Listen: Midmorning Creature Feature

On this Midmorning creature feature, hear excerpts of Kerri Miller interviewing authors Justin Cronin, Daniel Wilson and Glen Duncan

Justin Cronin is the author of "The Passage," Daniel Wilson wrote "Robopocalypse," and
Glen Duncan discusses his work "The Last Werewolf."


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CRAIG WINDHAM: From NPR News in Washington, I'm Craig Windham. The discovery of an alleged plot by officials in Iran to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US is further straining relations between the two countries. Vice President Joe Biden says Iran will be held accountable.

JOE BIDEN: The consequences of Iran, I think, are going to be serious. Because they have not only decided to assassinate someone, they have taken on the very basis of the way in which nations deal with one another. And that is violating the notion that you deal with diplomats, the means by which you communicate, and in terms of assassinating a diplomat.

CRAIG WINDHAM: Biden on CBS's The Early Show. Federal prosecutors say the plot involved using funds from Iran's government to try to hire gunmen from a Mexican drug cartel to kill the ambassador. Iran is denying the allegations.

Chrysler has reached a tentative contract deal with the United Auto Workers Union, but Sarah Cwiek of Michigan Radio reports the agreement is expected to be less lucrative for workers than a deal struck with other Detroit automakers.

SARAH CWIEK: The tentative deal ends what had occasionally been tense negotiations between the union and Detroit's smallest automaker. The agreement is likely to stick closely to patterns established in deals with GM and Ford. Those deals centered around promises to create and retain more US jobs and invest in domestic manufacturing facilities.

The UAW says the Chrysler deal will add more than 2,000 new jobs. Those deals have also guaranteed workers more generous profit sharing, instead of wage hikes. The deal would go to Chrysler workers for a ratification vote. GM workers have already approved a new contract, and Ford rank and file are still in the midst of voting. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Cwiek in Detroit.

CRAIG WINDHAM: Three trade agreements that have languished for years are set for votes today in the House and Senate. Leaders from both parties say they expect the trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to be approved. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

MITCH MCDONNELL: These agreements won't add a dime to the deficit. They're expected by Democrats and Republicans to create tens of thousands of jobs.

CRAIG WINDHAM: But opponents of the trade deals, including some union leaders, say they will cost American jobs.

The US Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case testing the practice of automatically strip-searching anyone who's arrested and taken to jail, even for minor traffic offenses. NPR'S Nina Totenberg reports the case involves a New Jersey man who was wrongly arrested for failing to pay a traffic fine.

NINA TOTENBERG: Because of a computer error, Albert Florence, the finance director for a car dealership, was pulled over on the road, jailed, and repeatedly strip-searched for a week. He sued, contending such automatic strip searches are unconstitutional for minor traffic offenses. The county jails reply that automatic strip searches are conducted in the interest of protecting both guards and inmates. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

CRAIG WINDHAM: Stock prices are modestly higher on Wall Street. The Dow Industrials are up 59 points at 11,474. The NASDAQ Composite Index is up 24. This is NPR News from Washington.

SPEAKER 1: Support for news comes from PBS. Presenting the PBS Arts Fall Festival, featuring Pearl Jam and Steve Martin. Starts Friday night at 8:00 on PBS.

PHIL PICARDI: From Minnesota Public Radio News, I'm Phil Picardi. The Minnesota Vikings are looking over a report from the Metropolitan Council assessing the prospects of their stadium plans in Arden Hills. The team struck a deal with Ramsey County in May that would build a billion-dollar sports complex in the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition site, one of the most polluted tracts of land in the state.

NPR News obtained a copy of the report and gave it to the Vikings. The report, due out today, questions the cost and time projections made by the team. But Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley says the report is not a deal-killer.

LESTER BAGLEY: We have not had a chance to really dig into it or digest it. But from a cursory look, we don't see anything in the report that would prevent us from moving forward on this exciting project.

PHIL PICARDI: The Vikings have proposed a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills, and the team has asked the state and Ramsey County to pick up about half the cost. Last night, a citizens' panel voted against, making a proposed stadium tax win over voter approval.

A petroleum company is replacing gas it delivered to nearly two dozen Minnesota communities because it contains too much ethanol. The gasoline came from the Magellan Midstream Partners petroleum plant in Mankato. A Magellan spokesman told a Twin Cities television station an operational issue caused the gas to contain more than 10% ethanol. State officials say there have been two consumer complaints, and high-ethanol gas has been found in 21 Southern Minnesota communities.

The King and Queen of Norway arrived in the Twin Cities last night. The royal couple today visits St. Olaf College in Northfield and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Also they attend a church service at Augsburg College. Later today, the King and Queen will be honored at a gala banquet.

Cloudy skies, showers, and thunderstorms possible today. Highs in the 60s to low 70s. Right now, 60 in the Twin Cities. It's Minnesota Public Radio News.

SPEAKER 2: Support for this program comes from MidCountry Bank's business banking team, helping area businesses with standard loans, leases, and SBA loans. Online at An equal housing lender member FDIC.


KERRI MILLER: I'm Kerri Miller. This is Midmorning on Minnesota Public Radio News. This hour, three writers on their move from literary fiction to creature feature fiction. Later, Glen Duncan on his wine-swilling, caviar-nibbling werewolf, and Daniel Wilson on why robots just want a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

But first, author Justin Cronin. For years, he published well-received literary novels that never made it to the bestseller list, until one day when his young daughter challenged him to write a book she'd want to read. So he turned to vampires.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Well, I think we have four basic monster stories that we come back to again and again. We've got Frankenstein. We've got the werewolf. We've got the zombie. And we've got the vampire. And I think the vampire figure wins. It's the most interesting. It has the most-- it has the best details. And I think it has the most plasticity as a story, if you're going to use it as a metaphor for whatever is on your mind. I mean, werewolves are great. But the one message of the werewolf story is men are dogs, which we all know, you know? So it feels a little obvious.


