Headline News or Headline Blues?

Guest Blogger: Jon McGoran

This past May, millions of people around the world joined together to protest how genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are being silently forced upon them. In June, there were headlines about GMO wheat mysteriously appearing in a field in Oregon, and super fast-growing GMO salmon breeding with trout to produce hybrid offspring that grow even faster (no word on what the grand-fish will be like). In July, my book DRIFT comes out, a thriller about GMO foods and the blurring line between food and pharmaceuticals.

I first became interested in writing fiction about GMOs from reading and writing nonfiction about GMOs. The more I learned about the issue, the more I thought, “Holy crap, this reads like fiction.” I also thought, “Holy Crap, this stuff has hardly been tested at all. We need to at least label it.” So I got involved, as well, working with groups like Just Label It and Food & Water Watch, to get GMOs labeled. Because I knew I wasn’t just writing about GMOs, I was probably eating them as well.

Writing a thriller about something so current can be tricky. In the case of GMOs, there are pluses and minuses. On the plus side, a lot of what has already come to pass reads like a thriller — secretive and powerful corporations using money and political power to squelch research and opposition while they release inadequately tested new organisms into the environment. On the one hand, you’ve got a great back story (although it can feel at times like you’re starting out with a sequel). On the other hand, it can be a challenge coming up with twists and turns that haven’t already played out in the newspapers (although generally deep inside the newspapers, with tiny little headlines). Luckily there are plenty of angles still to be explored. (DEADOUT, the sequel to DRIFT, focuses on possible links between GMOs and Colony Collapse Disorder, which is decimating bee populations around the world.)

The timing can be tricky as well. A compelling but obscure story can become headline news — or old news — while you’re still in the middle of your second draft. As DRIFT’s publication date approaches, I’m as nervous as any author would be, but maybe a little more so, because the topic is so timely the book could capture the moment, or miss it entirely. Unfortunately, it looks like the controversy over GMO foods is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, which, while bad news for anyone who eats food in this country, means there is plenty left to explore. Then again, as more and more people become aware of GMOs, and vocal about labeling them, it’s entirely possible that the government will listen to them and do something about it. But if it does, hopefully, DRIFT will do just fine as a good story with compelling characters. And at least I’ll feel better about the food I’m eating.

I’d love to hear other writers’ experiences — good and bad — writing fiction about topical issues or current affairs.

JON McGORANis the author of DRIFT, an ecological thriller about genetically engineered food and the blurring line between food and pharmaceuticals. He has been writing about food and sustainability for twenty years, as communication director at Weavers Way Co-op and editor of THE SHUTTLE newspaper, and now as editor at GRID magazine. Writing as D. H. Dublin, he is the author of BODY TRACE, BLOOD POISON, and FREEZER BURN. He is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to promotion, networking, and service work. In DRIFT, he combines his interest in the increasingly bizarre world of food today with his love of the thriller.

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