‘Blood Aces’ Up His Sleeve

In my spare time (hah!), I like to read up on Las Vegas lore. So when Doug J. Swanson’s biography of the late, great and delightfully despicable casino magnate Benny Benion came out, I was one of the first to nab a preview copy. The book is an exciting, immersive yet thoroughly educational read, and I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to know more about the history of Las Vegas and/or the World Series of Poker. It also has a bonus interest for me because a portion of it takes place in my hometown of Arlington, Texas. Who knew this Dallas suburb used to host quite the gambling racket!

Still not convinced? Or just want to know more before you dive in? Check out my review in Vegas Seven mag:

The Untamed Times of Benny Binion: An intense biography sheds new light on the Las Vegas legend

Right now, it seems like the biggest thing in new Vegas is Old Vegas. From the SLS’ many winks at its Saharan predecessor to the recent revamp of the long-running showgirl revue Jubilee! at Bally’s to the Cosmopolitan’s Liberace exhibit, it seems like glamorizing Vegas’ past has finally replaced imploding it.

Amid this new cultural climate arrives Doug J. Swanson’s compelling biography of a legendary Las Vegas forefather—Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster who Created Vegas Poker (Viking, $28). In it, Swanson combines an investigative reporter’s zeal for research with an author’s love of words. The result is a sweeping history of a lost era and a compulsively readable character study, with some fun turns of phrases to boot: Swanson describes Binion as “an aspiring pasha of vice,” “a rube savant” and a “doughy rural-route cherub, at least until he decided he wanted somebody dead, which had happened with some frequency.” [READ MORE]

Keeping Up With the Pawn Stars

One of the things about living in Vegas is that people (read: tourists) always want to know if you live in a casino, gamble all the time and hang out with the cast of Pawn Stars. This phenomenon is especially true on airplane rides to Vegas. I often find myself writing out a full itinerary for my curious seatmate on a Southwest Airlines napkin by the time we’re touching down in McCarran airport. Even though it’s kind of annoying  to play tour guide, I’m happy to help because I see it as my duty as a Las Vegan to keep our city’s livelihood happy and healthy.

So, to answer those cliche queries about casino housing, gambling and Pawn Stars: Nope, almost never and sometimes, kinda yes.

As A&E editor for Vegas Seven magazine, I live in the weird, liminal space where the Vegas fantasy and journalism collide. In such a land, I recently found myself spending a delightful afternoon sharing my love of all things literary with Pawn Stars’ rare book expert and Bauman Rare Books manager Rebecca Romney.

The interview came out a couple weeks ago, and you can read it here. She’s truly such a wonderful and intelligent woman that I URGE you to read the interview just to bask in her smartness.

I’ve also interviewed Pawn Stars’ lovable clown, Chumlee, at least twice. He’s an equally likeable guy, but, as you might imagine, with vastly different attributes.

Read those interviews here and here.

A New Personal Essay: The Eternal Offseason

After a year of practice, I finally made it onto the B team, where I went on to have a short and unspectacular volleyball career.

After a year of practice, I finally made it onto the B team, where I went on to have a short and unspectacular volleyball career.

I was such a joiner as a kid. Heck, I still am. That’s why journalism fits me so well. Often my desperate attempts at joining were blocked by the cold hand of ineptitude. The below instance is no exception, but at least I got a fun personal essay out of it for Vegas Seven’s 2014 Storytelling Issue.

I made it into the junior high yearbook holding a basketball! Too bad I wouldn't make the team!

I made it into the junior high yearbook holding a basketball! Too bad I wouldn’t make the team.


Street basketball reigned at elementary school recess. If fate sent the ball into my hands, I would freeze in the confusion and exhilaration of everybody suddenly calling out to me. Cindi, pass the ball! Pass the ball, Cindi! Cindi! Cindi! Cindi! It was heady stuff for an invisible 11-year-old with delusions of grandeur. Dribbling would get me nowhere. Shooting would result in shame. So I clutched that orb of attention as long as I could, savoring my moment of glory. And then I passed. It would always be a letdown, my name forgotten as my classmates played on without me. READ MORE

My “Amazing” time with Chippendales’ Jaymes and James


Sometimes, dreams (and dream assignments) really do come true. Recently, I got to follow around Chippendales’ Jaymes Vaughan (and his Amazing Race partner James Davis)  as research for a Vegas Seven profile. The best part was that the guys were super nice. Ever the Southern gentleman, Jaymes would tirelessly pose for pictures with fans and, even better, open the car door for me when we flitted from location to location.

Above are some behind-the-scenes photos (not pictured: me pinching myself to make sure it was really happening). Below is the finished product:

Jaymes Vaughan’s ‘Race’ to the Spotlight: Can the Chippendales host extend his 15 minutes of fame before the time runs out?

