Today, I have the great pleasure to feature on my blog one of my favorite short story collections—Susan DiPlacido’s American Cool. Although officially categorized as “erotica,” and previously published in top erotica anthologies like Best American Erotica and the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, these award-winning stories have it all. They are funny, bold, and insightful, not to mention the prose is snappy, down-to-earth, and wonderfully evocative. This book is very, very cool, even when it’s very, very hot. But there’s tremendous depth and poignancy to the stories. For example, the title story, “American Cool 101” peels back the layers of cool to expose the sad, soft need that is an inevitable part of the human experience. When I finish a Susan DiPlacido story, I always feel a little wiser about the mysteries of the human heart, but the lingering flavor is always bracing and bittersweet--like a good cocktail (Susan favors vodka with fresh pomegranate juice)!
Susan is also the author of four novels, 24/7, Trattoria, Mutual Holdings and the forthcoming House Money, and writes an equally cool and entertaining blog called Neon Fiction. She has graciously consented to come chat about her writing and her travels.
“Neon Nights” is a dark and dream-like story that is a very appropriate opening to the collection. Maria Rossi is one of Sin City’s “living ghosts” and she’s been on a winning streak for 136 nights. She’s upholding the Vegas illusion but she’s not deluded about what’s going on. She knows she’s the statistical rarity that supports the hope of winning: this is what gives the city its life. “It’s not about the money. That’s what the non-gamblers and skeptics and pragmatists will never understand about this place. They blame it on the greed… It’s not just the entertainment. Winning is a buzz. It makes you feel alive.”
I’m definitely one of those clueless skeptics, but when I read this story, I “got” Vegas for the first time! Now that’s a story to change your life. So, I am finally getting to a question for you here:
DGS: What draws you to Las Vegas? Do you have any recommendations for a first-time visitor to get beyond the tourist traps to get an authentic “Vegas Experience”?
SD: I'm a shallow person, and, some would say, a degenerate gambler and a bit of a drunk. So, Vegas is a good fit. I also love sunshine and heat and swimming pools, so it's pretty much perfect for me there, day or night. That's a good question about the "authentic" Vegas experience for a first-timer, and I know when people travel to other places, they like to avoid tourist traps and get a taste of the "real" city. However, what you have to keep in mind about Vegas is that it was built with the exclusive purpose of being a tourist trap. Truly, it wasn't much more than a railway stop until gambling was legalized, and then it boomed. So you can go to the first hotel there to see old west history (The Golden Gate, located right downtown), and then there's The Flamingo, which was the first destination complex which was built by Bugsy and the mob. Beyond that, its history is still mostly up and down the strip, even though most of the hotels have been rebuilt. So the most authentic Vegas experience really is to get drunk and gamble away your life savings in a spiffy casino. Maybe work in a hooker somewhere, too. Or a wedding -- while drunk. And then a quickie divorce. And, so, I guess that's why I love it there.
“Found in Translation” is another transporting and lusciously erotic travel tale, but this time the destination is Bellagio (where, coincidentally, I spent my honeymoon). I know you’ve traveled to Italy often. Do you have any favorite places/sites/restaurants that are particularly inspiring?
Well, you've been to Bellagio so you know what it's like there. It really is mind-blowing beautiful. Venice is strange and sort of cool, and that's where the world's oldest casino is, and it's a really swank place that I like. The Amalfi coast and Capri are lovely. I do prefer the north to the south, which is unusual, as most people prefer the south. But it really is Rome that I love the best. There's just so much there that's breathtaking and historic, but it's all within this incredibly huge and busy metropolitan world-class city, too. You can walk up the Spanish Steps and feel like Audrey Hepburn or you can romantically toss a few coins into the Trevi Fountain or check out the Colisseum and just be in awe.
“Coyote Blues” is simply one of the sexiest stories I’ve ever read—and believe me, I read a lot of sexy stories in my line of work. I seriously just wanted to crawl right through the pages into that bed with Wes and stay there forever. Here’s an appetizer sampling of the “climactic” scene:
“Once I’d calmed he started again. The kissing stopped when the panting started and it wasn’t long before we were all out fucking. We usually moved a lot, but not that night. He kept my hands clamped down by my head and he stayed on top. When I tried to wiggle or thrust, Wes was having none of it. He set the pace, and he set it well. I didn’t care, I was getting high again, getting close. The way he was driving into me I don’t know how he was holding out so long. But I was starting to get an idea of exactly what this was really about.
