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In Las Vegas-based writer Laura McBride's new novel, "Round Midnight," the lives of four women - a casino owner's wife, her daughter, an immigrant from the Philippines, and an immigrant from Mexico - are intertwined.
The story, which is set in Las Vegas, spans the 1950s to the present day.
McBride teaches at the College of Southern Nevada.
Why did you want to write about the segregated Las Vegas?
I was working on another novel and I loved the story and it was turning very sad and I was grappling with writing a very sad book. I went to this show at the Riviera, not long before it closed. It was in their lounge. It was kind of worn out and worn down. The hotel looked pretty bad before it closed.
Then the show was fantastic. It was a little showroom and the singers were great. They could dance and they could move and they could sing. I was thinking about all the people who came in and out of a lounge like that over the years.
It tweaked my imagination. I thought that I could work with those ideas. That they were deep and profound ways to think about Las Vegas and what its development has been over the 20th Century but bring in also the fun and the glamor and beauty of nightclubs and singing and that part of Las Vegas.
How are things really in Las Vegas?
We are a company town. I’ve been here 30 years and we are really different, in my experience of the town now than we were 30 years ago.
I’m super aware that I’m just one eye on the town and I’m just one life in town and there’s a lot of different ways to live it.
But certainly, the life I’ve lived and Vegas I’ve seen is rarely represented in fiction and in the arts. There’s a billion-dollar industry out there creating an image of Las Vegas and none of us would have a job if they weren’t doing their job well.
But I think as someone who lives here. I want to process my real felt experience as opposed to the one that is marketed. I appreciate that marketed Las Vegas but it is not the Las Vegas that one lives in over time.
Is there any other city that this novel could have been set in that could have gotten across the point you were trying to make?
I do think my stories reflect an essential Las Vegas as a boomtown place and as a place where people have been pouring in from all over the world for decades.
And in “’Round Midnight,” I thought about that boomtown experience in terms of the city as it existed at the beginning of that boom in the 40s and 50s. And, I think Las Vegas is a unique place and it provides unique opportunities for people to live out their lives perhaps free of some ideas and some conceptions. But I always say that the interactions here have the potential for beauty and for violence and I think that’s definitive of a boomtown place.
Was something happening in your life that made you want to write this book?
I like to think that I’m kind of light-hearted and a little bit fun to have at a party, but I definitely have a dark and grieving side and it doesn’t take much to bring that out in me. I think I have an ordinary human life where there have been some tragedies and I think that those play in my mind and I am merely always aware that the people around me may have experienced something like that and may have experienced it recently.
The lives of four women intertwine in this book. For a writer, what is the advantage of doing that or is it more difficult to do it that way?
I’ve written two books and I did it that way both times, so don’t know if it’s more or less difficult. The processes for these two books were really different. And, “We Are Called to Rise” is written in the first person. So, I’m always in someone’s head and “’Round Midnight” was written in the third person, so my experience with that is a little different.
But in terms of having disparate characters, I don’t know how conscious that is in my writing but my interest is in how people intersect and how we come together.
I’m not trying in these books to reveal one character or one life. I’m trying to come up with an image for the whole thing. That we’re all on this planet together and we touch and intersect and influence and interact with each other. That dynamic and all those dynamics are creatively interesting to me. It sparks my imagination.
By the time the reader gets to the end of the book, what is it you would like him or her to know or understand?
I don’t want you to have learned anything. I want you to have experienced a world. And I want that world to be have been peopled with characters that you found interesting or that you cared about or maybe that bothered you. I want it to have felt emotionally and intellectually stimulating.
When that happens to me as a reader, I’m thrilled.
(Editor's Note: This interview originally aired in May 2017)
Laura McBride, novelist