Jon McGoran, man. I’m one of his cohorts in the Philly Liars’ Club and we both share the same agent — lemme tell you, this guy has talent and smarts in spades. Here he talks about his newest, Drift, which is (to me) the adult thriller cousin to my upcoming young adult book, Under the Empyrean Sky — hell, his book could be a prequel to mine. Food and pharmaceuticals crash together in a high-test paranoid thriller. You’re gonna wanna read it, but just in case — here’s Jon to talk about the book:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I write mysteries, crime, thrillers, the occasional science fiction story, and even a zombie story here and there. I have a series of forensic thrillers I wrote as D.H. Dublin, but Drift is my first novel as Jon McGoran. I also write about food and sustainability, formerly at Weavers Way Co-op, and now as the editor of Grid Magazine. Since I eat food as well as write about it, I’ve become a bit of an advocate, working to support urban agriculture and labeling of genetically modified foods. I live outside Philadelphia with my son Will and my lovely bride, Elizabeth, a children’s librarian.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
Cop drinking off a suspension out in the country discovers a plot involving drugs, GMOs & the blurring line between food and pharmaceuticals
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
For a long time, my food writing and my fiction were pretty separate, but as our food systems have gotten more and more out of whack, my nonfiction was getting crazier than the fiction. I figured our corrupt and dysfunctional food system was the perfect backdrop for a thriller, and when I had the idea for Drift, I realized it was time to bring the two parts of my writing life together, to write a thriller about the frightening things that were being done to the food we eat. Most of the obvious ideas for where a thriller would go had already happened in real life. (Corrupt and mysterious forces keeping the public in the dark while releasing untested new life forms into the environment? Been there, done that!) but the GMO issue has a lot of layers and angles. Some of the most powerful and promising GMO endeavors — like plants being engineered to produce pharmaceuticals — become very unsettling when you think about those plants escaping into the environment or cross pollinating with other plants. I was also intrigued by the way big corporations are trying to create situations where society is dependent on them in a very unhealthy way, like an addiction. Those are some of the ideas I explore in Drift.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
Drift is unusual in a lot of ways, I hope. It’s written in first person, which makes it tricky to do some of the things thrillers are supposed to do, but lets you write with intimacy and immediacy, and a lot of voice. Hopefully, my voice is unique, so in that sense, I’m the only person who could have written this story. But, considering the urgency and importance of the topic, I am kind of surprised there aren’t more books out there about GMOs, and specifically more thrillers. (And obviously, a YA cornpunk trilogy about GMOs is going to be insanely successful, so I’ll definitely be looking for that!) The story of what has already happened with GMOs — the actual provable, demonstrable, acknowledged facts — already reads like a thriller. It’s a great and terrible back story that could go in a lot of directions.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING DRIFT?
There are so many compelling concepts involved in the GMO issue, it was hard leaving some of them out. Things like the impact of GMOs on insects and animals, and the interaction between the big chemical companies and the government. Luckily, I am working on a sequel.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING DRIFT?
I already knew a lot about what was going on with GMOs, but in researching the topic, I learned a lot more, like how GMO manufacturers are using patent protection to thwart efforts to conduct meaningful research on the long-term health and environmental impact of GMOs.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT DRIFT?
I think the ideas behind the book are important, and I’m a bit of a plot guy, so I really like some of the twists, but, probably like most writers, I love my characters. Doyle especially, because that’s the point of view I am writing from, but really all of them — his new friend Moose and his romantic interest Nola, all the bad guys and minor characters, too. I love the relationship between Doyle and his partner, Danny, and with Stan Bowers, his friend at DEA. There are also characters who aren’t even in the book, who exist off stage, and I find them fascinating, too. WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
Since writing Drift I have learned a lot more about heirloom seeds, and I would have included more of that. There are farmers out there using seed-saving and growing techniques that have been around for thousands of years, and suddenly that is subversive or even illegal. Some of them are being aggressively litigated against by companies like Monsanto. I would have included more about that. But I’ll look forward to exploring that in a future book. I might also try to cut back on the coffee.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
As the phone fell away from my face, I thought: My mom is going to die while this fuck- head tries to get his days straight. I don’t remember thinking much after that. I got out of the van, a cardinal sin in the middle of surveillance, and I walked around the corner, straight up to where Danny and Rowan were standing.
Danny’s eyes widened, then his face fell back into the same heavy lidded suspicious gaze as Rowan’s. We’d been working pretty hard the past few days, so I looked rough enough to pass for someone making a buy. As Rowan looked over at me, ready to take my order, Danny flashed me one last glare to remind me how much time and energy he’d invested in his cover.
The first thing I did when I came up to them, I planted a left in Danny’s face. I didn’t pull it, either— I popped him and dropped him. If I was going to pull something, it had to look real.
Rowan yelped like I’d stepped on his tail. He tugged a gun from the back of his pants, but he couldn’t seem to get a grip on it, bobbling it like some half- assed juggler until I snatched it out of the air between his hands and pressed it against his temple.
“When’s the re- up?”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
I am hard at work finishing up Deadout, the sequel to Drift. It deals with possible links between GMOs and colony collapse disorder, the mysterious syndrome that is causing billions of bees to vanish without a trace.