“That’s when he released my hands and put his arms around me. Instinct, I guess it was, I put my arms around his neck and held him close. As high and hot as I was, I could still feel the details, like his sweat dripping down onto my neck, the rough stubble of his cheek scraping against mine, moist hot breath in my ear, the heat and silken steel of his chest pressed against my breasts, the muscles of his shoulders working and contracting under my hands, and that glorious frenzied fucking going on.
Everything I thought I knew about us changed when I gripped him tight inside, felt the start of another orgasm overtaking me and heard him whisper in my ear. Breathy and low. Urgent. Just my name. ‘Rita.’”
I want to be in “Coyote Blues.” Is there a story or stories in American Cool that would you like to step into?
Aw, thank you for the kind words on the story and scene! Coming from a master like you, that's like praise from Caesar! Honestly, though, I have a low tolerance for stress or conflict, and since some sort of conflict is necessary in fiction, I wouldn't want to be in any of the stories! My low-stress tolerance, in fact, is probably to blame for my fiction not being better. I can't even manage to create too much prolonged agita on the page because my need to make everything copacetic is so strong.
Was there a particular method or mood to the arrangement of your stories in the collection?
Well, I use recurring characters or tell similar stories from different perspectives, so I wanted to be sure to not make it chronological. I wanted some of the stories to feel a bit surprising by putting the prequel part after the sequel so it'd have a different feel. Other than that, I just tried to make sure and mix up the erotic and non-erotic and sprinkle some humorous ones in there.
What’s next for you?
I actually already have three more books written. One is with a publisher and I'm not sure when it will be released, but hopefully this spring or summer. It's called "House Money" and I love it. It's a bit of a sequel to "24/7" but with some new characters, and it's a crime caper set in Vegas. The other two books, I'll be looking for a publisher soon.
Name a writer (or two, living or dead) you’d like to have dinner with, one you’d most like to trade talents with, one with whom you’d most like to spend a lost weekend in Vegas.
Oh man! Remember, I'm shallow, so if I'd be given that wish, I'd probably blow off deserving writers and conjure Cary Grant! But, okay, I'd have dinner with Charles Bukowski because we'd have a grand time knocking back the booze. I'd happily trade talents with a plethora of writers: Dorothy Parker, Anais Nin, Jackie Collins, Tom Robbins, Elmore Leonard, but if I had to name one, it would be a writer, but not one who writes books, but rather screenplays. It'd be Quentin Tarantino. He writes exactly what I wish I could write. It's fun, it's a little freaky, got tons of suspense and amazing dialogue. And I'd also spend my lost weekend in Vegas with Quentin, because I know he'd be a great time, and I have truly adorable feet which he'd appreciate. Dostoevsky would be second choice, as he was quite the gambler, too, and I wouldn't mind seeing him go nuts at a single zero roulette table.
Finally, describe a perfect meal that would be guaranteed to seduce you—into a deep conversation about the writing life, if not something even juicier!
Well, you know, this is probably odd for an erotica writer, but I much more equate food and meals with family fun rather than romance or sexiness. My idea of a perfect meal is lots of big platters full of everyone's favorite foods and we all just feast and fight and have fun. There's nothing that could really seduce me into talking about the writing life -- which is what's so clever about your questions. You asked things about specifics in my stories instead of "the process". I can talk about Vegas all day or night. I'll listen to conversations about writing, for a while, then I'm bored. And I won't really talk about it, cause I'd feel like a prize idiot or fraud. But I'm easily seduced into plenty other things with a couple martinis. And I'd sure to love to have a bite and chat with you anytime, Donna, as you've already been an incredibly gracious hostess! Thanks!
The pleasure is all mine, Susan. And any time you're in Vegas and hankering for a middle-aged erotica writer in a slinky Chinese dress to blow on your dice, give me a buzz!