Thursday, July 28, 2011

C.J. Box interviewed by Liffeyside 

American crime writer C.J. Box is the author of fourteen crime novels, eleven in the Joe Pickett series and three stand alones. For his novel Blue Haven, C.J. won the Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Novel. He has won Prix Calibre 38 in France as well as The Macavity Award. In 2008 Blue haven was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His novels have been translated into 25 languages. C.J. Box was in Ireland last week to promote the launch of his latest novel Back of Beyond. Liffeyside caught up with him in Dublin where he was kind enough to take time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

Liffeyside: The first question I’d like to ask you CJ is which crime writers do you most admire?

C.J. Box: Among my favourites are Michael Connolly, John Sanford, George Pelecanos, Denis Lehane and Denise Mina. I read widely not just in the crime genre, but those are the genre writers that I like allot.

Liffeyside: Which writers have influenced you most?

C.J. Box: My favourite author is probably not well known here, his name is Thomas McGuane he’s a literary writer in U.S. He’s a great stylist and I love his writing. More in the crime genre; Elmore Leonard, the way he writes and does dialogue and moves the story along. Cormac McCarthy is another real favourite. I learn from them as well as really like them.

Liffeyside: Where do you write and do you have a routine when you’re writing?

C.J. Box: I live north of Cheyenne, Wyoming. We have a place outside of town and I have a basement office where I do most writing. I split my time between that office and a cabin we have on a river about two hours away from there where I go and can really just concentrate on writing. The books are now split about fifty-fifty where I write. The process is simply no different than anybody. I get up in the morning and I go to work. I write my best in the morning and in the afternoon I usually edit what I wrote and then rewrite it.

Liffeyside: How does the process of writing stand alone novels differ from writing a series of novels?

C.J. Box: The stand alones are more difficult, they’re more challenging, but I’ve learned allot. I’ve become a better writer because I’ve been able to try and do different things with the stand alones. They take longer because you’ve got to invent whole new worlds with each one. Whereas with the series you start the series with established characters with history known by the reader in a certain place. With the stand alones you have to invent it all. You’re rewriting that first book every time.

Liffeyside: The character Joe Pickett is he a composite figure or is he based on one person in particular?

C.J. Box: He not based on one particular person. He’s kind of a typical Wyoming western archetype, a throwback sort of character, a western character. He certainly has a lot of flaws. He’s a family man and not that kind of PI private investigator and I think he’s representative of Wyoming in a way. When I was writing that character I didn’t realise how unusual a character he is. Later when I read more about the genre I realised how unique a character Joe Pickett is and I’m glad I made him that way.

Liffeyside: Are you working on anything at the moment?

C.J. Box: I’m working on the next Joe Pickett book which will concentrate more on his friend Nate Romanowski, the outlaw falconer. It will be more about Nate than about Joe. I’ve got another stand alone that I’ve done a hundred pages on and I’ll go into that one next after that.

How does Wyoming, where most of your novels are set, influence your writing?

C.J. Box: Wyoming is almost a character in all of the books. It’s such an extreme environment. There are huge blizzards and blazing hot summers and everything is extreme. Because it’s so extreme it tends to isolate the people who are there. What I try to do is portray that sense of isolation in a country with few people in it. What I almost think is odd about it is that some of the books are almost closed room mysteries but set in a huge location. I didn’t set out to do this it’s just the way it developed.

Liffeyside: How much research do you undertake when writing a novel?

C.J. Box: It depends solely on the theme. Every book in the Joe Pickett series centres around some kind of cultural, environmental or resource based issue. So it depends on the issue. Something I know enough about I can just start. Other ones I need to be a journalist. I go and interview people or I go and involve experts in the field. I ask them if they will read parts of the manuscript when I get it done so I don’t misrepresent their side or their industry. I’ve never had any expert never say "no", they all want whatever they do portrayed well. So what I do is to be as accurate on both sides as I can and the reader can come down wherever the reader may but at least I hope they get a balanced look at things that are a little too black and white.

Liffeyside: Would you say there are many differences between European and American crime writing?

C.J. Box: To some degree. I don’t think there’s much difference in the urban police procedurals, they’re almost the same in the US as they are in Sweden or in Ireland but I think where they do get different is in the sense of place among different writers. Outside of that urban gritty police thing that’s where the differences are made. The writers who are really successful are able to combine the two and put you in a place put so that you know it whether it’s rural or urban.

Liffeyside: What book are you reading at the moment?

C.J. Box: I’m reading two books at the moment. One, a hardback, by Don Winslow and one on my Kindle by playwright David Mamet.

Liffeyside: How do you interact with fans of your novels?

C.J. Box: I enjoy meeting them. What I find is they tend to be almost a fifty-fifty mix of men and women, which is unusual as between 70 and 80 percent of people who buy crime and mystery tend to be women. Because my books have that outdoor element men like them and allot of men read my books who wouldn’t read fiction otherwise.

Liffeyside: Finally CJ have you any advice for aspiring writers?

C.J. Box: I think the most important thing is to read widely and allot. It amazes me sometimes to meet aspiring writers who don’t read much because they’re so convinced that they’re going to be good writers that they only work in their own head. They don’t read enough to learn how to write and how to broaden their outlook. I don’t think anyone should just read crime only. They should read widely and they’ll be a better writer. Also to write realistically. Too many people write in a bubble where the characters don’t seem to actually work every day but they have plenty of money and it’s unrealistic.

Liffeyside: Thanks very much for taking time out and talking to us on Liffeyside today C.J.

C.J. Box: Thank you, my pleasure.


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