JUSTIN CRONIN: But the vampire story is full of all kinds of interesting little bits, and it's very easy to maneuver the pieces and to make it fit a pressing anxiety of the moment. And I started observing this really back in the '80s, when I saw Kathryn Bigelow's movie Near Dark, which-- do you remember that film?

Yeah, it was-- basically, it took the vampire story, and it soldered it onto another compelling but particularly very American myth, which is the myth of the highway drifter killer, right? And in Bigelow's movie, which is not a glossy production at all-- and I haven't seen it for very many years. But the vampires are essentially a group of people driving around the West in a Winnebago with blacked-out windows.

KERRI MILLER: Oh, I have seen that movie.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Have you seen this?

KERRI MILLER: Oh my god, yes.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Yeah, yeah. They'll show up at a bar and kill everybody, right?

KERRI MILLER: That's right, yeah.

JUSTIN CRONIN: And I observed right then, I said, this story is one that you can combine with other things. You can bend it and shape it as you like. The Bram Stoker's Dracula film, I think it was a Ford Coppola film that came out in the early '90s with Winona Ryder and Gary Oldman. When I went to see that movie, it was very clearly to me a movie about AIDS. That was the height of public concern about AIDS. And it's a movie absolutely drenched in blood, and it's really a movie about bloodborne infection in a sexualized environment. So at that moment, I looked and I said, yeah, here's another example.

And what I wanted to do with this story was a couple of things. One is I wanted to take the magic out of it. The traditional Gothic vampire is a magical creature. His abilities are not explained. They come from some other invisible realm. And I'm not a big fan of magic as a writer or as a reader. I'm much more drawn to things that feel like they have some sort of naturalistic plausibility.

So I decided that I would take the magic out of it, and I would try to explain all of the traditional details of the vampire to give him a place within some kind of biological or naturalistic framework, basically taking everything from the natural world. Everything from the mirrors to the garlic to the stake through the heart, all of it, and give it a place within a series of natural explanations.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah. But that part of it, with the-- if you were immortal, you must sacrifice something to be-- about your humanity to be immortal. I find that such an interesting question.

JUSTIN CRONIN: I think this is why we come back to this story again and again thematically. In some ways, the first vampire story in a Judeo-Christian Western tradition is the Garden of Eden story, which actually has a lot of the same material. It's kind of rearranged. But you have the temptation and seduction of a young innocent woman. You have questions about mortality. They're actually inverted, but you still have the question, do you want to be a god? Do you want to be a person? And then, of course, you have the fanged creature. It takes the form of a serpent, but that's just another version of what we to be the vampire figure.

And so this question, I think it's one we come-- it's one that comes up, I think, very pressingly at two moments of your life, when you really encounter vividly the idea of your own mortality. And they are when you are a teenager and you realize you're not going to live forever. You're very excited about the things that are coming to you in your adult life, but you realize that there's a bill that's going to come due for all of it. And I'm watching my daughter. She's 14. She's coming into that space, and life just gets a lot more complicated. It gets very exciting. But there is a downside.

And then in midlife, where I'm solidly located. Who has not, at some time in their 40s, stood in front of the mirror in the morning and said, oh my god, what happened, right? And vividly you experience this sense, my life is not something that's about to happen. It's happening now, and I'm past the midpoint, and this is what it is. This is my life. And you begin to, I think, appreciate the way in which its color and its richness is deeply connected to the fact that it is temporary.

KERRI MILLER: I'm really interested to hear you talk about this, because we had a show not too long ago about immortality and the true serious medical research that's going on to expand the human lifespan. So during that conversation, we started talking about, what if at 70 years old, you were only at midlife? What we are at 40 or 50, that you knew that you were going to live to be 140. How would that-- or 150. Think about how that would change your perception of the way time passes.

JUSTIN CRONIN: The way time passes, your relationship to your children, your relationship to the idea of work and a career and accomplishment. And also, you would be a being who was gobbling up more than your fair share of resources.

KERRI MILLER: That's right.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Right? I mean, an abruptly lengthened human lifespan, not created through the natural forces of evolution, but through technology, would be profoundly upsetting to the natural balance, in addition to making Social Security go bankrupt overnight. It would create a tremendous economic stress. But it would create a biological stress, I think. And we would be in some ways stealing something from our kids through this suddenly lengthened lifespan. Not that we wouldn't be very attracted to it. I would love to live 200 years.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah. But I was thinking about this when I was reading your novel, that vampires, this myth of the vampire, part of this is all about how they view the passage of time, and how different that is from the way we mortals think about that.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Yeah. In the novel, time acquires a different texture. Because first of all, you have the creation of a race of essentially immortal beings. They age about one year for every 10 that passes, thus giving them a sort of biblical-sounding lifespan of approximately 1,000 years. That's where I got it. You see all these early characters in the Bible who live 1,000 years. And so on the one hand, you have these spectacularly long-lived individuals. But then amongst the human survivors that still exist in a post-technological society, their lifespan is radically shorter, so that when they're 20 years old, they're solidly adults.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah, that's right.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Yeah. So there's a sort of counterbalance to this, and I was always really aware of it. As a writer, I had to constantly remind myself that my characters who were 21 or 22 years old were more like people my age in terms of their sense of the passage of time, and the full passage of their lifespan.

KERRI MILLER: So you really had to get out of your own-- just even in that detail of this, you really had to get out of your own life experience.

JUSTIN CRONIN: Yeah. I mean, I've always viewed my job as a novelist, and what's fun about being a novelist, is the opportunity and the responsibility to imagine lives completely unlike my own. At the same time, of course, underneath that there's a fundamental recognition that there's a human sameness. I mean, we're all built to the same psychological material. But the characters in The Passage exist in a world that's so materially different from ours that of course it would radically affect their psychology. And I had to really concentrate on their every psychological response to circumstances so that I would feel like I was getting it right.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah. I mean, you must have had to write down to the-- because they're in, for lack of a better term, a post-apocalyptic world. You must have had to constantly check, gut check yourself about what these people who live in this post-apocalyptic world know. Because they've had no experience of the world before that. How did you do it?