It’s Friday night at Chippendales, so the audience of mostly bachelorette parties is rowdy and sloppy-exuberant. The emcee, Jaymes Vaughan—tall, tan, blond, blue-eyed, square-jawed with Indiana Jones regrowth and muscle-y muscles—is basically a human Ken doll with a goofy sense of humor. And I have spent all day following him around in the name of … um, research. Watching Jaymes cavort onstage, I realize the effort I spent politely averting my eyes when he changed clothes throughout the day was wasted. Read more …

Her One-Night Stand of a Writing Career

Wurtzel image_with bagWhat the world does not need is another blog response to Elizabeth Wurtzel’s angsty personal essay in New York Magazine, “Elizabeth Wurtzel Confronts Her One-Night Stand of a Life.” But as a woman writer, I cannot resist. Because everybody else already has, I won’t get into the most obvious complaints. (The New Yorker offered my favorite critique; Slate’s was great, too.) I will focus on the two things that bother me:

1. She relates marriage to prostitution.

“I am committed to feminism and don’t understand why anyone would agree to be party to a relationship that is not absolutely equal. I believe women who are supported by men are prostitutes”

To which I say, what’s so wrong with prostitution (if it’s between two consenting adults)? Certainly that’s not my life choice, but I don’t begrudge the choices of others. Why would such a self-advertised feminist free spirit who is so proud of sleeping around be so into judging other women’s choices? It just seems so un-feminist and so un-free spirited!

2. Her self-imposed trainwreck of a life makes for some great rubbernecking. But all this self-indulgent self-destruction seems so dated. Her writing is like the literary equivalent of wearing Doc Marten’s and a flannel shirt. In a national climate where everybody is just trying to recover from the Great Recession, how can readers tolerate her gleeful boast of being poor because she chose a designer purse over a savings account?

“But I never saved or invested, because I believe if you take care of the luxuries, the necessities will take care of themselves. When I got a huge advance for Bitch, my second book, I bought a Birkin bag…”

Somebody introduce Wurtzel to Suze Orman’s Women & Money. This Huffington Post critique says it best, but it bears repeating: An independent woman has gotta be responsible for her own finances. How else do you keep from being a prostitute?

12 Best Books of 2012

I’m only slightly sorry to note that I posted but a single blog in all of 2012. That’s because I’ve been so busy living life, reading books, writing articles, etc., all in IRL. I’m planning a several-post roundup of what you, my friends, fans and Internet stalkers, have missed. Let’s start with books.:

The 12 Best Books I’ve Read in 2012:

(in alphabetical order by author’s name)

Something Wicked This Way ComesMy AntoniaThe Last WerewolfMiddlesex
A Discovery of WitchesThe LacunaAmerican Gypsy: A MemoirVegas Knockout: a novel in stories
The Egyptologist: A NovelBattlebornThe House of MirthRevolutionary Road

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. A beautiful, poetic and creepy tale about nostalgia, growing up and aging … or, if you prefer, about a father and son’s fight against an evil carnival that comes to town. Make it at Halloween tradition!

My Antonia by Willa Cather. An invigorating tale of the pioneer spirit. Read it and feel connected to the American experience.

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. When a literary author writes a page-turner the result is intelligent entertainment. Can’t wait to read the sequel.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. A sweet coming-of-age tale about a transgendered child of immigrant parents. Pair it with Revolutionary Road for an interesting comparison of perspectives.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Twilight for women with advanced degrees. The ultimate guilty pleasure. Sadly, her sequel does not live up to book one’s promise.

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I grew to love this protagonist: a Mexican-American boy-turned-author who works for Diego Rivera and befriends Frida Kahlo.

An American Gypsy by Oksana Marafioti. A touching and insightful memoir of a high-school student’s immigrant experience.

Vegas Knockout by P Moss. A darkly humorous collection of linked short stories revealing life in the underbelly of Las Vegas in the lead-up to a big fight. The characters are enchanting.

The Egyptologist by Arthur Phillips. A purposefully rambling faux-Victorian archeological mystery. Listen to the book for the myriad accents. Read if you enjoy dry humor or wonder about the dark side of Downton Abbey.

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins. A fantastic debut short-story collection that gives life to the “nowhere places” in rural Nevada.

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. This classic novel about a independent-minded New York heiress who must find a husband (or else) is, oddly enough, quite relevant to life in Las Vegas.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. The ultimate smack-down on life in suburbia. The movie does not compare to the book!

New Year’s Resolution: 1 Short Story a Month

Seconds into 2012 at the Cosmopolitan Las Vegas. (Yes, that's Stevie Wonder.)

Sure, it’s a little late to start talking about New Year’s Resolutions, what with it being the end of February and all. Nonetheless, I have an awesome 2012 Resolution, and I’m writing to see if you want to play along with me.

Here goes: I’m sending an unpublished short story to publication every single month of 2012.

As for length or genre or type of publication, that’s up to you. I personally, am choosing to have fun with it and go for as wide a range as possible, like walking down an all-you-can-eat buffet and sticking my finger in every dish as I pass. (Not that I’d ever do that in real life, though a great buffet, if you were so inclined, is the one at the Wynn. Yummy.) So far, I’ve sent a sci-fi story to Asimov’s for January and I’m finishing up a literary-fiction confection for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers (February).

Worried about the anguish of rejection? Don’t be. At the end of the year, I’m going to publish whatever isn’t already published on Amazon e-books. Each short story will go for a dollar. And then I shall get rich or at least get a lot of practice.

Won’t you play along with me?