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Q&A with Adam Johnson

November 17, 2009

Q: You are working on a new novel now, I believe. What is it about, and when can we expect to see it in print?

A: I've been working on a novel set in North Korea for several years now. I'd been reading some nonfiction about the DPRK, and found the Hermit Kingdom fascinating.

I especially loved the propaganda, which was filled with so many ironies. For instance, the "Food Self-Sufficiency" program was really part of North Korea's Songun policy, which diverted food from the people to the military.

Then I started questioning the propaganda in America, like the "Clear Skies Act," which raised pollution limits for emitters. Or the "Healthy Forests Act," which increased old-growth logging. One of the voices in my book is the "Loudspeaker" voice that is broadcast to all citizens of North Korea each day via hard-wired speakers in their houses.

In 2007, I traveled to Pyongyang, Myohyang, Kaesong and Panmunjeon to research the book, which despite all my talk of propaganda, is really a love story, a North Korean Casablanca, if you will.

Q: Were you interested in writing as a child? Were you a reader?

A: After I graduated from high school, I worked construction for a couple years, so I was late to university, and I was out of practice. I took what I thought were "easy-A" classes to boost my gpa, and one of them was fiction workshop. And I had a true epiphany: what I'd been told were my flaws--daydreaming, rubbernecking, exaggerating--suddenly combined to make something good called a short story. I was hooked.

Q: Anything else you'd like to say?

A: I miss the smells of ASU: fresh-cut grass, citrus blossoms, chlorine rising from the pool in the morning, the hot asphalt fumes of Lot 59.