Animals Still Integral as Veterinarian
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,”
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short stories – all of which remain unpublished.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
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
“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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