10 Questions with Jon McGoran
1. Mr. McGoran, thank you for stopping by on my blog. Your newest thriller, DEADOUT, came out in August 1. Tell us a bit more about this book.
Deadout is the sequel to Drift, and it continues some of Drift’s themes of corporate biotech and the increasingly strange science of food today, but it also focuses on Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the mysterious syndrome that is causing the disappearance of billions of bees each year. On the Island of Martha’s Vineyard, Philadelphia Detective Doyle Carrick confronts a scheme involving genetically engineered bees that aren’t quite what they seem. But the bees aren’t the only thing being modified, and as he closes in on what is really going on, he must foil the plot before it can succeed, and spread to the mainland, and the world.
2. How did you come up with the character of Detective Doyle Carrick?
Doyle’s voice and personality came to me very organically, but I had very specific initial ideas about who he would be. There are a lot of themes and ideas in these books, but I wanted to make sure that above all else the books were good stories, good reads. I wanted to make sure that Doyle didn’t have any preconceptions about the issues he was going to confront, because the last thing I wanted was a thriller that read like a lecture. I also think that discovering new things is more fun for the reader if they can learn them at the same time as the protagonist. Still, though, I wanted Doyle to have relevant and useful skills. I think I found the right balance by making him a smart detective, but plunking him down into a world he knows little about, so he’d be dynamic and effective, but unsure of himself and learning as he goes.
I’ve learned so much while researching these books! There is a lot about CCD that is not just scary, but creepy. Since 2006, when it first struck in a large way, billions of bees have disappeared. That’s scary on a very real and practical way — it is a very serious threat to our food supply. You will hear people say the honeybees are ‘disappearing,’ but many people don’t realize that they aren’t just dying — they are literally disappearing. Millions and millions of them. They fly off one day and just don’t come back. And no one ever finds them. They vanish, and they leave behind their queen, their eggs and their honey. Usually, a hive that is left undefended like that will be scavenged in hours — first robber bees, then mice and rats — they’re in there almost immediately. But hives that have been hit with CCD — they’re called ‘Deadouts,’ by the way — they are left alone. No one goes in there. In Britain, they call CCD ‘Mary Celeste Syndrome,’ after the famous ghost ship that disappeared in the 1870s, then reappeared weeks later under full sail, but missing the crew.
4. How is DEADOUT different from other thrillers in the genre?
I think Deadout is unusual in several ways. Most notably, I don’t think many thrillers are addressing the types of issues I am addressing in Drift and Deadout. Also, I write them in first person, which makes it a lot easier to do some things and a lot more difficult to do other things that a thriller does. Hopefully, it puts the reader much more inside Doyle Carrick’s head than if it were third person, but it also means the story unfolds in different ways than it would if it was third person. I think it is more challenging, in ways, but I like the way it works.
5. Why do you write?
At this point, it’s not even a choice anymore. It’s just part of me. I do like the idea of getting ideas out there and stimulating conversation, but ultimately, I write because I want to tell a good story. I have one of those brains that is constantly turning out ideas, more than I could possibly ever write, so partly I feel compelled to get as many of them out there as possible.
6. What are your favorite pastimes?
Reading, watching TV and movies, cooking, and spending time with my wife and with my son.
7. What are your writing habits? Outlines or not? How do you go from the idea for a book to the finished manuscript?
I’m a big outliner. I spend months on an outline before I start writing the first draft, and I also spend a lot of time researching, so I’m not none of those writers who has a mandated target word count per day, because so much of the work that I do on a given project does not produce any pages, it is preliminary work. For me, it is idea -> expanding the idea -> outline -> draft -> revisions, with lots of research, especially at the beginning, but throughout the entire process, really. And I usually change the outline fairly substantially two or three times during the first draft.
8. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
I actually just dipped my toe into the world of self-publishing, with a short story called “Appetite.” I think more and more, traditionally published authors will become hybrids, self-publishing as well. As with most things, I think the rise of self-publishing is a mixed bag. It is great in many ways, democratizing for sure, and it’s another way for writers to make a living writing. Absolutely it allows stories to get out there that otherwise wouldn’t. I also think it is forcing the publishing industry to be a little more reflective and self-aware, which is healthy. But I do think that between the downward pressure on price and the vast amount of self-published content — some of it great, some of it not so great — in some ways it ultimately makes it harder to earn a living as a writer.
9. What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer? What is your greatest disappointment?
Having people tell me they really enjoyed my book is the greatest satisfaction, although being a part of the amazing community of writers is truly wonderful in and of itself. It’s hard to say what my greatest disappointment has been — there have been so many. Every little rejection, every time you send something out that you think is going to be huge and it is greeted with indifference, there are so many disappointments large and small that must be endured to get where you are going. But that’s part of what makes each little success so special, to be savoured and enjoyed.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
The as-yet-unnamed third book in the Doyle Carrick series expands further on the themes of the first two books. Set largely in Haiti, it widens the focus, exploring the role of big biotech corporations on the international stage, and how the clashing interests of countries and corporations can hurt the people stuck in the middle.