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In the not so distant future, humans are splicing their own DNA with that of other species. The results are both magnificent and monstrous. But the societal backlash isn’t to regulate the splicing, it’s to dehumanize the spliced. This is the backdrop for Jon McGoran’s new YA novel, Spliced, a page-turning, emotionally charged thriller that reminds us humanity is much more than a function of biology. It’s a pleasure to welcome Jon McGoran to BCB today!
Tabitha Lord: Your previous work has all been adult fiction. What made you decide to venture into YA?
Jon McGoran: When I had the idea for Spliced, I knew the basic premise was something that would primarily impact young people, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to write a YA. But I had been wanting to write for young adults for some time, for a number of reasons. Partly it was logistical and practical: As a category, YA is welcoming to books that play with genre, which I find very attractive. I also find the characters in YA are, almost by definition, more dynamic. Adolescence and young adulthood are exciting times. The emotions are a little closer to the surface. The characters are making discoveries and decisions that are shaping who they will be for the rest of their lives, which raises the stakes on everything. Character arc is such an important part of fiction, and in YA those arcs can be realistically much more acute.
TL: The chimeras are searching for a place called Chimerica, likely non-existent, but they long to find a place where they feel safe and accepted. That longing came through powerfully in the narrative, and I can’t help but think of the similarity between the chimera’s situation and the refugee situation in the real world today. Can you talk a little about how real-world issues influenced the crafting of this story?
JM: Unfortunately, there are many aspects of today’s world that are reflected in the treatment of the chimeras in Spliced. Even more unfortunately, as I was finishing the book, many of them became even more relevant, in regards to refugee and immigrants as well as many other people. We are at a fascinating and yet troubling time in human history. On one hand, there is an increasingly nuanced understanding of certain aspects of humanity that many people have long viewed as rigidly defined — like race and nationality and gender and sexuality. But, perhaps partly in reaction to that, there has also been a huge resurgence in the kind of overt bigotry that not long ago seemed like it had finally been relegated to the past. That aspect of the book really resonated with me on a number of levels.
TL: You explored so many multi-faceted ethical questions in this book. One, of course, is the treatment of the chimeras as citizens, or not, but another is the appropriate use of biotechnology. Interspecies genetic splicing is a pretty fringe concept, morally ambiguous at best, yet the chimeras are clearly and rightfully sympathetic, and in some cases heroic. Can you talk a little about why you choose something as controversial as genetic splicing as the backdrop for the story?
JM: I have long been fascinated by the ramifications of genetic engineering and have written about other aspects of it for other books. I was already aware that interspecies genetic splicing is a reality in medical research today: animals have been spliced with human genes for a variety of medical reasons: sheep, pigs, and goats altered to produce human blood, insulin, or even organs. While researching one of my previous books I read about biohackers, people who today are tinkering with genetic engineering much the way people used to build computers in their garages back in the seventies and eighties. While looking to the future, I saw this science maturing so that it was almost mundane, and interspecies gene splicing becoming available as a form of body modification. It seemed that the gene splicing technology in Spliced could easily come to be, and I was certain that if it did, there would be people who would use it on themselves. So early on I decided to explore these ideas because the science pointed me in that direction.
But while I was confident there would be those who would get spliced, I didn’t at first know why, and part of what made Spliced such a fascinating book to write was creating the world in which it takes place and then letting that world inform the characters’ decisions to get spliced, to give meaning to such a decision.
Absolutely, there is moral ambiguity, and to me that helps make the book richer. Jimi has legitimate concerns about Del getting Spliced, and she remains ambivalent in ways. But without giving away too much, it is important to remember that the backlash to this splicing doesn’t focus on preventing it, or even regulating it and making it safer, instead it fans the flames of hatred and discrimination by dehumanizing the chimeras. There is a long tragic history of efforts to justify all sorts of violence and bigotry on the grounds that some aspect of the victim’s appearance or behavior or identification was their own choice. That is never valid and never ambiguous.
TL: As much as the fascinating subject matter provides substance for the conflicts in the book, the relationship between characters rightfully drives the narrative. Jimi’s friendship with Del plunges her into adventure. Her growing affection for Rex feels like familiar teenage love. Her tumultuous relationship with her mom rings true and adds complexity and depth to the story. Did you know where these relationships were heading when you started writing or did the characters surprise you?
JM: I was somewhat surprised in ways, for sure. I’m a big outliner, so for me, the major surprises come about as I am thinking through the story, not as I am writing it. But yes, I knew from the beginning where I was starting, and I knew almost from the start what the climax would be, but evolutions of the characters and the relationships between them was a more gradual thing, partly informed by the ways I imagined them reacting to each other, and partly as I imagined the impact of the events of the book, how they would react to those and how they would be changed by them.
TL: Do you have a favorite character? Or one that was particularly fun or exciting to write?
JM: If I had to say one, it would be Jimi, for sure. And I think Del is fascinating and sympathetic. But there were a number of characters with whom I felt a special bond — Rex, Ruth, Trudy, I loved getting to know them and having them in my book — and in my life.
TL: What are you working on next?
JM: I always have a few things on the go, and I have a few short stories coming out in anthologies in the coming weeks and months. I also just finished a screenplay with a couple of collaborators, but the big news is that I’m working on a sequel to Spliced, and will be doing at least one more after that. I’m incredibly excited to be able to spend some more time with these characters, in this world, and to be able to continue to explore the ideas in Spliced.
TL: Thanks so much, Jon! And I’m thrilled to hear Spliced will have a sequel!
Jon McGoran is the author of eight novels and numerous short stories, including Spliced, and the ecological thrillers Drift, Deadout, Dust Up, and Down to Zero. He is also the author of the novella, After Effects from Amazon’s StoryFront imprint, and The Dead Ring, based on TV’s The Blacklist, from Titan Books. He is a member of the Mystery Writers Association, the International Association of Crime Writers, and the International Thriller Writers, and a founding member of the Liars Club.