Sunday, March 21, 2010

It's Vegas, baby! by Karen Olson

Karen E. Olson, winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award and a Shamus Award finalist, writes the Annie Seymour mysteries and the Tattoo Shop Mystery series. The second Tattoo Shop mystery, PRETTY IN INK, came out earlier this month. She spent more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter and copy editor before deciding to ditch newspapers before they ditched her. She now works part time editing a medical journal at Yale and being chauffeur to her 13-year-old daughter. Her website is and she blogs with the First Offenders at

She has no tattoos.



It’s Vegas, baby!
by Karen Olson

When I was talking with my publisher about my new tattoo shop mystery series two years ago, we discussed where I should set it. I wanted to keep writing about New Haven, Connecticut, my hometown, and a great place to put a tattoo shop, in my opinion. Sadly, my publisher didn’t agree. Because of shows like Miami Ink and L.A. Ink, they were veering toward something a little more glitzy and glamorous. After some discussion, we all finally agreed on Las Vegas.

I love making the setting a character in my books, and Vegas is so full of character that it’s so easy to bring it to life on the page, even though the time I’ve actually spent there has been so short. I love the craziness of the Strip, where people wander from casino to casino along the palm tree-lined main drag; the amazing resorts, which give us Paris, Venice, Rome, and New York all in one place; and the stunning views of the desert and mountains at Red Rock Canyon.

I felt that when I created my real characters, I needed them to match the city: big and colorful. Which is why writing about a tattoo shop in Las Vegas is absolutely perfect.

Brett Kavanaugh, my protagonist who owns The Painted Lady in the Venetian Grand Canal Shoppes, is a tall, slender redhead with Monet’s water lily garden extending down her arm, a dragon tattoo that curves around her torso and up over her cleavage, and a tiger lily stretching from breast to hip on her side. She gets another tattoo sleeve at the end of PRETTY IN INK, but I won’t give away what it is.

Her employees are colorful, too. Joel Sloane is a big guy with a long braid down his back and barbed wire tattoos on his neck. He looks like a biker but he’s got a much gentler nature. Bitsy Hendricks, the office manager, has no tattoos, but she’s a little person with a huge personality. Ace van Nes is the pretty boy tattooist who craves to be a “true” artist. Brett’s nemesis, Jeff Coleman, who owns Murder Ink, a rival tattoo shop, matches the gritty side of Vegas. He’s an old-school tattooist whose shop is lined with flash, stock tattoos.

Because Vegas is so over-the-top, when I was devising a plot for PRETTY IN INK, I knew the sky was the limit. So in this particular book, I’ve got drag queens playing a major role. They’re wonderfully flashy, with names like Britney Brassieres, MissTique, Shanda Leer, and Miranda Rites, and tattoos and costumes to match. And even though I discovered that there’s a huge drag queen contingent in New Haven, I know the storyline and characters just wouldn’t have worked here. They had to be in Vegas. Just like the series.

Have you ever been to Vegas? If you have, what’s your favorite thing to do there? And if you haven’t, do you want to go?


Vicki Lane said...

Call me un-American but Vegas has no appeal for me. I'd enjoy reading about it -- I just don't want to visit.

But I do think, in the interest of research, Karen, you should have gotten at least one tatt.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable post. Karen, I do intent to read this series. I have the first one on my Kindle. I know nothing about tattoo shops and so, therefore, I must read about them. :-)

I have not been to Vegas. Not sure I will ever go. Not really my kind of place, but I love to watch CSI.

Karen Olson said...

Vicki, no tattoos for me. The more I research them the less I want one. That's not to say, though, that I don't appreciate the art form.

Vegas isn't for everyone, but it really is something that should be experienced at least once. We don't gamble, so we're not there for the casinos, but the resorts are amazing, the food is really good, and Red Rock Canyon is absolutely beautiful and feels like a different time zone even though it's only about half an hour outside the Strip.

Karen Olson said...

Oh, and Kaye, there's a really cool thing at the MGM: CSI, the Experience. You pick one of three crime scenes and investigate it, looking at the scene, then looking at evidence under microscopes and stuff before finally "solving the crime." It's really fun!

Jen Forbus said...

I've not been to Vegas expect through things like movies, TV and the Tattoo Shop Mysteries! I'm not a big gambler, so that element doesn't draw me. And I'd love to see shows there, but I'm not too flush either, so I probably couldn't afford any. But I love the Vegas you bring to life, Karen. And I adore Brett and crew!

Karen Olson said...

Jen, we're not that flush, either, and on our most recent trip in February, we went to the poor man's Cirque del Soleil: Matsuri, a Japanese acrobat show at the Imperial. It was absolutely fantastic. There are lots of coupons floating around Vegas, and you can see shows that aren't nearly so pricey.

Janet Rudolph said...

Thanks, Karen and Kaye, good post!

L.J. Sellers said...

I lived in Vegas for a few years as a kid. It's probably a good thing my parents moved or I might have ended up a showgirl instead of a novelist. And yes, I have tattoos. Small ones on my ankles. I'm pacing myself. I also won a copy of Pretty in Ink. Love the cover and can't wait to read it.

Libby Hellmann said...

The Beatles show, LOVE, is the best thing about Vegas...

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

I've never been to Vegas either. I never really think about Vegas when we start talking vacation trips - but one of these we're just going to have to go. It's an experience I'd kinda hate to miss, actually.

Karen - Thanks for coming and this was a terrific piece. When I ask Donald how he feels about a trip to Vegas, I can tell him it was all your idea!

Clint Fillmore said...

Oohh! Vegas! I've been there twice, and for me it's a place of fun and enjoyment! And I kinda miss playing in the casinos, too! =]