Literary tour guide: Vegas-based writer Noah Cicero takes his fans on a journey

Noah Cicero has two new books out.
Photo: Jon Estrada

Noah Cicero is just your regular working stiff with a cult following. The 37-year-old poet/novelist/philosopher has written eight books, with editions published in Turkey, Kurdish Iraq, Chile, Argentina and Spain. His first work of fiction, The Human War (2003), was made into a film awarded Best Screenplay at the Beloit International Film Festival. Cicero moved to Las Vegas from the small town of Vienna, Ohio, several years ago after stints working in South Korea and at the Grand Canyon. He has two new books out: Blood-Soaked Buddha/Hard Earth Pascal integrates Buddhism and Existentialism into a philosophy for the everyman; the poetry collection Nature Documentary asks the reader to view humans the same way we view nature documentaries. Cicero will read at the Writer’s Block on February 17.

You have a new novel coming out next year called Give It to the Grand Canyon. What’s it all about? I’ve lived at the Grand Canyon twice and been there many, many times. I want to create one of those books [that’s sold in] the Grand Canyon souvenir shop. It’s been one of my bucket list goals.

How has living in Las Vegas influenced your writing? I’m from a sleazy, one-red-light town. Compared to my Ohio life, people are more positive here, more responsive to literary things. It’s completely changed what I write about. When I lived in Ohio, I wrote about drug addicts, strippers, people with terrible parents.

Drug addicts and strippers can be found in Vegas, too. That’s not part of my life here. I grew up in one of the poorest counties in the U.S. The streets were full of empty houses with basements that were swamps. I don’t have any of that here. I’ve been able to live in a bubble here.

What is the appeal of nature, and how does it help your writing? When you’re in a city, you’re surrounded by things people made that signify class; it keeps your mind busy. Nature, the emptiness of it, lets your mind empty out. Around the third hour of hiking, my brain settles down, and I realize that all the thoughts I was having all week weren’t that important.

You didn’t have the typical writer’s upbringing. How did you get into writing? There were no books in the house. [My parents] didn’t read to me when I was little. When I was 13 or 14, I started to like to read—books about ghosts. My dad would drive me to the library; he was very confused by the whole scenario. I was a troubled child; everyone was always angry at me. Every time I had to write something for class, everyone thought I was really funny and liked it. It was the first time in my life where I did something and people liked it.

What’s it like being an underground literary star? People will come to town—usually publishers, writers and fans—and they’ll Facebook me. “I’m here with my mom, will you hang out with me for, like, four hours?” Okay, I don’t even know you, but I’ll go with you and see what happens. I’ll show them the town: bring them Downtown and then to Valley of Fire. I’ve done it about 20 times. I don’t really require people to feel impressed with me all the time. I only like it in small increments. I like this bubble. I like to go to Starbucks and be a person. When people see you as more than a person, they act a certain way. Those expectations stress me out. I want to make them happy; it overstimulates me.

By day you work as a paralegal. How do you balance writing and working? I worked [part-time] at Sprouts for two and a half years, and ended up writing three books during that time period. [Now] I just budget my time. I don’t expect to get giant awards, because I’m only spending five to eight hours [a week] writing. It allows me to have fun while I’m doing it. If you tinker for five hours a week for the entire year, you’ll end up with cool things.

Would you ever go in for writing a best seller? Those aren’t my people; that’s not who I write books for. If you grew up in the town of Vienna, surrounded by white guys standing there with camo coats and big guts, ’80s haircuts, if you saw them, you’d think, “Noah is really famous in comparison to what he grew up with. He’s made it in a thousand ways.” But maybe the point is that I’m really happy about everything.

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