Jon McGoran

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Local author Jon McGoran, well known in Northwest Philadelphia for his time spent as the director of communications for Weavers Way Co-op, has reached a point in his career where he no longer needs to keep a day job to supplement his income as a writer. With a contract to follow up his new book “Spliced,” (Holiday House, 2017) with two more for a trilogy, McGoran is going to be busy.

“There’s so much corollary work that goes along with being a writer,” McGoran said in a recent interview at Chestnut Hill Coffee. “There’s promotional stuff, updating the website, blog posts and phone calls and correspondence. It’s amazing how much time is spent not writing when you’re writing.”

“Spliced” is a science fantasy book set in the future, some 30 to 40 years from now. Suburbs have largely been abandoned as humans have moved into cities where power and other civilized conveniences are more reliable. Central to the book’s concern is a new process in which people can have their genetic makeup spliced with animal DNA. Those who’ve done so are called chimeras

For the wealthy, splicing is an easy out-patient procedure easy to secure during a European vacation. For the rest of the population, though, young people turn to “genies” in back alleys for pseudo-medical procedures that can and do go wrong. The book’s protagonist a 16-year-old girl named Jimi whose best friend Del, who has been obsessing over getting spliced, goes missing.

McGoran’s last three adult novels, “Drift,” “Dead Out” and “Dustup,” were all billed as ecological thrillers, in that each dealt with ecological and scientific acts that were plausible but fictitious, like the extermination of bee populations in “Dead Out.” Spliced takes the fiction part of the science further out that McGoran’s been before, but not to the completely inconceivable.

“It’s not that cutting-edge anymore, actually,” McGoran said of genetic splicing. “The first gene therapy was just approved last week (early Sept.)”

In reading about the theories behind gene therapy, chimeras and genetic splicing, McGoran said he conceived the premise of the book. In the world of “Spliced” kids use virus “starters” that they blend with genetic material to inject into would-be chimeras.

“In a world in which this kind of technology is on the street, that that would be a vector that would work,” he said. “There are a lot of drug culture corollaries. Later on you go into one of these houses where ‘genies’ work.’ You see these kids – they have to sweat it out. You get a fusion of this viral concoction and you have an infection during which you mutate.”

Behind this culture is a public backlash that threatens the splicing counterculture. There’s a move to outlaw the practice and to criminalize those who have been spliced. The political situations seem particularly relevant to our current times in which nearly everything can be politicized and any perceived difference can be used as a wedge issue.

“I call the news today dystopian non-fiction because things are grim,” McGoran said.  “Things seem to have broken along the lines of a lot of the what-ifs I was thinking about, but a lot was already there.

“One of the unfortunate things we’ve witnessed is there’s been a lot of crass xenophobia – of anything different – and people who fall for it see themselves as vindicated, and now all of a sudden it’s accepted in a much, much broader way

“I kind of wish the book was a little less timely in ways. However, writing about something like this makes it possible to write about a lot of different things but few of them explicitly. I don’t dwell on race or gender because so much is about this other idea. What I like about writing a book like this is that I can write about a lot those things – race, gender, immigration –- even if it’s not explicitly.”

McGoran said he realized as he was first writing outlines for the book that it would be a young adult novel – YA in publishing shorthand. The category interested him for a variety of reasons.

In YA, you can mix genres without any pushback,” McGoran said. “And characters are at this incredibly dynamic place in their lives. They’re making decisions and living through experiences that are really going to shape them as adults.

Still, McGoran is sure that anyone who has read his other novels – his three, adult ecological thrillers and his three forensic crime novels written under the pseudonym DH Devlin – will think “Spliced” is nothing more than a kids’ book.

“It’s written in a style I hope will be very appropriate for adults,” he said, “I think people who read my previous books will enjoy this one.”

McGoran will be making promotional appearances, beginning with a book launch part at the central branch of the Philadelphia Free Library on Oct. 6. He’ll be at the Glenside Free Library on Oct. 26 and the Willow Grove Barnes and Noble on Oct.29.

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Pete Mazzaccaro can be reached at pete@chestnuthilllocal and 215-248-8802.