So jaded is Gabe Sack, the protagonist of UNLV alum Andrew Kiraly's first novel, Crit, that he begins writing about the music he is paid to review without bothering to listen to it first.
Kiraly knows whereof he writes. "I was a rock critic for years for alternative publications. I could write blistering reviews. Sometimes I would be in bars at 3 a.m. asking myself, 'Why am I here?'"
Kiraly never became so jaded or so bored that he stopped listening first. But, that didn't prevent him from wondering if there mightn't be someone who would do that. Someone who had had enough and started reviewing music based, for instance, only on the CD covers.
Here's Sack's analysis of cover art: "Rap (my uncle in Scranton has more crunk than this whole album) was immediately recognizable by its bling-mouthed men with outstretched arms, like zombies draped in gauche jewelry.
"The covers of metal albums had blood, spikes, and cleavage; nu metal always depicted a child wearing a gas mask; emo had a fixation on sepia tones; post-punk had an unresolved air of wryness about it, indie rock had an unresolved air of wryness about it with a certain crippled effeminacy stirred in like milk."
Kiraly paired his idea for the jaded reviewer with another facet of the Las Vegas music scene.
"I've always been intrigued by these obscure, lame, cheesy lounge acts. How do they survive? There's no respect for a lounge act. They play familiar music that is someone else's. No real art goes on in a lounge."
Then, he wondered, "What if you had that scenario but it became the stage for something positive and redemptive?"
Thus, Crit was born.
It first saw life in the writing workshops that are part of UNLV's master of fine arts in creative writing program. The workshops allow student writers to share their work and get feedback.
"When you're sharing your work for the first time you do feel a little vulnerable, but that goes away quickly," Kiraly says.
"You learn to take their views and internalize them -- carry that workshop inside your head," he says.
One trick, though, is to tune out the voices of those who just don't get what you are trying to do, he says, while listening closely to suggestions from those who are getting it.
An early version of Crit served as his creative dissertation for his MFA, which he received in 2003. He also earned a BA in English from UNLV in 1998.
Kiraly praises professors Richard Wiley and Doug Unger with whom he worked in the MFA program.
"I know next to nothing about cars, but the workshops and forms classes held by Richard and Doug taught me to how to look under the hood of a piece of fiction, as it were, and see how all the parts moved and worked together -- or didn't. They not only improved my craft, but transformed the way I read, too."
Today Kiraly, whose byline is familiar to those who read publications such as CityLife, Scope, and Mercury, serves as editor of Desert Companion, the arts, culture, and community publication of the local National Public Radio affiliate KNPR. He continues his fiction writing outside work.
Currently, he's writing a second novel, a speculative work about the fabled El Rancho, the first resort on the Las Vegas Strip.
His daily routine involves writing almost as soon as he awakens. "I never set the coffeemaker on auto because then I have to get out of bed."
Generally, it takes an hour to an hour and a half to produce 500 words.
"I'm a huge proponent of discovery writing and the organic process," he says, explaining it as writing and along the way "finding out what the story wants to be" instead of the author "telling the story what to do."
Kiraly says that when he reads the writing of others, he looks for clues of the authors' writing processes.
"I like to think I can sense that in a work -- whether it is too calculated and controlled or whether the writer discovered something about himself or lost control in a good way."
Asked for advice for fledgling writers, Kiraly says start writing every day. "Related advice would be to allow yourself to write badly," he says. "It's the best way to get started on the path to creating something.
"You find self-acceptance when you allow yourself to write badly. There is a time for revision -- a time for editing and self-flagellating -- but that is later."
For writers -- fledgling or otherwise -- Kiraly, a Las Vegas High School graduate, says his hometown is a great place to be. "There is so much to write about here -- the thematic chewiness of living in such a strange place.
"I hope books like mine inspire someone else to write. The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned," he says. "There's a lot to cover here in Las Vegas. I would like other writers to take up their pens."