Interview with Vegas Lit’s Arnold Snyder

Vegas Lit is a new fiction imprint of Huntington Press in Las Vegas. Arnold Snyder is the senior editor. Vegas Lit seeks to publish first-rate literary fiction or genre fiction that transcends its category.

“Writing nonfiction is an intellectual exercise, while writing fiction is an emotional experience.”

Q: You are the senior editor of Vegas Lit, a new fiction imprint of Las Vegas publisher Huntington Press. Tell us about this exciting new venture and your role in it.

A: I’m really excited about Vegas Lit. As senior editor, I get to choose the books we publish and I personally work with the authors, which is something I greatly enjoy. I’ve been writing and editing nonfiction for more than thirty years and this opportunity to work with fiction writers was something I couldn’t pass up.

All of the best fiction today is coming out of the small presses. The big New York publishing giants are cranking out predictable, boring books. They take very few chances. Their industry is dying, but that doesn’t mean the audience for books is dying. That’s a myth. Look at the data sometime for the number of ebooks being published, being sold, being read. There are more readers hooked on books today than ever and this is one of the most exciting times to work in this industry.

Ten, twenty years ago, it cost an arm and a leg to publish a book, print a book, distribute a book. Each title took a huge investment. All serious writers needed agents if they expected to get anywhere. Small presses existed, but they were like voices crying in the wilderness. They couldn’t get distribution. People didn’t know they existed. Technology has changed that. There’s a literary revolution taking place and it’s exciting to play a part in it.

Q: Cover designs for books published by Vegas Lit are provided by local Las Vegas artists. Why did you choose to find covers this way?

A: Hey, just go gallery hopping in downtown Vegas on the first Friday of any month and you’ll know the answer to that question. In the past ten years, this town has become a mecca for artists. There’s no other city like Las Vegas. The thousands of show people who live in this town, and those who do the design work and costuming and lighting, not to mention the musicians—there’s just a high percentage of talented artists of all types here. And creative people tend to be very tolerant of diversity. Artists are drawn to tolerant places and it’s probably significant that it’s also relatively cheap to live here, compared to say, New York, L.A., or San Francisco.

The first two Vegas Lit titles have cover art by Joseph Watson. The third one that comes out in the spring will have cover art by Montana Black. I first saw the work of both artists in their downtown galleries.

Q: You are not only the senior editor, but also the inaugural author with the Vegas-based novel, Risk of Ruin. Tell us about it.

A: At the age of fifteen, in 1963, I read Jim Thompson’s The Grifters. That novel inspired me to become a writer. What I liked about Thompson’s novels was that there were no good guys. Every character had a dark side, but still, you found yourself rooting for and caring about the bad guys.

My narrator/protagonist in Risk of Ruin is an outlaw biker, professional gambler, sometime drug dealer—not your normal leading man. It’s a challenge to get the reader to relate to a character like this, but that’s why I write. It’s boring for a writer to make his protagonist tall, dark, handsome, brave, clean, and reverent. And it’s bullshit. Real people aren’t like that. Everyone has a dark side, a crazy side, a mean side, a violent side, a stupid side, a spiritual side. My protagonist is not a very nice guy or even a very sociable guy a lot of the time. He’s a forty-three-year-old scooter tramp, angry at the world and his lot in life, who becomes obsessed with an underage girl who’s working at a strip club using a fake ID.

When I started writing this book, I talked about the idea with another writer. I told him it was basically a love story about a social renegade in his forties who has a love affair with a runaway teenage girl. He told me it was a terrible idea to write a book like that, because the concept itself would turn people off so much so that no one would read it. He said the guy would come off creepy, no one would see it as a love story, and the best I could hope for would be that it would be taken as some kind of psychological study of a pervert, sort of like Nabokov’s Lolita. That made the challenge even greater and I think I succeeded in what I was trying to do. Risk of Ruin is a love story. It just has a bit more violence and desperation and far less typical characters than most love stories.

Q: You have an impressive resume of over a dozen nonfiction books on casino games and gambling published over the years. How is writing fiction similar to nonfiction? What are the differences from your perspective?

A: In fiction, everything comes out of the author’s head. This gives the author incredible freedom, but he can also get stuck. His characters come alive and may not want to go where he’d planned to take them. He’s got to wait until his characters take him where they want to go. Writing nonfiction is an intellectual exercise, while writing fiction is an emotional experience.

Q: Many people living in Las Vegas can’t wait to leave, while others can leave yet the lights won’t let them. How is your relationship with Vegas?

A: I love Vegas. It’s an honest place. It’s about sex and money and greed and fun and kicking back and letting go and regretting, if you must, tomorrow. But today, let’s party. It’s a healthy attitude for people in this society, especially today as the whole world appears to be changing faster than any of us can keep up with it, and a lot of the changes aren’t for the better. There’s an intense energy in this town. It’s a town full of dreamers and schemers and people who take chances.

Q: Where do you see Las Vegas in ten years?

A: Eight years from now, the Republicans will get the country back. One of the first things they’ll do is start sending the nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. They’ve got hundreds of millions invested in that mountain already and the only reason the country’s nuclear waste stockpiles aren’t already being dumped in Yucca is Harry Reid, and everyone knows it. He’ll be gone. And within a year of the opening of Yucca Mountain, the Las Vegas casinos will start making book on when there will be a radioactive leak or spill.

Then, there’s the water issue—will we at last be able to steal the Great Basin water, and how long will it last in the Big Drought that’s brewing?

And if the water issue’s resolved and we aren’t nuked out of this state, Las Vegas is vulnerable to the price of oil. If people can’t travel to Vegas cheaply, this town is in for hard times. If the cost of flights and bus tickets and a fill-up at Chevron goes through the roof, we’re in trouble. We’ll start to see boarded-up casinos. I see that as a realistic possibility within ten years.

Nevada is a state filled with ghost towns and I imagine Las Vegas will shrink back to dust someday. But as long as I can personally get my bets down on the nuclear disaster sweepstakes, I’ll be happy. I’m a gambling man, so just give me something to bet on.

Arnold Snyder is a high-stakes professional gambler who has been writing about casino games for over two decades. He was the publisher and editor of Blackjack Forum, a quarterly journal for professional gamblers, from 1981 through 2006. His books The Blackjack Formula, Blackbelt in Blackjack, and Poker Tournament Formula 1 and 2 each challenged the conventional wisdom on optimal strategy for beating these games. In January 2002, Snyder, who is one of the great legends of blackjack, was elected one of the seven charter members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Snyder’s 2012 novel Risk of Ruin is the first of a planned series featuring characters who are professional gamblers. His blog, Write-aholic, contains reviews and essays of fiction and other writing-related topics.

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