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Lindsey Leavitt, noted YA author, on finding the center of her new novel, out this month

I discovered the Neon Museum on the way to my daughter’s dance recital at Cashman. “Look at the pretty shoe, Mommy.” That’s when I first noticed the twirling Silver Slipper. And the retired neon signs. And the old La Concha.

My first thought? Now that would be a great place to make out.

I’d been struggling with my latest young-adult novel. I’d never set a book in my hometown, and I wanted to weave my childhood into the landscape — the non-adventures of a master-planned community kid among the landmarks I only saw as we drove to a buffet. I couldn’t figure out how to mesh it all together. This was Vegas, not the made-up towns of my other novels.

So I toured the Boneyard on a Wednesday afternoon in January. The members of my group were elderly locals who became my temporary friends. Maybe every tour is that magical. Maybe every group has a lady who heard Elvis the first night he sang at The New Frontier. I don’t know. You should go there and see. It’s amazing, the stories rusting on that dusty lot.

The Chapel Wars, about a 17-year-old girl who inherits a Vegas wedding chapel and falls for the boy at a rival chapel, got its, well, bones that day. I knew this was where my star-crossed lovers needed to connect. After witnessing a mesmerizing sunset, Holly, the native, could argue with transplant Dax about Vegas history, neighborhoods, reputation, and, yes, the dry heat.

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Toward the end of my tour, I had my characters challenge each other to all sorts of explorations across the city. Other scenes formed. I had to stop and write out dialogue on the back of my brochure. Finally, Vegas promised to become the character it deserved to be. 

Most poetic, the sign that reads, “Wedding Information.” Of course my characters took a picture there. And like the teen-romance writer that I am, Holly and Dax also shared a giddy first kiss.

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