Politics & Culture

Sex, Sobriety, and Ayahuasca: Sam Lansky's Mystical, Mind-Bending Second Act

The author's second book "Broken People" is his most vulnerable work yet.
Reading time 8 minutes
Austin Hargrave

Photography by Austin Hargrave

31-year-old writer Sam Lansky started writing his first book "The Gilded Razor" - a harrowing journey into drug addiction - when he was 18. His follow-up, "Broken People," is a novel that explores the mind-bending, self-transformative power of mysticism and the psychedelic drug Ayahuasca - all set in the materialistic, wellness-obsessed bubble of Los Angeles. 

L'Officiel: “Broken People” felt like a follow up to “The Gilded Razor,” not so much a sequel but it kind of like the next part of a series. The main character is even named “Sam.”

Sam Lansky: It’s definitely a spiritual sequel. I wanted to differentiate creatively from that book but I also wanted to continue with some of the themes and ideas that I explored in that first book. And I’ll say just being super candid, in the aftermath of releasing “The Gilded Razor”, people asked me then what happened next. The one thing I was conscious of was my first book was very much an addiction memoir in a really classical sense, in terms of how much I studied and looked at other addiction memoirs. Those books, mine included, have a kind of shape to them where it’s like there’s chaos and then there’s a big reckoning and then the person gets sober and then they live happily ever after. The end. And it has this sort of conclusive quality to it where it’s like: Okay but what is sober life actually look like? What are the challenges of that? What are the joys of that? How do you tell a story that doesn’t have any of the explosive drama of active addiction? There’s so much dysfunction. It’s exciting as a reader, which is why they kind of sell habitually. And writing about the quotidian drama of sober life of what’s in the rear feels super boring. I knew that the mundane realities of my life as a sober person are not as obviously exciting as the things that I wrote about in “The Gilded Razor” and all of those misadventures. And what I came to was that in a sober life, in a life in recovery, the struggles continue even if it’s more implosive than explosive, there’s still a lot of real feeling to be explored there.


L'O: “Broken People” is also about Ayahuasca, which is a strong drug. I kept wondering: did Sam really take Ayahuasca?

SL: I’ve done my own shamanic work and healing and medicinal work. That came from a place of real experience. I hesitate to get too detailed about it, not because I’m prudish about it, but because my own journey to that work was really complicated because I am a person in recovery. If I came out and was like: ‘Yes, I ingested Ayahuasca’ as a sober person in recovery, it might sound like an endorsement. I would not want to lead any other people in recovery down a path that they wouldn’t be walking on their own. I feel the same way about Ayahuasca and shamanic work. I wanted to tell this story about it. But I personally don’t want to be a mouthpiece or ambassador for it because I would not want someone to end up violating or jeopardizing the kind of sacredness of their sobriety because I made it sound okay for them to do so.


L'O: A lot of people don’t even know Ayahuasca is.

SL: It is pretty underground. People continue to do good, smart, clinical research into psychedelics as mental health treatment. It would not surprise me at all if Ayahuasca is used, as it is in certain treatment programs, as a tool for people dealing with addiction, disordered eating and mental health challenges. It can be a really powerful tool. I also think that its a little bit results-may-vary. It’s coming to the surface more now, especially in LA. LA has long been a kind of beacon of self-improvement and it was only a matter of time until that extended to using psychedelics, not as a method of escape, but a mode of self-improvement alongside private Pilates instruction and juice cleanses.

L'O: How was writing this novel different from your first book?

SL: I wanted this book to feel like you’ve read, by the end of it, like you’ve just read a self-help book when actually you’ve just read a story that has hopefully entertained you and taken you on a journey. But I didn’t want it to feel preachy at all. I wanted to leave the reader with the feeling that there is hope. Hope for greater self- acceptance and greater self-forgiveness and greater self-love.


L'O: There are parts of “Broken People” that are so raw – about sex, relationships, and insecurities.

SL: I cried a lot writing this book. So much of it came from a place of real heartache for me. There were about a dozen places in the book where I was like ‘I can’t fucking write that, I can’t say that’ - it’s too personal, it’s too intimate, it’s too vulnerable. I’m embarrassed by it. I’m ashamed of it. And those were always the places that I knew were most important. It’s the point at which it becomes too much is always the point that’s going to show you the thing that you need to see.


L'O: You write openly about sex.

SL: I think it’s really important to write about the realities of sex, especially for queer people. I think that the sexual lives of gay men often get erased or neutered, especially in popular culture and writing. The ability to really write about what sex is like and the fear, the desire, the kind of craving, the pain of sexuality, especially as a gay man, it’s something that’s really important to me. And also so uncomfortable. I’m actually pretty prim for the most part.


L'O: You moved from New York to Los Angeles after your first book.

SL: New York always felt like a real survivalist culture. There are so many little challenges and indignities to living in New York. Many of which I wrote about in “Broken People”. LA has a very different pace and a very different texture, which in many ways is really luxurious by comparison. I was really struck by the culture around wellness and mysticism and self- optimization that existed in LA, which felt like it intersected with a very looks-driven, showy, materialism that was also present in LA. LA is sort of flashy in a way that New York is not. But at the same time, there’s this real sort of new-age culture that’s coinciding with that superficial culture. LA seems to be a city at the crosshairs of mysticism and materialism. That was so fascinating to me as a writer. That was really the world and the ethos that I wanted to capture with this book. What happens when those two currents cross paths?


L'O: You’re working on the screenplay for “The Gilded Razor.”

SL: We have a script. I’m really really excited about it. I’ve been developing it with Dustin Lance Black, who is an extraordinary writer, director and Academy Award winner for the movie Milk. He’s attached to direct it.


L'O: Are you working on a third book?

SL: I’ve started. It is another novel and it is totally different than either of these two books in terms of the autobiographical or semi-autobiographical nature. It is fully a work of imagination and I am just having a blast with it.


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