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Jon McGoran
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Jon McGoran talks about his new book, Spliced.
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Jon McGoran


Holiday House sat down with Jon McGoran about his new book, Spliced, a thrilling YA sci-fi novel set in a near-future society.

Jon, please tell us about your debut YA novel, Spliced.

In Spliced, set just a few years from now, current trends like biohacking and body modification have given rise to chimeras: a subculture of young people who—for reasons as varied as they are—alter themselves by splicing animal genes into their own. As 16-year-old Jimi Corcoran plunges into the world of chimeras to prevent Del, her troubled best friend—who might be something more—from getting spliced, the social and political backlash against chimeras erupts amid passage of a law defining anyone whose DNA is not 100% human as no longer a person. And as Jimi learns to love and respect the chimeras she encounters, she also learns that those leading the backlash have a hidden agenda more hateful and horrific than anything she could have ever imagined.

Where did you get your inspiration for this book?

I learned about the subculture of biohackers—amateur scientists experimenting with genetic engineering in their garages, much like people used to tinker with computers in the ‘70s and ‘80s—while researching my adult book Drift. The idea both alarmed me and charmed me and immediately sparked several story ideas, but I was especially intrigued by the idea of where this story could lead over time, how it could impact the definition of human, and what might be society’s reaction.

What makes this book special to you?

I love the characters and hope they speak to readers the way they speak to me. I also think Spliced brings up some fascinating and important questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be different, and what it means to choose who and what you are going to be. One of the great challenges and opportunities of any book that takes place in the near future is dealing with questions of what our world will look like, in terms of climate, technology, society, and humanity itself. I think that’s especially important for young readers, because they will see more of that future than anyone else, and while in some ways they inherit the present, in many ways it is their decisions that will shape the future.

What, to you, is the best part of writing sci-fi?

There is a lot I love about writing sci-fi—and while most of what I write is near future, I have also written some space opera and far-future sci-fi. I think the most fun aspects of sci-fi are exploring these fascinating extrapolations of known science or ideas, seeing where things could go and what they could lead to. And then, very much tied to that is populating these scenarios with realistic characters and figuring out how real flesh-and-blood (or other, as the case may be) people would react to those situations, both individually and as a population. For me, those are the two halves of science fiction, the crazy new ideas that maybe no one has thought of, or thought of in that way, and then seeing what that all means on a human level.

What was your idea behind the “zurbs” in Spliced?

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I vividly remember driving through some of the blighted areas of the inner city and wondering how they got that way. In some of the hardest hit neighborhoods, there was block after block of crumbling houses, but the architecture was magnificent—clearly these had once been expensive homes, in a rich neighborhood. As I got older, I was fascinated to learn about the many different and sometimes seemingly unrelated factors that led to such blight, from demographic shifts and racism to investments in the national highway system and suburbanization. I thought a world in which the same thing had happened to suburban sprawl would be really interesting and would make a great setting for a book like this. And I really liked the idea that all these seemingly unrelated issues—new energy and building technologies, climate change, depopulation, and even such mundane things as a collapse in housing prices—could come together to create a phenomenon like the zurbs, where these huge stretches of suburban sprawl were left to be reclaimed by nature.

You’ve written a number of adult books—how did you decide to write a young adult book this time?

I had been wanting to write YA for some time but hadn’t found an idea that excited me the way Spliced did. YA as a category seems very open to playing around with different genres, which I find very freeing. Mostly, though, I find that YA characters are almost by definition dynamic and interesting.

One thing that makes fiction compelling is a dramatic character arc, and young adults are often in the midst of some of the greatest drama of their lives, making decisions and discoveries about who they are and who they want to be, often having experiences that will define them. In any fiction, people change, but in YA it’s much more realistic for those changes to be quite profound.

Young adult characters are also developing a deeper understanding of the world around them. This makes for an especially potent mix in books where the world is different from ours. Whether it is sci-fi or fantasy or historical or in a foreign land, if it is a world unfamiliar to the reader it can be a very powerful thing to have as a guide someone who on many levels is still discovering this world as well. The reader and the characters can make these discoveries together.

Plus, I think in times of rapid change, like now and very possibly in the future, young adults have a different relationship to their world and their time. They are “of it,” as opposed to adults, who became who they are in a different time. There is a special kind of intimate familiarity with a world that a person has when they have grown up in it and gotten to know it in the now, and only later learn about its history and what led up to it. That’s a very different perspective compared to that of someone who’s older, who grew up in a different world and has watched this one develop. In a way, older adults can only know a world within a historical context. They can never share that grounds-eye view that those who grew up within it possess.

Spliced deals with ideas like personhood, species identity, and what it means to be human, and it takes place in a world where those ideas are being defined in a new way. So it is especially important that the story is told from the point of view of these young people who are coming of age in this world and making those choices about who and what they and their world will become.

MORE ABOUT JON MCGORAN

Jon McGoran has written several books for adults, including the D. H. Dublin series and the eco-thrillers Drift and Deadout , called “outstanding” in a Publishers Weekly starred review. He is also the author of The Dead Ring , based on the television series The Blacklist . Jon McGoran is a founding member of The Liars Club , a podcast for and by writers. Spliced is his first book for young adults. He lives in Pennsylvania with his family. For more on Jon, visit his website and follow him on Twitter, @JonMcGoran.

Did you know?

● Jon McGoran started writing stories when he was eight or nine years old!

Childhood’s End was one of the first books that awed Jon.

● Jon’s favorite children’s book characters are Horton, because he is so sweet, and the Cat in the Hat, because he is so not.

● If Jon could have a magical talent it would be controlling time.

● Elmore Leonard and Phillip K. Dick are two of Jon’s favorite authors of all time.

● Jon’s favorite food is scallops. It used to be a tie between pizza and M&Ms (still close seconds).

● If Jon could live in any book, he would live in the dictionary.

● Jon’s advice to readers about life: Never believe it when anyone says “always” about anything.  

Books by Jon McGoran

Spliced, Trade Binding