Bumper Crop

Autumn brings a bounty of fresh Las Vegas literary efforts

A page from Mr. O’Lucky, Barret Thomson’s contribution to Tales From the Boneyard.

The Blue Angel Motel sits at the bottom of Fremont Street in a neon graveyard where the signs still advertise “Color TV,” the swimming pools are filled with gravel, and the rent money is earned at the blood bank. No valets or bellmen or doormen here. Just madmen (and madwomen). It’s a two-story motel … with a million stories.

That is how the story “My Week at the Blue Angel” begins. It’s the showcase tale in Matthew O’Brien’s new book of the same name (Huntington Press, $20, Nov. 1), but it’s also a fitting introduction to the fall season of literature in Las Vegas. That’s because the very idea of having literature in Las Vegas seems about as promising as checking into the rundown Blue Angel Motel. But, as you will soon see, once you get past that worn-in cigarette smell, you’ll find a million stories.

O’Brien’s new book is a collection of short creative nonfiction, mainly about some wonderfully sordid places in Las Vegas and the people who inhabit them. Fans of his first book—Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2007)—will enjoy two of the short stories that give background on the events that led up to its publication. O’Brien, who is an occasional Vegas Seven contributor, will participate in a panel discussion called “Storytelling in the Modern Southwest” during the Vegas Valley Book Festival (1:45 p.m. Nov. 6 at the Historic Fifth Street School), followed by a book signing.

It’s not fall without the buzz of nuclear particles wafting like autumn leaves in the cooling air. Nevada Writers Hall of Famer and University of Nevada, Reno English professor Ann Ronald rings in the season with Friendly Fallout 1953 (University of Nevada Press, October, $25). Defying genre, Ronald combines true history of the atomic testing with short stories exploring the human side of the mega science experiment.

Just like at the first Thanksgiving when pilgrims and locals overcame their differences to cook an awesome meal, local writers have teamed together to create a bounty for fall readers. Last year’s Restless City (CityLife Books, 2009)—the Signature Project of the Vegas Valley Book Festival—was such a success that CityLife Books is back for round two with The Perpetual Engine of Hope. Like the first effort, seven local authors will pitch in, but this time, instead of a serial mystery novel, you’ll get short stories inspired by iconic Las Vegas photos.

Also inspired by Restless City, local comic book creator, musician and sometimes Vegas Seven contributor Pj Perez is putting together a compilation called Tales From the Boneyard (Pop Goes the Icon, $5). His is a comic book anthology by local comic book creators who were recruited to write stories that are somehow based around the Neon Boneyard. The book is being released chapter by chapter online (TalesFromTheBoneyard.com) until the paper-and-glue version goes on sale at the Vegas Valley Book Festival (proceeds benefit the library district).

With all the foreclosures, sometimes it feels like the end of the world in Las Vegas. Well, the new anthology Dead Neon: Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas (University of Nevada Press, $20) explores exactly what that imaginary apocalypse would look like through 14 stories by local authors. The book is edited by Todd James Pierce and Vegas Seven contributor Jarret Keene.

As always, there is a steady stream of books about Las Vegas being released this fall, including the newest crop of guidebooks that we won’t mention. Those who wonder what makes our state so special should check out the just-released The Making of Modern Nevada (University of Nevada Press, October, $22) by the late UNLV history professor Hal K. Rothman. Nostalgic music buffs will enjoy That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas (Chicago Review Press, $25, Nov. 1). Or if you want to get out and away from it all, you can always read Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States (Stephens Press, $20, Sept. 30) by Deborah Wall.

Like the many rooms at the Fremont street motels, there is something for everybody in this fall’s literary season. Now find a comfy motel bed to sit in and get reading. Just make sure to pull back the bedspread first—those things are dirty!

7 Don’t-Miss Events


Dogs. Mystery. Nevada water rights. What’s not to like about the works of Rita Mae Brown, author of A Nose for Justice and Animal Magnetism? You’ll have a chance to meet Brown on Sept. 21 at the Clark County Library. 7 p.m., 1401 E. Flamingo Road, free.

Unsinkable Huck

What do Harry Potter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Catcher in the Rye and Toni Morrison’s Beloved have in common? They are all books that somebody has tried to ban. In celebration of Banned Book Week (Sept. 25-Oct. 2), the Clark County Library will host Uncensored Voices: Celebrating Literary Freedom. The Valley’s literati—Dayvid Figler, Moniro Ravanipour and many more—will read excerpts from challenged books. 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30, 1401 E. Flamingo Road. Free.

A Genteel and Mannered Author

Famous for getting frat boys to read, Tucker Max, the blogger and author of the outrageous memoir I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell (Citadel, 2006) will hit the stacks at Borders Town Square to promote the Sept. 28 release of his new book, Assholes Finish First (Simon Spotlight). 7 p.m. Oct. 22, Borders Town Square, 6521 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 383-6734.

Cerebral Mountaineering

UNLV’s Black Mountain Institute offers the smartest readings and panel discussions this side of the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. This fall there are three events not to miss: At 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, Swedish poet Malena Mörling will read at the UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum Auditorium; at 7 p.m. Sept. 22, journalist Jim Lehrer, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alex Jones, and Las Vegas Sun editor Brian Greenspun discuss the state of the media; and at 7 p.m. Nov. 30, Alissa Nutting, author and editor of BMI’s Witness magazine, will give a reading in the UNLV Greenspun Hall Auditorium. Free, 895-5542.

Take That, Coastal Culture Snobs!

Here’s a good one: Once upon a time, some crazy people had the idea of putting on a Vegas Valley Book Festival. That was nine years ago, and the festival not only lives on, it keeps getting better. This year T.C. Boyle and Dennis Lehane will be among the more than 100 authors to take part in the five-day celebration of letters. The event includes readings, workshops, panel discussions, a comic book festival and a children’s book festival. Nov. 3-7, various locations, 229-5431, vegasvalleybookfestival.org. Free.

Local Literary Hotbed

It should be no surprise by now that our land of lights is also a land of letters. This fall, there are several noteworthy books by local writers, and a few other books of special interest to Las Vegas. Most notable among them, local author and occasional Vegas Seven contributor Matthew O’Brien debuts his second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories From the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas (Huntington Press).

A Little Quality Comic Time

They say the best way to get to know a writer or artist is to read or see their work. That may be true, but it’s also a lot of fun to hang out with them, get something signed and maybe even take a peek at their sketches. Comic fans will get their chance in November when Batman Beyond writer Adam Beechen and talented artists Sean Galloway and Ryan “Art Pimpn’” Benjamin come to town. 3-7 p.m. (with drinks to follow) Nov. 5, Comic Oasis, 3121 N. Rainbow Blvd., 212-8885; and all day Nov. 6, Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival.

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More a sketch of an idea for a horror movie than a fully formed film, The Last Exorcism is a yawn-inducing attempt to cash in on a combination of exhausted genre tropes. Following in the shaky-cam, found-footage footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, Daniel Stamm directs an incompetent script about an evangelical con man, Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian). Cotton carries on his family’s well-established business of conducting exorcisms for illiterate backwoods types who traditionally respond well to the power of material-supported suggestion.