by David Downs
Funny, naughty, and hyper-contemporary, hard-boiled summer paperback Baked follows Miro, breeder of hit marijuana strain Elephant Crush, as he wins the High Times Cannabis Cup and ends up shot in a gangland dispensary dispute. Los Angeles novelist Mark Haskell Smith releases Baked — his fourth book — this fall on the Black Cat imprint of Grove/Atlantic press. Below, the 53-year-old screenwriter and professor continues chatting with Legalization Nation about the wild world of million-dollar marijuana strains, literary research in Amsterdam, notorious Los Angeles gangbangers, and Prop 19. [Edited for space and clarity. Pt. 2 of 5]
Legalization Nation: You visited L.A. dispensaries for research as well?
Mark Haskell Smith: Yeah, going to dispensaries was a really interesting process at the time. I didn't have a card so they weren't that friendly about me coming in.
I was like, 'I'm a novelist and I want to ask you some questions' and the guy's like, 'Get the fuck out of here.' I live in Eagle Rock and at one point before the crackdown there was fifteen, maybe sixteen dispensaries all within a two-mile radius of my house.
Legalization Nation: Where does a character like Shamus come from?
Mark Haskell Smith: He was based on a real dude, this guy Timothy McGhee who was part of the Toonerville gang in Highland Park. One summer I lived in Atwater Village close to Eagle Rock on the east side of L.A. and that summer he killed like seven, eight people. The scene where the painter gets shot down at the river, that really happened. A guy was doing a watercolor down there and McGhee — he called them 'hunting parties' — he went in and he blew that guy away, and then a homeless guy witnessed it and so McGhee killed him. He killed a guy who was watering his lawn. He killed people just sitting in their cars. It all happened in a four- or five-month period.
And I had two kids. I was a single parent at the time so it'd be like, 'Hey, Daddy's going to the store and he hopes he comes back alive.' Because they couldn't catch the guy. Eventually they found him in Arizona.
Legalization Nation: Where did your Mormons come from?
Mark Haskell Smith: The Mormons. One day it's like August and a 100 degrees this time of year, it was 107, and we live up a big hill and these two Mormons came up and I thought they were going to die. They were covered in sweat and they were gasping, so I said, 'Come in and have some water.'
And they didn't try to hard-sell me on anything. I was like, 'What are you guys doing?' And they were like, 'It's our mission and we're required to do it.'
They weren't even particularly into it. It's just part of being a Mormon. You have to do it. And I liked those guys, not that you could tell from the book, and then I just wanted to somehow use these people that travel around this harsh environment on bicycles.
They're also teenage boys, I figure they have hormones. So there's that scene where they find the pamphlet to help the one not masturbate, and I actually found the real pamphlets these guys get. Those are all real suggestions. So the character just took on a life of its own. Once he had to be tied up to keep from touching himself, he found that wasn't such a bad thing.