JUSTIN CRONIN: How did I do it? One was record-keeping. I found this book was really demanding in terms of just keeping track of physical and material details. I had to know a lot more than the book actually expressed. Like, how does this community-- what is their sanitation system? You know, where do they get their natural resources? I'm one of those writers who needs to know with completeness a scene even beyond what I actually present on the page. Otherwise, it just doesn't seem real to me.

The second thing, of course, was, I think, just a kind of concentration. One of the things that I did, just as a physical reminder-- and actually, I learned this from another writer. The centerpiece of the novel is a journey that a group of characters take through a abandoned and depopulated and very dangerous America, from Southern California to Colorado.

And first of all, I took this trip and I made sure that I walked every mile-- or in this case, drove every mile in a comfortable rental car, every mile that my characters did. And I photographed it, and I made their journey correspond exactly to the towns and distances. And I did it at the same time of year that they do it.

KERRI MILLER: That's cool.

JUSTIN CRONIN: And then above my office in the garage, I had a map that outlined it. And then along the map, I had all these photographs that I had taken, particularly of ruined things. If you drive through the American West, one of the most profound impressions that it leaves on you is how empty most of it is.

So I was encountering a landscape that in some ways was not so very different from my characters. And if I came across a really interesting ruined building on the Nevada-Utah border, I took a picture of it and push-pinned it into the map at that spot, to remind myself where they were, what it looked like, and how it felt.

KERRI MILLER: To the phones to John in Minneapolis. Hey, John. Your question for Justin Cronin?

JOHN: Well, thank you for taking my call. I'm reading your book right now, and it's wonderful. My question was, what kind of research did you do to decide what kind of building materials to give them? Like, I know FEMA, or rather former members of FEMA, play a role. So yeah, I guess just what kind of materials did you decide to give them, and how? And I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.

JUSTIN CRONIN: The research component of this book was very large, larger than anything I'd ever done. And first of all, I want to thank the internet for making it possible to write a book like this, because 10 or 15 years ago, I never would have tried. There's a scene where somebody hotwires a diesel locomotive, which I put in the book simply because I love runaway trains, and I always wanted to write a novel with a runaway train in it. And there is not a website called, but it comes pretty close.

And with great ease, you can go and get material that years ago, you would have had to just fake or spend a month in the library trying to track down. I had to research every kind of thing. And then I also had to recast it in terms of 100 years of disuse, essentially. How long does it take for things to rot?

One of my favorite little details, though, is of course, this is a society that lives-- they live essentially as scavengers. And so the word they use for pants is gaps, because basically all of their pants come from an abandoned Gap at a mall in Southern California. And so that's just what they are.

KERRI MILLER: Justin Cronin with us, talking to us about moving from being a literary fiction novelist to, well, hey, writing about vampires in the apocalypse, Euan. And that's a bit of a move there. But he handled it great.

EUAN KERR: Oh, maybe not. [LAUGHS]

KERRI MILLER: The book is called The Passage. It is outstanding. Read it on my Kindle. Euan Kerr--

EUAN KERR: Good morning!

KERRI MILLER: --in the studio with me today, not just for us to nibble around on books and have a good time talking about movies and books, but here to get something done. It's the first day of the fall membership drive.

EUAN KERR: Yes. This is it, folks. We need to hear from you right now to keep this radio service strong. This is a nonprofit public radio service, which is why we are asking you-- yes, you-- for your financial support. Because member support makes up the largest portion of our operating budget. It's a mind-warping fact, that. This is hugely important for us, to get you to be a member of Minnesota Public Radio. So 1-800-227-2811, or click and join at

KERRI MILLER: Euan, I was boring you with the details of my trip up to Duluth last night.

EUAN KERR: It was not boring.

KERRI MILLER: I was up there with Minnesota Public Radio's new president, John McTaggart.

EUAN KERR: Duluth's one of my favorite places.

KERRI MILLER: It was great. Beautiful day. I can't tell you how many people came up after my little chat and proudly said that they are sustaining members. There is pride in their voices when they say that. They know that they are the foundation of Minnesota Public Radio, and ever more so. Here's the deal on sustaining. We just continue to welcome your contribution to Minnesota Public Radio. You continue to make that contribution month to month until you tell us to stop.

EUAN KERR: So how much?

KERRI MILLER: That's it. Whatever you decide.

EUAN KERR: So you get to choose.

KERRI MILLER: $5, $10, $15, $100 a month. You decide. You choose. But you tell us that this is the level of your commitment to Minnesota Public Radio, and you don't want it to stop.

EUAN KERR: It's very cool.

KERRI MILLER: 800-227-2811. Calling all sustaining members this morning. Would be great to hear from you.

EUAN KERR: Indeed. Voluntary listener support keeps us independent, and independence is actually really vital for a news organization. Yesterday we had Governor Tim Pawlenty in yesterday to talk, and there was a reason why he chose Minnesota Public Radio for his first Minnesota interview after dropping out of the presidential race.

And part of it is because this is an organization that has a great geographic reach. But also, this is an organization with a reputation for balance. This is an organization which is really appreciated by listeners. So how about showing your appreciation? Become a member, become a sustaining member. 1-800-227-2811, or click and join at

KERRI MILLER: If you're online this morning, it is quick and easy. If you're by the phone, get it done. Get it done on the first day. 800-227-2811.


TOM CRANN: I'm Tom Crann. An extraordinary group of listeners is making a huge difference. Over 57,000 sustaining members provide steady ongoing support that keeps Minnesota Public Radio strong and independent, ensuring that every member of our community has access to the highest quality public radio in the nation. If you're a sustainer, thank you. You make MPR happen.

