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Even as honors continue to pile up for his first standalone mystery, "Blue Heaven," C.J. Box has launched a tour in support of his second, "Three Weeks To Say Goodbye."

The Wyoming author's next novel in the Joe Pickett mystery series - "Below Zero" -is edging toward a late June release, and he's halfway through another book. "Blood Trail," an earlier novel about Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, made the New York Times bestseller list and was a Booksense Notable Pick.

The just-released paperback version of "Blue Heaven" has landed on the New York Times extended bestseller list, and the book, which came out in hardback in late 2007, has won France's Elle Magazine Prize for Literature. Rights to "Three Weeks" have been sold in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

"It's going well," says an understated Box in a phone interview from Wyoming.

He lives north of Cheyenne and has a cabin at Riverside, Wyo., where he can indulge his passion for fishing.

A former newspaper writer and editor, Box and his wife still own an international tourism company. But he finds himself spending more time writing, while she more actively manages the business.

Box used to write primarily in the morning. After completing about a dozen novels, he still works on his books in the morning but writes in additional sessions throughout the day.

"I have to be organized, and I have to go to work every day," he says.

He tackles just one project at a time, although he does think ahead and make notes toward future books.

When one book is sent off to the publisher, the focus shifts to the next.

"The biggest challenge is to keep everything as fresh as I can," Box says. "I don't want to fall into a formula."

One way he does that is telling the Pickett series in real time so that, as Pickett's family members age or his job changes, "the foundation keeps changing and moving." Box says.

He set "Free Fire," the seventh Pickett novel, in Yellowstone National Park and infused the book with conflicts born of the real-life push to develop the park's geothermal features in commercial ways as well as politics and law-enforcement challenges.

Box describes it as "a really fun book" to write because of the many angles related to the park. The book, he notes, seemed to resonate with readers and critics.

"I'll probably return there" in a future novel, he says.

While the Pickett series lets Box develop characters over time in his home state, the standalone "Blue Heaven" and "Three Weeks To Say Goodbye" have appeal for markets and publishers that are less likely to pick up books partway through a series, he says.

But "Blue Heaven" becoming a No. 1 seller in Germany last year has opened the way for Pickett books to find an audience in that European nation.

Writing standalone novels is "good and bad," Box says.

"You have to create an entirely new world each time. New characters. New backstory," he says.

Still he finds it "challenging and liberating" to write in different styles.

Most of his books have several points of view, with the reader being the only one clued in to all the information. For "Three Weeks To Say Goodbye," Box switched things up by using first-person storytelling. The book involves an adoption in danger of coming undone after the birth father tries to claim the infant.

The novel is "very dark, I think," Box says. "… Pretty fascinating, but disturbing."

"It can happen, and it did happen," minus the edge of life-threatening terror, he says.

But he heartily supports adoption and is adamant in not wanting to discourage it.

Box continues to employ his familiarity with Wyoming in his settings, which this turn include Denver, where he attended college, and Helena and Lincoln in Montana, where he also has visited.

The author, who will be in Billings on Monday, likes doing readings and considers them "a way to connect with the reader, to know what they're thinking and what they enjoy."

Contact Chris Rubich at crubich@bill-ingsgazette.com or 657-1301.

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