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Animals Still Integral as Veterinarian
Becomes Novelist

Dr. James CzajkowskiA teacher asked her students to write down what they wanted to be when they grew up. At that moment, James Czajkowski made a choice. In his 9-year-old heart, he had always known what he wanted to do, but the third-grader had not yet learned how to spell veterinarian. “I thought, maybe I should put down ‘fireman’,” he recalled. Instead, he took down a dictionary and looked up the troublesome word. While it cost the world a future fireman, Czajkowski took not only his first step toward becoming a veterinarian, but also his second profession – writer.

Czajkowski was born in Chicago, one of seven children. He spent a portion of his childhood in Canada before his parents moved to St. Louis. He said his love of animals and interest in science made veterinary medicine a natural choice, but even as a child he showed an affinity for writing. “I was the storyteller of the family, or what my mom called ‘the liar’,” he joked.

While he enjoyed crafting stories in junior high and high school, he thought that his lack of a literary pedigree, meant his writing would be relegated to a hobby, not a career. He was accepted into the College of Veterinary Medicine after his second year at the University of Missouri and with the rigors of the CVM curriculum, he put aside thoughts of becoming a writer.

After graduation he settled in Sacramento, where he had spent summers home from college (his parents had again relocated) working in a veterinary clinic. Over time he became the owner of his own practice and was responsible for employing 24 people.

One sleepless night he was up late watching infomercials on television when motivational speaker Tony Robbins came on the air to peddle his tapes. Czajkowski ordered a set thinking they could have some applications at his clinic.

He listened to the first tape in which Robbins told his audience to close their eyes and write down what they wanted to do with their life. Czajkowski wrote down that he wanted to be a writer. The next direction was to take one step toward making that dream a reality. Czajkowski set aside an area of his house where he would write.

“I never opened the rest of the tapes,” he said.

However, his success as a writer wasn’t immediate; it demanded persistence and flexibility.

He began his writing career by penning short stories – all of which remain unpublished. His first novel, “Subterranean” met with greater success. However, marketing it was a long process. “I got rejection after rejection from literary agents,” he said. “I thought, maybe I can’t write thrillers, so I started looking at fantasy,” he said.

After being rebuffed 50 times, “Subterranean” was finally accepted by a literary agent, but his new agent informed Czajkowski that she didn’t represent fantasy and he was on his own when it came to his work in that genre. While she worked to sell “Subterranean,” he attended a fantasy writing conference and entered one of his books in a contest. It received runner-up honors that led to a three-book deal. After years of struggling to get his work in print, Czajkowski found himself inking contracts at two different publishing houses within a week.

His pen name for his thrillers became James Rollins, taken not from Rollins Road on the campus of his alma mater, but rather as a tribute to his father, Ronald, whose name he modified. His fantasy books pen name became James Clemens, in honor of Missouri’s favorite author, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

This summer two of Czajkowski’s books have been released under the James Rollins moniker. One is the novelization of the newest Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” The other, “The Last Oracle” is a globe-spanning thriller about an effort to establish a new world order that involves polluting the earth with radiation from Chernobyl and a toxic Soviet lake while exploiting the gifts of a group of autistic savant children.

The novelization of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” came out the same day the movie hit theaters. Czajkowski’s publishing house owned the rights to the novelization and suggested Czajkowski to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The filmmakers approved the choice based on Czajkowski’s previous works that melded ancient history, archeology and adventure. However, he said he never met the duo, working instead with the screenwriter.

“About a year ago I read the script. I had to drive to Lucas Films studio in San Francisco and read it under lock and key,” he said. His goal was to avoid simply regurgitating the script, and he was able to craft about 15 scenes that are not in the screenplay or movie. However, some of the touches Czajkowski created were later removed by Spielberg who wanted certain questions left unanswered, such as the circumstances behind the death of Jones’ father. Spielberg also vetoed having Jones’ son, Mutt, enrolled in Marshall College at the end of the book.

Czajkowski said that when he first started publishing books some of his veterinary clients questioned his subject matter.

“People wondered why I wasn’t writing the next ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. For me, writing was an escape, I didn’t want to write about veterinary care,” he said. However, he came to realize that his love of animals was still guiding his career path.

“I had someone write and ask me why all of my characters had an animal sidekick. About the time I stopped practicing (veterinary medicine) full time, animals started creeping into my writing,” he said.

“The Last Oracle” continues that pattern, with animals, both heroic and threatening, integral to the plot. An animal even figures into an end-of-story plot twist. Czajkowski’s science background and interest in evolutionary biology, and his passion for adventure sports, such as spelunking, scuba diving and rock climbing also are evident in his stories.

Czajkowski has published 10 novels as James Rollins and seven as James Clemens. He has sold his practice and his veterinary skills are now put to use helping the Sacramento Council of Cats. He spends about eight hours per month working for the council spaying and neutering cats and testing them for and vaccinating them against diseases. In an interview eight years ago, Czajkowski expressed a desire to earn his living as a writer while “dabbling” in veterinary medicine. Today, he has realized that dream.

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Last Update: February 29, 2012