'Beautiful Children,' a Dark Novel of Life in Vegas The book Beautiful Children starts as the story of a missing 12-year-old in Las Vegas, but it quickly unfolds into an interconnected tale of the boy's parents, street kids, comic book geeks and strip clubs. It took first-time author Charles Bock a decade to "unpack his head" and write the novel.

'Beautiful Children,' a Dark Novel of Life in Vegas

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Is he a runaway? Has he been abducted? A new novel, "Beautiful Children," starts as the story of a missing 12-year-old in Las Vegas named Newell Ewing. But it quickly unfolds into an interconnected tale of his parents, street kids, comic book geeks and strip clubs.

From member station KUSP, Rick Kleffel spoke with first-time author Charles Bock about the decade it took for Bock to write the novel.

RICK KLEFFEL: Like his book, Charles Bock is a product of Las Vegas.

Mr. CHARLES BOCK (Author, "Beautiful Children"): I was born in Las Vegas. I lived there until I was 18 years old. And when it came time to write and when it came time to kind of unpack my head and figure out what were my subjects, this was something that I had to get through before I'd be able to do anything else.

The first draft that I wrote was just seething with anger. I think I was mad at myself. I was mad at the city. I was pretty mad at the world and I think writing this book was a way of working out all those things.

KLEFFEL: "Beautiful Children," Charles Bock's first novel, begins with an image of Newell Ewing. He's just one of 10 main characters whose paths cross against the neon bayed(ph) backdrop of Las Vegas. Bock says Newell's age is not an accident.

Mr. BOCK: You know I was an unhappy 13-year-old. I could've easily disappeared forever. That's a very young age and I purposely made Newell even younger, 12 and a half. How easy it is to drop off the face of the earth. It's a great subject. That's the subject for big American books and it's also an intimate subject that just - it just captured me and it possessed me.

KLEFFEL: For year, even before he began writing the novel, Bock would stop and talk with people living on the street. He read police reports and immersed himself in their world.

Mr. BOCK: Two rules I had; don't steal anyone's story and do not create a romantic view that will cause a troubled teenager to read this book and leave home because I did not want that.

KLEFFEL: "Beautiful Children" is a complex portrait of missing children, grieving parents, the pornography business and America disintegrating at the turn of the 21st century. In this reading from the novel, a teenage runaway who calls himself Lestat finds himself stranded in the desert outside of Vegas.

Mr. BOCK: Things ended. They had to. Moving toward termination from the moment they started. And when friendships, when relationships, when people were involved, it was Lestat's experience that things ended badly. He woke up one morning and found out that your unrequited love had rifled through your pack and taken all your valuables and disappeared without so much as a goodbye note. He discovered that your pool hustling compadre was a profligate tweaker and when he got wired on crystal meth, he picked fights and attacked you with a pool cue.

KLEFFEL: Bock wrote and rewrote his novel over the course of a decade while working in series of good and bad jobs. He found himself forced to mature as both a person and a writer.

Mr. BOCK: I was trying to figure out the structure of a book that honestly when I started out was too ambitious for the skills that I had. I had to grow into the structural understanding of a big book and the character depths that are required for a big book to be able to take them on.

KLEFFEL: Charles Bock found that he had to be honest in portraying characters who made one self-destructive choice after another.

Mr. BOCK: You have to love the people you're writing about, no matter how flawed they are. And you have to accept flaws in your characters, in yourself, in the world around you. And I had to learn to not be judgmental and to try and see things from inside flawed, hurt people who are maybe going in the wrong direction but might be doing it for the best reasons they can.

KLEFFEL: In the 10 years that he took to write his first novel, Bock often wondered if he was going in the wrong direction. But the Las Vegas of his childhood and the dark Vegas of his imagination intertwine memorably in "Beautiful Children."

For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.

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