I’m not sure there’s a question I haven’t been asked over the years, but here’s some more information on me, and the things that have most influenced my writing and career.
All nine of my currently published works take place in Las Vegas, so I think it’s pretty apparent that I consider it less of a setting in these books than I do another character.
Yes, I really was born and raised in Sin City. No, I did not live in a hotel growing up. It was actually rather boring back then because there wasn’t a whole lot for kids to do. Before the Mirage was built in 1989 it was pretty much a small town with a big, bright bulge in the middle, like a snake that’d swallowed a light bulb. Like other locals, I can still reach down past the glitter and the fast pace, and trace the remnants of that small town like the lines on my palm. It’s still there if you know where to look, and when I look I see opportunity. I see potential. I see home. I try to help my readers see all of this too.
I used to be a Las Vegas showgirl. In fact, working at Don Arden’s ‘Jubilee!’ paid for college, while later dancing in the Folies Bergere at night was what enabled me to write during the day. Both gave me the time and space to learn and grow, and at the end of the day I could pack away the laptop and go hang with my friends amidst the lights and sequins and feathers. It was a great way to spend my 20s, and the perfect compliment to the sedentary writer’s lifestyle. (So that’s my advice to aspiring authors: wear astronomical headdresses nightly in front of thousands of strangers. It worked for me.) This experience made me acutely aware of the facades – indeed, the masks (a la a superhero) that we all wear in public.
I’m a fan of Mid-Mod Century culture and design. Those who’ve read the Celestial Blues trilogy won’t find this as a surprise, yet it’s another way that living in Las Vegas has influenced my work. The small affinities I have for the ’50s and ’60s: cupcake and midi-dresses, cocktail culture, the Rat Pack – it makes me so dreamy! Seriously knocks the tough girl right out of me. My dream is to buy one of the older mid-century homes in Vegas – with their sharp angles and clean lines and cinderblock patterns and butterfly rooftops – and have Don and Betty Draper over for dinner.
I used to daydream that Elvis was really my father. Another by-product of living in Vegas. He was performing in town around the time I was born – my aunt was actually a camera girl in his showroom (she made more money in the month of his run than she did all the rest of the year) – and my mother was totally cute … plus I can do the lip thing, ‘Thank you very much’ so I thought it entirely feasible. (Sorry, dad.)
Now that I think about it, there is zero reason for me to mention this here. I probably also shouldn’t mention that I got into a fight – at the age of seven – over a scarf thrown into the audience by a Elvis impersonator (named Morris) at the Las Vegas Convention Center in the 70s. But I’m doing it anyway.
Let’s talk about something else.
There are three major authors, and I’ll mention the first of their books that got me hooked on them, and a bit about the elements that’ve somehow managed to glue themselves to my writerly soul.
First, Diana Gabaldon and her fabulous book, Outlander. I was writing historical fiction when I stumbled upon it, and fell in love with its scope and depth and accessibility. Reading Outlander made me realize I wanted to write books that could sweep readers into another fully realized world, with prose and characters that would live on in the mind long after the book was closed. This remains my daily ambition.
Second, A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane. It’s the first in his Kenzie/Gennaro crime series, which I find dark and gritty and beautifully hopeful. Though I didn’t realize it for years, I’m certain that reading this series is what made me want to write about a PI myself – which I did in Celestial Blues. Although the world and people in my series are fantastical, my aim was to craft a story with the same grittiness, and hopefulness, that I so loved in Lehane’s series.
Finally, White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I read this book the first time just for story; then I went back and reveled in the prose. She’s a consummate wordsmith, and there are hidden gems on every page. All of her works are similarly gorgeous, and whenever I’m feeling uninspired and at a loss for my own words, I’ll pick this up and the creative well is refilled again in minutes. Some people believe that the language used to express a story should be invisible, but I’m addicted to prose that stops me in my tracks. If I can twist even one phrase to cause a reader to see this old world in a new way, then I’m a happy writer.
So there you have it: epic, sweeping worlds. Hard-boiled, unflinching heartache. Prose that leaves you breathless. Any book that has all three of this is my literary kryptonite.
Aside: There are so many other authors I love, all for different reasons. Fantasy: Kim Harrison, Brandon Sanderson, J.K Rowling.Crime: Theresa Schwegel, Megan Abbott, Taylor Stevens, Gillian Flynn. Historical: Steven Pressfield, Lindsey Davis, Donna Gillespie. – Other pure storytellers: Dean Koontz, Stephen King, J.D. Robb, Elizabeth Gilbert, Malcolm Gladwell. I read widely and voraciously, I read three to five books at the same time, and I dog-ear my pages with absolute remorselessness.
More writing stuff
This will be short. I don’t generally indulge in talking about my writing process because the Internet is rife with such advice these days, and everybody has their way and their opinion. It’s like belly buttons. Belly buttons with really large mouths. I also can’t stand the numbered posts, like: Ten Steps to Becoming a Bestseller! Five Ways to Write Faster! Or whatever, and so on. There’s one way to become a better writer: Write.
My rituals and routine. I divide my time between two cities right now, but despite this peripatetic lifestyle, I’m always an early riser. I do use the “extra” time to write if I need to, but most often I’ll read, journal, and loosely plot out what I want my day to look like over that first cup of coffee. After the morning shuffle – getting everyone off to school – I’ll take an hour to workout as I know I’ll be sitting the rest of the day. If I’m in first draft mode, I’ll then work on getting 2,000 words of fresh prose that day. That’s just me. I can string together a few days of 2K words, but if I try to go much over that my brain seems to break down and I’ll miss a couple of days after that. So I stop at 2K. If I’m editing, I’ll give myself a chapter goal. If copyediting, it’s a given number of pages.
This all sounds pretty clean-cut, but it’s not. I fail every single day at one or more of those things. I just do my best, try not to beat myself up too much, and go for it again the next day. Eventually all my little failures add up, and I have another book.
One other strange ritual: immediately before finishing a book, usually right before the climax, I have to stop and clean the entire house. Like, deep clean it. Get everything in its place. Scrub corners. Clean out cabinets and drawers. I used to think it was a form of procrastination but it’s so compulsive – and I’ve done it ten times now – that I realize it’s actually – get this – a part of my process. Weird, but I’ve learned not to waste time fighting it. The sooner I finish cleaning, the sooner I finish the book, the sooner I start the next one.
Advice to new writers. No matter how many times I’m asked, this answer never changes: Read, write, and don’t stop.
Do your level best work every day. It’s so easy to focus on market or sales or what Writer X is doing, or how much money they’re making … but your focus need to be continually retrained on your craft. Continue learning and applying yourself, and if you move forward in this way, daily, the rest will eventually come. Be patient and trust that while you’re pushing and forcing the words onto the page, the work is actually pushing and forcing you into a different place as a writer. Writing changes you, and it’s all that matters. Not rewriting. Not talking about writing. Not thinking about it. So make sure you’re in love with the work and not just the thought of the work. And then do it. Also, read good books.
That’s all I’ve got.