I know him and like him, and he’s got the Salvadoran connection, so I kind of used his story.
HH: Oh, interesting.
– – – –
HH: We’re playing a little Louie Armstrong. Why are we playing Louie Armstrong, C.J. Box?
CJB: Because we’ve been listening to it in the car as we drive around L.A, that’s why, and it’s good stuff.
HH: And how long have you had an affinity for Louie Armstrong?
CJB: I’ve always kind of liked him. But the guy I’m with, Ken Wilson, is an aficionado. So he’s been, you know, I’d rather listen to Louie Armstrong than Ken.
HH: That’s true. Ken is my connection for authors on the West Coast. All right, going back to Blue Heaven, it’s another double-breasted view of law enforcement. You’ve got good cops and bad cops, and you’ve got heroics and really awful. Do you think there are people that are that bad?
CJB: Oh, yes. I mean…
HH: I mean, not Keeley bad. Keeley’s a psychopath from early on in the novel series…
HH: And that’s a different kind…I know there’s psychopaths. But I mean intentionally, maliciously cold, that bad?
CJB: Well, yes, there are. And you know, especially when you hear and read of true crime stories, so many times they’re so much worse than anything I could ever imagine. So I think the characters are, you know, fairly accurate. And in Blue Heaven, I just figured if there’s a thousand ex-retired cops, there’s probably three of them that aren’t very good, you know? And so I’m not even suggesting they’re all like that, or even any significant number. Just this one thing.
HH: All right, two other subcultures here. I mentioned earlier in the show for people coming in, the old ranches of the West. And you’ve got Jess Rawlins who’s an old rancher. How many of these guys are there left?
CJB: Not, in that part of the country, not many. I mean, there’s only, there is only one working ranch remaining in that part of North Idaho. And I went in and talked to the people who operated it, and they were telling me how tough it was.
HH: And so where are we going to get our cows from?
CJB: Oh, there’s…
HH: Where’s the hamburger coming from? Is it all going to be imported?
CJB: No, no, there’s plenty of land in Wyoming and Montana. It’s just in the resort areas where there’s no longer real agriculture.
HH: In terms of the rodeoing, there’s a culture of rodeoing, and my friend, Twiggs is an old rodeoer, and I went over to the Las Vegas thing with Cinch Jeans, and learned about rodeo.
CJB: Which was one of the, a couple of the funniest hours I have ever heard. Thank you for that.
HH: Well, that brown cow/black cow thing got me in a little trouble, but we won’t dwell on that.
Duane: Can’t imagine why.
HH: Did you rodeo?
CJB: No, no.
HH: Did you have friends who rodeoed?
CJB: Yes, yeah, I grew up with a lot of them. And I was also on the board of directors for Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo for six years.
HH: Oh, okay. And you’ve got Cinch Jeans in one of your books as well, so I’m sure my friends…and you’re wearing Cinch as we speak here.
CJB: Yes, I am.
HH: Okay, that’s going to make Ron and those guys…as is Duane. I guess it’s Cinch day here at the Hugh Hewitt Show.
CJB: That’s the real deal in the rodeo.
HH: It is, but in terms of that culture, isn’t that dying?
CJB: Actually, no. There’s probably a lot more rodeo cowboys than there are working ranch cowboys.
HH: Well, that’s what I mean. But I mean that culture of the ranches. Isn’t that going away? The rodeo is big.
HH: Professional bull riding, all that stuff is huge. But that Western…
CJB: Yeah, I think if you probably looked at actual numbers, it’s certainly smaller. But it’s, the subculture of rodeo is growing.
HH: Okay. Now I want to close by asking you the hardest question of all.
HH: Which is your favorite of the Joe Pickett novels?
CJB: Oh, God.
HH: And don’t do to me what these other authors always do, which is I love them all.
CJB: Well, I do love them all.
HH: I know they’re like children, but there’s always a favorite child in big families.
CJB: It would be either, I can’t say one, but it would be either Open Season, since that introduced it all, and I’m forever grateful that a foundation was set, or probably Free Fire, which, because I love Yellowstone so much, and it’s the only one I felt that I left so much on the cutting room floor that I wanted to put in about Yellowstone.
HH: Are there other national park novels out there? Is there a Yosemite novel out there? Is that on your list of ideas?
CJB: Probably not. I am going, I just finished a stand alone novel that will be out next year that will be another, that will be set partially in Yellowstone.
HH: Oh, okay. What’s on the list of the to do novels?
CJB: Oh, I do want to do a book sometime that includes, that is actually about rodeo, a Joe Pickett novel. I’ve had it figured out for years. I just have to wait until his girls get old enough. So I want to get into the subculture of rodeo, the real one.
HH: You’ve had a barrel-riding woman before. I can’t remember who it was. It might have been Alicia. Was it Alicia, the Native American…
CJB: Yeah, I think yeah, she was for a while.
HH: She was a barrel rider. And so I learned a little bit about that. So that’s interesting. So the culture of rodeo. What else?
CJB: Oh, the wind energy development. The current book I’m working on, the Joe Pickett book that’ll be out next year, is about that. That’s the theme.
HH: How much time do you spend on the road, vis-à-vis at home, writing?
CJB: I’m on the road usually about a month a year with book tours and so on. But then you know, it really depends on the subject. Some things, I don’t need to go there. But others, I do, so just totally depends on the book and the subject.
