Monday, May 4, 2015

Not the Sparkly Vegas: FINDING PARIS, Setting and Telling A Story at a Slant

In my newest YA,  FINDING PARIS (Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins), Leo and Paris begin the story in Las Vegas. Their entire lives, their mother has dragged them from place to place and guy to guy and dream to dream and now they find themselves in Vegas with Mom and the 'fresh start' stepfather. But it's not the pretty, sparkly Vegas. More the dark underbelly, the truth behind the fake stuff.

And that's the thing about setting this novel largely in Las Vegas: FINDING PARIS is a story about hiding and eventually finding the truth. It's about the things that happen to us that we can't or don't tell, the things that no one wants to hear, the things that once we've given them voice, we have to own and accept and that's often not only tough but heart-wrenchingly painful.

And Vegas, well, to me, the touristy part of Las Vegas hides the truth like that, too. As Leo's mother knows all too well, the casinos aren't built on winners. They're built on people losing, even though the glitz and shine and noise and eye candy of the slots and poker tables and roulette wheels and black jack tables would make us think otherwise. Casinos are these winding, cavernous places, designed for us to get lost and lose track of time. They bring us free drinks and entertain us and serve us gluttonous amounts of food and what's not happy about that, right? Leo points out to Max that there's a fake everything in Vegas: A fake Eiffel Tower and a fake New York and a fake Egyptian pyramid at the Luxor.

In a word, it's all a facade. It's not the real Paris. It's not the real Egypt. It's not the real anything.

But it's all so pretty, isn't it? We don't notice that we're going broke. We don't notice that really, the whole thing is making as many people sad as it is happy. Probably more people. 

I find it fascinating to think about the Luxor Hotel--where I once stayed-- and all its rooms angled and slanted to mimic that pyramid, so aggressively artificial--as artificial as the ingredients in the frozen yogurt that Leo sells at Yogiberry. But we tell ourselves it's healthy. And we tell ourselves that we'll win in Vegas.

So what better place to set a story where characters aren't telling their truths? Where one sister tries sends the other on what surfacely looks like a frivolous road trip, complete with the first clue taped with a Hello Kitty BandAid to a statue of Elvis? Where Leo meets a boy over a slice of pie and that boy works at a museum off the Strip that simulates an atomic explosion? Where what looks like fun, fun, fun, is actually masking something else? Where what Leo and Paris (who makes something pretty out of discarded bits and pieces with her jewelry) show you of their Vegas, of their house, of their life, is telling you all sorts of things that they both just can't say? Or rather, that they do say, that they do show you, but just in this slanted way.

Oh how I loved writing FINDING PARIS. I loved giving voice to Leo and Paris and Max, to their hopes and heartaches and painful truths.

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