C.J. Box – The OFF THE GRID Interview

Off The Grid by C. J. Box brings back Nate Romanowski, the beloved rugged individualist. This book delves into a number of themes, some of which Box has become known for: getting the Federal government to acquiesce to the States, a contemporary Western, a solid description of the western landscape, and the issues facing western states. But, beyond that he explores the possibility of how terrorists can use technology to harm Americans, the vulnerability of the US communication systems, and the overzealous government surveillance. It might seem that a lot of issues are covered in the novel, but Box has a knack for brilliantly intertwining everything.

Elise Cooper: Before we discuss you latest book I want to ask you about this supposed documentary, Population Zero. Rumor has it that they took a lot from your book Free Fire. Even though it is listed as a documentary, I could not find any information on those interviewed, the killer, and the actual event discussed. Care to comment?

C. J. Box: After watching parts of this so-called documentary I thought that the plot and conclusion was taken from my book. Free Fire. Although they changed the bad guys they gave me no attribution or credit for the idea. I was told you could not plagiarize an idea unless you use an actual phrase so I am very frustrated. I did acknowledge in my book Brian C. Kalt, who has done a Legal Studies Research Paper Series on the topic, to bad the filmmakers could not do the same.

EC: Now lets discuss your latest book. Do you think this is your most politically charged and thought provoking book yet?

Box: Yes. I do explore issues such as government surveillance on citizens, the threat of EMP, meta-data, and the Utah Data Center that contains hundreds of millions of electronic records.

EC: Why the idea of Islamic terrorists?

Box: I heard the FBI Director, John Comey, saying they are tracking potential terrorists in all fifty states. After a homeland terrorist attack, national security comes to the forefront, but as time passes we put it on the back burner. I think that a terrorist plot happening in far-flung Wyoming is not as crazy as it sounds. I started to think about Wyoming, what could potentially happen here, and what would be the target. Nobody in the US should feel immune. Attacks will not always happen in New York or Washington.

EC: Please discuss Ibby.

Box: He is a domestic terrorist, but is doing it to regain privacy for Americans. Nate was sympathetic with Ibby, although Joe would not be because he is a ‘by the book guy.’ I wanted to have a Muslim American who is not a Jihadist. In fact, many Muslim Americans work for the NSA because of their language skills. I balanced Ibby with other Muslims in the story that are bad and have crossed into our country from Mexico. I read plenty of reports on how non South Americans crossed our border.

EC: What about an EMP attack?

Box: I put a lot of the information in the book on how every electronic device can be killed, if in the vicinity of the pulse. It can be used to bring down airplanes, derail trains, disrupt electrical grids, or take out radar installations so there would be no warning against an incoming missile. If nine key transformer substations were hit there could be a nationwide blackout for eighteen months. It would be a devastating attack. You can actually find on the Internet how a small EMP can knock out someone’s I-phone. I also visited a super computer center. People who worked there were more than willing to give scenarios on how to knock it out.

EC: You also compare Nate to falcons. Please explain.

Box: In a sense he is part falcon because his qualities are similar to those birds. He is definitely the ultimate Falconer. He is described as a libertarian homicidal folk hero. Based on his moral code, he will murder first and ask questions later. In all of my books with Nate I put something about falcons. In this one I had in the book how “Nate had the ability to go as still as one of his hooded falcons.” I also compared in the book how falcons identify, attack, and kill their target, to what Nate did with the terrorists.

EC: Is Nate based on anyone?

Box: Yes, someone I grew up with. This guy was a Falconer who went into a Special Forces Unit of our military. He is a very rare breed: independent, a loner, and an individualist. Falconry shapes his viewpoint and worldview. I used to go falcon hunting with him, where a person becomes the “birddog. I send him a book every year. It is mind boggling how this wild creature can leave at any time, having no loyalty or allegiance. In fact, I have been honored to hear from Falconers that they approve of the Nate character. The California Hawking Club, the largest and most influential Falconry association in the nation, features a quote from me on the cover of their publication.

EC: What about the grizzly bear?

Box: There is a theory that the more the grizzly is studied and thus, comes into contact with people, the more likely they will lose their fear of humans. The number of grizzly bear attacks has grown. I read about this one bear that traveled 1000s of miles and even slept in an elementary school playground. I decided to put it in the book. Also true, is that grizzlies have been known to actually track hunters. Sometimes it appears the researchers tracking the bear seem more worried about the health and welfare of the bear than the hunter being tracked.

EC: Authors have said to make the bad guys unimaginable horrible villains they have them kill a child or animal. Is that why you had the terrorists decapitate the grizzly bear?

Box: Yes, I wanted to contrast how we look upon animals compared to the Islamic terrorists. The bear was also an analogy for human life.

EC: Will Nate be in your next book?

Box: Yes, in a supporting role. The next book is coming together and the direction it will go was tipped off in the last few pages of Off The Grid. I’ll say no more.