We all know sodas aren’t good for us…we just don’t care. But maybe we would if, like the soda in Lee Matthew Goldberg’s new dystopian sci-fi thriller Orange City (paperback, Kindle), the soda was instantly addictive and caused unpredictable mood swings as well as the unfortunate ability to perceive things as they really are. Though as he reveals in the following email interview about it, addictive carbonated beverages aren’t the oddest thing about this story.
To start, what is Orange City about, and when and where does it take place?
Imagine a secret, hidden City that gives a second chance at life for those selected to come: felons, deformed outcasts, those on the fringe of the Outside World. Everyone gets a job, a place to live; but you are bound to the City forever. You can never leave.
Its citizens are ruled by a monstrous figure called The Man who resembles a giant demented spider from the lifelike robotic limbs attached to his body. Everyone follows The Man blindly, working hard to make their Promised Land stronger, too scared to defy him and be discarded to the Empty Zones.
After ten years as an advertising executive, Graham Weatherend receives an order to test a new client, Pow! Sodas. After one sip of the orange flavor, he becomes addicted, the sodas causing wild mood swings that finally wake him up to the prison he calls reality.
So, it takes place in a future version of our world, but there’s no specific date.
Where did you get the idea for Orange City, and how, if at all, did that initial idea evolve as you wrote this novel?
It started out as a short story I wrote in college about an advertising executive who becomes addicted to the sodas in his new ad campaign. There weren’t any other science fiction aspects at that time. But the idea always kept nagging at me that it could be bigger than a short story. With each draft of the novel, the sci-fi elements kept being added until that world was fleshed out. I’m usually pretty fast in writing novels. I think the quickest I’ve written one was a draft in two months. Orange City has taken me almost twenty years, so it’s a testament to how difficult science fiction is as a genre to write.
It sounds like Orange City is a dystopian sci-fi story…
It’s definitely dystopian. And sci-fi too, so I think it’s a good mash-up of the genres. But there are also thriller elements because I’m a thriller writer first and I like all my books to move like thrillers where the stakes keep getting raised.
Orange City is not your first published novel. Are there any writers or stories that had a big influence on Orange City but not on anything else you’ve written?
Definitely. I read a lot of Philip K. Dick while writing this. He’s just a master at ideas. But since most of my other books mostly take place in our world, or at least our present world, I didn’t reach for sci-fi too much while writing them.
It was also heavily influenced by the paintings of Francis Bacon. The image for The Man came from Francis Bacon.
What about non-literary influences; was Orange City influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Because the press info says it’s a, “…dynamic mash-up of 1984 and Lost,” though it also sounds a little like the video game Sunset Overdrive.
Oh, absolutely. Besides Francis Bacon, I’m always influenced by David Lynch, so the weirdness of Orange City was influenced by him. But a lot of other shows too: Lost and The Handmaid’s Tale, the show even more than the book.
Now, you have already said there’s a sequel in the works called Lemonworld. First, when will that book be out?
I have the outline written, so I need to just start it. I have a few deadlines for other projects ahead of it, so it might take a while. But it will be written!
Second, is there a reason why it’s Lemonworld and not Lemon World? Also, wouldn’t it make more sense of it to be Lemon State, and then do Lime Country, following by Tangerine Country, and ending with Grapefruit Universe?
There’s a song from the band The National called “Lemonworld,” so I got the name from that. I like it as one word, it’s stranger and more ominous. It’s ruled by a villain that flies around in a giant lemon.
So without spoiling Orange City, what is Lemonworld about, and how is it connected to Orange City, narratively and chronologically?
It’s hard without spoiling, but it’s another City in this universe that the main characters find themselves in, but very different. It’s more of an apocalyptic wasteland with a Walking Dead / Mad Max feel to it.
And is Lemonworld the end of the story or are there going to be more books?
I think Lemonworld will be the last book. I’m eventually going to try to adapt this to a TV series, especially if there’s interest so there’s a possibility for that to continue the universe.
Along with Orange City, you have another novel coming out soon called Runaway Train. What is that book about, and when and where does it take place?
Runway Train will be my first YA novel and will be a trilogy. I’m editing the second book right now. It’s about a girl in the 1990s whose sister suddenly dies and she goes off the rails. She runs away from home to become a grunge singer and meet her idol Kurt Cobain. She starts in L.A. and makes her way up to his home in Seattle.
Given that her idol is Kurt Cobain and not Dave Pirner — whose band, Soul Asylum, did the song “Runaway Train” — shouldn’t the book be called About A Girl or Drain You?
While Nico is first a fan of Kurt Cobain, “Runaway Train” is one of her favorite songs too, and she is basically a “Runaway Train.” Also, I was able to get the rights from Soul Asylum to use the song in the book; Nirvana would’ve been impossible.
Runaway Train is a young adult novel. But it’s been my experience that some YA novels are written for young adults while others are just novels that don’t have anything inappropriate for young adults. What is Runaway Train?
It’s for both. Because it’s set in the 1990s when I was a teenager, a lot of adults will be able to relate. Each chapter is a different song from that era. And teenagers today would be interested to see a glimpse of life during that era. It was a lot of fun to write.
Earlier you mentioned wanting to turn Orange City and Lemonworld into a TV show. If that did happen, who would you want them to cast as “The Man,” Graham, and the other main characters?
Hmm, Ryan Gosling [Blade Runner 2049] would make a good Graham. The Man would have so much CGI, so really anyone. Someone creepy. Crispin Glover [Hot Tub Time Machine]. Or maybe Jared Kushner. No, I’m totally kidding about the second one.
Finally, if someone enjoys Orange City, which of your other novels would you suggest they read while waiting for Lemonworld to come out?
I would check out The Ancestor. It’s my best book, honestly. It’s about a man who wakes up in the Alaskan wilderness with amnesia and believes he was frozen in time for over a century from when he was a gold prospector. It flirts with science fiction, so sci-fi readers would be at home with that book too.