Readers — especially readers — you’re in for a real treat over the next few weeks.
About six months ago, a mysterious individual started writing to me here on Beyond Chronic, making some very astute comments on some of my posts. We eventually began corresponding by email, and sharing our knowledge and love of cannabis. She kept hinting around that she was working on “something big”.
Well, one day she told me what that was, and who she was: Laurel Dewey, the accomplished author of the Jane Perry series of mystery novels (and more, as you will see), and she had just finished writing a new novel that revolves around the world of medical cannabis, at least as it’s practiced in Colorado. It’s called Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, it’s published by The Story Plant, and it goes on sale June 12.
This is indeed big, because it’s believed to be the first time a noted author has tackled marijuana in fiction — especially medical marijuana — without making it part of a criminal enterprise or treating it like a joke.
Well, this was in fact so big that I called in the cavalry, in the form of a Real Writer with lots more experience in this sort of thing than I have: David Fiedler, the fellow who interviewed me for a feature in The 420 Times last year. He interviewed Laurel for some freelance articles, and was kind enough to allow me to sit in on the phone interview and ask a few questions of my own. These will appear in upcoming installments of this admittedly large, but fascinating interview over the next week or so, which will culminate with a letter from Laurel herself to Beyond Chronic readers.
– Old Hippie
David Fiedler: Good afternoon, Laurel! We’re here to discuss your new novel, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden, which I think could be fairly described as the first serious fictional book to take on medical marijuana without following the stereotypes of the last 75 years of government propaganda, and without being preachy on either side.
Your first novel, Protector, was seen as creating a new genre of fiction. In some ways, Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden breaks a lot of new ground too, but I don’t see it as a work of “potsploitation” because it feels like it comes from true compassion and experience. How did that come about?
Laurel Dewey: This book came about really from my own point of view, where I was like Betty, and really did believe the propaganda and did so for years. I believed that cannabis – I prefer to call it cannabis and not marijuana, because marijuana is the word the government used to demonize it – my point of view was the same as a lot of other people out there, who don’t know the facts, and they just parrot whatever they hear, and I did exactly that.
I didn’t conceive the book until I had done a lot of research. I didn’t do the research in order to write the book; I was just doing it on my own to get information. I live in Colorado, and around here – at least two or three years ago, not so much now – even in our little town that we live in, there were just tons of dispensaries. And I would make fun of them, and make disparaging remarks about the kind of people who walked into those places…not based on anything, but just because…why not? Because that was my attitude, and I believed the propaganda.
What started me to reassess that was simply the fact that there was so much of it in Colorado. I have a background in botanical medicine and I thought, “Let me look into this and see why it’s so popular.” And in one of those synchronistic things in life, I was in a store, and a friend of mine said, “Here, we have some free DVDs. My friend burned some DVDs, and I’m trying to give them out to people to educate them.” So I said, “What’s it about?” And he said, “It’s called What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?” And I initially said, “No, I’m not interested.” But then I thought about it and told myself, “You’re trying to open up and learn more about it”.
So I took the DVD home, watched it, and had a lot of questions after I watched it. I didn’t believe everything I saw in it. It seemed to be a lot of propaganda from the pro-cannabis side. But I will give kudos to that film, because that film really got me on the Internet and really looking at it from the cancer perspective, not even from the arthritis, or anxiety, or PTSD perspective. I guess I went straight to the top.
When I want to learn about something, I dive really deeply into all my research. After about a week of researching, reading a lot of articles, and downloading PubMed studies, I couldn’t keep up the old “Cannabis is dangerous” mindset. I just couldn’t do it anymore.
And then I wanted to see if there were any fiction books written about medical marijuana, and there weren’t, and I thought I’d like to take a break from the series I had been already doing, which is a very gritty crime thriller series. I thought I’d really like to write something about this, and create a character who’s a complete antithesis of anyone you might think would be involved with medical marijuana.
And that’s how the character Betty Craven was created. I wanted to pick the most opposite person from the stereotype. She’s Republican, she’s 58 years old, she’s a former pageant queen from Texas, she’s a widow who was married to a military man…as far as medical marijuana is concerned, she’s a fish out of water. It just kind of grew from there.
David Fiedler: Your novel Revelations had a lot to do with family secrets. Doesn’t the entire concept of medical marijuana that is at the center of Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden raise a lot of questions about secrets on many levels? There’s the secret garden, the secrecy that many legal medical marijuana patients keep around themselves because of society’s developed stigma around the plant, and even the government keeping the true nature of cannabis a secret from the public.
Laurel Dewey: Absolutely. Many of the people I met while doing research for this book were really quite nervous with me even talking to them. I had a difficult time setting up some interviews. I dealt with people who were in white collar professional positions and constantly would say, “You’re not going to use my name, right? You’re not going to put my name in this book. Please don’t make a fictional character that’s just like me; I don’t want people to read it and recognize me.”
The word stigma is the relevant one today. I talked to doctors, I talked to nurses, I talked to lawyers, I talked to accountants, and they’re all really, really nervous that their friends are going to find out. Their immediate family knows, because you can’t hide it from them, but their extended family doesn’t know.
And there is this feeling that really grew in me. I’ve never been a fan of pharmaceutical drugs. I’ve believed in alternative medicine my entire life. What I kept encountering, when I talked to a lot of these individuals who wanted to keep it secret, was an undercurrent of anger. They would say, “You know, if I was taking Ambien to go to sleep at night, I could tell people and nobody would think anything of it. They might say, ‘I’m on Ambien too! Which one are you on, the CR, or the regular?’ Or I could say I’m taking Prozac for anxiety, and nobody looks down on you for that. But the minute you menton you’re using cannabis, the whole conversation shifts.”
I’ve seen it happen. And it’s sad to say, but in many cases, people have a reason for keeping quiet about it. But what the cannabis movement needs is people who are conservative role models who are willing to come out and say, “Yes, I’m Republican, I belong to such-and-such a church, and I use cannabis, and I’m not a crazy person, and I show up for work, and I’m a contributing member of society, and I’m not running around unable to function.”
And until that happens, the stigma is going to continue, where everybody laughs at cannabis users. That’s one of the things I really don’t like, where people do all the “pot jokes” and say, “He’s a pothead” or a “stoner” or a “druggie”…I’ve encountered that.
I guess the stoner culture is to blame for that, the Cheech and Chonging of the cannabis movement. It doesn’t do any good for the cannabis movement, or for legalization, for people to see that. I’ve heard many people who are professionals who can’t stand that, because they don’t want to be associated with it, with the stoner mentality. There seem to be two distinct [types of] people within the [recreational] cannabis world; the professionals who quietly use it and the stoners who use it.
That’s really something that needs to be addressed. It’s great that Woody Harrelson has come out and talked about it, and Melissa Etheridge, and other celebrities and key people who are role models, so they’re taken seriously.
David Fiedler: Carl Sagan was famous for supporting cannabis.
Laurel Dewey: I know Carl Sagan was. And that’s interesting, because I’ve read comments on articles about Carl Sagan using cannabis – I love to read the comments on cannabis articles, because you can glean a lot from the comments section – and I’ve seen people ripping him and marginalizing Carl Sagan and making comments that he was a “space case” and he “talked to the cosmos”. They immediately go to this position that he was a “stoner” and a “druggie”, and it’s like…wait a second, this is Carl Sagan.
It’s a great question: how do you change people’s perspective? I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe if someone like Jesse Ventura was to come out…someone who’s very vocal and isn’t going to take crap. But it will take a lot of people to do it.
In the next part of the interview, Laurel Dewey talks about medical cannabis in the real world, and her surprisingly ideal background for writing this book.