Photo by Drew Reilly
“Marijuana Chronicles,” edited by Jonathan Santlofer, is an eclectic book of short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry plus a bonus graphic-novel piece that will give readers a light buzz and a hunger for more. The anthology is the next in Akashic’s Drug Chronicles series and certainly perpetuates the popular plant. The collection is divided into four parts offering different weed-induced experiences: Dangerous, Delirium & Hallucination; Recreation & Education; and Good & Bad Medicine. These relaxed-toned tales are in no way meant to be read in any specific order nor are they meant to be skimmed or rushed. Pick up this hash-filled assortment, puff on any one of these killer buds and feel a different literary high each time. “Marijuana Chronicles” is meant to be savored one long drag at a time, allowing the flavor-filled pieces to slowly take over the mind, engulfing it fully.
Heavy hitters Lee Child and Joyce Carol Oates initiate this latest anthology of Mary Jane madness. Child sparks a first-person narration of a man enduring a drug trial, whose sinsemilla-filled secret is not revealed until the very last line. JCO’s “High” delves into the life of widow “Agnes,” whose depression has created a pot-filtered lifeline. Its crisp and clear narration lends excellent perspective into Agnes’ cloudy mindset and her reasoning to find a connection with another human being after her husband’s death. The dream-like narration conveys a mellowness that mirrors Agenes’ weed-induced state of mind.
Get silly and fun with the time-traveling story, “Moon Dust,” by Abraham Rodriguez—a time-tripping stoner nicknamed “Crash” experiences the high of his life after a puff of reefer sends him into the future. Maggie Estep’s “Zombie Hookers of Hudson” is off beat and quirky, as the main character runs into call girls returning from the dead—they can’t get enough of the narrator’s “tea.” The sarcastic narration may leave readers with a case of uncontrollable giggles. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s “Ganja Ghosts” transports readers to Singapore and into a drug-induced jaunt around town. Jan Heller Levy’s poem, “Ethics Class, 1971,” has the cadence and rhythm reminiscent of a long drag on a doobie. Among the provocative, are the pieces at the center of the “Good & Bad Medicine” section, where Rachel Shteir delves into the life of medical marijuana advocate Julie Falco, whose found that pot is the only medicine that will ease the symptoms of multiple sclerosis. The narration is simplistic but informative, giving readers a mind-altering perspective to the medical marijuana debate.
Pot may be the subject of this book, but it never inundates or pushes readers one way or another; it simply provides a realistic portrayal of cannabis and all its highs and lows. The book removes the stigmata of pot as a hippie drug, giving Mary Jane a new life and a new perspective. Depending on the flavor of choice, readers will find themselves relaxed, psyched or paranoid. Succumb to having this tome in one hand and a smooth joint in the other. CCP staff writer Julie Littman fired it up with editor Jonathan Santlofer, to get the inside dope on his latest ganja-filled anthology.
Criminal Class Press: Why have a collection about marijuana? In other words, why should people pick up this book?
Jonathan Santlofer: I think there are a whole lot of reasons. One, because it’s so topical—the fact that there are all of the issues around legalizing marijuana, and the fact that a couple of states have and others are considering it. Plus I think there’s so much mystique and marijuana lore that has been going on for such a long time; there’s such a history. One of the thoughts, when I had the book when Johnny Temple asked me to do it, was to combine stories and have people write stories and also have some nonfiction and having Ray Mungo, who is a ’60s radical, write about his quest for medical marijuana and have Rachel Shteir interview someone on medical marijuana. Plus on another bottom line, I thought it would be really fun for people, at this time in history, to have a book collection of these pieces.
CCP: This is such an eclectic collection. How did you go about putting this collection together?
JS: I sent out about 40 requests to different writers and people I knew. I would have had possibly a bigger book, but Akashic wanted me to keep it to a certain size and keep it smaller. Basically what I did was I went with the first group of people who got back to me with their ideas about what they wanted to do. I thought this was a really kind of interesting and eclectic group. Linda Yablonsky not only is a cultural writer and writes for the “Times” T-sections and magazine sections, but she has also written a memoir about her drug experiences. And then asking somebody like Lee Child, who is a big crime writer, to write a story or Joyce Carol Oates. I wanted the book to have many different points of view and people who I thought came from different areas of writing and literature. This is also why I asked someone like Cheryl Tan because she has mainly been a food writer. She is making a transition into literary writing. OR the reason why I asked Amanda Stern, who is a novelist but also a standup comedian who ended up writing a really poignant and sad piece that surprised me, but I think is very good.
