Compelling, emotional, at times humorous, controversial, heart wrenching, inspirational, and definitely leaves the reader confronting one’s own personal viewpoint after the last word is read. Highly recommend!” CMash Loves to Read
Funny and warm and wonderful. Get to know Betty; you'll love her.” Lis Carey’s Library
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
An interview with
1. Your new novel, BETTY'S (LITTLE BASEMENT) GARDEN, takes on the controversial issue of medical marijuana. What drew you to this hot-button topic?
I started out completely against medical marijuana. I bought into all the propaganda about how dangerous it was, the whole gateway” theory, etc. When medical marijuana dispensaries began popping up all over Colorado and in the small town where I live, I was quick to joke about them to friends. But then through a series of odd events, I happened to meet someone who used medical marijuana to help with her nausea during chemo. This woman was very low-key, fairly conservative and the last person I ever thought would use the herb. She told me that none of the drugs worked (even the synthetic marijuana pill, Marinol) the way that the plant worked. She told me she was finally able to function during the day, to get a full eight hours of sleep each night and that her stress level went from a 10” to a manageable 4.” From observing her, it was obvious to me that marijuana was incredibly helpful and far from dangerous.
Since I’m as much a researcher as I am a writer, I spent almost four months reading everything I could on the plant, watched hours of video, spoke with numerous medical marijuana patients (whose average age was around 55), and quickly began to value this plant that I’d mocked most of my adult life. The more I dug into the subject, the more I encountered a lot of conservative people using marijuana who were terrified of the stigma around the plant. They were truly afraid of being found out” even though they were getting relief of their symptoms and they were completely legal with their medical marijuana card. I think that was the birth of Betty Craven’s character. She’s the fish out of water” as well as the opposite of the stereotypical stoner persona” that is usually put forth in books or movies. That alone was a compelling idea to explore.
2. As a novelist, you’re best known for your crime thrillers featuring Detective Jane Perry. Why did you choose to work the debate over medical marijuana into a stand-alone work of fiction rather than into an installment in your popular mystery series?
I never really considered featuring a medical marijuana storyline into a Jane Perry novel. Jane’s stories are much darker and I wanted to create a novel around the medical marijuana subject that was light, fun, entertaining but also emotionally charged and transforming. I also thought it was really important to create a main character that was fairly innocent about the world and could play against the theme. Jane Perry is anything but innocent. And, truthfully, I needed a break from the rigors of writing another intense Jane Perry novel. Oddly enough, BETTY'S (LITTLE BASEMENT) GARDEN was much more of an emotional ride than I ever thought it would be. People can get very passionate and irrational around the subject of medical marijuana. I finally stopped telling people about the book I was writing because I was usually met with a scowl and a comment like, Oh, God! Why are you bothering with that subject?!” But that just gave me more author ammo” when it came to creating realistic characters in the book who had real life” arguments against marijuana.
3. Betty’s (Little Basement) Garden introduces a wonderfully appealing and complicated heroine, Betty Craven. Was your character inspired by any woman in particular? Would you describe Betty as your alter ego?
There is definitely some of me in Betty Craven. But the character is actually based on two other women I know. I’m nowhere near as refined and precise as Betty Craven. I’m not a towering, buxom blond from Texas with a pageant history. But I guess I share Betty’s guts, determination and fears especially her fear of failure and a life lost to wasted time. It’s probably no coincidence that I started writing the novel shortly after my fiftieth birthday. Like a lot of people who hit the big 5-0, they realize that youth is faded and you probably have more years behind you than ahead of you. That can be a sucker punch if you let it. Betty Craven experiences these same emotions and regrets and is essentially emotionally saved when she becomes a marijuana caregiver and grower.
4. Many peopleespecially people of a certain age, like Bettythink of marijuana as a gateway drug” to hardcore narcotics and self-destructive addiction. How do the facts on marijuana defy this notion? In your opinion, has marijuana gotten a bad rap?
