the Little Red Reviewer

Interview with Jon McGoran, author of SPLICED

Posted on: September 22, 2017

In Jon McGoran‘s new novel Spliced, the newest bio-hacking trend is a dangerous form of permanent body modification. Who needs piercings or tattoos, when you can get animal genes spliced into your own body? This thrilling novel follows teenagers Jimi and Del as they fall deeper than they ever expected into the world of the spliced. The rich can afford legal and safe splices, other who want the procedure go to illegal back alley clinics.  And just imagine the political backlash!   Are these genetically modified people, known as chimeras, superhuman? or are they no longer human, and no longer deserving of human rights?

Paste Magazine named Spliced one of the ten best YA books in September, and Booklist calls Spliced“suspenseful and scary…timely [and] thought-provoking”.  Spliced hits bookstore shelves on Sept 29th, and the audio book, narrated by Sophie Amoss, comes out the same day.

Jon has been writing about food and sustainability for over twenty years, and when he’s not writing and publishing non-fiction and satire, he writes eco-thrillers to play with ideas about how all easily all our technological advances can go horribly wrong. Because, well, we’re only human after all. Jon was kind enough to let me pick his brain about Spliced, The Philadelphia Liars Club, his work in ecological sustainability, and more. And speaking of Philadelphia, if you live in that city you can attend the Launch Party for Spliced, Oct 6 at Parkway Central Library. Click here for more info.

Let’s get to the interview!


Little Red Reviewer:
Your new novel, Spliced, is a thriller that revolves around the trendiest underground body modification of having animal genes illegally spliced into humans. Why would someone want to have animal genes spliced into their DNA? Do I get a cat’s night vision, a rattlesnake’s venomous bite, the regeneration abilities of a starfish? Sell me on why someone would want to do this to themselves.

Jon McGoran: Even in the book, the science is still pretty new, and for the most part, the people doing the splices, the ‘genies,’ are amateurs, so you don’t always know what you are going to get. The effects are generally superficial, although sometimes profound. Some chimeras do pick up other traits from the animals they are spliced with, but it’s not like a super power.

As to the reason why someone would do it, that was one of the questions that I thought was most interesting when I first came up with the idea for the book. I knew people would do this, and I do believe they probably will if it becomes possible like it is in the book. There are all sorts of body modifications out there, from tattoos and piercings and gauges to some that are much more extreme and elaborate. So part of the reason would parallel why people get those modifications. But with something like this, there would be as many reasons to do it as there are people doing it. For some it is a fashion statement or a symbol of rebellion, for others it is solidarity with the Earth’s rapidly dwindling wildlife, especially the species that are endangered or extinct. And some look at what humans have done to the Earth, and at times to each other, and they want to make it clear, on some level, that they don’t agree with what humanity has become.

LRR: I’m super fascinated (and creeped out) by the idea of splicing someone else’s genes into my own. To get the science end of things right, what kind of research did you do for this novel?

JM: There’s always a lot of research for a book like this. Usually, it starts with internet searches and doing a lot of reading, and ends up with tracking down experts and pestering them with (hopefully decreasingly) stupid questions. But a lot of the time, the research itself gives you the idea for the book, and that’s how it was with Spliced—the idea came out of research I did for my previous books, Drift, Deadout and Dust Up, which also deal with biotech and genetic engineering (although Spliced takes things in a much different direction). So I talked with geneticists and researchers who were working on gene therapy for medical purposes. One technique involves using viruses as a way to alter a person’s genes, and that is the root of the Splicing technology in Spliced. There’s also a lot of conjecture or extrapolation about what current trends will lead to in the future. I realized early on that since the book takes place somewhat in the future, the effects of climate change would have impacted the world, so that became one of the secondary themes of the book, and that required a lot of research and thought. Together with a variety of other factors, climate change leads to the abandonment of a lot of suburban sprawl, kind of a mirror of the urban blight we saw in the last century. While I was working on the book, we had a series of really harsh weather years with lots of rain , snow and ice, and the power lines kept coming down and the roads kept heaving and crumbling, and it really brought home for me how much maintenance our world requires in order not to be reclaimed by nature, how quickly so much of it would crumble if left unattended.

LRR: How did you develop the characters of Del and Jimi?

JM: I had some very clear ideas about who they were from the beginning, but characters come from a lot of places, and what goes into them is often a combination of things. I think character is the most important thing in almost all fiction, but I usually don’t start with character, I start with premise and theme and plot elements. So, on the one hand, there are deliberate, calculated decisions about what kind of characters you want them be, what their relationship is to the plot, what kind of person would do the things you need them to do. On the other hand, there is this almost subconscious intuitive revelation of character to the writer, as your creative, empathic mind fills in the details and nuances of who that person really is—probably based on all the author’s experiences with all the people they’ve ever known, real or fictional. I knew I wanted Jimi to be strong and loyal and smart, stubborn in a way, but open-minded and open-hearted enough to be able to change the way she thinks and feels. One of the things I like most about writing young adult fiction is that the characters are so dynamic. They are making choices and discoveries about themselves and the world, deciding and realizing who they are and who they are becoming and what world they are going to exist in. Because of that, I think they can be more open minded.

Del is more internally focused than Jimi, he is more damaged and less open. Jimi has already been through some tragedy before the book begins, but Del has been through more, and has seen more of the dark side of humanity. He has been hardened by his past and his situation, and yet he is still vulnerable. Rex has been through a lot, as well, but he is more similar to Jimi in ways, although very different in others. He is more defined by his sense of loyalty and responsibility, and he retains a sense of optimism that I find very endearing—and all the more tragic when humanity doesn’t always live up to it.

LRR: Without giving any spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write in Spliced? Which scene was the toughest?

