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  peter rock

How the story for the book originated:

I have long been interested in the relationship between Utah and Nevada, two states which share a border and little else. While Utah has manifold legal and moral regulations, Nevada has almost none. At the same time, the states depend on each other for their own identities, as if they could not be realized without contrast. Basically, I set out to write a border novel within one country.

The novel also investigates and questions other borders, edges and distinctions. I wanted the story to be told from the edge, marked by worldly cares but leaning across the border toward more spiritual concerns, yearning for them; I set out to imagine a consciousness that would attempt to coalesce seeming opposites--moral and immoral, secular and spiritual--into one set of actions and, in so doing, assert spiritual justification for what might be otherwise condemned.

So I wrote the story of an elderly blackjack dealer, working in a casino in the town of Wendover (which is right on the border of Utah and Nevada) who fell in love with a young Mormon girl. It seemed fertile ground.

I wrote this book in seven or eight months, driven by desperation, trying to avoid paying rent and thereby finish the manuscript before I ran out of money. It was kind of a "last chance for a time" to write something worthwhile, to learn from my mistakes and show what I'd learned before I had to put things aside for awhile. I spent the first four or five months in isolation, just thinking and taking notes and outlining. I didn't write the first chapter until I knew the whole novel, or thought I did; then I wrote a chapter a day or so, moving very quickly.

My main task was to try to stay within a voice, to be true to it. In an attempt at this, I memorized the first chapter; every morning, I'd get out of bed and stumble around like an old man, raving and reciting, and when I was completely out of my mind I'd pick up where I'd left off the day before.

To write this book, I had to try to understand Mormon theology, beliefs to which I'd been exposed my whole life without ever reading the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price. I read these, and many commentaries, and had long conversations with Mormon friends. Also, I had the good fortune to pick up two missionaries at a Laundromat (Elder Boyack used the old "Dropped a sock" trick to spur our conversation.) My visits with them were particularly fruitful.

In an attempt at verisimilitude, I spent three long days in Wendover, trying to talk to blackjack dealers, watching Wayne Newton impersonators. Then I drove to Las Vegas, where I stayed up several nights in a row, writing in a little notebook, trying to talk to the performers in Circus Circus, riding a horse in a bar that spun around like a carousel. After a short time in Vegas, I realized it's a difficult place to hang out by oneself; irony really needs an audience. So I got drunk for a couple of days, acting more like a fool than usual. In this time, I attempted to find someone who had seen Evel Knievel jump the fountain at Caesar's Palace, saw a show called "Nasty Girls," went through several doors marked "Employees Only," and rode the "Runaway Swiss Train" at the Excalibur.

After these adventures, I spent a couple of days seeking out ghost towns in Nevada's interior. Hiking with nothing but a camera, I often felt that people were watching me, ready to do me wrong. Some of the things I saw and found led me to believe that modern-day Manson Families reside in these places. Many times I ran two or three miles to the highway, driving off without looking back, certain that I had narrowly avoided ritual sacrifice.
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Copyright © 1997 Peter Rock.