Matthew O'Brien

Just so y'all know

Someone just asked me to contribute 500 words, before the end of the month, to his soon-to-be-self-published book. He said he couldn’t pay me and ended his email, “Let me know what you think.” I gladly obliged.


“I’m a professional writer with 20 years of experience. I get paid for my writing. It, in large part, is how I cover my rent, utilities, car payment, car insurance, health insurance and many other expenses, including food.

“You may have heard this analogy before (or perhaps not): Would you go into a doctor’s office, ask him or her to diagnose you, then suggest that he or she do it for free? Of course you wouldn’t. Nor should you ask this of professional writers and artists.



Posted: 4/12/2017 at 11:38:00 AM | Updated: 4/12/2017 at 11:39:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Blue Angel prose poem

I wrote a prose poem about the Blue Angel sculpture coming down. Please don’t take it too seriously. It plays on the word “rehab” and humanizes the sculpture as a woman who may have stayed at the motel herself.

Special thanks to Bill Hughes for the pics, and Shaun Christensen and Jarret Keene for guidance on the piece. Also to Jessie O’Brien for publishing it.

Posted: 4/7/2017 at 4:04:00 PM | Updated: 4/7/2017 at 4:05:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Vegas Seven story

As many of you know, I’ve been interviewing people who used to live in the underground flood channels. My plan is to include snippets of the interviews in a book—an oral account of surviving the Las Vegas storm drains.

Here, in the latest issue of Vegas Seven magazine, is an abbreviated version of one of the interviews. Thanks to Paul Vautrinot for sharing his incredible story!

Posted: 4/6/2017 at 11:31:00 AM | Updated: 4/6/2017 at 11:32:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

From Sin City to the Savior

Somewhat to my surprise, my trip to El Salvador turned into a job interview at a prep school. I toured the campus, talked to the director and dean of faculty and met a few teachers and students. Before I left the country they offered me a job teaching 12th grade English. After returning to the States and giving it some thought, I accepted the offer.

There were simply too many positives for me to turn it down: I can save money, learn Spanish (though it’s an English-language school), see more of Central and South America, etc. Also, after nearly 20 years in Vegas, things feel stagnant. I’ve felt, at times, like a poker player who’s sure he has a full house, but everyone else seems to think he’s bluffing. Perhaps I’ve played this hand a little too long.

I won’t leave Las Vegas until late July, which gives me time to tie up loose ends, work on a few local projects (which you will hear more about), visit one or two state and national parks and get coffee or a drink with friends. Also, I hope to maintain my relationship with Vegas and return once or twice a year.

I’ll post more thoughts on this dramatic change—from Sin City to the Savior (Salvador)—as the date approaches. With love and respect for everyone who has supported my Vegas adventure …

Posted: 2/6/2017 at 4:21:00 PM | Updated: 2/6/2017 at 4:24:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Fun while it lasted

I helped deliver the last issue of Downtown ZEN. Apparently the magazine is not going to be re-funded for the New Year. The timing seems odd, as we had put out additional newsracks, the pick-up rate was increasing, we had hired a proper sales staff, and the editorial product was strong (and getting stronger), but this was out of my control. Who knows? Maybe it will be revived in some form at some point or folded into an existing product, etc. There was, after all, a rainbow above downtown as I made my final rounds.

Posted: 12/31/2016 at 4:32:00 PM | Updated: 12/31/2016 at 4:32:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

NHA resignation

After four years on the board of the Nevada Homeless Alliance (, I recently resigned. I want to focus on my own Shine a Light community project, book projects, etc., and I thought the board could use some new blood. If you’re interested in being a board member of the NHA, which, among many other things, puts on the annual Project Homeless Connect, please email me. Thanks!

Posted: 12/15/2016 at 4:00:00 PM | Updated: 12/15/2016 at 4:01:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Crazy Good Turns

The fledgling podcast Crazy Good Turns was kind enough to dedicate an episode to me and my work in the underground flood channels. They also interviewed former tunnel resident Billy Richardson, who, as usual, stole the show. (The feature stands on its own, but also serves as a follow-up to the CrowdRise fundraiser.) I gave shout-outs to Mark Danner, Joshua Ellis, Michelle Neffke, Jason’s Deli, CityLife, U.S. Vets and HELP of Southern Nevada. I think I also said “ascribe” instead of “subscribe” at one point.

Posted: 11/25/2016 at 11:35:00 PM | Updated: 11/25/2016 at 11:35:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Second edition

We’re working on a second edition of my book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. The plan is to clean up the writing a bit and add an extended epilogue and an “extras” photo album at the end.

We hope to release the second edition next year on the 10-year anniversary of the book. I’ll keep you updated. And thanks again for your continued support!

Posted: 9/24/2016 at 12:40:00 PM | Updated: 9/24/2016 at 12:43:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options


Here is the KNPR interview. Jazz shares his tale and I try to provide some perspective at the end.

Posted: 8/3/2016 at 1:41:00 PM | Updated: 8/3/2016 at 1:41:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Upcoming exhibit

“Nelson’s Landing,” the poem I posted a few weeks ago, is going to be included in an interesting, mixed-media exhibit sponsored by Nevada Humanities. I’ll let you all know more about the exhibit as the Sept. 1 reception date approaches.
Posted: 7/30/2016 at 10:47:00 AM | Updated: 7/30/2016 at 10:47:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

KNPR interview

George (“Jazz”) and I just visited KNPR’s studio and were interviewed by host Joe Schoenmann about the tunnels and last month’s deadly flood. Jazz shared his harrowing tale of being swept down the channels and losing his girlfriend Sharon. The interview should air next week. Keep you all updated.
Posted: 7/27/2016 at 3:44:00 PM | Updated: 7/27/2016 at 3:44:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Book update

Joseph Watson and I have finished the “final” draft of the fictional memoir/art project we have been working on, off and on, for several years. We think it is now, finally, a very unique and publishable Vegas-related book. We think it is special.

