Divas Las Vegas

Take one vase, add two friends looking for it, stir in a trek to Nevada’s notorious Sin City, serve with heaping sides of intrigue, shady characters, and even a Patsy Kline impersonator, then saturate well with gin and tonics, and you have Divas Las Vegas — the latest potboiler from author Rob Rosen, published by Cleis Press late last year.

While watching a special Las Vegas edition of Antiques Roadshow, “Em” (who takes his nickname from Dorothy’s devoted aunt) spots his grandmother’s mistakenly sold vase. Even more stunning, it’s appraised for way more than expected. So he does what any clear-thinking gay boi would — he and his best friend, Justin, hop on the next plane to retrieve it!

“I’m a huge fan of Antiques Roadshow,” admits the author. “Watching it for 15 years is what gave me the idea for the book.”

Likewise, he confesses that Las Vegas is one of his favorite places.

“I’ve been to Vegas more than 20 times. I have a deep love for it, so it wasn’t difficult to make it a main character. It definitely makes life easy when you KNOW where you’re writing about!”

Readers are kept humorously engrossed at every turn as the pair search out just who has the object of their quest. But when the antiques dealer with whom they spoke about the vase suddenly turns up dead, things take a more ominous turn.

Undaunted, the two set out, more determined than ever not only to find the vase but to track down the killer. They use some off-the-wall tactics to get their man.

For instance, one potential lead is Zahir — a handsome, hairy, Daddy-type from the Middle East. In order to get closer to him, Em has to don his highest drag to disguise himself as “Marilyn” for a dinner date — and possibly more. Out there? Maybe, but somehow, given such polished storytelling, it’s compelling. After all, such a tactic may not be too unseemly, considering that (as anyone who has visited can attest) Vegas is a city of glamorous showgirls — regardless of their genders!

Throughout the book, “Em” unfolds his tale with a witty and offhand first-person style that reminds you of an old (if overly dramatic) buddy relating all the hilarious mishaps of his latest vacation.

“I’ve always wanted be a writer — and I’ve always been an ardent reader of gay literature,” Rosen says. “To be able to be in this industry is beyond incredible.”

He started pursuing his dream in 1997, when he got his very first computer. Immediately, its impact was life-changing. “The DAY I got my first computer is the day I started writing — and I’ve never stopped since!”

Soon the San Francisco-based novelist had a manuscript ready for publication. “I wrote my first book in six months, and a year later, I had it out on store shelves.”

True to its title, Sparkle: The Queerest Book You’ll Ever Love delighted readers, and Rosen started on his second book Divas Las Vegas. In addition, his work has appeared in more than 60 gay-themed anthologies, and for five years, he regularly contributed erotic fiction to magazines such as Men and Freshmen.

The experience served him well — in Divas, readers can look forward to plenty of snap, crackle and pop between the sheets as our heroes encounter everyone from studly blackjack dealers to swarthy bartenders and a red-hot federal agent — just to name a few. These more intimate segments (including a tryst at a restaurant where pats of butter are put to interesting use) are clever and appropriately arousing without being overly shocking.

Although the whodunit elements are intriguing and the spicier episodes never short of pulse-pounding, the most unusual aspect of Rosen’s approach is the imaginative way he inserts descriptions of the various hotels and casinos on the city’s celebrated Strip.

“When I wrote those scenes, I was worried that people would find it boring,” he says. “I have all this humor and murder and sex, but it’s also a travelogue!”

But it turns out that this is the thing that critics have particularly loved. “It brought Las Vegas to life for them,” he says with a smile.

Nevertheless, the strongest theme in both his books is the eccentric — but totally authentic — relationship he paints between his characters. At first glance, Em and Justin may simply appear to be two flamboyant underachievers, but as their mission progresses, readers are sure to find them three-dimensional and very identifiable.

“They’re definitely like a conglomerate of all my friends,” Rosen confides. “These are the people that I spent my formative years with — loving, caring people who may have problems, like to party, and to have fun, but who create a family amongst themselves.”

Quickly he adds, “They’re fun to write about, too. My characters are flawed, but they’re lovable!” Rosen offers further insight in to the way gay men can often form especially strong bonds. “I can only speak for myself, but I think gay men have this exceptional ability to do that, because we’re empathetic towards each other.”

Rosen recently finished his third novel, titled Hot Lava, in which he gives the Hawaiian islands a similar shaking up.

“I’m working on getting my next novel published right now, but I’m always writing my short stories,” he says, noting that on average, at least one story bearing his name is published somewhere every month. For now though, this inventive wordsmith is enjoying plenty of deserved praise for his latest creation.

Pulsating with action, while at turns nutty, bawdy, thrilling and suspenseful, this is fantasy fulfillment at its best. Divas Las Vegas can be ordered online from Amazon.com, and it is available at LGBT booksellers everywhere.

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