Matthew O'Brien

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

CrowdRise follow-up

You all may recall Billy, who was featured in the CrowdRise video a few months ago. He said he wanted to get a job and reunite with his family. It appears both of those things will happen. Billy’s ex-wife saw the CrowdRise video and recently offered him a place to live, a car and a job in Houston, Texas, Billy’s home state, where many of his family members still live.

Using money from the CrowdRise fundraiser, we took Billy to Walmart (his choice) and bought him clothes, snacks and toiletries. We then put him up in a hotel. The next day, we bought him a one-way bus ticket to Houston (he doesn’t have an ID, so he cannot fly) and saw him off the station.

Thanks again to everyone who donated to the fundraiser! I'll continue to keep you updated on his progress. 

Posted: 4/19/2016 at 11:34:00 PM | Updated: 4/19/2016 at 11:34:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Josh Ellis’ podcast

You’d think that my Vegas muse would be a beautiful and broken woman, but, in some ways, it’s Joshua Ellis. He’s featured in Beneath the Neon, co-wrote two stories in My Week at the Blue Angel, and one of the characters in my (in-the-works) fictional memoir is based on him. He’s among the more interesting and brilliant people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting … and now he has a podcast.

Check it out—I found the last seven or so minutes particularly poignant—and, if so inclined, leave him a tip.

Posted: 2/5/2016 at 3:09:00 PM | Updated: 2/5/2016 at 3:10:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options


Thanks to everyone who donated to the CrowdRise campaign! We raised more than $13,000 in the first 24 hours and have currently raised more than $14,500. We put some of that money to use immediately. Visit the CrowdRise website for more info:
Posted: 1/23/2016 at 4:23:00 PM | Updated: 1/23/2016 at 4:23:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options


We have 24 hours to raise $10,000 for the people who live in the underground flood channels of Vegas. Please donate (if you’re so inclined) and share the link! Thanks!
Posted: 1/20/2016 at 10:27:00 AM | Updated: 1/20/2016 at 10:28:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

LVA's holiday catalog

The Las Vegas Advisor's holiday catalog always contains a few unique Vegas- and gambling-related gifts:
Posted: 12/8/2015 at 2:09:00 PM | Updated: 12/8/2015 at 2:10:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Vegas scams

A German TV crew is interested in exposing Vegas “scams” that target tourists: shell games (which I have posted about previously), timeshare promotions, VIP club passes, long-hauling by cabbies, etc. If you know of any other Vegas scams that should be explored or you have any contacts for the aforementioned scams, please let me know. Thanks!

Posted: 11/10/2015 at 1:59:00 PM | Updated: 11/10/2015 at 1:59:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

R-J video

A brief look inside one of the most fascinating minds I have encountered:
Posted: 10/24/2015 at 10:35:00 PM | Updated: 10/24/2015 at 10:35:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Nightlife story

We know about the obscene amount of money DJs make and the lavish lifestyles of the club owners and operators. What about workers in the Vegas nightlife industry who are struggling and just getting by: aspiring DJs, low-level promoters, bar backs, dancers, etc.? We want to share their stories. If you know anyone who may fit this description, please email me ( Thanks!

Posted: 6/12/2015 at 2:39:00 PM | Updated: 6/12/2015 at 2:39:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

MFA update

As some of you may recall, about four years ago I applied to MFA creative-writing programs. I ended up enrolling at UNLV. Recently, I graduated and the overall experience—teaching, traveling, workshopping my novel, etc.—proved extremely worthwhile. Thanks to everyone who helped me achieve this longtime goal!

The obvious question, and one I have been asked often, is: “What now?” Well, I’d like to land a fulltime job writing/editing or teaching. Of course, quality gigs in those fields are scarce, so I’m planning to teach at CSN and UNLV in the fall and to write. (I’m already scheduled to teach a creative-writing class at CSN; more on this later.)

If there are any updates or changes to this plan, you all will be the first to know. Thanks again for your support! 

Posted: 5/27/2015 at 4:08:00 PM | Updated: 5/27/2015 at 4:08:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Children of Las Vegas

Tim is a smart guy and a good writer. Any support you offer this book should be well worth it.

Posted: 5/26/2015 at 12:54:00 PM | Updated: 5/26/2015 at 12:55:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

RIP, Steve

If you read my story “My Week at the Blue Angel,” you may recall Steve and his dog Dot. Steve, who was staying in room 133, was a Vietnam vet with a litany of health problems and a predilection for crack. He was also one of the nicest and funniest people I’ve met.

I got a call Sunday morning from a Colorado number. It was Steve’s brother Ken, whom I’ve never met, informing me that Steve died a few weeks ago in a Las Vegas hospital. Though this was not a surprise—Steve had been in and out of as many hospitals as weekly motels—it was saddening. He and I had managed to stay in touch over the years and I’ll always remember him as a kind and welcoming presence in a place (the Blue Angel) that could be cold and intimidating.

Here’s an excerpt from a conversation Steve and I had at the motel:

“What does she (the Blue Angel sculpture) mean to you?”