KERRI MILLER: I hope you heard those words strong and independent. We don't play commercials here. We are beholden to no companies that say, well, if I'm going to advertise on your air, this is what I want. We don't require that. We don't engage in that. You hear that in the quality of the coverage here at Minnesota Public Radio. 800-227-2811. Online, This is the day to become a sustainer. Hey, all of you who are not members, you're listeners. This is the day to be a member. Why not?

EUAN KERR: Indeed. And being the first day, do we have a deal for you. We've been talking about sustaining members. There is this marvelous mug.

KERRI MILLER: It's red and sturdy and hefty.

EUAN KERR: It's huge. I mean, this would be not only good for coffee. This could be pretty good for street fighting, if that is your personal wish. But anyway--

KERRI MILLER: Little brass knuckles here.

EUAN KERR: (LAUGHING) Says on the front, "I make MPR happen." For those who join as sustaining members, it says "sustaining member" on the back. $5 a month.


EUAN KERR: It does.

KERRI MILLER: I didn't even realize that.

EUAN KERR: Apparently. I hear that there are two versions of this. There's the sustaining-- the woo-hoo, sustaining member. And then there's the regular one.

KERRI MILLER: The sexy sustaining member mug. That's the one you want. It's sexy.

EUAN KERR: This is the one.


EUAN KERR: But anyway, today, only $5 a month. If you boost it up to $10, we'll throw in a pound of the special MPR blend of coffee, Peace Coffee. Great stuff. They'll be available later, but it's going to cost you more. So today's the day.

KERRI MILLER: So today is the day.

EUAN KERR: Get in today.

KERRI MILLER: It's the first day.

EUAN KERR: This is a great diner-- I love these diner mugs. Because I mean, you feel like you're really getting-- I don't know why. You just feel like you're really getting a cup of coffee. So anyway.

KERRI MILLER: 800-227-2811, online at First day. Lots of thank you gifts. You know that. We're always trying to come up with something exciting to lure you in. It's really, though, the day-to-day quality of the coverage, the context and the depth, that I think brings you back day after day to listen.

What we are trying to do here is reach out, make you loyal listeners of Minnesota Public Radio, give you a reason to be loyal. That's our mission here, to constantly elevate the discussion, the coverage, the interviews that we're doing, and make it worth your while to listen. I think that's the relationship, reinforced again in my conversations last night with listeners. If that defines you, if that's why you're here this morning, 800-227-2811. Online at

Euan, we're going back to the conversation here with the writers. I just want to say that at 10 o'clock, and I know you're going to sit in for this, we're going to talk about favorite sci-fi, fantasy, horror, werewolf, zombie writers, OK? Have I covered the gamut?

EUAN KERR: Why are you looking at me when you say that?

KERRI MILLER: You've got a bit of a look of the zombie about you this morning. That's coming up at 10 o'clock.

EUAN KERR: Sounds great.

KERRI MILLER: But now back to the discussion here, with our creature feature conversation with authors who have turned from literary fiction to writing about monsters. Now to writer Dan Wilson. He's an MIT-educated computer scientist who's always been interested in sci-fi literature. He's been reading it since he was a kid. But for his newest book, he wanted to do something different with robots, and he created some rather unusual robots.

DANIEL WILSON: Well, I started out very typical story, which is you have the singularity. You have this evil artificial intelligence that comes online. Not necessarily evil. It just has a different goal than the scientists would hope for. And that's pretty much the way they all start. And then from there, I was able to get a little more complicated, because I just gave the machines more complicated goals, you know? I thought to myself, if I was a superintelligent artificial intelligence, would I really be concerned with just people? Or would I be concerned with the wider world?

And Archos, the bad guy in this book, is really-- he's interested in knowledge and learning as much as possible. And the first thing that he sees is that in the smallest piece of life, there's so much information and so much knowledge just in the DNA, and just the structure of life relative to something inanimate like a rock. And it immediately really realizes that life is really rare in the universe, and it's very sacred and valuable. And from that perspective, a lot of really terrible things end up happening for people. But life in general is going well in Robopocalypse, for the rest of the world. It's a very lush apocalypse.

KERRI MILLER: So do you imagine that robots would eventually-- in this world in which they would exist, I guess, peer-to-peer with humans-- they would possess a lot of the qualities that we think are the finest qualities of humans? You know, compassion, trust, love. Is that what they aspire to?

DANIEL WILSON: Well, I think that a lot of-- I think people, human beings, are really designed to work together in order to build civilization and keep each other alive and healthy and moving forward. And I think that that's an attribute that is common to life in general. That's what life does. It makes sense out of chaos.

And so that's definitely-- those are attributes that I think artificial intelligence would have as well, especially if that AI wanted to interact with people. Because those are the tools that we use to interact. And so if you don't have compassion and emotions and love and just empathy and things like that, then it becomes very difficult to interact in a meaningful way with people. You just end up being like ships in the night.

KERRI MILLER: So you picture that artificial intelligence would eventually care about concepts like social justice? I mean, they'd really have to if they were going to integrate in a society with humans, right?

DANIEL WILSON: Yeah, absolutely. And it's even more fundamental than that. Machines can operate on time scales that we can't. So for instance, a machine can live its whole life in the blink of an eye. Or you'll see spacecraft robots that are operating on the scale of human lifetimes in terms of their missions. And they can operate on distances that we can't operate on, and they can be embodied in all these different ways.

And so I think that if machines are interested in interacting with humans, they have to embody themselves in a human shape, something that we can understand. They have to limit themselves to operating on our time scale, and at distances and speeds that we can even comprehend. We can't really change our embodiment, and they can. And so everything from the ground up, just your basic physical embodiment all the way to how you conceptualize the world, the onus is on machines to adopt our viewpoint on that if they want to interact with us.

KERRI MILLER: See, I think you've raised some really interesting big cultural questions here. And you're not all that explicit about them in the novel, but I have a feeling you were thinking about them. We're wrestling in some ways with that in this country and many others, what it means to be an immigrant, come into the country where you are not fully assimilated, and how you are in some ways viewed as other. Those are some of the things I thought about as I was reading the novel and thinking about, what would a world be like where you had two very different beings trying to fully integrate and live together? Were you thinking about that?

