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Best-selling author should celebrate birthday with 3 cakes

August 20, 2001
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us
Enterprise staff writer

Happy Birthday, James Rollins. Today (Aug. 20, 2001) the best-selling writer of three adventure thrillers is 40 years old. Curiously, today also is the 40th birthday of James Clemens, writer of a popular fantasy line. And, believe it or not, today also is the 40th birthday of Jim Czajkowski, veterinarian.

All three men live in Sacramento. And, as you may have guessed, all three men are in fact the same man. The best-selling author of two wildly different lines of fiction is - or was until recently - a popular Sacramento vet.

James Rollins (thrillers or scientific adventures) and James Clemens (fantasy) are the pen names for Dr. Jim Czajkowski (ch-KOW-skee).

Born in Chicago, he earned his DVM from the University of Missouri in 1985 and moved to Sacramento after graduation. He opened his own clinic in the Greenhaven area in 1989 and ran it for 10 years.

He began writing in 1995 while practicing 60-70 hours a week. He says his first short stories were nothing short of horrible, but helped him find his writing voice

He wrote his first novel, "Subterranean," while working full-time. His goal was to write three pages a day. He completed that novel in 11 months.

As his writing career began to take off, he cut back on his hours at the clinic and wrote part-time, still managing to put in the equivalent of at least two full-time jobs. In January he finally cut the ties to the clinic and became a full-time writer, which means he now has a schedule that is every bit as taxing as anything he's ever done.

"I alternate writing thrillers and fantasies," he said in a recent interview. "And, yes, it does get a little schizophrenic at times," he added.

He says it's not easy leaving the world of animals behind even though he has two dogs and a parrot to keep him company at home.

"I give my friends' animals a physical on the spot when they come over and I still go in to help occasionally at the clinic," he said.

But he doesn't have a lot of time to spare.

Following the publication of "Subterranean" in 1999 came "Excavation" in 2000 and "Deep Fathom" in 2001. "Deep Fathom" is currently out in paperback.

His next thriller, "Amazonia," will be published in hardcover this March.

"I like to read so much stuff I wasn't sure what I wanted to write," he said.

So back when an agent agreed to represent "Subterranean," he didn't quit writing. He queried 50 agents before find one so he also didn't want to pin all his hopes on one person.

"I switched to fantasy because I never knew if 'Subterranean' would be published," he said. He didn't need to worry. His agent sold "Subterranean" in 1996; it was published in 1999.

But before it hit the bookstores, Czajkowski sold his backup fantasy novel, "Wit'ch Fire," under a different pen name to avoid confusion. It was published in 1998, thus becoming his first published novel.

The James Clemens fantasy series, "Wit'ch Fire" (1998), "Wit'ch Storm" (1999), "Wit'ch War" (2000), and "Wit'ch Gate" (coming out this November), is published by Del Rey, the science fiction/fantasy imprint of Random House.

Combined sales for his James Rollins adventure books ("Deep Fathom," "Excavation," and "Subterranean") should go over the million mark this year.

"I am busier now as a writer than I ever was as a vet," said Czajkowski. "It's very time-consuming."

Especially if you're not writing one book a year, but two books a year.

His publicist, James C. Davis of Auburn, says Czajkowski's work schedule, completing two books a year for two different publishers, is maniacal.

Davis is the past president of Northern California Writers & Artists who met Czajkowski when he was an unpublished vet and self-taught writer.

"He's an adventurous kind of guy," said Davis, describing his friend. "But you wouldn't necessarily know it to look at him. He looks like a vet. He's very soft-spoken. Yet has a brilliant imagination and is captivated by the sciences."

Davis says he's always surprised at the breadth of his friend's interests. "They just come out of left field," he said.

But Czajkowski says he writes about things that he likes to do, like caving and scuba-diving.

"I try to think of the wildest adventure I can and then I try to tone it down and make it believable," he said. "I go to the library and find my one or two research bibles and then branch off and do research on the Internet."

He also says personal interviews with experts are important. Fortunately, most people are very generous with their time.

Czajkowski said the best part of becoming a successful writer is that he's free to write anywhere. Suddenly, he has been unleashed. Of course, he's still tied to his laptop, but at least he can take the laptop with him to any location in the world.

His publicist Davis has professional reasons for being pleased with his friend's success, of course. But he also has compelling personal reasons.

"We had a schnauzer, a dog that was my best friend," Davis said. The dog was old and it became apparent that she was dying.

"Her system was shutting down," Davis said. "Jim was remarkable in helping us decide to put her down. He told us what to expect and helped us make a decision. We knew with certainty that putting her down was the right thing to do, thanks to him."

Czajkowski says the No. 1 question he's asked is: When are you going to write about animals? The answer is: wait and see. Czajkowski has some ideas, but nothing firm. He didn't want to begin his career writing about animals because he was dealing with animals everyday. He enjoyed coming home and writing about a wild adventure instead.

But he's definitely not ruling animals out as future subject matter. Besides, he's well aware that the death of British veterinarian/writer James Herriot has left a void in the publishing world.

But are there enough hours in the day to begin a third book line? In his case, there probably are.

So many happy returns of the day to Rollins, Clemens, Czajkowski, and the unchristened author of his next project.

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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