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 talks 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. 4 of 5]
Legalization Nation: You got an NC-17 rating from Library Journal. Is that a badge of honor?
Mark Haskell Smith: I think they were being tongue-in-cheek, but yeah, I do like that.
Legalization Nation: There's pretty racy stuff in here, I think I read a scene about erotic manscaping. Is that a consistent trait in your novels, adult themes?
Mark Haskell Smith: Oh yeah, the shaving thing. I never thought of it as erotic manscaping. Yeah there is almost always some transgressive sexual act and for me it all comes out of the characters. And a lot of it is, you think about things that can change people's lives. They get an inheritance or a job or whatever it is. Sometimes it's something as simple as they fall in love with someone and that changes their life, or they have some sexual experience that changes their life. For me it's just following the characters through this experience that changes their lives.
When I write the sex scenes, I figure my readers are all grown-ups, so why be like, 'And they melted together.'
I can't do that, you know? I'm going to be like, you know, 'He had a big erection and she put it in her mouth.' Or 'He put it in his mouth' or whatever it is. Just keep it real. You might as well have fun. Those scenes are fun to write. I hope they're fun to read.
My whole thing is I think reading should be fun and I think a lot of times people read books that aren't that much fun because, I don't know, NPR told them it'll make them look smart. And then they go, 'Why don't kids want to read? Why won't they read Jane Eyre?' I was like, 'Cause it's fucking boring.' Why don't we give people something that's fun to read and it can still have some meaning. It can still have emotion and content and thought-provoking ideas and be fun.
My books are a little hard to pigeonhole. They're not really mysteries. They're not particularly thrilling, but because they are comedic, they can't be literary fiction.
Legalization Nation: What did it feel like to get a cover blurb from Jerry Stahl?
Mark Haskell Smith: It felt great. I'd been on panel with him at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and very uncool-ly said, 'Hey would you want to read my book and blurb it?' And he couldn't have been nicer.