DANIEL WILSON: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I tried not to do was be prescriptive at any point. I wanted to-- I tell the book through a lot of different perspectives. And so I hit all this stuff from a lot of different angles, but I'm not ever trying to tell the reader what the right answer is. But one thing that I think Archos believes, the bad guy, and sees in human history, is that human beings don't necessarily ascribe-- they don't give each other human rights, necessarily. Typically they have to either fight for them or earn them. So human beings are very good at basically dehumanizing each other and classifying the other.

And so the book, really, if you start from the beginning and go till the end, you watch our sphere of other grow until we include not only all people, but also we include machines into our group of what is us versus them. And I think that right there, whether you say to somebody, you're my brother or you're my enemy, that has to do a lot with survival. It has to do with whether this person has forced you to accept them and give them human rights, or whether you're in a position where you need them, and you have to fight alongside this person in order to get rights.

So there's lots and lots of examples of that throughout history. Women gaining the right to vote in the United States is a good example. They proved their worth in World War I, and afterwards, it was like, well, you need them. We have to-- they should totally have a stake in society. So I did let that unfold over the course of the book.

KERRI MILLER: To the phones to James in Apple Valley. Hi, James.

JAMES: Good morning. How are you doing?


JAMES: I just wanted to make a quick comment, first that I've always loved robot stories. I'm a big fan of all of Asimov's robot stories. And I really loved Robopocalypse. But I bought a Kindle, and the very first story that I downloaded to the Kindle was Robopocalypse.


JAMES: And I let the machine read it to me, which gave it a really interesting perspective with that sort of mechanical voice. It was kind of fun.

KERRI MILLER: James, I've never done that. I've never done that on my Kindle, let it read to me. So how was it different, do you think, than just reading it yourself quietly and letting your imagination roam with that?

JAMES: It was a constant reminder that machines are starting to encroach in our lives in a really remarkable way, and that they-- I don't think they have intelligence today. I think that's pretty tough to do. But that they have a certain human appeal, if you will, and that they can talk to us, and that we can-- they even can emote a little.

At least the voice sounded like that. I'm probably anthropomorphizing it a little bit. But you know. But it really brought a really interesting tone to the story. And like I said, when I was-- I'm 50, and when I was a kid, I was reading Asimov's stories and thinking how cool it would be to talk to a robot. So now I kind of--

KERRI MILLER: And now you can. That's right.

JAMES: It was pretty cool. So I'm really looking forward to the movie, and I loved the book. It was a great perspective on how you wrote it and the different points of view. I really liked it. So thank you.


KERRI MILLER: Daniel, one of the things that struck me in the story is how many-- I think as maybe James is alluding to, how deeply technology has penetrated our everyday life. Because what happens is the Big Rob, the bad guy, is able to harness all of what we think of, I think, as very benign technology. And I realized it's everywhere.

DANIEL WILSON: Yeah. The instant that we get a new technology, we typically end up depending on it almost immediately. And then an interesting thing happens. The more advanced and the bigger the wow factor, it seems like the quicker we come to depend on it. And the quicker it becomes completely mundane, and something that goes directly into the background of our lives, and it's not something that we think about. And technology, by definition, it's a solution to a problem, or it provides some kind of service. And so it tends to creep in the most intimate parts of our lives.

So transportation, we're wrapped up in technology when we go places, and all of our communications between each other are facilitated by this technology. And the goal, to some extent, of good technology is to disappear, so that you're not really aware of it. It should get out of your way. You should just pick up the little plastic box and talk into it and hear the person you want to speak to. And as a result, you forget that there's all of these mechanisms in between you and the person you're talking to, or between you and the place you're going. And those gaps are all filled with technology.

KERRI MILLER: It's such a great point. Because I was just-- as you're describing that, I'm thinking, I don't even think it's odd anymore that when I put an address into my GPS, and it talks back to me and tells me how to get somewhere, that just seems very everyday these days. But that is a weird thing, if you think about it.

DANIEL WILSON: It's a fundamental human thing. We adapt. And I think that's one of our greatest strengths as a species, is we adapt to new situations just seamlessly, and we get used to it so quickly and form a new baseline so quickly. But as soon as you stop for a second, and really contemplate, well, what would happen if-- not if this stuff started attacking or any of that stuff, but what if it just went away?

Then you realize you'd be in a real-- you'd be quickly in a real survival situation. And you would just be left to your-- you'd be on your own, essentially. We have all these training wheels that we use every day, and to think about life without them is really kind of scary, I think.

KERRI MILLER: Home alone without the robots, Euan. We would take some robots as sustainer members today, wouldn't we?

EUAN KERR: Yeah. But no robots on the air, though. We only have live people on the air.

KERRI MILLER: All right.

EUAN KERR: I hope.

KERRI MILLER: Calling all potential sustaining members this morning. If you're a member of Minnesota Public Radio, what a great idea to be a sustainer. All that is, is you saying, yes, my contributions continue to you. My commitment continues to Minnesota Public Radio until you tell us that it doesn't, and we hope you never do. 800-227-2811. Online at Some cool gifts on this first day for sustainers and new members, and all members.

EUAN KERR: Yes. And first day alone, though. And that is we have this marvelous red diner's mug. We've had diner's mugs before, but this is larger than the last one.

KERRI MILLER: It's hefty. It's sturdy. And it holds a lot.

EUAN KERR: Beautiful red color.

KERRI MILLER: Holds coffee and--

EUAN KERR: And it says, "I make MPR happen."

KERRI MILLER: --Bloody Marys and hot chocolate and anything you want to put in there, right?

EUAN KERR: [LAUGHS] Many, many things you could put in there. Pencils.


EUAN KERR: Actually, a lot of my mugs end up holding pencils.


EUAN KERR: And if you are a sustaining member, then you get the special sustaining member edition, which has "sustaining member" on it.


EUAN KERR: How did they come up with that?

