Thomas Kohnstamm's Lake City Pushes Traditional Book Marketing into a Heady Direction

By Charlie Tetiyevsky on February 14, 2019

As cannabis makes its way into mainstream American advertising spaces, it’s becoming increasingly popular to see its marketing outside of expected dispensary-bound contexts. For author Thomas Kohnstamm and his cannabis-producing friends Lawrence Perrigo and Alex Prindle, the legalization of cannabis in Washington state has offered an unprecedented opportunity to tie together their otherwise seemingly unrelated work.

Kohnstamm’s recently released debut novel, Lake City (Counterpoint Press), follows protagonist Lane Beuche as he puts his life back together following a cannabis conviction. The novel is set in the noughties in Kohnstamm’s hometown, the eponymous Lake City, Washington, which Counterpoint Press representative Sarah Jean Grimm describes as Seattle’s “vice corridor and… an important part of the black market” in the pre-rec era. Grimm, who says that in her six years in the publishing industry she has “never [before] had the opportunity to pitch a weed angle,” was finally given the chance when Kohnstamm teamed up with Perrigo of Saints Joints and Prindle of Fire Bros to release a collectible, limited edition joint pack alongside the book.

The five 0.7 gram joints are made using Fire Bros’ God’s Gift and Saints Joints’ Ringo’s Skunk strains, the latter being, Perrigo explained, the “most heirloom strain [Saints Joints has] in its strain library. Even though the [strain] originally came from Humboldt in the '90s, we feel it is a great way to introduce this pack using Seattle old-school strains and [considering] the resurgence of the skunk varieties.” Besides embarking on more traditional tie-ins with other farms and retail stores, Saints Joints has also collaborated with visual artists and musicians, so it seemed like a natural fit when Kohnstamm brought the idea to the company.

Prindle explained that on his end, “Finding a way to collaborate professionally [with his friends] has always been appealing.” When it comes to the future of cross-promotion between cannabis and products outside the industry, the Fire Bros owner is unsure what to expect. “Unfortunately, we’re a bit hamstrung by the state and federal regulations so we’re unable to engage in certain promotions that normal businesses can. That being said, we’ll continue to look for ways to push the envelope.”

PRØHBTD spoke with Kohnstamm about the role of cannabis in Lake City, what it meant to write about home and how he decided on this unusual means of promoting his novel.

Considering your background as a travel writer, why did you want to write a book based in your hometown?

After years of travel writing, I felt like I was seeing a lot of new and interesting places but all at a surface level. I wanted to write something that went way deeper and created a story about themes like class and the demons of ambition. One day, I was out walking my dogs at lunchtime in Lake City and saw some guys load boxes into the back of dropped BMWs.The location had no signage, and there was security fencing and all of the windows were reflective. I was like, “This place around me that I’ve always taken for granted is so weird and complex. I should write about what I know right here.”

How was writing about a familiar place similar to or different than writing about a foreign one?

There are two answers to that question: one about location, and one about non-fiction versus fiction.

In terms of location and process, I had to do less new research as the book was based on so much already lived experience, though as it takes place in 2001, I had to spend time recreating the past in my mind.

It was also a different process because it’s a novel, and fiction grants so many more creative liberties. In searching for an emotional truth, fiction allows you to play with how you arrive at your goal. It was by no means easy, but I much preferred the writing process.

How did you come to decide on launching the book alongside a promotional cannabis partnership?

I’ve been interested in Seattle’s cannabis industry since getting my first medical card in 2011, or, one could argue, since smoking my first bowl of heavy-hitting Seattle indica in the late '80s. I even gave the first cannabis retail lottery a shot a few years back—and I don’t know shit about retail, I just wanted to be involved even in some little way in such an exciting time. Lake City has long been a vice zone where a lot of weed was grown, sold and smoked. I thought it would be cool to do a joint pack as a kind of tribute to the old-school Seattle that’s seen throughout the book.

Also, there is a long and somewhat obvious connection between weed and creative fields. Writers are famous for alcohol consumption, but I know that cannabis plays a bigger role in creative thinking. Seattle has a diverse and deep creative industry, from music and digital arts to film, graphic arts and writing. Everything happens on a smaller-scale DIY level and leads to unexpected partnerships between the different areas. There’s one thing we all have in common: cannabis.

What was the process of forming the partnership with Lawrence and Alex?

We all got to know each other because our kids went to the same pre-school. We bonded as friends at kids’ birthday parties and the like, which I think is a good indicator of how mainstream the industry is becoming. I pitched the idea to Larry because I know he’s always up for trying something different. He has a background in promoting bands, so he knows the hustle. Later on, we had lunch, and Alex joined us. Larry asked Alex if he’d like to be involved, and he jumped right in, too, and had a ton of great ideas, including using the heirloom strains particular to the area.  

Was the promotional partnership inspired by any personal experiences with cannabis and the greater Seattle area?

Cannabis plays direct and indirect roles throughout the book, whether the characters are smoking it or we are seeing the ongoing impact of an old marijuana conviction in the '90s.

To me, cannabis is to Seattle what beer is to Milwaukee. I know that Colorado went legal at the same time as Washington and that they got more early national press as they were faster to open their dispensaries. I know that other parts of the country have big cannabis cultures, too, but cannabis runs deep here and cuts across class, education, lifestyle, etc. I’m pulling for Seattle and Seattle’s cannabis brands to stand out as legalization goes national. I’m really honored to do this partnership. I’m still trying to be involved [in cannabis], even in some little way.

Charlie Tetiyevsky is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. Find them on Twitter @charlie_gfy.

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