Interview by Uriah Young
QFTD: Who is Jon McGoran? Tell us a little about yourself.
Jon: Essentially I’m a writer. These days I am writing and editing full time, and over the years, I’ve realized more and more just how central that is to who I am, and how I think of myself. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was little. I wrote short stories when I was a kid and studied creative writing in high school and college. I moved away from writing and fiction and concentrated more on music for awhile, but even then I realized that writing the songs and the music is what gave me the biggest thrill. I realized that the creative pursuit was really a big part of who I was.
I’m also someone who cares a lot about food and sustainability. I worked for a long time in the food co-op world, and I’ve become pretty concerned about and fascinated by issues surrounding food: how food, the land and the environment, medicine and pharmaceuticals, they all kind of play together and against each other and how much they’ve changed. I’m fascinated by that and it informs a lot of my world view. It informs a lot of my writing, too.
QFTD: Interestingly, you also write music and play instruments. Tell us how that started and how you stepped into writing books.
Jon: My brother and I had a very basic home studio,with digital recording, multi-tracks and drums and keyboards. He played guitar, and I played bass. We wrote a lot of songs together and had a couple of bands. We did it pretty seriously for about 10 years. And then when we did not become rich and famous, it was time for me to go back to school and finish my Bachelors and start thinking about a life after music. And again, I always kind of thought of myself as a creative person and a writer. I started doing some copywriting, along with some some PR and advertising. During that time, I really missed writing creatively. And I realized I was in a place in my life where I could do that, and if I was ever going to, that was the time. Strangely, when I came back to writing as an adult, I only really thought of novels. I didn’t write any short stories until after I published my first couple of books. It was interesting to me, coming back to writing fiction, how many of the tools I'd developed as a songwriter, the things I’d learned as a songwriter, really did help me with fiction, like structure and pacing and musicality.
QFTD: What are some books that have inspired you to become a writer?
Jon: I first started to consider myself a writer as a kid, when I realized how much of a reader I was. Most of what I read was Science Fiction. I read a lot of Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke’s Childhood’s End was a revelation for me, the way Clarke took this idea and made it bigger and grander, changing the world with it...it left a huge impact on me. When I was older, I got more into Joe Haldeman, whose book The Forever War was a really big influence on me. I think probably around that time I was developing my inner smartass as well and I loved The Forever War -- which I just recently reread, and it really does hold up. It was very post-Vietnam, and there was a lot of social criticism in there along with a lot of snarky humor and really smart science.
As I got older, I started drifting more into crime novels. I’ve always loved thrillers. I would read my dad’s books. He was into Ken Follett and David Morrell - I loved that stuff. When I read First Blood it was a really smart, well-written thriller. It had a lot of interesting character development. The movie was kind of a caricature of it, with Stallone kind of stumbling and flexing and shooting everything up. Whereas the book was a psychological thriller, and it was fascinating. So, when David Morrell blurbed my first book, that was really a huge honor for me. I think one of the biggest influences on my writing is Elmore Leonard. I just love his style. I love the leanness and the humor and just the music of it. The way things crackle and pop and jump off the page...he evokes so much character with, seemingly, so little effort.
QFTD: If you could sit down with an author you have yet to meet, who would it be and what would you want to talk about?
Jon: I just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s Madd Addam trilogy. It’s near-future science fiction. In ways, she covers a lot of the same themes that I cover in the Doyle Carrick books, but she extrapolates it out much further. I extrapolate it a tiny bit to create thrillers that take place in our current world, using today's technology, and exploring some political and economic trends of the present. Her style is a little more outlandish in ways, and I think it’s brilliant. We could talk about how she creates this insane world that seems to be what we might be headed towards. We could discuss how she creates characters that are very realistic. I would love to talk to her about her writing process and about anything else she would care to talk about. And don’t get me wrong; I was crushed by Elmore Leonard’s death, and I was very very saddened by Michael Crichton’s as well. And I would have loved to sat down with both with them. But right now I think Margaret Atwood is one of the most fascinating and important writers today, and I would love to have a chance to talk to her.
QFTD: Why are you so passionate about the environment? What is it about the food today that makes you so interested in making people aware through your novels?
