Interview with James Sie, author of Still Life Las Vegas
09 Oct 2015
Let’s see… It’s a journey through the mysteries of family history and coming of age, refracted through the glittering prism of Las Vegas. Walter, a seventeen-year-old boy, takes care of his ailing father in the shadow of the Strip, their lives compromised by the disappearance of his mother, who drove off when Walter was five and never returned. Entwined around his story is the tale of the mother, who abandoned family to follow a feverish vision of Liberace from Milwaukee to Las Vegas, and the father, who went searching for her amongst the gondolas of the Venetian Hotel. It jumps back and forth in time, it’s prose, but with sections of graphic novel interspersed. Did I mention that there are sexy living statue performers featured, plus Liberace vandals?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t read your reviews, good or bad. Just don’t look. Unfortunately, like Bluebeard’s wife, I have not been able to follow this advice, but I recognize its sagacity.
Say you’re the host of a talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
I think I’d like to have Margaret Atwood on. She’s fun, she’s political and she’d have lots to say, and would probably say it beautifully. Maybe I’d pair her with Dame Helen Mirren and just sit and watch the two of them go at it, then go off the air, because it could only go downhill from there.
What makes your world go round? Why does it bring you joy?
My world has been in the gravitational pull of my son for thirteen years, and watching him learn and grow has brought me great joy and fulfillment. Alas, he’s at the age where he no longer wants me to revolve around him, so I’ll have to settle for some really good baked goods.
Who are your literary heroes?
Oh, this cast changes daily, but I’d have to say the mainstays are Neil Gaiman and Edith Wharton. Gaiman creates modern myths with real emotional resonance, and his storytelling is phenomenal. Wharton crafts these exquisite sentences that are witty, illuminating, and achingly apt. And, in a guest spot, I am mildly obsessed these days with the YA book “Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda” by Becky Albertalli. It’s a book I wish I had read in high school, and the main character reminds me a lot of the teenager Walter in my book.
What has been the biggest “pinch me” moment in your career?
There have been many surreal, delirious moments on the road to publication (first galleys, first view of the cover, first copy of the hardback) but I have to say my giddiest moment was on publication day, when friends from all over the country started popping up on my Facebook feed, holding copies of my book. That’s when I knew that it was out there, it was really out there!
How do you like to spend a rainy day?
I’m sorry, I live in Southern California— what means this, “rainy day”?
What’s your favorite quote from STILL LIFE LAS VEGAS?
I have a fondness for this revelation from Walter while riding the bus: “There’s a pain, right below my breastbone, that catches my breath, but feels like relief. I guess I know what this means. Surprising, but not surprising. This has been waiting for me my whole life. A hardened husk is cracking open and something inside is wriggling loose. This me. Being released. The bus ride is short but my life has changed.”
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
A Buddhist saying:
As We Think, So We Become
The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And habit hardens in character,
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of concern for all beings…
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.
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Taylor loves books with a heavy dose of absurdity, hilarity, and beautiful prose. She is a marketer, adventurer, nature-lover, Hufflepuff, wannabe world traveler, and advocate of laughter.