Today’s guest on Geek Speaks Fiction… is Jon McGoran.
Jon McGoran is the author of the ecological thrillers Drift, Deadout, and Dust Up, from Tor/Forge Books. He is also the author of the novella After Effects from Amazon’s StoryFront imprint. 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. He has been writing about food and sustainability for over twenty years, first as Communications Director at Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia, PA, and later as editor-in-chief of Grid, a magazine covering issues of sustainability.
Five Things I Geeked Out About While Writing Dust Up
By Jon McGoran
Part of what I like so much about writing the type of books I do is the research. I’m constantly geeking out over cool things I have discovered, and getting ideas about what to write about next. While writing Drift, I geeked out over GMOs, biopharming, designer pathogens, and deadly fungal infections. With Deadout, I geeked out over bees in a hundred different ways–they are crazy, weird, wonderful little things. Dust Up takes place in Haiti, a complex and fascinating place with a history full of intrigue, tragedy, and surprises. Much of what I found most interesting while writing Dust Up had to do with where it is set.
As part of my research for the book, my wife Elizabeth and I traveled to Haiti. In preparation for the trip, we participated in a study group that dug deep into Haiti’s history, which was more fascinating and tragic than I could have imagined. It was the world’s most successful slave revolt, and in many ways Haiti continues to pay a price for that distinction. After centuries of wealth extraction under colonialism and slavery, Haiti suffered further from devastating reparations imposed on it after the revolution. Those two grand injustices transformed Haiti from an island paradise to the hemisphere’s most profitable colony, and then its most impoverished nation.
Even before I knew Dust Up would be set in Haiti, I knew it would focus on the international influence exerted by today’s biotech and agribusiness giants. As I interviewed agronomists and journalists and advocates, many of them said the person I really needed to talk to was Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, founder of Mouvement Paysan Papaye (MPP), the Papaye Peasant Movement. In 2011, Chavannes led protests in which Haitian farmers burned hybrid seeds donated from Monsanto. When it turned out that my wife’s church was organizing a service trip to Haiti, I was astonished to find out they would be working with MPP and even staying at the MPP compound in Central Haiti. I got to sit down with Chavannes and discuss sustainable agriculture, land reform, and the role of biotech and big food in corporatizing food systems (all topics that I find fascinating). While we were there, he announced his intention to run for president. (He ran, but did not win.)
One of MPP’s most ambitious projects is a series of Eco-villages and accompanying school they built for families still displaced by the 2010 earthquake. Each family receives a home and a small parcel of land, plus the training and education to farm it in a sustainable way. They grow enough to feed themselves, plus enough extra that they can save up for things like water pumps and solar panels. Our trip involved service work in the Eco-villages and they were truly inspirational–concrete proof that a brighter future is possible in Haiti.
On a lighter note, one of the things that I totally geeked out over were Helio Couriers, these crazy amazing little boxy-looking planes that are capable of incredibly short takeoffs and landings–like the width of a runway instead of its length. I spent way more time than I needed to watching videos of these things going up and coming down almost like helicopters (and much of that time I was cackling like an idiot).
The Evil Plot
Sure it’s a cop-out, but it’s true: The thing I geeked out over most while writing Dust Up was the brilliant, plausible, and disturbingly sinister plot at its center. I can’t share it, because that would ruin the book, but I cannot wait for people to read it so I can discuss it with them. I’ve often been told that I missed my calling. I’m still not sure what that calling actually is, but with a little more ambition and smarts and a little less moral rectitude, I think I would have made a heck of an evil genius.