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Interview: Author Don Winslow and The Kings of Cool

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(Spoiler alert: The ending of "Savages" is discussed in the first several paragraphs of this story.)

Prequel? Not exactly -- at least writer Don Winslow doesn't look at it that way.

Sure, he says, his best-selling new book, The Kings of Cool, picks up the story of the characters he killed off in Savages, the 2010 novel made into an Oliver Stone movie released July 6. And yes, he'll cop to the fact that the book itself says, The Kings of Cool: Prequel to Savages, right on the cover.

But the veteran crime writer simply doesn't look at it that way.

"I picked up the characters in Savages a week before the end of their lives," Winslow says, sitting in a conference room at Simon & Schuster, his publisher, a couple of weeks before Stone's Savages was released -- and savaged -- by critics. "They were these old young people. But I also knew their backstory -- and I got hungry to tell it. I didn't want to do 'The Previous Adventures of...' because that seemed kind of shallow. But I wanted to tell the larger story of it."

(End of spoiler alert.)

The Kings of Cool picks up the story of the Savages trio -- the weed-dealing Laguna Beach, CA, ménage of Ben, Chon and Ophelia -- a few years before the action of Savages. They're feeling the heat on their homegrown business -- from crooked cops and, less so, from the expanding tentacles of the Mexican drug cartels. But Winslow also delves into the environment that produced these three characters: the Laguna of the 1970s and '80s -- specifically, the world of their parents.

"I've lived in that part of the world for 20-odd years," Winslow, 58, says. "The book was inspired by people I hung out with and observed, and the zeitgeist of southern California. That culture has always fascinated me.

"People look at southern California and see it as this homogenized culture, as though it's all one thing. My experience is that there are all these different subcultures -- and this is one of them that I was fascinated by and wanted to write about."

It's a world in which surfers and marijuana dealers coexist with the wealthy, conservatives of the area -- and everyone, it seems, is looking for high-grade marijuana. The expanding empires of Mexican drug rings brought a new level of violence to that world -- but, Winslow notes, California's pioneering passage of a law legalizing the prescription of medical marijuana in 1996 has changed the game.

"It changed it entirely," he says. "Everybody feels they're working under the blade and under the clock. Everyone is looking five or 10 years down the road to being in the right position when it's legalized.

"And I think it will be. Magazines like the National Review came out years ago in favor of that. It's a different political climate. People are tired of spending money on laws that don't make sense and don't work."

Winslow himself isn't a marijuana user: "Oh sure, when I was a kid, but it was never a thing with me. I've never been a heavy user of anything. Although if I have to get off coffee, I'd probably have to go to Betty Ford."

Savages isn't the first of Winslow's novels to reach the big screen; that distinction belonged to The Death and Life of Bobby Z, which went straight to DVD in 2007:

This interview continues on my website.