JM: There were so many scenes that I really loved writing—even when they were hard. There are a couple of action scenes that are among my favorites. It’s so rewarding to see Jimi as kind of an emerging badass after all she has been through. In one, Jimi and her friends are walking through an abandoned rural area and when this terrible storm hits, they seek refuge in an abandoned mall. I love how something so boring and mundane is made scary and creepy an dangerous. There is also a scene toward the end where Jimi is speaking to a crowd, she is kind of causing a diversion but also kind of laying it all out there, what she’s learned about humanity and how isn’t about DNA, it’s about kindness and decency and treating others with compassion. And she says it’s time to stop bickering about who qualifies as human and remember what it means to be human at all. I love that.

The toughest scene to write might have been at the very end, where Jimi is reflecting on everything that has happened throughout the book, and how it has changed her and her life and the people she cares about. I had very definite ideas of what I wanted to do in that scene, but it wasn’t always clear how to go about doing it. I’m very happy with how it turned out, but it was tough figuring it out. You really do get attached to these characters as you are writing them. I remember going over the manuscript one of the last times—I’d probably been over it 12 or 15 times by this point—and I still got choked up at the end.

LRR: You’re a founding member of the Philadelphia Liar’s Club. What is this club all about, and how did it get started?

JM: The Liars Club is a bunch of authors mostly based in Philly. Jonathan Maberry and Greg Frost had the idea for it, and it started out ten years ago, just those two and Leslie Banks and myself, but it soon grew to roughly a dozen or so. The main idea has always been writers helping writers, both within the group and outside it. That’s taken a lot of shapes over the years: we’ve done tour to promote and support libraries and indie bookstores, we put together an anthology (Liar, Liar) and now we have a podcast, The Liars Club Oddcast. But one of the most powerful things we do is something that Jonathan Maberry started even before the Liars Club existed, and that is the Writers Coffeehouse. It’s basically just a place for writers to meet and exchange info, energy and support with other writers—a little bit about craft, but usually more about the industry and the writing life. There are two in the Philly area now, led by different members of the Liars Club, and Maberry leads one in San Diego, where he moved a few years ago. There’s also a few more: LA, Asheville, Boston, I think. It’s simple but powerful, a place for writers to be not-solitary, to connect with other writers and get amped about writing. I’ve seen a lot of good come out of it over the years.

LRR: What is your writing process like? Are you an outliner, or do you just dive in, start writing, and see where the story goes?

JM: I’m a big-time outliner. For me, it is an essential step in crafting a plot that works. It may be more important for genre fiction, but I’ve also realized that, for me, it is an essential step in getting to know my characters. By the time I’m finished my outline and ready to start my first draft, I really know my characters. I know what they would or wouldn’t do. Writers sometimes talk about how, in the middle of writing a book, a character will tell them they would or wouldn’t do a certain thing, and I get that, but, man, it’s so much better if they let you know while your writing the outline, instead of after you’ve written half of the book.

LRR: Stepping away for a moment from your fictional thrillers, you also write important essays and editorials about food and sustainability, including in the monthly newspaper The Shuttle, and the Philadelphia based sustainability magazine Grid. Tell us a little bit about your past and how you came to be an advocate for sustainable agriculture.

JM: I worked for many years at this great food co-op in Philadelphia – Weavers Way. I started when I was in my teens, and ended up as the communications director for many years. It had a huge impact on me. Working at a place that was member-owned, and really community centered, I came to really appreciate the importance of community in my life, and in the world. But I also learned a lot about food and food systems, and their impact on human health, the economy, and the environment. And the more I learned about it, the more shocked I was, at how much damage was being done to the world in order to produce food, and how much of it wasn’t actually necessary to create to food, but to make a profit from it. And how much of the food system—the technology, the laws, the taxes and subsidies—weren’t so much about making food better or cheaper or more accessible or nutritious, but about making massive food production models—factory farms where the downsides of their size vastly outweigh the economies of scale—profitable. I think it is hugely important and incredibly hopeful that so many people have committed themselves in recent years to alternative systems of food production. People tease it sometimes as being kind of precious—and sometimes I think people do get carried away—but I think it’s great, and in the long term really important, that there are so many more small farms and artisanal food producers out there. It makes the food better, but it also makes our food system less vulnerable from a food security standpoint, and I think it makes the world a better place.

LRR: How has your passion for sustainability, ecology, and agriculture informed your fiction?

JM: It’s definitely in there, sometimes in the theme of a book, which was the case with the Doyle Carrick thrillers (Drift, Deadout, Dust Up), but it always shapes my world view, and impacts what I think is interesting and what I want to write about. But while I think these ideas are fascinating and important, once I’m writing, I am very clear that I am a storyteller. The story always comes first, before any issue or subtext. That’s kind of easy for me, because that’s what is ultimately most important to me, but even if you’re primary goal in telling a story is to get across one message or another, you’re not going to get that message across if you’re not telling a story people aren’t going to want to read.

LRR: Thanks Jon!

This interview intrigued you, yes? Stay tuned for a guest review of Spliced!

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6 Responses to "Interview with Jon McGoran, author of SPLICED"

This books sounds amazing! Looking forward to reading it.

Liked by 1 person

Thanks, Alex! I’m really excited about it. Hope you enjoy it!

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This is awesome. I am pre-ordering it on Audible. Thanks for such a great interview!

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I love it when the audiobook comes out at the same time as the paperback!

Liked by 1 person

I know a couple of teens who would love this- I’ll get them a copy, but they might have to pry it out of my hands!

Liked by 1 person

[…] was just last week that I interviewed Jon McGoran, author of the new YA novel Spliced.  What lovely timing to be hosting a guest review […]

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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