KERRI MILLER: It'll stare at you every morning when you're taking a sip of that bloody-- uh, coffee in the morning, getting ready for your day. It will remind you that you support Minnesota Public Radio as a sustaining member. 800-227-2811 is how to do it. Online,

EUAN KERR: $5 a month for the mug. It's going to be more expensive later, folks. If you can stretch to $10 a month, then we'll throw in a pound of the special MPR blend from Peace Coffee. Great stuff. The important thing, though, is for you to make that move towards your computer, towards the phone, to, to 1-800-227-2811. Make that move. Become a member, because members are really, really, really important.

KERRI MILLER: Here's Harry and Brooke Beck. I think they get that. Osceola, Wisconsin. Brand-new members and sustaining members who say, "We appreciate so much the presence of a commercial-free, interesting, and forward-thinking radio station in the area." I like that. Forward-thinking.

EUAN KERR: Indeed.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah, that's how I want to think about this. That we lean forward in how we're bringing you the news and the information that you listen to. Here's Kathy in Pipestone, Minnesota. New member, sustaining member, says, "I work in the human services field. MPR helps me stay on top of all the political decisions that may affect my career and the people we serve." Kathy, thank you. Welcome, as a standing member. We love having you in the group now. 800-227-2811. Online at

EUAN KERR: We have people coming in from all over. Jordan, Minnesota. Carl and Laura called in, and they are contributing because, "MPR is with me on my drive to work throughout the day, while at work, on my drive home, and on the weekends. If I'm listening this much, I knew it was time for me to contribute my fair share."

KERRI MILLER: That was your first sign, yeah.

EUAN KERR: And so sustaining members. Great. Thank you. And Benjamin and Amber from Woodbury. Both enjoy the daily news source and thoughtful, original news stories. There are many, many, many reasons for becoming a member of Minnesota Public Radio. But let's add this one. Half of the money that goes towards our programming, half, 50%, comes from membership. Simply from people like you, your friends, your neighbors, your relatives who have joined. Keep us going. 1-800-227-2811, or

KERRI MILLER: I like that moment of epiphany that people every now and then write into us about. I suddenly realized I'm listening to you 24/7. Really? When did the light bulb go off? I don't complete a day without at some point checking in with Minnesota Public Radio. If that's you, if you wake up in the morning with us, and you listen through the day, and you call into my show, and you check in on All Things Considered on the drive home, and then you want to hear what Terry Gross is doing, hey, you're a dedicated listener.

Might be-- here's the light bulb moment-- might be time to be a member. 800-227-2811. If you're streaming us, I promise you, it takes 90 seconds to click and join. Get it done. Renew it if you've let your membership lapse. And I think you know who I'm talking to, honey, if you're listening this morning. 800-227-2811.

EUAN KERR: $5 a month will get you that "I make MPR happen" beautiful diner's mug. Throw in an extra $5, $10 bucks a month, and then you have the Peace Coffee too. It's all there. It's all actually explained on the website. Just go and take a look at Very simple. But the important thing is for you to make that decision. A lot of people use radio as aural wallpaper. It's just there. I defy you to use Minnesota Public Radio--

KERRI MILLER: I wondered where you're going with this.

EUAN KERR: --as aural wallpaper. Because you go, wait, what was that?

KERRI MILLER: Werewolves?

EUAN KERR: They're doing what?

KERRI MILLER: Robots rising up? You're kidding.

EUAN KERR: Robots.

KERRI MILLER: I've got to listen to this.

EUAN KERR: Things going on in the Middle East, the Arab Spring. Wow, all this stuff. And it's just constantly coming. It's constantly coming. It's marvelous. But it costs money. And that's where you come in. 1-800-227-2811, or click and join at

KERRI MILLER: Here's the thing that we're proud of about Midmorning as well, that we have these conversations, and then you are as key of a part of the quality of the discussions as the guests are. And the guests constantly remark about how great the questions are from the audience, that this is special. They acknowledge that. We acknowledge that. And we appreciate your commitment.

A way to elevate that commitment this morning, decide to be a sustainer. So you're a member, but you've said to us, hey, continue my commitment until I decide that I want that commitment to end. That's how it works. 800-227-2811. Online at Coming up at 10:00, Euan, we are taking calls and recommendations from our listeners this morning about creature feature lit.


KERRI MILLER: Isn't that going to be great?

EUAN KERR: Very good. Are we going to have, what was that, the theremin? [IMITATES THEREMIN]

KERRI MILLER: We're going to have zombie-- we have some cool theme music, I have to say. Zombies and werewolves and monsters, and all kinds of creepy things. So I want to hear what you're reading about that. That's coming up at 10 o'clock. Euan, though, back to the conversation--

EUAN KERR: Indeed. Good.

KERRI MILLER: --now with Glen Duncan, all right? 800-227-2811. Online at So this is an excerpt from my conversation with Glen Duncan. I have to say, when the book arrived, I thought, come on, I'm going to read a whole novel about werewolves? It was excellent. So here's Glen Duncan's story. When his agent told him several years ago that she didn't think she could sell his newest literary novel, he started to think about what would sell. Werewolves came to mind.

GLEN DUNCAN: Yes, it was initially a pragmatic or a mercenary decision. My intention was to go away and write a straight commercial genre novel. No philosophy, no existential angst, no moral inquiry, no metafictional conceits. Just a page-turner, as it is these days called. And I wondered how difficult that could be, and I'm happy to say it was quite difficult.

Because as soon as I started writing with this character, with this protagonist, Jake Marlowe, the novel immediately became another vehicle for writing about the things that I've been writing about since I started. I've never stopped being interested in love and death and sex and morality and cruelty and compassion. And all those things found their way straight into this book with tremendous ease.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah. I have to say, I'm really happy that you were not able just to write a straight ahead genre page-turner, because that is what makes this character so interesting. But when did you start realizing you could mix in some of the themes that you're interested in, but do this in a vehicle that is somewhat different from what you'd been writing before?

