Wyoming Author C.J. Box Rides Wave Of Success

Wyoming author C.J. Box has written 31 novels since he started writing them 23 years ago. His latest "Treasure State" is another best-seller. Plus, he's got his two TV shows as well.

Wendy Corr

October 19, 20227 min read

Chuck Box
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

When “Open Season” debuted in 2001, Chuck Box hadn’t a clue that his life was about to change.

Box was then owner/operator of an international tourism marketing company, Rocky Mountain International, which he and his wife ran for 24 years – 10 of which he balanced against his time writing novels. 

“It takes a while to really build up a lot of momentum in the publishing world,” Box told Cowboy State Daily. “And, you know, I wasn’t going to just quit my job and devote everything to that when it wasn’t making the kind of income my ‘real’ job was.”

Then it did – and then some.

Several years ago, Box was able to leave behind the double life, and now devotes his energies full-time to creating characters that are beloved by millions of readers and viewers around the world.

Balancing Act

Box has written 31 novels since he first started writing them 23 years ago – and when you do the math, that’s a lot of hours writing.

“The Joe Pickett (books), they’ve taken from five to nine months to write,” Box said. 

In 2009, Box had already written nine books based around the Joe Pickett character, a Wyoming game warden. But he was inspired to write outside that storyline, a standalone book called “Blue Heaven,” which earned Box the coveted Edgar Award and significant literary attention. Box said standalone books take a bit longer to write than those in the Joe Pickett series.

“The books outside of that series sometimes take much longer because I’ve got to do them in stages,” he said. “I cannot write two books simultaneously. I can’t read two books simultaneously.”

Wyoming author C.J. Box, left, and actor Michael Dorman. (Courtesy Photo)

Television Series

No one was more pleased than Box when he found out that both of his book series – the Joe Pickett novels and the Cassie Dewell books – have been chosen to become television shows.

“It’s kind of otherworldly,” Box said.

He said from the time the first Joe Pickett book debuted, nearly all his books have been under option for movies, but he’s glad they have become TV shows instead.

“”I’ve always wanted more TV than movies, because TV can be done in a long-form way,” Box said. “That’s much better to me than a single movie out there.” 

David E. Kelley (creator of iconic television shows as “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Picket Fences,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal”) was the producer who adapted Box’s novel “The Highway” into the “Big Sky” series.

“He wrote the first five episodes of that and still is involved with it,” Box said. “And that show has done very well on ABC. It’s kind of weird to see it on a broadcast network.”

The Joe Pickett series debuted last December as a Spectrum cable system original show and became No. 1 for that service. 

“Now it’s gone over to Paramount+, where it is the No. 3 show,” said Box, “So that’s doing very well, too. I’m really thrilled with the Joe Pickett series.”

As a bonus, Box said that because of the TV shows, more people have been introduced to the books. 

“The sales of all of the books have really gone up since the TV shows have been on the air,” he said. “The way my wife and I like to look at it, it’s like one-hour commercials for the books every week.”

A highlight for many viewers of the “Big Sky” series on ABC is the appearance this season of country star Reba McIntire as a recurring character.

“I think there’s four episodes,” Box said. “She is actually portraying the outfitter that (readers were introduced to) in ‘Back of Beyond.’”

‘Treasure State’

Just last week, Box returned home from a two-week whirlwind book tour that took him from Scottsdale, Arizona, to the East Coast, and then back home to Wyoming. He was promoting his latest novel “Treasure State” – the sixth book in a series that features investigator Cassie Dewell, a character that has become more popular than Box would have imagined.

“I never really wanted to do two (book) series,” said Box. “And I kept denying it for years and years, even though I would do another Cassie Dewell book every other year. And then finally I kind of succumbed to that and said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing a Cassie Dewell series.’” 

Even though Box is a Wyoming writer, the Cassie Dewell books are set in other states, primarily North Dakota and Montana. But because of his experience in the tourism industry, Box felt confident he could write authentically about those neighboring states. 

“We worked for the state of Wyoming, state of Montana, state of Idaho, South Dakota, North Dakota for over 24 years, so I was able to spend a lot of time in those states,” he said. “Because to me, the worst thing in the world would be to have readers say, ‘Hey, you know, this is not authentic Montana,’ or whatever.”

Wyoming Places and Names

Wyoming readers are quick to pick up on familiar places described in Box’s books. He said the town of “Saddlestring, Wyoming” depicted in the Joe Pickett books is based on a combination of the communities of Buffalo, Sheridan and Saratoga.

“But whenever I write about a specific Wyoming location, I try to keep it as accurate as possible,” he said.

And Box often uses names of real Wyoming folks in his books.

“When I started out, most of the names in the first three or four books were from the PRCA rodeo handbook because I would use cowboy names,” he said. “Because they’re just great names.”

As he became more established, Box said he would donate to local fundraisers and charities by offering to use the names of raffle winners in an upcoming book.

“And people would bid on it,” he said. “Some of them have gone as high as $25,000 to get their names in a book.”

Wyoming Stories

Box said he tends to stay away from the television end of the business, because it’s just not his thing. Where producing a television show is very collaborative, Box said when he creates new stories and new adventures, it is solitary work.

“We own a little ranch near Saratoga,” he said. “I’ve got an office on top of our barn and I just go to work every day.”

And in his years using the issues facing Wyoming as plotlines in his novels, Box said he’s been given a unique perspective on his beloved home state.

“I think sometimes people think that by living in Wyoming, they’re behind the times or out of the mainstream,” he said. “But when it comes to issues like energy development, wilderness, endangered species, wildlife – we’re actually way ahead of it. I mean, we’ve been having wind energy discussions and oil and gas discussions and endangered species discussions long before they they actually spread out into the rest of the United States.  And I think if they just sort of pay attention, there’s a lot of stuff happening here.”

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Wendy Corr

Broadcast Media Director