This month our Selective Collective book is “The Chapel Wars” by Lindsey Leavitt, an author our group profiled last year when she published “Going Vintage.” It’s our turn to highlight our selection’s author, and we couldn’t be more pleased, because Leavitt is such a sweet, funny author who clearly wants to shed a light on how Las Vegas is more than the tourism industry: people actually live there and grow up there and fall in love there (well, maybe people already knew that!). Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us copies of the book to review!
Acclaimed author Lindsey Leavitt brings her trademark heart, humor, and romance to her hometown–Vegas
Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?
And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is she running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money–fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.
Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.
Lots of research. I visited a different chapel a week for a couple of months. Sometimes I would interview the owners, sometimes I would walk in and pretend I was getting married and ask a bunch of questions (I tried to do this with my editor when she was in town for a conference. “But then I would have to lie!” she said. This is why I’m the fiction writer out of the duo). The chapels in the book are conglomerates of the many, many chapels I toured.
Vegas is still not where it used to be economically, and that shows in the wedding industry. The chapels I spoke with had much higher numbers 7-10 years ago, but that isn’t the case for every chapel. I don’t know many people FROM here who get married in the chapels, so I’d never thought much about the industry until I had the book idea. The people I spoke with were so warm and kind, and really believed in creating this “experience,” even if that experience involved a Shaft wedding. (It’s a thing. Get thee to Youtube).
2. Our brother got married at a Las Vegas chapel, but our experience as tourists there was so different from the Las Vegas you describe in THE CHAPEL WARS. Now we want to go back and see some of the places you mentioned! What are some of your favorite must-see places on and off the Strip?
The Neon Museum! It’s a boneyard of old casino and hotel signs. Which sounds like nothing, but it’s the most intriguing slice of Vegas history I’ve visited. So interesting to hear the history of all these extinct buildings and imagine Vegas as it was then versus now.
The characters also eat at The Golden Steer, the oldest restaurant in Vegas, and an awesome little joint just off the Strip oozing with history. Elvis, The Rat Pack, the mob… so many stories in those booths.
3. Was the book a response to all of the stereotypes and assumptions people make about living in Las Vegas? We know some people who act like Las Vegas is Sodom and Gomorrah, and we imagine it gets tiring having to defend where you live or say there’s more to it than “Whatever happens in Vegas”!
Oh, for sure. First time I got a taste of this was on a sixth grade class trip to Washington DC. Our bus mates were from somewhere in the South, and they kept asking if we lived in a hotel and dealt cards (the fact that my friend and I played the card game SPEED the whole time didn’t help things). I didn’t know it was weird, because the Vegas I knew was desert lots, master-planned communities, church, soccer fields and chain restaurants. Which could describe much of the Southwest. I wouldn’t say this book is a love letter to my hometown, because I have my reservations about living here too, BUT I did want to show that normalcy and contentment aren’t things you arrive at geographically.
4. The grandparent-grandchild relationship is big part of both THE CHAPEL WARS and GOING VINTAGE. What kind of relationship did you have with your own grandparents? Did they inspire you to make inter-generational relationships such a major theme of two of your books? If not, what did?
I started GOING VINTAGE not long after my grandfather passed, and finished it when my grandmother passed. We weren’t the closest of the close, but their deaths certainly impacted me and, obviously, my work. In my adult life, I’ve had some wonderful friendships from women who could be my grandmothers, and enjoyed exploring that
The funny thing about THE CHAPEL WARS is the story started off with an uncle dying instead. My Uncle Kyle, who is one of my dearest friends, was the inspiration for that character, but once I got in to the story, I just couldn’t make the uncle angle work, so I switched to grandpa. I think the emotions still ring true though–friends and mentors can be found on any limb of our family trees.
5. Half of our Selective Collective group is Southern, and one of them is from Tuscaloosa, so we wanted to know what prompted you to make Dax from Alabama? They were very impressed with the reference SEC Football!
I lived in Alabama for three fabulous years, and I LOVE it there. Roll tide! (And sorry if it seems like I wasn’t pro-SEC. That was my character talking, not me).
I noticed Southern boys are very, VERY different than Vegas boys, and this only added to Dax’s fish-out-of-water feelings. The Southern style is different (re: floppy hair, salmon pants!), boys are gentlemen, and the sense of community is light years away from transient Vegas. Even growing up here, it was a culture shock for me to move back after all that Southern living.
6. As a really big fan of U2, I have to ask why you chose to make Grandpa Jim (who was old enough to be a Beatles/Elvis/Rolling Stones-man) such a big U2/Bono aficionado? Not complaining, because we loved all the tributes/quotes, but we were curious!
Grandpa Jim is Irish, which is not to say being Irish makes you a U2 fan, but I think he started liking them because it connected him to home, and then just kind of got into the music. Also, we have a family friend who is in a U2 cover band, and I just had to use that in a book somehow.
7. We love your books, and how they’re great for younger YA readers too. Are you working on another book already or taking time to enjoy THE CHAPEL WARS release?
Just this week I had, um, advancements occur on my next project, which I co-authored. It’s squarely middle-grade and was a delight to write. Look for more news on that soon!