by Kevin Dicciani
“If all the bees died, we’re really going to be in bad shape,” said Jon McGoran, of Elkins Park, whose latest novel, “Deadout,” explores colony collapse disorder – a phenomenon in which worker bees from a honey bee colony suddenly disappear without a trace.
McGoran grew up in Mt. Airy and worked at Weaver’s Way for more than 30 years as both its communications director and editor of its monthly newspaper, The Shuttle. In his time away from his job, McGoran wrote a series of forensic crime thrillers – “Freezer Burn,” “Blood Poison” and “Body Trace” – which were published by Penguin Books under the pseudonym D.H. Dublin.
While researching and writing about food and sustainability, McGoran became increasingly fascinated – and alarmed – by news stories about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and other mutations being carried out on our food.
“The stories were getting weirder and weirder,” McGoran said. “I was alarmed that there were so many strange things going on with our food that most people didn’t know about. I still think a lot of people don’t really know what they’re eating.”
The more McGoran researched, the more he became convinced that there were good thriller ideas buried within those news stories. His fascination culminated in his fourth novel, “Drift,” an ecological thriller about genetically modified foods and pharmaceuticals. Even though the issues gave way to some very interesting story lines and helped generate an entertaining read, McGoran said he wanted there to be more to his novel than plot.
“My main goal is to tell an entertaining, engaging story with compelling characters,” McGoran said, “but it’s also nice if you can stimulate some conversation and get people thinking about things they might not otherwise think about.”
“Drift” was published in July of 2013 to rave reviews. Finding himself attached to Doyle Carrick, the detective and main character of “Drift,” McGoran decided to write a sequel. That sequel is “Deadout,” the title being another name for colony collapse disorder. The plot follows Detective Carrick to an island off the New England Coast where a mysterious plague is killing the island’s bees.
McGoran said the genesis of the novel came from a 2006 story about a beekeeper who used his 16 million honeybees to pollinate crops all around the country, until one day they completely vanished.
“This guy goes to tend to the hives one day and the bees are all gone,” McGoran said. “The hives are there, the queens are there, and the eggs are there, but all the workers have disappeared – 16 million bees. They didn’t die, they just disappeared, and nobody ever found them.”
Since then, McGoran said, there have been more occurrences of worker bees vanishing, with beekeepers losing a third of their hives every year. He said there are some theories surrounding the phenomenon. One such theory posits that there is something interfering with the bees and their modes of navigation, whether its from cell phone towers, pesticides or the GMOs being used in crops, or a confluence of all of them together. If it continues to happen, McGoran said, the consequences could prove devastating.
“There are a couple of things about colony collapse that are scary,” McGoran said. “It’s scary in an environmental, economic and apocalyptic way. If the bees all disappeared, it would really destabilize the world. Food production would plummet, a lot of people would suffer and a lot of people would die. But apart from being it being scary in a real way, it’s just kind of creepy, kind of spooky.”
Although colony collapse is the central issue of the book, McGoran said that it’s also important to food, the environment and the world.
“I think it’s a very important topic,” McGoran said. “A lot more people are aware of what’s going on with the bees, but a lot of people still aren’t. Again, aside from it being a compelling story, it’s important to get the word out and stimulate discussion.”
“Deadout” will be released on August 5. The following day there will be an official launch party for the novel from 6 to 8 p.m. at Morris Arboretum, which has been active in beekeeping for the last three decades. There will be beehives set up, live demonstrations and Morris Gold honey for sale.
Iron Hill Brewery will be providing beer for the event and will have its honey beers available to sample. The event will also feature local mead from Stonekeep Meadery and snacks from Weavers Way. There will be live music, a reading and a book signing by McGoran.
McGoran said he is looking forward to the event and is gratified it is taking place in the community that has been such an integral part of his life.
“It’s very exciting, it’s very touching,” McGoran said. “The community has always been very supportive of me and my writing career – from the very beginning until now. This is where my people are. This is my home.”
For more information on Jon McGoran and “Deadout,” visit JonMcGoran.com.