Adam Johnson had already written a critically praised collection of short stories and a novel when he embarked on his second novel, "The Orphan Master's Son," which is set in North Korea.
"I read some experts on North Korea," Johnson says, "and I just went down the rabbit hole. I'd never found a place so dark, absurd, funny. It seemed to me to be the cruelest psychological experiment ever created."
But not everyone shared his fascination. "I thought I was going crazy," Johnson says now. "I would tell people I was writing about North Korea, and they would say, 'Why?'"
Undeterred, Johnson forged ahead with his tale of Pak Jun Do, the orphan master's son, who becomes a tunnel soldier trained in the art of zero-light combat and then a kidnapper for the state. He even visited North Korea, where he got a firsthand experience of the propaganda machine that had piqued his curiosity in the first place.
Now Johnson is touring the country to support "The Orphan Master's Son," which he'll read from at Changing Hands Bookstore, in Tempe this Wednesday.