Since I used to believe in the gateway theory” myself, I needed to see if that was truly replicated in life or just put out there to scare people. The whole gateway drug” idea is founded on the idea that if you start with marijuana, you’re going to want or crave harder drugs like heroin, meth, cocaine, etc. But if you really start to investigate the types of people who move from marijuana to hardcore drugs, you begin to see emotional patterns within them as well as environmental issues that create their need to escape. I have a line in the novel, What came first? The pain or the pill” The painwhether it’s emotional or physical or bothalways comes first. Very often, it’s the resolved, deep-seated, suppressed pain that motivates someone to start using harder drugs. It’s NOT the plant; it’s the person who uses it. It’s like blaming a car for an accident instead of blaming the driver. If the person begins using marijuana to escape from a stressful or abusive life, that’s different than the medical marijuana patient who is using it to alleviate pain and reduce stress. It’s the INTENT that’s important here. Is the intent to relax and relieve anxiety or is the intent to get messed up and be unable to function? I can guarantee you that the intent of a medical marijuana patient is the former. Blaming an herb that has documented healing potential for being a gateway” to harder drugs is just more propaganda, in my opinion. When the herb was legal before 1937 and available at the corner drug store, there wasn’t any panic over marijuana leading to morphine.
There are always going to be people out there who can’t say no” and, for whatever reason, become addicted to various substances. If life gets to be too much for those who use marijuana recreationally, there’s a good chance that they will experiment with pills, pharmaceuticals and hardcore drugs. What about tobacco, alcohol and even sugar as gateway” drugs? I realize that anyone who is addicted to cigarettes, drinking and consuming 32 oz. sodas would probably be insulted by that reference. But isn’t it all about sedating the mind and escaping from a life that you find painful, miserable, boring or pointless?
Ironically, for many medical marijuana patients I talked to when I researched the subject, the herb was their exit drug” from powerful painkillers like Oxycodone or the array of sleeping pills and anxiety drugs they used to be addicted to. One patient told me marijuana was her exit drug” from meth. Another patient told me that marijuana was his exit drug” from alcohol and that he was able to quit a lifetime of alcoholism by using the herb. Did he just replace one drug” for another? I can’t answer that. But I do know that he’s a much happier and well-adjusted person now than he was before he used marijuana.
5. Since we’re on the subject of facts, would you tell us about your research for BETTY'S (LITTLE BASEMENT) GARDEN? Did you interview physicians or other medical experts? Did you get to know actual cannabis growers, caregivers, and patients?
I interviewed two doctors who issued recommendations” to patients who wanted to obtain their red cards” (medical marijuana license) in Colorado. Obviously, these doctors were pro-marijuana, although one was much more so than the other. That one told me she was putting together a database of stories her patients shared with her about their positive experiences with the herb and hoped to one day turn it into a book. I did discuss the subject informally with other physicians but their responses were more flippant and dismissive. In fact, some of the comments they made showed that they were buying into the propaganda just like I used to do. Dr. Robert Melamedewho I did not interviewis a wealth of information when it comes to the science of marijuana. I poured over his published studies and listened to hours of his interviews on the subject.
I also spent a lot of time with growers, caregivers and as many patients as I could. It wasn’t easy getting some growers to agree to let me see their operations because a lot of them prefer to remain low profile. But I did get to see three indoor grows and one beautiful outdoor grow that was stunning. Walking around that operation was beyond incredible. Some of the plants looked more like Christmas trees, towering as high as seven feet, with a width of about five feet. I can’t imagine the work that goes into just one of those plants when it’s time to harvest. The time I spent with caregivers and patients really influenced how I crafted the supporting characters in the novel. Each patient in the book that Betty helps is based on real people I talked to. And these included, doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and other individuals who were anything but your typical loser” or stoner” persona.
6. What would you like readers on both sides of the medical marijuana debate to take away from BETTY'S (LITTLE BASEMENT) GARDEN?
More than anything, I want readers to put the brakes on the hysteria that surrounds this plant. There’s been too much propaganda, disinformation, outright lies, and third-hand gossip about what it can and can’t do. In the book, Betty Craven buys into the Reefer Madness” frenzy at first. But through the story, she gradually begins to understand and appreciate the beauty and usefulness of the cannabis plant. It would make me extremely happy if this novel was the fulcrum for intelligent discussion about how to integrate marijuana into the day-to-day lives of those who can benefit from it.
I never say in the book that marijuana is a cure-all or that everybody should use it. But I hope that readers who are the least bit interested in the plant will read the book and discover that what they’ve been taught is completely wrong. If BETTY'S (LITTLE BASEMENT) GARDEN can lift the cannabis veil and promote clear, concise dialogue about this much maligned herb, I would be thrilled. And if I can convert readers who are as against marijuana as I once was, that would be even better. I think it’s time to start discussing this issue like intelligent adults instead of scared little children.