Jon McGoran is one cool dude. A member of the Philadelphia Liars’ Club, I had heard about him from other South Jersey Writers’ Group members long before I finally met him at the 2013 Collingswood Book Festival (then again a week later at Philadelphia Stories’ Push to Publish conference).
Jon’s most recent novel, Drift, was published earlier this year and is a rollicking read with a page-turner of a plot that grabs you on page one. It has spawned a sequel, Deadout, due out in 2014.
Jon was kind enough to answer some questions on what drives him.
You’re most recent novel, Drift, and its upcoming sequel, Deadout feature GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) heavily in the plot…suffice it to say this has become something important to you?
The issue of genetically modified food has become more important to me as I researched the books, but it was already important to me. I had been writing about GMOs and working with groups like Justlabelit.org and Right to Know; that’s a big part of the reason I decided to write about this. I also thought it was a great topic for a series of thrillers, and even more so the more I learned about it. It is finally getting some of the attention it deserves, when I first started working on Drift, it didn’t seem like GMOs were on most people’s radar. I thought it was something that should be.
Deadout isn’t your first sequel, writing as D.H. Dublin you had a three book series featuring the Philadelphia Crime Scene Unit. What is it about mystery/thrillers that lend themselves so well to series?
Interesting question. I love writing series, in part because I get so into my characters that I have a hard time letting go of them. I like a lot of mystery in my thrillers and vice versa. The D.H. Dublin books, while technically thrillers, but closer to mysteries than Drift or Deadout. It struck me while writing Deadout that thrillers, especially thrillers of a larger scale, are trickier to write in series, because the universe in which the series takes place is potentially more changed by each book. In a police or PI novel, it’s a more natural thing to solve a case and move on to the next one. Sure, the character changes and develops, but the world in which he lives is not so changed by the events of the book. Thrillers can be more expansive, so sometimes at the end of the book, not only has the character changed, but — however subtly — the world has, too. I think certain cozy series face this problem on a smaller scale, especially ones set in the same small town, where eventually, the logical outcome would be that everybody is murdered or in jail, and the townsfolk would be traumatized by the relentless carnage. So while some types of mysteries I think do have a natural structure that lends itself to series, in others it can actually be quite a challenge to maintain in a way that feels natural and unforced.
We’re not going to have to worry about your pseudonym coming to life and trying to take you out, (a la Stephen King’s The Dark Half), are we?
I think I actually beat D. H. the punch.
Drift, which has gotten hugely heaping amounts of praise, has a great, strong voice. While this is important in any work, do you feel it’s even more important in thrillers?
Thanks for saying that! I don’t know if the genre makes voice more important or not. I do think that in some books it seems to be less important or less central than in others. I also think there can be a fine line between having a strong voice and being overly present as a writer. One of the things I enjoyed most about writing from Doyle Carrick’s point of view is that his voice is close to my natural voice. But I tried hard in writing the book to make sure it really was Doyle’s voice, not mine. You don’t want the reader to be thinking about the writer’s voice; you want them to be believing the character’s voice.
Like many authors, you also have a “day job”, any hints for getting butts in seats and hands on the keyboard?
In response to the adage “Write what you know,” I have long countered, “Know what you write,” as in, You don’t have to know about something to decide to write about it, but you better know it by the time you actually start writing.
I guess the corollary is, “Love what you write.” Especially if you are doing it on your own time, it is massively important that you love the project you are working on, because — especially if it is something long like a novel — it is going to take a while. You are going to have to make some sacrifices, you are going to have to give up other things you love in order to write it. This is hard even if you love what you are working on. I can’t imagine how you would write it if you don’t. You have to make sure a project really excites you as a writer, otherwise it is going to very hard to force yourself to work on it.
And if you find yourself writing something that doesn’t excite you, for whatever reason, you have to find the thing in that work that does excite you, not just so you will be able to make time to write it, but so readers will want to read it when you are done. If you’re not excited by it, don’t expect readers to be.
I also find publishers’ deadlines to be a great incentive.