A&E

Interview Issue: Vicki Pettersson

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Local writer Vicki Pettersson
Photo: Scott Den Herder

Vicki Pettersson

Author, Signs of the Zodiac novel series

Interviewed June 25 at the Las Vegas Weekly offices

How long have you been writing?

Well, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, and here and there I wrote some stories, but it wasn’t really anything I thought I could do. I thought it was something other people did—really smart people, who weren’t from Las Vegas. It didn’t seem like it was attainable. And so I started in earnest after college. I was 26, and I remember very clearly the New Year’s Day that I said, “Today I will write a novel.” And that was it. That’s kind of how I operate. When I decide to do something, I’m obsessed with it from that point on. I’ve written nearly every day since.

How did you come to the idea of writing something about the supernatural?

It was really organic with the supernatural. I didn’t plan it at all. I had read a lot of fantasy when I was a kid, and then I kind of forgot that I really enjoyed it, because I went to college and the liberal-arts education kind of knocked the sense out of me. So when in the third chapter of my first book somebody popped up and said, “I’m a superhero”—I really thought I was going to write something a little straighter than that. I didn’t think I was going to go into fantasy at all. But I was really open to the fun; I’d gotten to the point where I didn’t care if I was ever published as long as I was having a good time. I’m going to write until I’m dead anyway, until I’m 90, 100, I hope. So it didn’t matter as long as I was having fun. So he said, “I’m a superhero,” and I thought, “Well, okay. Well, what if he is?” And that’s what writers do, they keep asking themselves, “What if?” A fresh “what if?” every time. So I said, “Well, I’ll just follow him and see what happens.” And then sure enough, he was, and then so was she, and then all of a sudden, my series was completely turned on its head.

Las Vegas Author: Vicki Pettersson

Were you involved in any local writers’ groups when you were looking for feedback on your first novel?

No, [but] I did try a couple of classes at UNLV, because that’s where I graduated from, and the first one everybody was very sincere and intent and literary and—the angst! And I’m like, “Let’s fight and blow things up,” and nobody wanted to fight and blow things up, so I just let that drop. And then the second one, this was the best one of all. I wish I could remember the instructor’s name. He’s still out there, and I did run into him last year at the Vegas Valley Book Festival, and I said thank you, because this was some of the best advice I ever received, and I got it for free because I dropped the class right after he told me. What he said was, “You have to go write a million words before you have anything worth publishing, worth saying.” And I thought, “Well, what do I need you for? I gotta go write a million words.” So I dropped the class and went off to write a million words.

You worked for over a decade on the Strip as a dancer. Was that something you had always been interested in?

I didn’t have a passion for it the way some of the dancers and artists have a passion for it. I used my dancing to augment my writing. I did it at night so I could write during the day. That’s the only reason I did that job, because it left me the mental energy, the time, the mental space to be alone for hours and hours and work on creating fiction. So I’d taken [dance] as a kid, but when you grow up and you’re my height—I was 5’ 10” at 12 years old—and you’re growing up in Vegas, people don’t say, “Oh, you should be a model” or “You should be a basketball player, a volleyball player.” They say, “You should be a showgirl.” I’d heard it for years, and I wasn’t going to do it. My mom was like, “Absolutely not.” But it became very practical when I was 21 years old, and I needed to get through college. It paid for school. And it was part-time work for full-time pay. When I was working at Jubilee!, I’d study between numbers. Lots of kids do that. Then I got a real job, and realized that it paid part-time money for full-time work. And that was just unacceptable.

You have a lot of specific Vegas detail in your books that only locals would know. Are there any books or movies that you admire in their depictions of Vegas?

Michael Connelly did a book called Void Moon, which did a really good job. But he came here—he’s a reporter, so he’s really a bit psycho about research, which I appreciate. Because it wasn’t just the icing on the cake, that stuff that everybody—everybody has a story about Vegas, everybody thinks they know Vegas, and you know what? Everybody does know Vegas, because Vegas is very malleable like that. It’ll become what you want it to. I love that about Las Vegas. I wanted to just write about the Vegas that I grew up in, that nobody really talks about, and maybe dig out a few of those hidden gems.

Have you had offers to adapt your work to movies or TV?

I wouldn’t say offers. I would say interest here and there. It’s all talk. So I don’t pay any attention to it.

If a deal were made for a film, would you want to be involved, or would you just want a check?

Oh, no. Just write me a check. That way lies madness, if you care too much about what somebody else is going to do to your property. But then it ceases to be yours. If anybody wants to look at my stuff, they can open the book, and if it happens to get made into a movie or a comic book or whatever else, then they can feel free to read that, too. I’m going to take it as a compliment and as an honor and thank you very much.

Having such a strong female protagonist, do you think about a book’s potential message when you’re writing?

Obviously if you read my text it’s pretty clear that I’m a feminist. But I don’t want to be didactic; that’s not my job. My job is—everything has to be subject to the story and the storytelling and just giving them a good read. But yeah, I can’t be interested in a story if it doesn’t say something, if it doesn’t tell you something about people. I definitely have strong opinions on what it is to be a woman in our world. You can tell. But I’m not going to beat anybody over the head with the themes. They can ferret them out for themselves. They’re not stupid.

City of Souls: The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac is available now.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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