Author Don Winslow: 'I Sat Down To Write 'Savages' In A Pretty Snarky Mood'

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Actors Benicio Del Toro, left, and Salma Hayek in a scene from the film "Savages," based on the book by Don Winslow. (AP/Universal Pictures, Francois Duhamel)
Actors Benicio Del Toro, left, and Salma Hayek in a scene from the film "Savages," based on the book by Don Winslow. (AP/Universal Pictures, Francois Duhamel)

"I sat down to write 'Savages' in a pretty snarky mood," author Don Winslow says of his 2010 bestseller. He was unnerved by what he felt were restrictive "rules," honed over time, about how writers should create crime novels.

But in stepping away from the norms, he must have done something right. The book was critically acclaimed and is now a film. It centers around Ben and Chon, two 20-something California slackers, who come up with a formula for very potent marijuana. They build such a successful business out of it that a Mexican drug cartel wants in, and mayhem ensues.

The California drug industry is portrayed as hip, fun and young.

Author Don Winslow. (Courtesy Don Winslow)
Author Don Winslow. (Courtesy Don Winslow)

"I did a lot of research for the book and I think it's a very accurate reflection of that culture and that economy," Winslow told Here & Now's Robin Young. He says the marijuana dealers he writes about are a very particular breed."Some of them are like 'Top Chef,' They all have their favorite recipes and they think everyone else's recipes aren't any good...and so they're prima donnas," he said.

"Savages," the film, is directed by Oliver Stone and opens in theaters Friday. But though he collaborated on the screenplay, Don Winslow wasn't finished with the characters of Ben and Chon. He's just published a prequel called "The Kings of Cool."

"I really wanted to write that origin story...I always knew their story even when I was writing 'Savages,'" he said.

"'Kings of Cool' is largely about innocence and idealism turning into cynicism and communes turning into condos. I wanted to trace that evolution from the 60s to the present," Winslow said.

Advisory: There is explicit language in this excerpt

Book Excerpt: 'The Kings Of Cool'

By: Don Winslow

Fuck me.


Laguna Beach, California


Is what O is thinking as she sits between Chon and Ben on a bench at Main Beach and picks out potential mates for them.

That one?” she asks, pointing at a classic BB (Basically Baywatch) strolling down the boardwalk.

Chon shakes his head.

A little dismissively, O thinks. Chon is pretty choosy for a guy who spends most of his time in Afghanistan or Iraq and doesn’t see much in the way of anything outside cammies or a burkha.

Actually, she can see how the burkha thing could be pretty hot if you played it off right.

Did, you know, the harem thing.

Yeah, no.

The burqa ain’t gonna work for O. You don’t want to hide that blonde hair, you don’t want those bright eyes peeking out from behind a niqab.

O was made for sunshine.

California gurl.

Chon, he ain’t small but he’s thin.  O thinks he looks even thinner than usual.  He’s always been cut, but now it looks like he’s been carved with a scalpel. And she likes the short, almost shaved, hair.

“That one?” she asks, jutting her chin at a tourist-type brunette with really big tits and a retrousse nose.

Chon shakes his head.

Ben remains silent, sphinx-like, which is a role-reversal, because Ben is usually the more verbal of the two. This isn’t a high bar to jump, as Chon doesn’t talk a lot, except when he goes off on a rant, then it’s like you pulled the plug from a firehose.

While Ben is the more verbal, O considers now, he’s also the less promiscuous.

Ben is more Consecutive Monogamy while Chon is more Women Are To Be Served Concurrently. Although O knows for a fact that both of them – albeit Chon more than Ben - take full advantage of the Tourist Chicks who watch them play volleyball here at the beach, just a few convenient paces from the Hotel Laguna – encounters she refers to as FRSO.

Fuck - Room Service – Shower - Out.

“That pretty much sums it up,” Chon has admitted.

Although at times he skips the room service.

Never the shower.

Basic rule of survival in the Greater Cross V Crescent Sandbox Tournament –

If there’s a shower, take it.

He can’t shake off the habit at home.

Anyway, Chon admits to doing matinees at the Hotel Laguna, The Ritz, the St. Regis and the Montage with not only tourist women but also Orange County Trophy Wives and divorcees – the difference between the two being strictly temporary.

That’s the thing about Chon - he’s totally honest.  No pretensions, no evasions, no apologies.  O can’t decide if that’s because he’s so ethical or because he just doesn’t give a fuck.

Now he turns to her and says, “You have one strike left.  Choose carefully.”

It’s a game they play – ODB – Offline Dating Baseball.  Predicting each other’s sexual preferences and hitting for a single, a double, a triple or a Home Run.  It’s a really good game when you’re high, which they are now, on some of Ben and Chon’s supremo weed.

(Which is not weed at all, but a top-of-the-line hydro blend they call Saturday In The Park because if you take a hit of this stuff any day is Saturday and any place is the park.)

O is usually the Sammy Sosa of ODB, but now, with runners on first and third, she’s striking out.

“Well?” Chon asks her.

“I’m waiting for a good pitch,” she says, scanning the beach.

Chon’s been in Iraq, he’s been in Afghanistan. . .

. . .go exotic.

She points to a beautiful South Asian girl with shimmering black hair setting off her white beach dress.


“Strikeout,” Chon answers. “Not my type.”

“What is your type?” O asks, frustrated.

“Tan,” Chon answers, “thin - sweet face - big brown eyes, long lashes.”

O turns to Ben.

“Ben, Chon wants to fuck Bambi.”


Excerpted from "Kings Of Cool," by Don Winslow. Copyright Simon & Schuster, 2012.


  • Don Winslow, author

This segment aired on July 5, 2012.


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