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Interview: Don Winslow, Author of The Kings of Cool, Prequel to Savages

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Don Winslow‘s last book, Savages, was an amazing tour-de-force and it will be interesting to see the film adaptation, directed by Oliver Stone. The film opens this weekend and you can see trailers at Winslow’s blog. Savages was named one of the top ten books of 2010 by The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. Winslow previously wrote more than ten other books including The Power of the Dog and The Death and Life of Bobby Z.

Now with The Kings of Cool Winslow has published a prequel to Savages, providing more background to its three main characters and the culture they worked in.  The main characters are Ben and Chon, high-end marijuana dealers with contrasting personal belief systems, and their mutual girlfriend, O. While Savages is the better of the two books, The Kings of Cool is also quite good.

Part of what makes both books great is the author’s writing style: tough, tight, gritty sometimes bordering on vulgar. The descriptions are sometimes hilarious. An excerpt from the book with give you a sense of the style I’m talking about. It sets up the start of the book’s action and explains the book’s title. As The Kings of Cool starts Ben is eating at a favorite restaurant, when a stranger sits down: Dig his description of the guy and the situation:

Burly guy.
Big, sloping shoulders.
Sandy, receding hair combed straight back.
Kind of old school.
In fact, he was wearing one of those ‘Old Guys Rule’ T-shirts, which totally miss the obvious point that if old guys really ruled, they wouldn’t have to proclaim it on a cheap T-shirt.
They’d just, you know, rule.
These are guys who can’t figure out social media technology, so Ben figures their days of rule have gone the way of the compact disc.
Anyway, this guy who looked to be in his fifties sat there staring at Ben.
Very high creepiness rating.
Ben was like, do I know you, am I supposed to know you, is this some sort of weird early-morning gay thing? Or is this guy just one of those ‘I’m a people person’ tools who thinks it’s his human duty to strike up conversations with people sitting alone at restaurants.
Ben is not I-like-to-meet-new-people guy. He’s I’m-reading-my-freaking newspaper-and-flirting-with-the-waitress-so-leave-me-the-fuck-alone guy.
So he said, ‘Bro, no offense, but I’m kind of into what I’m reading.”
“Like, there are five empty tables, why don’t you sit down at one of them.
The guy said, ‘I’ll only take a moment of your time, son.’”I’m not your son,’ Ben said. ‘unless my mother has been deceiving me all these years.”‘Shut your smartass mouth and listen,’ the guy said quietly. ‘We didn’t mind when you were selling a little custom shit to your friends. But when it starts showing up in Albertsons, it’s a problem.’
“It’s a free market,” Ben answered, thinking he sounded like a Republican all of a sudden. Seeing as how Ben is generally to the left of Trotsky, this came as an unpleasant epiphany.
“There is no such thing as a ‘free market,’” Old Guys rules said. ‘The market costs – there are expenses. You want to sell up in L.A., compete with our little brown and black brothers, be our guest. Orange County, San Diego, Riverside – you pay a licensing fee. Are you paying attention?”
“I’m riveted.
“Are you clowning me?”
“Because I wouldn’t like that.”
“And I wouldn’t blame you,” Ben said. “So, for the sake of discussion, what happens if I don’t pay this licensing fee?”
“You don’t want to find out.”
“Okay, but just for the sake of discussion.”
Old Guys Rule looked at him like he was wondering if this kid was fucking with him, and then said, “We put you out of business.”
“Who’s ‘we’?” Ben asked. He saw the look on the guy’s face and said, “I know – I don’t want to find out. And if I do pay this fee?”
OGR held out his hands and said, ‘Welcome to the market.”
“Got it.”
“So we have an understanding.”
“We do,” Ben said.
OGR smiled.
Until Ben added, “We have an understanding you’re an asshole.
Because it’s also Ben’s understanding that no one controls the marijuana market…

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.