Jon McGoran is a novelist, editor and writing teacher with a brilliant new ecological thriller coming out this week from TOR/FORGE. His short fiction, nonfiction and satire have appeared in a variety of publications and anthologies.He’s a member of the Mystery Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, and a founding member of the Liars Club. As Communications Director at Weavers Way Co-op, he was the editor and publisher of the monthly newspaper, THE SHUTTLE. Jon is the new editor-in-chief of GRID Magazine. He is represented by Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
DRIFT (Forge) is due out next week. Tell us about the book.
DRIFT is a thriller about genetically modified foods and the blurring line between food and pharmaceuticals. Philadelphia narcotics detective Doyle Carrick loses his mother and stepfather within weeks of each other, and when he gets a twenty-day suspension for unprofessional behavior, he decides to lay low at the unfamiliar house he’s inherited in rural Pennsylvania.
Feeling restless and out of place, he is surprised to find himself falling for his new neighbor, Nola Watkins, who is under pressure to sell her organic farm to a large and mysterious development company. He’s more surprised to see high-powered drug dealers driving the small-town roads—dealers his bosses and the local police don’t want to hear about. But when the drug bust Doyle has been pushing for goes bad and threats against Nola turn violent, he begins to discover that what’s growing in the farmland around Philadelphia is much deadlier than anything he could have imagined.
GMO use is a hot-button topic. Was the decision to use to that an attempt to catch the cultural zeitgeist, or do you have a deeper connection?
I’ve been writing about food and sustainability for a long time, as editor of a newspaper for Philadelphia’s largest food co-op, and now as editor of GRID magazine, so I’ve been following this issue for many years and watching it get more and more bizarre. I’ve also been working as an advocate alongside groups like Just Label It and Food & Water Watch to promote efforts to label GMOs. I’ve often said that the story of how GMOs have been introduced reads like a thriller on its own — corporations spreading new bio-engineered lifeforms across the globe and onto unsuspecting people’s dinner plates without any serious long-term study — that’s a good (or terrible) story right there. The more I thought about it, the more potential story lines I saw in it, and at the same time, I realized people aren’t adequately aware of how pervasive and under-researched GMOs are. So on the one hand, I saw this really intriguing premise for a book, and on the other hand, I saw an important issue that would greatly benefit from a more thorough discussion. DRIFT is like a perfect storm for me: a compelling backstory, a rich premise with lots of potential, and an important issue that begged to explored.
Why do writers use fiction to discuss topics as important as this rather than write articles or nonfiction books?
That’s a good question, and one I can only scratch the surface of. Some genres, like science fiction, and to a lesser extent science thrillers like DRIFT, can take a contemporary idea and extrapolate from it, to see what some of the logical outcomes of existing situations might look like and to place them in contexts where they can be explored even further. I think that is important, and there are many examples of those extrapolations being borne out over time, so I think novel and short story writers can be prescient predictors of future developments, and a valuable early warning system so that some of the more dire consequences can hopefully be avoided. But more importantly, fiction gives writers and readers the opportunity to get inside other people’s heads, to think about issues from perspectives they might not otherwise consider. People also absorb information differently from different sources, and many people don’t read nonfiction, so they might not otherwise be exposed to the ideas being discussed. I’ve written about a lot of the ideas in DRIFT journalistically and satirically, as well as fictionally, and I think as a writer and a reader, those varied discussions can bring about a more nuanced understanding of those issues.
The main character, Doyle Carrick, is damaged goods. Creatively-speaking, why does damage and personal trauma make for good characters?
For so many reasons. It makes the character more relatable and more sympathetic for the reader. It makes it easier for the writer to give the character depth. Damage increases inner conflict, which makes the external conflict with other characters or situations that much more potent. Conflict is in many ways the engine of narrative, so it helps keep things moving. But ultimately, we are all damaged goods, and I think in some ways, if you haven’t found your characters’ damage, you haven’t gotten to know them well enough.
Will we see Doyle again or is DRIFT a one-shot?
Absolutely. I am working on DEADOUT, the sequel to DRIFT, which will be out in 2014. DEADOUT deals with many of the same issues as DRIFT, but also with Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious and alarming syndrome in which billions of honeybees around the world are vanishing, not just dying, but disappearing altogether. I’m excited to be looking at another angle of the GMO controversy, but I am also really happy to be working with Doyle and some of the other characters some more. I am one of those writers who has a hard time letting go, so after spending the last couple of years with Doyle, I was relieved to be able to keep him going and see how he does after the events of DRIFT.
DRIFT is the first thriller to debut under your name, but not the first novel you’ve written. Tell us about the others.
I have a series of forensic thrillers from Penguin under the pen name D.H. Dublin: BODY TRACE, BLOOD POISON, and FREEZER BURN. They center around Madison Cross, who walks away from a promising medical school career to take an entry-level position as a forensic technician with the Philadelphia Police Department.
We’re both members of the Liars Club. When asked, how do you explain what that is?
I generally tell people to ask Jonathan Maberry and Greg Frost. Actually, I describe The Liars Club as a group of published authors dedicated to promotion, networking, and service work that supports reading, libraries and a world with books. Then if they press, I let on that we also like to hang out together and have a riotously good time.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Right now my main project is finishing DEADOUT. I also have a book that is supposed to be coming out late this year or sometime next year, a novella and companion story for IDW’s ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS series, which was riotously fun. After that I’ll either be working on another Doyle Carrick novel, or a YA series I’ve been thinking about that has really captured my imagination. It would be great if I could do both, but we’ll see what happens.
Where can readers find you online?
Jon McGoran has written about food and sustainability for twenty years, as communication director at Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, and now as editor at GRID magazine. He is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to promotion, networking, and service work. In DRIFT, he combines his interest in the increasingly bizarre world of food today with his love of the thriller.