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Novel focuses on Sun City, cannabis

Patricia Bathurst
Special for The Republic
Sept. 10, 2005

First, let's be clear that neither Jock McNeil of Sun City nor Paul Cilwa of Peoria could tell you where the "grow rooms" are in Sun City. Or even if there might be any.

Nor does either man have a hidden stash of cannabis anywhere, for any reason.

Nonetheless, their collaboration on The Sun City Cannabis Club resulted in what they describe as "a page-turning thriller . . . a dogma drive-by."

The book is, in fact, spicy enough that the two printed it with the name of McNeil's Southern grandmother, Armentine Duryea, attached as the author.

"Besides," McNeil, 70, admitted, "I thought it might have more . . . credibility ... if people perceived it as produced by a woman."

An actor and retired bartender, McNeil said he's written a number of screenplays and "a novelty book," and mulled the plotlines of the new novel for several years.

Cilwa, 54, is a technical writer and software trainer by trade. He, too, had thought about a novel for some time.

"I had been working on an idea to do a story about a woman who solved mysteries, and I had already named her - Marion Wiggins.

"Then Jock came to me and asked if I could help him finish a story about two women solving a mystery - and he'd named one of them Marion Higgins," Cilwa said. "And I believe there are no coincidences."

"I thought I'd be 100 before I finished it without a collaborator," McNeil said.

The Sun City Cannabis Club describes a Sun City-based physician's practice of alleviating many of his patients' pain and other ills by prescribing marijuana, supplied to his patients by several of the doctor's elderly friends - who home-grow their grass in hidden "grow rooms" throughout the retirement community.

Throw in an Arizona congressman who has reasons of his own for keeping marijuana use illegal, and a murder or two, and the book turned into what McNeil describes as "an action-adventure-mystery-thriller."

"I'd say we ended up with a pretty clear 50/50 collaboration," Cilwa said. "Jock came up with the two main characters and the basic premises of the plot. I wrote and wrote, and Jock edited and rewrote - and so did I."

Cilwa, who missed the drug revolution by paying attention to more important issues (like academics) while in college, said that until working with McNeil on the finer plot points of their book he was unaware of the controversies ignited by medical marijuana's use and prescription.

"I read up on it to be able to write," he said, "and it was quite an eye-opener. I had no idea there were so many uses for this plant."

McNeil, too, says having the book in print has changed his perspective.

"This has opened a whole new door for me," he said. "Just as we describe the book as presenting a kind of metamorphosis for our key character, I feel that completing the book, having it out there . . . and now, looking ahead to our next steps, is a metamorphosis of sorts for me, as well."

Cilwa, whose software training business evaporated after 9/11 and who spent a year as a truck driver, said, "I probably wrote about half of this while driving a big rig. And now that it's in print, I can say I'm happy with it.

"This is the kind of thing I like to read - and everyone else who's read it has been wild about it."

The two are already discussing a sequel (although it probably won't focus on Sun City, they said), and are in the process of shopping movie rights.

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