Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett has now been the protagonist in thirteen novels, starting with Open Season in 2001. Over that time, he’s taken on environmental terrorists, rogue federal land managers, animal mutilators, crazed cowboy hitmen, corrupt bureaucrats, homicidal animal rights advocates, and violent dysfunctional families. Joe has matured, lost some of his innocence and naïveté, and committed acts that continue to haunt him. But through it all, he has remained true to himself and his family. And even when he knows that pursuing justice will bring the community, state, and his superiors down on his head, well… he just can’t help it.
About Joe, the New York Times once wrote, “…Box introduced us to his unlikely hero, a game warden named Joe Pickett, a decent man who lives paycheck to paycheck and who is deeply fond of his wife and his three daughters. Pickett isn't especially remarkable except for his honesty and for a quality that Harold Bloom attributes to Shakespeare -- the ability to think everything through for himself.” I still like that. I’ve been surprised and gratified how the character of Joe Pickett has resonated with readers across the country and around the world.
The character of Joe Pickett is, in a way, the antithesis of many modern literary protagonists. He's happily married with a growing family of daughters. He does not arrive with excess emotional baggage, or a dark past that haunts him. He works hard and tries, sincerely, to "do the right thing." He doesn't talk much. He’s a lousy shot. He's human, and real, which means he sometimes screws up.
Game wardens are unique because they can legitimately be involved in just about every major event or situation that involves the outdoors and the rough edges of the rural new west. They're trained and armed law enforcement officers, and nearly every human they encounter in the field is armed, which is unique. Often, they’re too far from town to call backup in an emergency so they’re forced to deal with situations with their experience, weapons, and wits. Their districts can encompass 5,000 square miles of rough country filled with wildlife, history, schemes, and secrets. By necessity, they’re lone wolves.
I've ridden on patrol with game wardens to try and get it right. I think I have, because the novels and the character have been embraced by the game wardens themselves (as well as their long-suffering wives). I try hard to portray their lives accurately, and in 2005 I received a certificate of appreciation from the Wyoming Game Warden Association. My novels have won quite a few awards over the years, but that one is very special.
When I think of Joe Pickett, I don’t think of an action hero, or a smooth operator, or an actor. I always picture him as he is: a western archetype -- briefly described in the novels only as “lean and of medium height” -- alone in his pickup truck, accompanied by his dog or perhaps his sidekick Nate Romanowski, perched on a mountain under a huge blue sky, contemplating hundreds of miles of raw Wyoming landscape laid out in front of him.
Real world experiences provide the background for Joe Pickett novels. While working on ranches and exploration survey crews, I learned first-hand about the beauty, cruelty, and balance of the natural world. The land itself - the environment - plays a major role in all the Joe Pickett novels. That's because the land in the Rocky Mountain west dominates day-to-day existence. The fight over that land provides the conflict and the stories. This fight has economic, ideological, historical, and theological overtones. It's a serious fight with enormous consequences.
Joe doesn’t enter every fight with an agenda other than to do the right thing. It’s his fatal flaw. Wish him luck.