We’ve long been interested in the connection between drugs (legal and otherwise) and art, which explains why we were so excited to hear that one of our favorite publishers, Akashic, is launching a Drug Chronicles series. Modeled on the press’s fantastic and successful location-based Noir books and beginning with a new printing of 2005’s The Cocaine Chronicles, each volume will compile original stories about individual substances from an impressive roster of contributors. The first new collection, The Speed Chronicles, comes out December 1st. We emailed with Akashic publisher Johnny Temple — who music fans will recognize as the bassist of Girls Against Boys — about how the series came about, what we can expect from it, and his own favorite drug-influenced work of literature.
Flavorpill: The Cocaine Chronicles came out six years ago. When did you decide to expand the idea into a full series, and why?
Johnny Temple: We didn’t initially imagine it as a series, but not long after The Cocaine Chronicles came out, Joseph Mattson (editor of The Speed Chronicles) approached us with the idea of doing a companion volume on speed. While we weren’t able to take it on at that time due to our workload, we discussed it a lot and decided a series of drug themed anthologies could be a great addition to our list. We waited a few years and then picked up the conversation with Joseph again who was still eager and interested… and put together a great collection for us.
In addition to the speed and cocaine editions, there are also heroin, caffeine, and marijuana volumes forthcoming. Are there certain drugs that you think lend themselves especially well to fiction, or those that don’t? Are there some substances you’ll avoid anthologizing?
I think there are certain drugs that people do associate with writing, authors, literature… whether fairly or not. We haven’t yet ruled out any drugs, but I’m sure it’s possible we’ll be pitched something obscure and maybe with too narrow of a focus that wouldn’t work. For now, we do want to focus on what we think of as the “main” drugs in people’s consciousness — Heroin, Marijuana, Caffeine, etc. We’ve also started discussing Opium, Quaaludes, LSD, etc…
The list of Speed Chronicles contributors includes quite a few big names, from Sherman Alexie to James Franco. How have authors reacted to being approached for this potentially controversial series?
Similar to our Noir Series, Akashic doesn’t do a ton of outreach to authors. Once we have lined up a good editor who we trust knows the best authors to approach and also the best way to do so, we mainly rely on the editor to contact authors. Joseph happens to be an accomplished novelist himself and works at Book Soup in West Hollywood, one of the best indie bookstores in the country, so he has a lot of contacts in the literary world and was able to secure big names as well as up-and-coming authors. I haven’t heard of any negative responses to authors approached by Joseph or The Cocaine Chronicles editors — Gary Phillips and Jervey Tervalon.
For the books that are still in progress — and those that aren’t even in the pipeline yet — do you have a wishlist of authors and editors you’re eager to have contribute?
We already lined up our wishlist editor for The Heroin Chronicles (Jerry Stahl!) and have some ideas of who we’d like for The Marijuana Chronicles. We are definitely still in the brainstorming stages on many of the volumes.
According to Publishers Weekly, all of the stories in the series will be original. Might you also eventually publish volumes that collect great, classic drug-related stories, the way you’ve done with your Noir series?
I think it’s definitely possible. We haven’t started discussing that yet as we’re focused on getting the first volumes of all originals out, but the series certainly lends itself to classics editions like the Noir Series.
What are some of your all-time favorite books written about or under the influence of drugs?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a favorite that springs to mind, though I’m sure there are many more!