Four Questions With… Jon McGoran

Drift - Cover

Genetically modified organisms have been in the news a lot lately, including this report from today’s Morning Edition on NPR.

Novelist Jon McGoran knows about GMOs. He’s been writing about food issues, including GMOs, for years as communications director for Weavers Way Co-op, a natural food grocery store in Philadelphia, and editor and publisher of Weavers Way’s monthly newspaper, The Shuttle. Recently, he became editor-in-chief of Grid, a free, monthly print publication focused on sustainability issues and initiatives in the Greater Philadelphia area.

McGoran’s putting his expertise to good use in his new thriller DRIFT.

Here’s how the novel is described on his website: “After the death of his parents, Philadelphia narcotics Detective Doyle Carrick plans to spend a thirty-day suspension drinking alone in the country. But then a high-powered drug gang shows up in town, and he uncovers a deadly plot involving genetic engineering and the blurring line between food and pharmaceuticals. Soon Doyle realizes they are up to something far more sinister, and what’s growing in the farmland around Philadelphia is much deadlier than anything he could have imagined.”

DRIFT has received many great reviews, including a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly (“McGoran impressively integrates concerns about genetically modified produce with an action-filled storyline and fleshed-out characters.”) and very positive reviews from Booklist (“This biotech thriller delivers a complex Frankenfood story, with lots of twists and turns leading to a startling ending.”) and Criminal Element (“Strong characters … elevate DRIFT from Thriller to Damn Good Thriller. And they’re a big part of what will make me first in line for his next book.”).

Here are Four Questions With… Jon McGoran.

DRIFT is described as an “ecological thriller.” Do you think that’s an accurate description, and what exactly does it mean?

I think it is accurate, but in ways it’s incomplete and in ways it overstates the ecological angle.

In this instance, it’s an ecological thriller, because the ecology is what is at stake. The thing that Doyle Carrick is racing to prevent is an ecological catastrophe, but it’s also a medical thriller, because there are very definite medical aspects to that catastrophe, and it’s a corporate or political thriller, because there are strong elements of those.

With something like GMOs, the threat is multiplied because once they’re released, they will start to spread, to grow. It’s something that, once done, cannot be undone, and some of the consequences, extrapolated out, could be almost apocalyptic — which is unfortunate maybe for humanity, but which really helps a thriller writer ratchet up the tension.

How did your work at a local grocery co-op and as an advocate for initiatives such as GMO labeling influence DRIFT?

Jon McGoranIt went both ways. I was following the issue and working as an advocate before I started working on DRIFT, and it was that work that inspired me to write about GMOs, but while researching the book, I learned a lot more about the issue, and that has informed my advocacy and shown me even more reasons why such a powerful technology needs to be adequately researched, and honestly researched, before being released into the environment and onto the population.

I love rural Pennsylvania. Where is Detective Doyle Carrick’s family farmhouse? Did you do some on-site research to help get the feel of those scenes just right?

Absolutely, I did. The geographic and other needs of the book dictated certain areas and certain things that I needed for a setting. Hawk Mountain and the area around it were perfect, and I have visited there many times in the past, and visited much more as I was working on the book.

But the town of Dunston itself is a fictional creation, so it’s a combination of actual places with a fictitious town in the middle of it. I do love that area, especially the mountain, and it was fun getting lost and roaming around the areas I was less familiar with. I apologize to the fictional people of Dunston for some of the things that happened in their town.

Did you have some sort of terrifying butterfly incident as a child? If not, why do you want to give these beautiful creatures a bad name?

A butterfly shot my pa. And stole my girlfriend. It might have been the same one — I couldn’t tell, because I only saw half of it, and have no idea what the other side of it looks like.

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