We are more confident than ever about shopping around the book and are in the process of doing so. However, we are not sure we have reached out to the right people. If you know a literary agent, or a publishing house outside of Nevada, who may be interested in this combined art and literature project, please let me know.


Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:21:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

A poem

A poem I wrote that was partly inspired by a visit to Nelson’s Landing: 

            Nelson’s Landing

Volcanic rock claws
at my feet.
I’m frozen.
Behind me on the bank
a blanket.
On top of it our clothes,
a bottle of wine.
The sky burgundy.
Five fathoms below,
the Colorado River
creeps toward oblivion.

The Spanish found gold here.
A Civil War deserter
beaten to death
with a shovel
for a yellow stone.
The veins dried up
during WWII.

Nelson, Nevada.
Population 24.

A flood flashed
through the canyon,
carrying them away.
A rusted water tank
and bandaged mines

Reaching the bend in the river
John Wesley Powell said,
“We are ready to start into
the Great Unknown.”

Atop the cliff
everything comes clear.
The beginning of this relationship
betrays how the last ended.
I can’t see her,
but hear her treading water.
“You scared, old man?”
she says.
I smile,
close my eyes.

And jump.

Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:17:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Sun story

At least three homeless people died in the latest flood and hardly anyone is talking about it:

Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:11:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

More death in the drains

A man’s body was recently pulled from a wash near Decatur and Russell. If he was a victim of the flood—and I suspect he was, as that area was hit hard—that would bring the body count to at least three. And the monsoon season is just underway.

Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:05:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Flood death update

Jazz, Sharon’s longtime boyfriend, who was also carried away by the flood, is slowly recovering, mentally and physically, in a motel just off the Strip. He says he feels like a motorcyclist who fell off his bike. But his spirits, I could tell, are rising.

Sharon’s family is preparing to have her cremated. They will most likely, her youngest daughter told me, have a viewing here in Las Vegas, before having a memorial service in the L.A. area (where much of her family is from). I will keep you updated on all of this, as best as I can.

Those of you who have contributed to my Shine a Light project, through CrowdRise or otherwise, please know that your contributions have provided shelter for a broken man and will assure that Sharon gets a proper sendoff. Thanks again for your generosity!

Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:03:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Flood death

The coroner hasn’t spoken, but the streets have. RIP, Sharon.

Posted: 7/25/2016 at 11:58:00 AM | Updated: 7/25/2016 at 12:01:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

It’s a work in progress, but the website for the new Downtown Zen is up. Please give it a look. Cross training on the downtown streets, a memoir of an open-mic night, a photo essay of weekly motel desk clerks, a sketch by Joseph Watson, a downtown-set short story (Prose & Cons)—it’s certainly something to build on.

Also, we are looking for writers, photographers and illustrators who know and get downtown Vegas and urban living. Please let us know if you’re interested in contributing. (Yes, we pay.)

Posted: 6/7/2016 at 1:51:00 PM | Updated: 6/7/2016 at 1:52:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Off the Ranch

I haven’t done much local print journalism in the past few years, but I shook off the cobwebs for Downtown Zen’s Off the Ranch column (which highlights worthy things—in this case the jazz night at The Dispensary—outside of downtown Vegas).

Posted: 6/6/2016 at 3:08:00 PM | Updated: 6/6/2016 at 3:08:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Photo essay

A poignant photo essay of weekly motel desk clerks, courtesy of Marshall Scheuttle.

Posted: 6/6/2016 at 2:36:00 PM | Updated: 6/6/2016 at 2:46:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Downtown Zen

We are still tweaking the homepage, but I can’t resist sharing a few pieces from the new Downtown Zen magazine. Here’s a wonderful story by Chris Molnar, former co-host of The Beat’s open-mic night, with beautiful pics by Danny Mollohan (who shot my book Beneath the Neon).

Posted: 6/6/2016 at 2:27:00 PM | Updated: 6/6/2016 at 2:27:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Las Vegas squatters

I’m working with a national TV crew on a story about squatters in Las Vegas. We are hoping to interview people who squat in abandoned homes, buildings, underground flood channels, etc. We are also interested in interviewing former squatters. Part of our goal is to get the perspective of the squatters, which has been largely absent from this whole story.

If you have any leads or suggestions, please let me know ASAP. (Filming starts Thursday.) Thanks!

Posted: 6/6/2016 at 1:35:00 PM | Updated: 6/6/2016 at 1:36:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

CrowdRise retrospective

As some of you may recall, in January I collaborated with CrowdRise to raise money for my Shine a Light community project. The fundraiser, thanks to many of you, was a wild success. Here is a wonderful retrospective of the campaign, replete with backstory, progress reports, photos, videos and updates.

Posted: 5/21/2016 at 11:11:00 AM | Updated: 5/21/2016 at 11:15:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Fusion video

A touching piece by Bryan Branly of the Fusion network. He’s one of the few journalists who was willing to spend the night in the tunnels.

Posted: 5/11/2016 at 1:59:00 PM | Updated: 5/11/2016 at 2:01:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Rick and Cyndi

Caught up with my good friend Rick yesterday. Rick and I met about five years ago in a storm drain near Eastern and Trop. We worked with a few TV crews, one of which (“Dr. Phil”) helped him and his significant other, Cyndi, get out of the drains. They have been clean and housed for three years and now help others through the recovery process.

Congrats, Rick and Cyndi, on all of your success!    

Posted: 4/23/2016 at 2:57:00 PM | Updated: 4/23/2016 at 2:57:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options