The city of Las Vegas provides fine fodder for fiction. “You just find this stuff everywhere, keeping your eyes open. You’re not telling [the story of the people you’re observing]; they’re triggering your imagination to come up with a cool slant on what they did,” says P Moss. Best known around town as the owner of the venerable watering holes Double Down Saloon and Frankie’s Tiki Room, he also recently finished the final book in his Las Vegas trilogy, Vegas Tabloid. It is a sprawling, Strip-set tale of a sex-crazed dwarf Elvis, a bloodthirsty billionaire, a supposedly dead movie star who may or may not be haunting a hotel from the most lavish high-roller penthouse ever and a long-shuttered broken-down Boulder Highway motel. It’s sleazy and sordid, but it also celebrates our city’s unique atmosphere and the weird, ultimately well-meaning characters who populate it. The book is available on Amazon and there was a launch party at The Writer’s Block Downtown on October 6.
Vegas Seven spoke to P Moss about the evolution of his writing, how his bars influence his stories and the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Double Down.
Your new book is out on Squid Hat. Isn’t that a record label? It’s completely different this time. … Allan Carter, who owns Squid Hat Records, had talked to me a few times in the past about launching Squid Hat Books. Allan is a genius, from promoting online, going way beyond the obvious, to different ways to skew traditional things. I thought, if I let him do this, even if it doesn’t work really well, it’s going to work 100 times better than if I go with one of those small presses. So I did that and I’m really happy that I did.
Your previous two fiction books were short stories. Was it hard doing long-form? When I wrote Blue Vegas, it was going to be a novel. I had these characters and these situations. Now, when I write, I [do it like a] screenplay: first act, second act, third act. It keeps a novel moving along, it doesn’t bog down. But sometimes you start off great, you know how it’s going to end, and your second act just sucks. When I was writing Blue Vegas the novel, that’s exactly what happened to me. I couldn’t get on that second act. So I said, “Fuck it, I’ve got these great characters, great situations, I’ll make short stories.” The second one, Vegas Knockout, was a novel-in-stories. But this one, I finally got it. Vegas Tabloid is a long-form novel—all the different characters and subplots weave seamlessly through the narrative.
Do you ever get story ideas from the bars? A lot. One day, years ago—this guy used to come into the Double Down. Blue-collar guy. He came in every day after he got off of work and had a few beers. Every day of the week for a couple of years, nice enough guy. Barfly. One day he comes in and he’s got this really strange look on his face and he’s just standing by the door. I say, “Hey, what’s up? Something the matter?” He pulls out this business card, like on the newspaper rack machines with the hooker papers. He hands it to me: It’s this girl on all fours, a flower on her asshole, smiling. He says, “That’s my daughter.” He dropped it on the bar, turned around and walked out and I never saw him again. I turned that into a story about a guy who goes to Little Darlings where his 19-year-old daughter is working, to borrow money from her. So I turned that pain into that pain.
What writers inspire you? I learn from what I read. ”Oh, you’re a fucking idiot! Why did you do this?” Or “Oh, God, you did this, incredible!” I think a lot of writers learn that way. I read a lot of crime fiction, mostly pulp fiction, older stuff. James Ellroy is the guy who has influenced me the most—hit you in the face with a fucking frying pan, daddy-o! He does this cornball schtick that is so fucking perfect. Truman Capote—I don’t think anybody has ever or ever will write a sentence as beautifully as he could.
Is your next book going to be set in Vegas? No. I’m done. Three—that’s enough. This town has changed. All the places with character are gone. All the characters are gone. You get a block off the Strip, you’re in Orange County. There’s nothing all that unique about Las Vegas anymore that you can’t see on TMZ. There are still little corners, there’s still a mystique and an aura that will never go away, but it’s not everywhere. Things just don’t exist … maybe I’m just a curmudgeon, missing something that’s no longer going to be.
The Double Down will be celebrating its 25th birthday in November. Did you think it would last this long? The first year I never thought we’d make it to two. It was five years before I didn’t have a stack of unpaid bills this high. Obviously, I believed in it and believed I could make it successful. A global brand and a tourist destination and every gigantic thing it has become? Nobody has an ego that big to believe something like that’s going to happen. You have to be good at what you do, but it still requires some luck. And I was fortunate enough to have some luck along the way.