Author Interview with E.R. Brown

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Author Interview with E.R. Brown

Posted on April 8 by E.R. Brown
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This week’s blog theme is British Columbia. We’re talking to authors from B.C., and we’ve got some B.C. authors who are writing blog posts for us too. Today’s blog post is an interview with E.R. Brown, author of the new release Almost Criminal. E.R. Brown is an award-winning advertising writer whose fiction has been heard on CBC Radio 3 and seen in national magazines. Born in Montreal, he lives in Vancouver.

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

E.R. Almost Criminal is a crime thriller, based in the subculture of BC Bud and grow-ops. There’s also a coming-of-age story threaded through. It follows Tate McLane, the most gifted and under-appreciated teenage barista in rural Wallace BC, and what happens after he meets Randle Kennedy, a charming and elegant producer of specialized marijuana. Randle becomes Tate’s mentor, and things start to look up for poor Tate. Then they start to go very badly indeed.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?

E.R. One day at lunch, an acquaintance shared a deep worry: a family member, a middle-class soccer-mom living in the Kootenays, had begun making a full-time living trimming marijuana plants. It’s a specialty sometimes called “budding”, and a skilled budder can do very well indeed. My client was sleepless with anxiety about the possibility of arrest, and what would happen when the kids found out what their mom did for a living.

All I could think was… what kid doesn’t know what their mom does for a living? That was the seed idea for the family at the heart of Almost Criminal.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the title?

E.R. I’m terrible with titles. The book went through five or six working titles as it ran through its various drafts, Running the Green was one. Smoke was another. Some of them are really embarrassing, looking back now. The final title, Almost Criminal, came up in a brainstorming session with my dear friend Martin Gotfrit, a bottle of Black Bush, and the pressure of a publisher’s deadline. For me, the title works in many ways: young Tate’s “almost criminal”… since he’s just barely under the adult age limit, he knows he’ll be treated as a Young Offender, not an adult, if he gets caught. And in BC, bud is widely treated as if it’s just barely, technically, illegal (Marc Emery’s experience aside). Medical dispensaries are everywhere. On my block in Vancouver there were once three (3) grow-ops at the same time. My favourite example of the “almost criminal” nature of pot is the story of Allan Piche of Christina Lake. He’s the fellow who (allegedly) fed up to two dozen (24!) black bears, as a strategy to keep people from poaching his (allegedly) significant outdoor pot farm. He did this for a more than ten (10!) years, until he was caught and prosecuted. His crime? Nothing to do with pot. He was feeding dangerous wildlife.

But I digress. The title is Almost Criminal, thanks to Martin.

Caitlyn: How did you research your book?

E.R. That’s a subject worthy of a blog post on its own, and one of these days I’ll post something on my website www.erbrown.com.

Early on, I bought book after book on grow-ops and marijuana cultivation. As they arrived at my door, I kept expecting the Mounties to show up. Later on, when I needed some personal perspective, I hung out in interior towns famed for BC Bud cultivation. But I was an outsider, and I was stonewalled. I did end up finding a source of expert advice, but it was a challenge. Toward the end of the editorial process, Marc Emery, the jailed pot activist, gave me some useful notes.

Caitlyn: What was your first publication?

E.R. My first published fiction was a short story, The Bands, a tale of a couple of teenage friends through several years, see through their partnership in a series of garage bands. A sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll story, essentially… it was published in Prairie Fire, a small literary magazine.

Caitlyn: Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

E.R. That rock ‘n roll story, The Bands: while it was fiction, it was based, very loosely, on my misspent youth. One of the two main characters is based on a close friend who died too young, and in a way the story is an elegy. Imagine my surprise when, perhaps a year after the story’s publication, an acquaintance from my old home town contacted me out of the blue. How he’d found the story in a fairly esoteric publication, I have no idea. But he was convinced that, first, the story was a memoir, and second, that he was the key character. And he wasn’t entirely pleased. I’ll repeat – the story is fiction, and the character that he saw himself as, is a broadly fictionalized version of someone who is no longer alive. Another confusing thing: I never played in a band with this guy. I barely knew him. It was one of the few times when I’ve been caught completely at a loss.

I only hope that nothing similar happens after Almost Criminal comes out. All I need is an angry delusional biker at my door.

E.R. Brown

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014
E.R. Brown photo

E.R. Brown

E.R. Brown is an award-winning advertising writer whose fiction has been heard on CBC Radio 3 and seen in national magazines. Born in Montreal, he lives in Vancouver.