When Seattle author Thomas Kohnstamm finished writing “Lake City,” his first novel, his thoughts naturally turned to selling the book. With about 50,000 books published in the US every year, he needed a way to catch a reader’s eye.
He found his answer in a most unlikely place: the cannabis industry.
Novelist Thomas Kohnstamm got to talking with two friends in the industry. Result: The world’s first literary cannabis collaboration.
Like a lot of parents, Kohnstamm’s social circle has widened in recent years to take in the parents of his seven-year-old son’s classmates and friends. You meet at dropoff, pickup, school events and birthday parties. Fate brings you together. As it happened, Kohnstamm befriended two guys named Larry and Alex, who also had young kids showing up at the same birthday parties.
Larry was Larry Perrigo, the founder of Saints, one of the West Coast’s premiere pre-roll brands. Alex was Alex Prindle, who owns Fire Bros, a Seattle-based cannabis producer and processor.
One day Perrigo asked Kohnstamm about his novel, which follows a down-on-his-luck dude who finds himself stuck in Seattle’s less-than-affluent Lake City neighborhood. They got to talking, and Kohnstamm suggested they do a joint project—a Saints pack with the book’s jacket art on the box, to mark the novel’s publication date in early January.
Perrigo loved the idea. Soon enough he got Prindle in on it, too.
“This is kind of what we do,” said Perrigo. “We did a Gold Leaf collaboration pack with another farm and with Fire Bros., and we’ve done pride packs two years in a row for Equal Rights Washington. Our multi-strain packs, where we find artists that we love and then put that on the front, are kind of like collaborations, too.”
And voila: the Saints + Fire Bros commemorative “Lake City OG” pack.
A New Way to Reach Consumers
Both Perrigo and Prindle see the project as a chance to innovate in an industry with tight advertising restrictions. “I don’t think that this will change the perception of the industry or the people who’re involved in the industry or indulge in cannabis, but I think it’ll give people within the industry an idea of doing things outside the limited box that the Liquor and Cannabis Board has given us,” Prindle told Leafly.
For the “Lake City OG” pack, both Saints and Fire Bros. bring their A-game. The pre-roll package is adorned with the swooping red neon that spells the novel’s name, just like on the cover of the book itself. (The art is an homage to an actual sign atop Lake City Powersports, a motorcycle dealership in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood.)
Pull a small ribbon at its base and the package opens to reveal two types of all-flower pre-rolls, Gods’s Gift and Ringo’s Skunk. The two heirloom strains were chosen because they were accessible in the Lake City neighborhood in 2001, when the novel is set.
“The whole book takes place over winter break in 2001,” Kohnstamm explained. “The protagonist is like a guy who has all the worst insecurities about myself taken to the extreme. He’s from Lake City but he doesn’t want to be from here. He wants to live in New York. So his whole story is about getting out of the neighborhood, and then, in the end, he begins to see that this place is actually really interesting and authentic.”
Steeped in Seattle Culture
Kohnstamm says part of what changes his protagonist Lane’s mind about Lake City is that there’s this place with a green cross: early medical cannabis starts to show up in the area. Lane also notices a lot of cultural diversity, like women in hijabs pushing kids on merry-go-rounds, and he starts to warm up to the variety of perspectives he finds in the North Seattle enclave.
To this day, Lake City remains one of very few neighbourhoods still relatively untouched by Seattle’s wealth-and-technology boom. Just west of Lake Washington and thick with mossy-roofed houses and gritty taverns, Lake City appears to be very much what it always was—an unremarkable town to pass through on the way to downtown Seattle.
Lake City’s Prohibition Past
But Lake City is remarkable to Kohnstamm, who was born and raised in the area and continues to live there. The author holds it up as the “last gasp” of the gritty, socially diverse, and deeply do-it-yourself Seattle of old.
‘The cannabis industry offers some career diversity in a tech monoculture. I think it’s good for our city,” said Kohnstamm.
“Prior to alcohol prohibition there was nothing here, and then this became like Seattle’s little Las Vegas. And that’s persisted until today,” said Kohnstamm. “At all these roadhouses they had drinking, gambling, music and prostitution. Because of that reputation as a vice zone, it developed slower than other neighborhoods. That allowed it to keep a little bit of the old-school Seattle vibe, and people are now appreciating that. There’s still a little blue collar here. Close to 20% of Lake City still lives below the poverty line because we have a fair number of new immigrants who live here.”
The City’s Colorful Past
That local history saturates the novel, making it a sort of stake in the ground for a cultural moment in fast-changing city. What Kohnstamm’s protagonist Lane contends with—an identity crisis, futile attempts to figure out a new direction, his deceit and fear and selfishness—personifies Seattle’s Amazon-dominated present and uncertain future.
Kohnstamm sees the rise of the state’s cannabis industry, and leading purveyors like Saints and Fire Bros., as a real opportunity for Seattle to maintain its cool, progressive edge.
“Seattle is becoming a monoculture, I think tech is driving that,” he said. “And I think that the cannabis industry is an alternate route and its offering some diversity of careers and, it’s just more colorful. I think it’s good for our city.”
With that as a backdrop, cross-promoting his book with cannabis companies made perfect sense.
“This book is really specifically Seattle and has a lot of the city’s history,” Kohnstamm said, “I’d like to associate it with the Seattle culture [I love], and with where Seattle culture is going; and cannabis plays right into that.”
“Lake City” will be available in bookstores and online starting Tues., Jan. 8. The limited-edition “Lake City OG” pre-roll packs are expected to hit dispensaries that carry Saints and Fire Bros. products in the first week of February.