If I Die Tell Steve Martin I Found His Journal, By Billy Johnson
The gist: When Navin R. Johnson finds Steve Martin’s journal it throws him out of whack and onto a journey in which Martin’s personas from various eras weigh in on and steer Johnson’s life.
The quote: “He was reluctant to take a bath for fear that once full of water he and the weighted tub would crash through the floor and flatten the dog that lived below. On one hand, he liked the idea of the dog’s demise. It was an unattended, baying nuisance. On the other, being collected by the coroner while wet and naked amongst jagged pieces of a broken bathtub and dog seemed undignified.”
The author says: [On advice for first-time novelists:] “Know going in that it’s endless. There’s never a finish line, and it’ll just keep going if you let it. You can’t be perfect. If you’ve got a thought, just get it down and go. It was a wonderful experience. I became a witness to the story.”
Lucky Bastard, By Deborah Coonts
The gist: As if casino VP Lucky O’Toole didn’t have enough on her plate with a lovelorn ex in the press and a major poker tournament at her Vegas resort, a couple of dead bodies (Jimmy Choo to the carotid, anyone?) add a dash of danger to her day job and put her on the case of a killer.
The quote: “Death by Jimmy Choo,” I babbled, riding a building wave of panic. “Well, at least she went out with style.” The words and thoughts gathered like dark clouds heralding an impending storm. “This is clearly a new twist on the stiletto-as-a-murder-weapon theme, don’t you think?”
The author says: “Vegas is a character in my stories—big and bold. How can it not be? What does it bring? An over-the-top joie de vivre. Something for everyone. A mixture of most of the world’s cultures. And 45 million folks who come here to shrug off the constraints of their “real” lives and be a bit naughty. ... But the best quality that Vegas adds is one of acceptance: Here we not only embrace each other’s uniqueness, we celebrate it! I love that about this town.”
Going Vintage, By Lindsey Leavitt
The gist: Faced with a boyfriend cheating online, Mallory ditches men and modern technology to “go vintage,” using a to-do list her grandmother made at the same age as inspiration in this young adult novel.
The quote: “I want to see what kind of girl I am without technological crutches. It might take a while to find the answer to that question, because I don’t have much of a battle plan. For day one, I set out to: 1. Wear the seersucker dress. 2. Abandon the 21st century. 3. Avoid Jeremy.”
The author says: “Adolescent minds aren’t too far from an adult. I still experience all the emotions that I write about—grief, love, hope, distrust. The only difference is that we’re often experiencing those emotions for the first time in our teenage years. There’s actually a line from Going Vintage that says, ‘Adolescence is the same tragedy being performed again and again. The only things that change are the stage props.’”
Getting Better All the Time, Edited by Scott Dickensheets
The gist: The theme of this latest Las Vegas Writes anthology is progress—interpreted however writers like Douglas Unger, Abigail Goldman and our own John Katsilometes saw fit.
The quote: “A group of girls, no older than 20, jostled past her on the carpet, a wash of blonde hair and tight jeans and T-shirts in boldfaced text, the smell of fake strawberries and liquor. They were a cloud of songbirds, jumping, twittering, humming with energy. One of them, long legs, a thin, horse-like face, paused for a moment, touched my mother’s arm, and looked at her. ‘You’re so beautiful,’ she said.” –from “The Birds of Minnesota” by Aurora Brackett
The editor says: “In five of these anthologies, we’ve showcased more than 40 writers, without repeating anyone. Who would’ve guessed? But what I’ve found is that the talent pool—novelists, short story writers, critics, poets, essayists, literate journalists—is deeper than we typically think, and is constantly refreshed by fine new writers. Last year, we would not have been able to include Aurora Brackett. A couple of years ago, no Kris Saknussemm. And I’m fairly certain a terrific new writer will pull into town any minute now, ready to kick ass in next year’s volume.”
Two compelling nonfiction books consider the historical upheaval that makes literary art.
It takes a storyteller to put trivia into its historical context, to make a narrative out of what would otherwise just be speculation.
Tim Judah makes it clear in his lively blend of research and personal narrative that nationality and history are fungible.
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