Adam Johnson on his Novel ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’

R1_The Orphan Master’s Son_WEBForget outdated notions of boring book clubs taking place in someone’s living room. The Writer’s Block Book Shop knows that what pairs best with a good book is some bourbon. This month’s Bourbon Book Club on October 6 will discuss Adam Johnson’s “The Orphan Master’s Son” while sipping bourbon provided by the Whiskey Attic. Participants are expected to have read the book in advance.

Johnson’s stories are described as new science fiction—speculative and researched narrative that uses dark humor and irony. Johnson, who teaches writing at Stanford, will read and discuss his work at a Vegas Valley Book Festival After Dark event on October 15.

Your Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son” (2012), is an episodic adventure about the struggles of a North Korean man. What was it like visiting the hermit nation to research this novel?

When I arrived at Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport, my head was still spinning from a landing on a runway lined with cattle, electric fences and the fuselages of other jets whose landings hadn’t gone so well. Even though I’d spent three years writing and researching “The Orphan Master’s Son,” I was unprepared for what I was about to encounter in “the most glorious nation in the world.”

Stories in your collection Fortune Smiles (2015), which won the National Book Award, take the perspective of a former Stasi prison warden (“George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine”) and a child molester (“Dark Meadow”). You seem to be taking narrative dares in your writing.

Our society was founded on the belief that all people are valuable. I think we believe if you take the time to meet any human being on the street, you will find something interesting, and you will find you have something in common with that person. I am drawn to stories that put that to the test.

You work in the realm of dark humor with some heavy topics—technology and its effects on society, parental abandonment, dark tourism, terminal illness.

I have an affinity for the humorous and dark—the two go hand in hand. When people are funny without darkness, it’s like a helium balloon that just floats away. When a person is dark without being funny, too much tension is built up. In my work, one of the ways I control tension is through releasing it with humor.

You bring Kurt Cobain to life as a digital projection in “Nirvana,” which also features a spy drone. Do you own a drone? If you could fly one anywhere, where would you go?

I would most likely be one of those people who shoot down someone else’s drone. In that particular story, I wrote it after a friend took his life. Afterward, I had a dream in which he came to visit me in [the] form of a drone, and I knew the drone that came in the night to visit me was my friend who I had lost. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral because my wife was undergoing cancer treatments at that same time. I believe that story came from the place where, because I wasn’t able to attend his funeral, I couldn’t process his death. It was a disturbing dream, and I started a story from that image and went from there.

The Bourbon Book Club

Oct. 6, 6 p.m., Writer’s Block Book Shop, 1020 Fremont St., 702-550-6399, The WritersBlock.org

After Dark at Vegas Valley Book Festival

Oct. 15, 6:30 p.m., Inspire Theater, 107 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-750-0017, VegasValleyBookFestival.org.

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