I recently met the amazing Suzanne R. Krauss, author of a searing memoir, To Vegas and Back. The book chronicles Suzanne’s sudden realization that her childhood as the daughter of a Las Vegas showgirl who depended on abusive men to keep her going, was not a normal one. Through therapy, Suzanne has managed to deal with the deeply hidden trauma that resulted from both witnessing and suffering from abuse. The book is a page-turner, for sure, and not for the faint-hearted. Her mother’s lack of sexual boundaries and bad choices are described in all-too-vivid detail. More than once, I found myself thinking: Oh no! Don’t do that! in response to someone’s bad decision. I wondered whether Suzanne had considered writing it as fiction, but decided that the story wouldn’t be plausible in a novel. Readers might think it was exaggerated. As a memoir, it rings all too true. Suzanne was kind enough to let me ask her some questions about the book and the process of writing it.
GC: What made you finally decide to write this book? Not everyone who undergoes successful therapy decides to do something so difficult.
SRK: I was at a point in my life where I was ready to share the dark side of my childhood. Today, as a wife and mother, I am confident with who I am, where I am in life, and I no longer feared being judged or embarrassed about my childhood.
This book started with my mom’s journey to becoming a showgirl. That alone is some story! From leaving my father, to the men she met to get her where she needed to be, it had all the ingredients of a compelling book: Vegas, showgirls, drugs, sex, mobsters and more. I began writing just before 2010. At some point, I knew the story was going to lead into mine (and my siblings).
GC: How did you persuade your mother to tell you so much about her mistakes where men were concerned?
SRK: It was not easy! I started with a simple outline (from bits and pieces she told me over the years) and had hundreds of blanks to fill in. Over the course of 3 years, I called her and interviewed her on video and recorder. She hung up on me in the middle of many stories; it was frustrating, but I understood. I was digging and prying in an area she did not want to revisit. However, in the end, I got everything out of her, because she supported me 100% and hoped that other people might learn from her mistakes as well.
GC: How did you feel about her revelations?
SRK: I put on an “interviewer” hat whenever I asked her questions. These events happened over 30 years ago. It is not who she is anymore, so I could not judge. It almost seemed like she was telling me someone else’s history. I only see who my mom has been for the past 30 years and she is one of the rocks in my life.
GC: Once you’d written your first draft, how did you go about getting it published?
SRK: I had so many ‘first’ drafts! I thought I’d never finish weaving together my mother’s, sister’s and my stories. Once I was done, I got my proposal together. I included the first 3 chapters and synopsis of each chapter thereafter. I was rejected by 16 literary agents over a 6 month period. It was difficult. I was sharing this hideously personal story for the first time in my life and no one was getting it. I wanted to show my children that you can get shot down, but you have to pick up and keep on trying. I finally decided to send it out to two publishing houses (skipping the agent route). The big, well known house sent me letter telling me it was a great story, with some other positive feedback, but it was not for them at this time. The smaller house, asked me to meet them for breakfast. We met in Grand Central Station and I had a book deal by the time breakfast was served.
GC: Did your editor suggest any major changes?
SRK: My editor (thankfully) embraced my writing style. She found it honest and detailed. She helped me streamline the story, make it flow and take 400+ pages down to 300. She is one of the most thoughtful, smart and incredible people.
GC: How do you hope readers will respond to your book?
SRK: I hope that people are moved. Whether it is anger, hope, sadness, laughter at my bits of humor or peace (at the end)…I want them to feel emotion. I hope it starts meaningful discussions with those who have faced adversity and for those who have not, but are eager to learn how someone overcame.
GC: Are you going to take a break from writing now, or have you got another book in mind?
SRK: I have another book that was edited out of this one. It is about my mother’s childhood/teen years and growing up in the kind of household she did. It sheds a lot of light on how she allowed us to get into the situation we did. If there is enough interest, I would go there. People are also very interested in the aftermath…how were my sister and I when we moved back east. Guess I could do a “before and after” book in one. But for now, I just want to enjoy this one.