GLEN DUNCAN: I think pretty much from the outset. I mean, the character wrote itself, once the voice was established. And the voice was established very early on. And the way in which these themes, which are of perennial interest to me, arrive in this book is just because if you take the psychology of the condition seriously, if you take the idea of somebody who has to kill and eat another person once a month in order to stay alive, will die if he doesn't do this.

Of course, on the hand, that's a larger-than-life moral predicament. But it's immediately an interesting moral question, and the way that you maintain it as a viable moral question is by taking the psychology seriously and by saying, well, what would I do? Assuming that your only option really is to commit suicide if you're not prepared to do this. But if you don't commit suicide, you have to negotiate this, and it is a moral negotiation.

So then it became apparent immediately, really, that this was potentially a novel of moral and emotional and psychological depth. What separates genre fiction that lasts, or fiction that dabbles with genre, from the bulk of the industrialized processed units that these things that come out every year, is when you take the idea seriously and run with it. So that was what happened as soon as I got started.

KERRI MILLER: And I think we, the reader, sense that. Because what I wanted to know from the first several pages is, how is Jake going to wrestle with and reconcile the moral indefensibility of this? And it's not something that you treat as an issue to get over. He returns to this again and again in the novel, and I have to say, that is the thing that kept me turning the pages. The plot's wonderful. But I wanted to know what happens when he comes back to this as his situation changes.

GLEN DUNCAN: Yeah. And what you get with Jake, obviously, is a divided-- it's a personality that is divided, or a psyche that is divided. He has his rational mind. His intellect concedes that there is no watertight rational argument for morality. Intellectually, his position is the existential one, that the universe is absurd and godless, and it demonstrates that on a daily basis.

There are no absolute moral values. Nobody's watching. Nobody's keeping score. Nothing will happen to you as a consequence of-- nothing supernatural will happen to you as a result of doing the wrong thing. That's what his intellect tells him. But he is, of course, still an emotional being as well, and one with an imagination, and one with a past that informs his sense of what's right and wrong at an emotional level.

And I think, again, this is what makes his dilemma a very common human dilemma, because these are ways in which we compartmentalize the problem of morality. And these are the aspects of personality that make us divided beings. So it was a natural fit to use somebody with a condition that made him a very radically divided being.

KERRI MILLER: I was interested to see how you would treat his sense of humor. Because his voice is very strong, and there is sarcasm, and there is sly humor to it. But I have to believe that as you thought about this, he can't be too flippant about what he's doing. There are off-the-side remarks like, "Two nights ago, I had eaten a 43-year-old hedge fund specialist. I've been in a phase of taking the ones no one wants." So I laughed out loud when I read this. But I also realized that calibrating his sense of humor had to be something that I would think that you thought about.

GLEN DUNCAN: You would think that, wouldn't you? But actually, it felt organic. You're right that it would be fatal for this character, and for this novel, if you got the balance wrong. Jake's humor is mordant, and he says very early on in the novel that humor darkens with the length of time that you're alive, especially if you've lived the kind of life that he's lived. Your humor darkens.

So it was-- you're absolutely right. If he was cracking jokes or being flippant in the wrong places, or at least if the one-liners weren't offset by a convincing psychological depth, it would be disastrous for the novel. I'm happy that you think it's the balance is right. But yes, it would be crucial. If readers think the balance is right, terrific, because it would be a disaster if that was wrong.

KERRI MILLER: But what you're telling me is you did not have to apply a lot of conscious thought to that. When you say it's organic, it flowed, and it felt right as it flowed?

GLEN DUNCAN: Yeah. In a nutshell, there are two ways of coming to something like this. You can start-- if you're going to write a novel with a werewolf as a central character, you can start by saying, what are werewolves like? That's the genre question. What do we know about werewolves? What does it already say on the tin? If you start with that question, that invites the fiction of the familiar. It invites fiction that tells us what we already know. That's straight genre.

If you start with a different question, which is, what would it be like if I were a werewolf? That has the potential to invite the fiction of the strange. Because what you're actually doing is forgetting what we think we know, which is weighted down with cliché, and actually starting the question afresh. So you take a stock figure like a werewolf or a vampire or the devil or any mythic archetype you care to mention.

And the way it becomes refreshed is if you start from scratch and say, well, what if I put myself in this person's shoes? So the point about the organic nature of Jake's jokes, or sense of humor, is that really I was just putting myself in his shoes. The question was, how would I be if this were me?

And I think that's the way it would be for me. There's no escaping that one level of what you're doing is ludicrously funny in the worst possible way, in the most mordant sort of way. But at the same time, I don't think-- that can live side-by-side with a complex psychology, with a sense of right and wrong, with an emotional apparatus as well.

KERRI MILLER: I also got the sense that you were exploring what it means to be the other in a society, and I had an interesting conversation with the author of Robopocalypse about this. Because this is a theme that he's looking at as these robots that rise up, they want to live in some kind of community with humans. They don't want to destroy them. They want to live with them. And I got the sense you were exploring ideas at the center of that. What does it mean to be the other in a society like that? That is something that you've looked at in some of the other novels, isn't it?

GLEN DUNCAN: Yes. There's a long and venerable tradition of the outsider as a vehicle for looking at the group against which he or she feels like an outsider. It's a very common device in literature. And you're right, I have done this before. I've done this with deviant characters of one form or another. It's a great way of holding up a mirror to the group that defines somebody as an alien.

I suppose the autobiographical psychological antecedents for that are that I'm an Anglo-Indian, and I grew up in the North of England in a working-class town. And Anglo-Indians were in a very, very, very small minority. I think there was probably me and about half a dozen friends of my family, and that it in a very large town.

KERRI MILLER: You've said something like, it was a minority of one.

