When we think of Las Vegas, what quickly comes to mind is the gambling, bright lights, and crime. Brian Rouff’s book, The House Always Wins: A Vegas Ghost Story, gives us a peek into the gritty side of Vegas from the eyes of a small town reporter’s point of view, but there is a twist.
In The House Always Wins: A Vegas Ghost Story, Anna Christiansen is a small time reporter living in Michigan, but she’s longing to do more with her career than cover town hall meetings. When her boss assigns her to cover the Dickweeds, a band that is performing at the local theatre, Anna sees her chance to work her way up the ranks. While interviewing Aaron Eisenberg, the bass player for the band, Anna falls in love.
After getting her parents’ blessing, Aaron and Anna move to Las Vegas, marry, then purchase a huge fixer-upper. It isn’t long before trouble comes knocking at the door. A corrupt casino owner wants to tear down the houses on the street to make room for a casino parking lot. The situation turns dangerous for the young newlyweds. Anna and Aaron have no one to turn to because in Vegas, bribes make it hard to fight the system. Luckily, for the young couple they have Meyer Levin. When you’re fighting the system, you need a tough guy on your side…even if that tough guy is a ghost.
Did this professional ghost investigator enjoy the book? Join me for a interview with Brian Rouff and find out.
Gilbert: I loved your book, Brian. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your books? What do you love most about Las Vegas?
Brian Rouff: I’ve been a writer my whole life, mainly journalism, PR and marketing. But I didn’t get the itch to become an author until my early 40s. (My standard joke is that writing a novel was how I handled my midlife crisis; safer than a Harley and cheaper than a divorce.) Like many writers, my main goal was just to see if I could write something longer than 5,000 words, to stretch my abilities and improve my craft. Also, having lived in Las Vegas for many years — we moved here in 1981 from Southern California — I was annoyed at how superficial most of the Vegas books and movies were, focusing exclusively on the Strip and tourists. It seemed to me they always got it wrong. I wanted to depict the city I know, give readers a glimpse behind the curtain, so that locals would smile in appreciation and visitors would feel like insiders. I wanted to capture the dichotomy that locals live with every day; how we love tourists and gambling because it pumps money into the economy, but we try to keep our distance because it’s challenging to deal with. (Even the grocery stores have slot machines.) In some ways it’s like living next to Disneyland; you certainly wouldn’t want to go there every day.
My first novel, “Dice Angel,” came out in 2002 and was based on a friend who owns a Cheers-like bar and grill in Henderson, Nevada, a bedroom community a stone’s throw from Las Vegas. He’s a great bar owner but not a good businessman, so in the book, he gets in financial trouble by being too trusting and is in danger of losing his bar to the IRS. With almost nowhere to turn, he connects with a kooky ex-hippie who claims she can bring him luck at dice. The idea came from a classified ad that ran in one of our weekly newspapers and it seemed like something that could only happen here. So I took it and ran with it. The book did really well, even garnering some Hollywood interest (although nothing came of it) and I thought, “Hey, this is easy.” Boy, was I wrong.
My second book, “Money Shot,” was released a few years later. It was about a burnt-out ad guy, based on me at the time, who wins a chance at redemption by getting a chance to shoot a basketball at halftime of the NCAA tournament for a cool million dollars. I delve into the backstory to show how much is really on the line for him, his family and friends. Like “Dice Angel,” it has some twists and turns at the end. I don’t like to be predictable. In fact, I didn’t know the ending to either book until more than halfway through. Talk about working without a net. At any rate, “Money Shot” didn’t sell nearly as well, because I learned the hard way that people who like to play sports and watch sports don’t necessarily like to read about sports. But I’m still proud of the book.
A number of years later, I was selected to participate in what is called a Las Vegas serial novel, in which seven or eight local writers each wrote a chapter of a mystery and left a cliff-hanger for the next author. I got to write chapter 3 and had a lot of fun doing it. It made me step up my game because I was in the company of some really excellent writers with much more literary experience. The book is called “Restless City,” and although the publisher folded during the recession, it’s still available on Amazon.
After the economy crashed, I had to go back to work more than fulltime, and had to put the personal writing on hold, although I had an idea that kept tormenting me. It was about a house that my family and I bought in the early 2000s and lived in for three years while we remodeled it. The whole time, strange things kept happening: lights flickering on and off, odd temperature changes, drawers and doors not staying open or closed, weird noises, clocks stopping. You could chalk it up to normal old house occurrences, but it always seemed to me like it was haunted. Not in an evil or bad way, just a bit of a trickster ghost. That became the basis of my new book, “The House Always Wins,” in which a young couple moves into a big house haunted by a dead mobster. In the book, Meyer (the ghost) helps them save the house from a corrupt casino owner who wants to buy up the whole neighborhood to expand his parking lot. This guy will stop at nothing to get what he wants, and it becomes a dangerous cat-and-mouse game throughout the story.
Gilbert: Did your other books have ghosts?
Brian Rouff: No ghosts, although Amaris Dupree, the Dice Angel, may or may not have psychic abilities. All of my books have common themes of luck, karma, redemption and other cosmic forces. These are subjects that fascinate me, having lived in Las Vegas for so many years.
Gilbert: You chose to write from a woman’s point of view. Is Anna based on someone you know?
Brian Rouff: Yes, I wrote from the perspective of a 25-year-old woman. I enjoyed the challenge and it gave me a chance to view Las Vegas through the fresh eyes of a newbie, especially because all of my previous books featured jaded, cynical middle-aged men who were longtime Vegas locals. Anna is based largely on our younger daughter, a headstrong free-spirited woman. I also work with many young women, so I had quite a few “consultants” to talk to when I had questions about what Millennials know, say and do.
Gilbert: Did real life events inspire The House Always Wins: A Vegas Ghost Story?
Brian Rouff: Yes, it was inspired by the real life house we lived in (which sadly burnt to the ground in 2014, long after we sold it and moved away), as well as characters and events from recent Las Vegas history. For example, without giving too much away, the drowning of a local investigative reporter in the book came from a real life incident in the 1980s.
Gilbert: Did you ever live in a haunted house?
Brian Rouff: Yes. See above.
Gilbert: Is Meyer based on anyone you know? Living or dead?
Brian Rouff: Meyer is based partly on notorious racketeer/bootlegger Moe Dalitz, who moved out here in the 1950s and reinvented himself as a model citizen who opened a legitimate construction company that built our first real hospital, first indoor mall, and many other iconic projects. Dalitz became a scion of the community, ultimately receiving awards and honors from the City, Rotary Club, B’nai Brith and many more civic organizations. Meyer is also based partly on my dad, who grew up with the nefarious Purple Gang in Detroit during the Prohibition. Although he never became a member, which is why he lived to a ripe old age, he told me all kinds of stories while I was growing up. Funny what you remember so many years later.
Gilbert: Are you working on a fourth book? Will it have a ghost? Will Meyer be back to help Anna or her son in later books?
Brian Rouff: I’m mainly in promo mode for “The House Always Wins.” (These books don’t sell themselves.) But I finally have an idea for a sequel to “Dice Angel,” which readers have been asking about for many years. Or I may write a prequel to “House,” concentrating on Meyer’s backstory. A number of my writer friends have suggested that possibility. I’ll see which one grabs me and won’t let go. Writing novels is a long painstaking process, and you’ve got to get obsessed about these ideas to stay the course.
Brian Rouff’s The House Always Wins: A Vegas Ghost Story is a available here.