Jon: One of the things that has struck me while I’ve been writing these books is the magnitude of changes that the world is undergoing and the extent to which the public seems to be unaware of it. In Drift, I focused on genetically modified food, bio-farming, and the corporate takeover of scientific research. Deadout looked at colony collapse, which is wiping out the bees. These types of themes were really not on people’s radars at all, at least not when I started writing them. By the time the books came out, they were kind of hot topics in a way, but still in both cases, I was astonished at how many people are unaware of it. Here we have genetically engineered food taking over 90 percent of our commodity foods, our corn and our soybeans and stuff, and a lot of people still don’t know about it. They don’t know what to think about it, because there has been such an effort to obfuscate and confuse the issue. I think it's alarming. And the same things with the bees...it could be an existential threat. If the bees all die, we are going to be in a tough spot.
On one hand, these topics made me want to help stimulate conversation. Also, though, I thought they were just really perfect premises for thrillers. With the whole food, chemical, and biotech industry, you have this premise where shadowy multi-national corporations are pushing untested or under-researched new life forms into the food supply of an unsuspecting public. That right there is a great premise for a thriller. I was using that as a jumping off point for Drift. And then with Deadout, with the bees, there are a lot of the similar themes: a lot of the same tension, threats, and danger.
QFTD: Tell us a little bit about why you chose Martha’s Vineyard as the setting in Deadout. What was so special about Martha’s Vineyard?
Jon: I’ve been going up there with friends since I was a teenager. Some people think it is some swanky resort, and though it does have elements of that, it's still a special place. To answer your question: there is a very active, vibrant agricultural community in Martha's Vineyard. So, when I was first outlining the story. I realized that it was a good setting because Deadout starts out with a pilot program with these genetically modified bees, and I needed it to be on an island. I did explore different islands that were closer to Philadelphia. The more I started researching it, the more I realized Martha’s Vineyard was really perfect because there’s a really vibrant sustainable agriculture community that really contributed to the tension of introducing the biotech stuff. In addition, Martha’s Vineyard had never been hit by colony collapse. They are very careful about not bringing bees from off islands onto the islands. At least they were when I spoke to them a couple of years ago. So having them suddenly hit by colony collapse, and suddenly in the position of having to make these tough decisions about whether to bring in bees from off-island, whether to allow this pilot program to go on, it made perfect sense.
QFTD: What are the proudest moments of your writing career so far?
Jon: Well, I would say so far there’s probably two in my writing career. On the one hand I would say, publishing Drift. I had a few books published before -- I wrote a series of forensic thrillers with Penguin a couple years back under a pen name, D.H. Dublin. I was very proud and excited about them, but Drift stands out because of the subject matter and the voice. It’s a book that’s much, much closer to my heart. And being able to see it get out there, and get so much positive response, has been great. That's probably my proudest moment. Also, seeing the books coming after it. Deadout, and now Dust Up, the third book in the series, is coming out in April. That’s a thrill. They are both very special as well.
Lastly, being a founding member of the Liar’s Club is something I'm proud of. It’s a group that has gone through several iterations and several periods of greater or lesser activity. Right now, it's kind of entering, I hope, a more active phase. Jonathan Maberry and Greg Frost founded the group. They had the initial idea for it. The first meeting consisted of the two of them, myself, and Leslie Banks. I think the Liars Club has been a really important part of the community of writers in the Philadelphia area and now more broadly. There’s a very active group in San Diego, and there’s one in Los Angeles starting up, and Asheville, North Carolina. I think it’s a very positive thing: the ideas behind it, writers helping writers. There’s a lot of paying it forward and a lot of cooperation. I think that’s how writers should be, and I think that’s how writers usually are. Knowing I had a small part in starting something that has had a positive impact on the writing community is something I’m very proud of.
QFTD: You said something about the next book in April, but I’m sure that you have other things going on. What's up next for you?
Jon: The biggest thing is Dust Up, coming out on April 19. We’ll be having a big launch event at the main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia on Vine Street, which will be great. There will be live jazz, beer from St. Benjamin’s, a new brewery in Philly, and it will be in the Skyline Room overlooking the city -- and the roof deck will be open, weather permitting. Should be a great event. I also have some short fiction coming out, including a story in a new anthology of X-Files stories, The Truth Is Out There, coming in February from IDW, and edited by my great friend Jonathan Maberry, and a short story called “Grounders” coming out this spring in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. I also have a Doyle Carrick novella, Down to Zero, coming out as an ebook from Tor/Forge on April 5, just a few weeks before Dust Up. I’m working on several projects other projects that I can’t talk about quite yet, but there’s a lot going on!
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