CCP: Why did you decide to divide the collection into various parts? What was your logic behind the sections?
JS: When the stories and the pieces were coming in, I was making little notes to myself—sort of like “this has to do with medical marijuana, this one has to do with recreation, or this one strikes me as kind of scary.” So what happened is that I ended up, without even planning, creating categories. Then when I was really putting it together, I just took those categories and made these titles for them. I thought it would also make the book pinpoint the various points of view about marijuana and these stories. I kind of just enjoyed doing that and I thought it was a fun way to put it together.
CCP: What was your favorite part of editing this collection? What was the most difficult part?
JS: The most fun in putting together any anthology, and I have done a few, is that every few days a new piece arrives in your e-mail—it’s always a surprise. It’s exciting and great to see what people are going to come up with. The biggest challenge is the complete opposite of that; you can’t control it. Once you’ve asked someone and what they do is what you’re going to get. I would work with people and I worked with a lot of them. I would say to them you need to do a little more or you need to cut this or let’s think about how you might want to rewrite this. And I did that with many of the writers. Sometimes it’s hard to go back to someone and say, “You need to rethink this.” or “I think you need more or less of this.” It’s like the two sides of the coin of the same thing.
CCP: What do you think it is about marijuana that really captures the public’s attention and becomes a big part of pop culture?
JS: It’s funny because in a way if we were talking 20 years ago—it was more isolated; it was more romanticized. It was more exotic for people to be smoking marijuana. Now it’s kind of normalized into the culture. As I said in my introduction, I wonder if at some point, not too far away, it will be harder to buy cigarettes than marijuana? What the lure is, I’d say, is different for different people, which is partially what this book is about—people using it to relax or stimulate or social thing or people who are using it medicinally. It’s probably broken down so many barriers that existed 20 or 30 years ago. It’s so normalized in the culture. It’s interesting that in the states that made it legal, there was no opposition to those referendums. Normally there was a huge outcry. There wasn’t. I looked up the data, and there was no one who tried to stop them. It seems, unless someone appears who wants to stop it, that it will continue to become legalized.
CCP: What do you want readers to take away from Marijuana Chronicles?
JS: I don’t think this is a message book. I didn’t want it to be a political kind of book. What I wanted was a really enjoyable book. I remember, when I was talking about it with Johnny Temple, I said, “Here’s a book to buy as a gift for a college student, or ex hippies or your mother who would think it was fun to read the stories.” In other words, I wanted it to be a smart, fun, interesting book where you would have somebody as literary as Joyce Carol Oates or somebody as fun as Maggie Estep did. So that would be my big take away—that the reader would have enjoyed themselves who got lost in each of these pieces or take something different from each of them. Because this book is so varied, which was intentional, I don’t think there would be one takeaway. I kind of hope that you would read Jan Heller Levi, who wrote a poem, and she’s a Walt Whitman Award-winning poet and wrote this really sort of funny, poignant poem that is different than Lee Child writing about a drug trial. It would be so many different things. Also it would be a book that wouldn’t be read in one shot necessarily. You’d come back to it and read one thing and read another thing and put it aside and come back and read another. I hope that people do enjoy the book regardless of what their view might be about marijuana.
CCP: What are you working on now?
JS: I am doing a few different things. I’ve just finished a novel, a thriller, a crime novel. I am also working on a big thriller, historical book that is based on a true story, and those are kind of in progress. One of the novels is almost done and the other one is in progress. I did do a big serial novel—it’s like an anthology. It has 20 different writers contribute a chapter for Touchstone Simon and Schuster. I came up with a kind of simple noir story and I asked people like Mary Higgins Clark, Charlaine Harris, and Lawrence Block to contribute a chapter. That’s finished and that’s coming out in October. The novel is called “Inherit the Dead.” I think that is a lot of fun. I am busy doing a bunch of different things, which is how I like it. I like to have a lot of different stuff to do.