Special to Village Life
Joe Pickett may be the most famous Fish and Game Warden in Wyoming. The devoted husband, doting father of three and dedicated state employee is yet as frail and sensitive as anyone and certainly not a superman. But his stories are known worldwide as his creator, author Charles James Box Jr., 48, has written 16 novels of the adventures of this character who seems to find trouble in the most unlikely places, even in your everyday firewood pile.
Pickett adventures became known to the public starting with Box’s first novel “Open Season” published in 2001 and continue annually including his most recent Pickett story “Off the Grid,” a Joe Pickett, Nate Romanowski novel introduced in March of last year that debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Not satisfied with just Joe Pickett, Box has written three well received, stand-alone novels plus two Cody Hoyt novels. Box’s work is highly decorated as demonstrated by his numerous critical awards.
When you see Box, you can also see how he created Pickett. Box, except maybe for the hair, is Joe Pickett (Box in public always seems to be wearing his familiar cowboy hat). Box is from Wyoming and as an avid outdoorsman is immersed in hunting, fishing and exploring the rugged outdoors of the Rocky Mountains and more specifically the Big Horns.
“I like a book that is accurate where they take place, peeling layers off the place so you (the reader) understand the location better than the locals,” said Box, and that is evident in his novels.
Keeping it real
Most of the towns have real names, are located where they should be as are the terrain and mountain ranges. It’s like a travelogue of Wyoming. While the town of Saddlestring does exist, it is not as big as in the novel. About the only location that is actually fictitious is Twelve Sleep County.
“Yes, the fictional county of Twelve Sleep is a wink-wink nod to the actual town of Ten Sleep,” said Box.”
Ten Sleep is actually located about 45 miles to the southwest of Saddlestring. However Johnson County in which Saddlestring is actually located gets mentioned in his second novel “Savage Run.”
Box does have a prior history with the Sacramento area.
“My connection with the Pacific Legal Foundation was made when they provided me information and research on their (real life) case against the EPA (Sackett vs. EPA) when I was writing my novel ‘Breaking Point.’ I like the work they do and I urged readers to contribute to the PLF,” said Box.
Ironically when first reading about Box, he was described as weaving environmental issues into his books but it’s writing about the environment using fact based science, not some emotional plea to save the planet.
Box is unquestionably a believer in ethics, the individual and private property rights. Box’s scientific attitude toward the environment became apparent in his first two books, “Open Season” and “Savage Run.”
“Because of the Endangered Species Act, which is part of my first book, I got the idea for Joe Pickett, the game warden,” said Box.
Box lives outside Cheyenne with his wife and three daughters, not unlike Pickett who lives with a wife and three daughters in Saddlestring, Wyo., 250 miles north, north-west of Cheyenne on the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains where much of his stories take place.
Box has been a ranch hand, surveyor, fishing guide, small town newspaper reporter and editor and during his high school years and his education at the University of Denver he was active in the school newspaper but “never finished a creative writing class.”
As a kid Box said he would ride his bike to the library where he thinks he learned more than he learned in school. Box described two goals, one writing a book and two seeing someone reading his book. He described how he would look in the “B” section of the library to see where his books would be.
The first time Box saw someone on an airplane reading his book, he said to the unwary reader, “Hey, you are reading my book,” to which the reader replied, “No, I bought it in Denver.”
“Getting started was hard,” said Box. “For four years my first manuscript bounced around New York. I was so out of the loop and naive, I didn’t even know my agent was dead for six months.
“But when I got my first contract that asked for two more Joe Pickett books that created the Pickett series, my twin 14-year-old daughters said, ‘You are too stupid to have written a book.’”
Box said writing is a job. His goal is to write 1,000 words every day. In his third Pickett novel, “Winterkill,” Box introduces the reader to a new character, Nate Romanowski, a retired Special Forces operative, survivalist and a master falconer who is woven through many of the Pickett adventures as Pickett’s “accomplice” in solving mysteries.
Box also ages Pickett in each succeeding novel so the reader watches as Pickett matures along with his wife Marybeth and his three children, Sheridan, Lucy and his adopted daughter April.