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Wyoming author talks bears, Big Horns and betrayal in latest Joe Pickett novel

A man looks in the distance with a cowboy hat, red shirt and jean jacket on with a hillside behind him.
Courtesy of C.J. Box

Wyomingite and New York Times best selling author CJ Box released his 24th novel in the Joe Pickett series earlier this year. Wyoming Public Media's Grady Kirkpatrick recently spoke with the author about his newest book, called “Three Inch Teeth.”

Editor's Note: This story has been edited for clarity and brevity

Grady Kirkpatrick: For those not familiar with the Joe Pickett novels, can you briefly describe the main character?

CJ Box: Joe Pickett is a fictional Wyoming game warden. [He’s] based on a lot of different game wardens I've known over the years. And it's not only Joe Pickett. This is now the 24th book with Joe Pickett and they've advanced in real time. So Joe's now in his 50s and his three daughters have grown up and moved out, and he and his wife are empty nesters again.

GK: The novels are set in Wyoming, in Saddle String and the Big Horns. In this one, the story starts there, then moves to quite a few different areas around the state and even across the border in Walden, Colorado and North Park. What are some of the areas in Wyoming in this novel?

CJB: I love to highlight real small towns and places that maybe aren't familiar to a lot of readers. So in this one, there's the town of Saddle String, which is fictional, but set in the Big Horns. But also there’s scenes set in Jeffrey City, Wyoming, and Hanna, outside of Laramie, in fact, and then back to the Big Horns.

GK: Joe Pickett has to deal with two different kinds of rampaging beast: one animal and one human. There are plenty of surprises, twists and turns, and things do get Western in a big way. Without giving too much away in the story, can you set us up with what happens in the beginning of the book?

CJB: What happens in the beginning is that 25-year-old fly fisherman Clay Hutmacher Jr., who we came to know in the previous book, is preparing to propose to Sheridan Pickett. While he's fishing, he hears a big commotion on the side of the mountain in the canyon, and a grizzly bear runs at him like a freight train through the water, into the river and takes him down. And that's the first of the grizzly bear killings in this book, when Joseph starts to suspect that a rogue grizzly bear or maybe even more than one are roaming the state of Wyoming attacking people in an unprovoked fashion.

What's also happening is that a very bad guy who wants revenge on Joe Pickett and several others decides he can use the grizzly bear attacks as cover to exact revenge.

GK: You wrote this book last year and published early this year, right?

CJB: Right. The book came out end of February.

The book cover of "Three Inch Teeth" by CJ Box. The cover is a light grey backdrop with four long tears in it, revealing a picture of a roaring grizzly through the tears.
Penguin Random House
"Three Inch Teeth" is the 24th novel in CJ Box's series about fictional Wyoming game warden, Joe Pickett.

GK: There are some populations of grizzlies around parts of the West. Most are in the Yellowstone Area. Some have traveled north into Montana. And there was a report of a grizzly just earlier this year that roamed to the east and the Big Horns where this story is set. Did you have a premonition about Grizzlies roaming east of their range?

CJB: Well, I had heard from some people in the Big Horns that they thought that they had seen grizzlies, or that grizzly bears were present. I actually had the advantage of talking a lot with Dan Thompson, who's the large carnivore specialist for the state of Wyoming. He helped me with the grizzly bear descriptions and their behavior and patterns. And I sent him portions of the book as I was writing it to say, “Could this happen? Is this serious?” And he did make the point early on, we have not seen any grizzly bear confirmed sightings in the Big Horns. But then just about a month ago, he sent me a text and said, “Well, I guess you heard about that grizzly we had to kill the Big Horns.”

GK: Oh my goodness. Having read all the books in this series, I appreciate the character development over the years, especially with Joe's family and his friend and accomplice Nate Romanowski, who's a falconer and has a special forces background. Nate and his wife started a business and have hired Joe's now grown up oldest daughter Sheridan. Can you describe that business and how Sheridan became involved in falconry?

CJB: From an early age, which means many books ago, Sheridan has had an interest in falconry, and for a long time she was Nate Romanowski’s apprentice falconer. Nate is the master falconer. That's the terms they use. In the last few books, last few years, she has gone to work for him. What Nate has done is come off the grid – come back on the grid, I should say. Opened up a legitimate business, a bird abatement business. See, those kinds of businesses actually exist where falconers are hired by people to rid them of problem birds. It could be ranchers, it could be refiners, golf courses. When they have populations of problem birds, a falcon in the sky will scare him away. So there's more and more of these bird abatement businesses and around, not only in Wyoming but around the country, and it gives falconers something to do that actually has to do with their falcon.

GK: There continues to be an interest and an allure with the West. What kind of feedback and reaction do you usually get from readers and Joe Pickett fans?

CJB: Well, it really depends where it is. I always find it kind of fascinating. In the Rocky Mountains, we tend to talk about the issues, questions about – you know, I answered a lot of questions about grizzly bears this last tour, and told some of the stories from Wyoming that it was based on. The further away I go, the questions are more about Wyoming and the Mountain West. And then if I go overseas – which I do occasionally, not as much anymore – the questions are more about lifestyle, and questions like, does everybody really have that many guns out there? That kind of question. In the East, there's questions about public lands that I always find interesting and realize that they don't encounter public lands on a day to day basis. And so the way I portray him in the book with the different agencies and so many federal agencies involved in the day-to-day politics and culture of the Mountain West, a lot of people find very interesting.

GK: I’m talking with CJ Box [about] “Three Inch Teeth,” the latest in the Joe Pickett series. The story certainly lends itself to the continuation of the series. Will there be a 25th? An anniversary of sorts, perhaps?

CJB: In fact, I'm concluding the first draft on the next book as we speak. I'm honing in on probably the last 40 or 50 pages. It's going to be Nate's revenge, more of a Nate Romanowski book, really, than a Joe Pickett book.

GK: How do you develop new themes and storylines? Do they just sort of lend themselves to you or do you have to kind of search them out?

CJB: Well, most of them – as you know, you’ve read a lot of the books – a lot of the issues in the books are things that are being talked about in Wyoming. When it comes to environmental concerns, resource base, wildlife issues, energy issues, I try to pay attention to what's going on and incorporate those real issues or themes into the books. And hopefully not in an agenda driven way, but just exploring the issue. There's so many things that start and culminate in Wyoming, in the West, and spread out, that in a lot of ways, I always kind of think Wyoming as a sort of a trendsetter when it comes to a lot of these issues that become bigger issues in other places.

Grady has taken a circuitous route from his hometown of Kansas City to Wyoming. Sometime after the London Bridge had fallen down, he moved to Arizona and attended Arizona State University and actually graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. ("He's a Lumberjack and he's OK……..!") He began his radio career in Prescott in 1982 and eventually returned to Kansas City where he continued in radio through the summer of 1991. Public Radio and the Commonwealth of Kentucky beckoned him to the bluegrass state where he worked as Operations/Program Manager at WKMS in Murray and WNKU in Highland Heights just across the Ohio from Cincinnati.
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