“If you could choose anywhere in the United States, where would you live?”
My answer a few years ago: “Oh, I’d be happy lots of places. The only place I’d never consider is Las Vegas.
My answer now: Las Vegas.
It all began with a wildfire in Southern California. My house was one of the first in its path, which ultimately consumed hundreds of homes in the hills above Pasadena.
Suddenly “stuffless,” my husband and I decided we’d never have a better opportunity to hit the road and see America. I was pretty sure six months, or a year at the outside would cure our wanderlust. I was slightly off in my estimate—six years later, we were still “out there.” During our travels in the United States and Canada, we started a Web site, RoadTrip America. I wrote my first book, Roads from the Ashes. It was time to start on the second.
“You get to make it up.”
A writer friend said this to me at a cocktail party when I asked him why he liked to write fiction. His words haunted me. You get to make it up! How excellent, and what a nice break from nonfiction! I could create characters and fabricate plots without laborious research! Obviously ridiculous assumptions, they nonetheless launched me into my next project, a novel.
Things began well. My story took shape, and a protagonist named Cassandra popped out of my head fully clothed and ready for action. Words piled up, and I silently thanked my friend again and again. I liked making things up. Then one morning, as I read my work from the day before, an important realization dawned. Fiction may not be true, but it has to tell the truth. This is not a paradox. It just means human characters have to act like humans. It also means that real places shouldn’t be painted in obvious stereotypes. So much for skipping research. Cassandra was born and raised in Las Vegas, and if I wanted to tell her story, I’d have to go there and find out what life in Sin City was really like.
“Six weeks,” I told my husband. “That’ll do it, I’m positive.” But once again, I was off in my estimate. I’m still here, nearly eight years later.
The Reason Why
I’m fascinated. I’m enchanted. I’m in love. I’m now at work on another novel set in this captivating place. Although I never would have believed it possible a decade ago, I’m delighted to call Las Vegas home.