HH: And why do these book tours? I’ve talked to a lot of authors. They used to matter a great deal. Why are you still doing them?
CJB: I still think they do, because books, unlike so many other things, are really sold one at a time, you know, a reader telling another reader I met this guy, gal, nice guy, try this book out. It really is a slow build like that. There’s always exceptions, but in general, I find them…plus I like the opportunity to meet with readers. I really do.
HH: Who is your average reader?
CJB: You know, with me, it’s like 50-50 men and women, which is really interesting for this genre.
HH: That’s because Mary Beth is a big feature here, and I’ll bet you that the spouses of law enforcement love this.
CJB: I hear that a lot.
HH: Do you?
CJB: Yes. So I think there’s more men readers than women of these kind of series. Usually, an awful lot of retired people. A lot of men who don’t read fiction while they had their careers suddenly turn into voracious readers once they’re retired.
HH: You know, Eisenhower always used to read novels of the West when he was at war, because it allowed him to go away. I’ve never been a Louie L’Amour…do you read Louie L’Amour, all these guys/
CJB: Not that much, actually.
HH: I’ve never cared about those kind of things. I always thought it was one plot over and over again.
CJB: It is.
HH: Is there anyone else who’s doing anything like Joe Pickett?
CJB: Surprisingly, there’s not a couple more game warden books out there, one set in Texas, one set in Maine. I kind of, I think I’ve sort of helped generate a little sub-genre. And there are certainly more outdoor kind of adventure books than there were. But I mean, I wasn’t the first. Tony Hillerman was, who really took a rural location and made it, set a series there. And I think with this, he really was the guy who charted the pathway.
HH: Do you know Tony?
CJB: Never met him, unfortunately. He gave me the million dollar quote on the first book that said buy this, buy two copies of this book and save one. It’s going to be worth a mint.
HH: How did that happen?
CJB: My editor, I think, sent him a galley of it. And he always talked up my books, and I went to two places once where he was supposed to be there, to meet him, and he was sick and wasn’t there. So I never got a chance to actually meet him.
HH: Are you surprised by the generosity of writers?
CJB: I am. Yeah, and some of the best, most popular, especially in this genre, are also the most generous.
HH: Yeah, when I talk to these people off air, or in studio, there’s also this sort of subculture of writers who know each other, live the life…
CJB: Go fishing together. Yeah, it’s great.
– – – –
HH: I hope you’ve enjoyed this, America, as much as I have. www.cjbox.net for all of the books. You can go to Wikipedia if you want to get them in the right order. Start with Open Season, and then work your way forward. C.J., first of all, are you ever going to run for office?
HH: You’re sure? 100%?
CJB: 100% sure.
HH: The writer turned governor of Wyoming is not in the future?
CJB: No, it’s not. Absolutely not.
HH: Not now, not ever, never? This is a MacArthur-like statement?
HH: All right, I don’t think it was MacArthur. Who did that? Sherman.
HH: It was a Sherman-like statement. All right, now having said that, how long do you expect to do this? Are you going to go, like, Calvin and Hobbes, the artist who said after a while I’m done?
CJB: No, no. I love it. I mean, all my life, I wanted to be a novelist. It took forty years to get there. Now, I just sort of feel unleashed. I want, I think I’m getting better as a writer. It’s getting a little easier, because I understand the process. They’ve been successful, which is nice. Every one has outsold the previous one. The new one, Nowhere To Run, is now, you know, got on the New York Times list at number 17, which is my highest number. So and as things succeed, I like it more.
HH: What do you want your legacy, what do you want people to say about C.J. Box as a writer?
CJB: You know, I’ve never thought about it like that, but I want them to someday say that I got it right about what I wrote about at this particular time in this country in this place, that if you want to know what it was like, maybe read this series.
HH: So do you want to be read fifty years from now, a hundred years from now?
CJB: Oh, I’d love it. I’d love it. Who knows?
HH: And do you think they can do that, as windows into a period of time?
CJB: I don’t know. Sometimes that works with some writers, sometimes it doesn’t. I mean, Raymond Chandler’s 30’s Los Angeles, nobody has ever done that better. And that’s a window in. Hopefully, this will be a window into the Mountain West.
HH: And do you think you’re standing in a particular pivot time in the Mountain West?
CJB: I don’t know. Things seems to have really taken off in the last year or so for some reason.
HH: I mean in terms of losing the ranches, losing that life, losing that independence, and moving…
CJB: Oh, that. The tipping point? Yes. Yes, I think we’re king of, have tipped.
CJB: Into a whole different, I mean, I think the legacy ranches, the family ranches, a lot of just the whole frontier kind of attitude is probably on the downside.
HH: Will you live anywhere else?
HH: You’re sure of that?
CJB: I’m sure of that. No, I love it. I mean, I’m comfortable there. I travel a lot, but I always want to go home.
HH: Is there anyplace in the world that is similar?
CJB: Oh, you know, I think New Zealand is a little bit because of the trout fishing, and some of the country. And some places in South America.
HH: Have you traveled around the world?
CJB: I have, because my wife and I have a company involved in tourism promotion.
HH: Oh, what is it?
CJB: So I’ve been all over. It’s called Rocky Mountain International.
HH: Oh, Rocky Mountain International. We’ll check it out. We’re out of time, C.J. Thank you so much for spending the time with me.
CJB: This has been so cool. Thank you very much.
HH: Well, it’s been my pleasure.
End of interview.