GLEN DUNCAN: Well, pretty much. I was exaggerating a tad. But yes, it felt like that. Certainly at primary school and secondary school, I was the only person of with that background. In fact, I was the only non-white person. So having an outsider status, or having a sense of what it is to be marginalized by the group from a very early age has, I'm sure-- $0.50 spent on the psychiatrist's couch would reveal that that's one of the driving forces behind a lot of my fiction.

KERRI MILLER: Glen Duncan on his new werewolf novel. Euan, did you see that full moon this morning? It was setting at 6:00 AM.

EUAN KERR: I saw it last night.

KERRI MILLER: Yes. If there was ever a day, a night, for werewolves--

EUAN KERR: Well, you know what they say in Scotland.

KERRI MILLER: --this is it. What do they say?

EUAN KERR: I used to be a werewolf, but I'm getting better (HOWLING) now!

KERRI MILLER: [LAUGHS] Euan Kerr in the studio with us this morning. Next hour, I want to hear about the authors that you read for creature feature fiction. I want to get that list. And then I'm going to post it on the Midmorning book page.

EUAN KERR: Fun stuff.

KERRI MILLER: That's coming up at 10:00. Work to do before then. 800-227-2811. Online at It is the first day of the drive. Some cool incentives to get you to be a member. Or hey, how about this? A sustaining member. But you're listening today, and I hope you're joining today, because of the day-in, day-out quality of what you hear. The news coverage, the conversation, the context, and the depth. Isn't that our hallmark, and isn't that why you listen?

EUAN KERR: One of the challenges I think we face here at Minnesota Public Radio is basically trying to explain it in a nutshell, because there is so much going on here all the time. You get the best in politics. You get the best in national, international, local news. You get absolutely everything, and it's just coming at you all the time.

So that's why we hope that you will become a member. $5 a month will get you the unbelievable, the really incredible "I make MPR happen" diner mug. $10 a month will get you the mug, plus a pound of the Peace Coffee special MPR blend. It's great, but you have to act. 1-800-227-2811. Click and join,

KERRI MILLER: Here's Andrea in North Mankato. Brand-new member and sustaining member. Says, "I listen to it every morning. Able to follow not only national news, what's going on in the communities around me. Love the on-air personalities." How about you? Why do you listen? Take one minute. Take one minute to examine why you come back day in and day out.

Is it for the depth? Is it for the context? Is it for the fun that you might have listening to the arguments that Euan's having with Stephanie Curtis about movies with the Cube Critics? Why is it? That really ought to be your reason for joining for the first time, or deciding to be a sustainer. Online, 800-227-2811.

EUAN KERR: We got a membership today, a new membership from Abiram Ganesh and Tanya from Rosemount, saying that, "MPR is our source to turn for unbiased and professional reporting. In this age of news organizations valuing sensationalism over dispensing real information, it is an oasis of sorts for us. Thank you."

Well, thank you for becoming a member. A sustaining member too. And that's the name of the game today, folks. This is the beginning of our drive. This is the big one, the big fall drive. And we're trying to get off to a big start here, so we need to hear from you. explains the whole thing. You can click there. They'll show you all about the gifts and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But really, the reason you're doing it for is the programming. 50% of our programming is paid for directly by members. Are you a member? Are you helping to pay?

KERRI MILLER: And online at That's right. You just said that.

EUAN KERR: I said that.

KERRI MILLER: 800-227-2811. You know why? Because I'm reading my Twitter feed, and I'm being inundated with book-loving Twitter tweeters. They're sending me all this cool stuff. And I'm distracted, I have to admit, because I love what the listeners have to say about books. They can't wait for this next hour.

Coming up, if you're a book lover, you know where I'm going with this. You could be a member of the Kerri Miller Book Club. You could if you were special enough, if you decided that, hey, that's a great way to change, elevate, improve my membership, my commitment to Minnesota Public Radio. $600 a year. I invite you to all these cool parties with the authors.

EUAN KERR: What was that big party you just had?

KERRI MILLER: Yeah, what big party? Yeah, Ann Patchett. Right. One-on-one.

EUAN KERR: One-on-one with Ann Patchett?

KERRI MILLER: One-on-one, hanging out with Ann Patchett. Doesn't get much better than that. That's cool parties. I send you the book. I invite you to Talking Volumes events. I give you free tickets to stuff. It's a cool deal. Love to have you in the club. 800-227-2811. Online at Hey, I'm going to send out a tweet here about some information, some details I have coming up for the next--

EUAN KERR: You're not going to tell us? You're just going to put it on Twitter?

KERRI MILLER: That's right. You have to wait to see, OK? Watch for that. Go ahead. Quickly.

EUAN KERR: 1-800-227-2811. Do that first, then go on Twitter to see what Kerri is putting out. We need you, folks. This is an important time. First day of the fall drive. We are very excited. We're feeling good. There's lots of people that are becoming members, lots of momentum. And this is where you come in. 1-800-227-2811. is where you can click and join. $5. A measly $5 a month.

KERRI MILLER: Yeah, for this first day, right?

EUAN KERR: I forgot about that.

KERRI MILLER: That's unusual, right?

EUAN KERR: It gets more expensive, of course. Aye, and the Scottish part of me should have kicked in there. Right.

KERRI MILLER: That's right.

EUAN KERR: More expensive tomorrow. But "I make MPR happen." Get the mug. Get the Peace Coffee. It's all explained on the website. We need to hear from you, though.

KERRI MILLER: Hey, if you are waiting with anticipation to call in and tell me about the authors, the sci-fi, the fantasy, the horror writers that you love, hey, you're engaging with Midmorning and Minnesota Public Radio. Are you a member? I must ask, are you a member? If I'm going to take your recommendation and put it on the list, I'd love to have you be a member of Minnesota Public Radio. Why the heck not?

800-227-2811. Online at Lots of incentives, especially on this first day. $5 a month, we send you the mug. Good reason to get in early and have it all done, and then listen and sit back and say, hey, not talking to me. 800-227-2811. Online,

SPEAKER 3: Programming is supported by Volunteers of America, whose older adult service and care programs employ more than 1,200 Minnesotans. More information online.

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