“She’s sort of like a helping hand. I look up and know that God’s put her there for a reason: to watch over the people here, who are wayward, who are like ships in a storm. They dock in the harbor to get out of the weather and then they’re off again. This place is like a port in a storm. Sometimes you stay overnight. Sometimes you stay a long, long time.”

“How long are you going to stay?”

“Long enough to get healthy and then I’m moving on. I want to get out of this town. I don’t really like it here.”

“When you leave, what will you remember about the Blue Angel?”

“It was a stepping stone in the direction I wanted to go in, but I won’t miss it. The only thing I’ll miss is the angel.

“But God will have one watching over me wherever I go.”

Posted: 4/7/2015 at 12:26:00 PM | Updated: 4/7/2015 at 12:37:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Seeker Stories follow-up

The Seeker Stories video (below) has more than 115,000 views on YouTube. Thanks to everyone who shared it, spread the word and watched it!
Posted: 4/2/2015 at 1:05:00 PM | Updated: 4/2/2015 at 1:06:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Discovery Digital Networks

Laura Ling and Paige Hansen of Discovery Digital Networks were kind enough to let me host a program on the underground flood channels of Vegas. Their crew followed me into the tunnels and met a few of my friends. It was fun and they did a great job of producing the piece, but I should probably keep my day job.

Posted: 3/26/2015 at 12:13:00 PM | Updated: 3/26/2015 at 12:13:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

La Rambla

Here’s the poem I contributed to Western, the arts journal published in association with Life Is Beautiful. The poem was inspired by my trip to Barcelona this summer. Special thanks to Shaun Christensen, Jarret Keene, Don Revell, Olivia Clare and my dad for reading it and providing feedback and to Sam Mc Mackin for publishing it.

La Rambla

How many storms
(Arabs, Franks, fellow Spaniards)
Can a stronghold weather
Before opening wide its wooden gates,
Scarred by spears and arrows,
And falling at the feet
Of its latest sovereign?

Cultures coalesce,
Become difficult to distinguish.
Trueloves are like this,
Which is why I occasionally
Confuse you with her.

Or her.

Love is not the Po, Nile, or Ebro,
But Mediterranean Sea.

Another argument
Across the Atlantic.
High, mud-swirl ceiling.
Duffel bag buried beneath clothes.
I slip into my sneakers
And stagger out onto the streets.
Mute, impotent, invisible
I know how you felt
When you moved to the Meadows.

Nàpols and Mallorca.
Sant Joan and València.
Bailén and Gran Vía,
Where Gaudí was run over
By a cable car.
Assuming he was homeless,
They left him sprawled on the street.
He’s still there.
I hear him bleating,
As I cross against the light
And continue south.

Drifting down the Door of the Angel,
Alone amid the crush,
I spill onto the shore.
The rising sun
Silhouettes a family of four
Frolicking in the surf.
Perched on a cloud,
Columbus points toward the Gold Coast.
The tourists stand in the sand
And applaud,
As the Santa María
Appears on the horizon.

Like a mythic mortal,
I leered at beauty
And sacrificed my sight.
My marooned senses sharpen,
As I navigate the side streets

Sea salt on my lips;
The bakery, soap shop, smoke shop;
A Catalan flag flaps in the wind.

Approaching La Rambla,
I reclaim my perspective.

As I’m waking,
You’re falling asleep.

Posted: 10/27/2014 at 1:55:00 PM | Updated: 10/27/2014 at 1:58:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Life Is Beautiful

If you’re going to Life Is Beautiful this weekend, drop by the old Western hotel-casino. It will house a handful of art exhibits, including a collaboration between writers and artists that I contributed to. (Photographer Marshall Scheuttle and I worked together.) I don’t know if the text and images will be displayed, but I believe a journal featuring the work will be for sale, with part of the proceeds going to charity. Other contributors to this particular project include Molly O’Donnell, Scott Dickensheets, Brent Holmes and Danielle Kelly.   

Posted: 10/24/2014 at 11:54:00 AM | Updated: 10/24/2014 at 11:55:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Homeless 101

I hope those interested in the issue of homelessness will attend and participate in this discussion. Here are the details:

While it is hard not to recognize homelessness across our urban landscape, few truly understand this growing epidemic. On Monday, September 8, 7-8:30 p.m., at The Window, the Downtown Rangers Homeless Outreach Program will be hosting a public forum designed to provide a first-hand perspective on one of the most important social challenges of our time. The program will include an insider’s look into homelessness from David Sweetland. David was a highly educated, junior college instructor when a “perfect storm” of alcoholism, clinical depression, and personal loss took his life in a very different direction. Now in recovery, David offers a personal view into the mindset and culture of life on the streets.  

The evening will conclude with a panel discussion from local experts, sharing additional perspectives and ideas on how everyone can help. The group includes:
* Matthew O’Brien, author of “Beneath the Neon” and founder of Shine a Light
* Timothy Burch, Director of Clark County Social Services
* Rosie Brown, Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, psychiatric caseworker

Please note: The Window is located at 150 N. Las Vegas Blvd, Suite 140, Las Vegas, Nevada 89101 (at the Ogden, between Rachel’s Kitchen and WILD). Parking is available on the street or in the lot located on the northeast corner of Ogden Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. 

David L. Gould
Downtown Project
Director of Imagination

Posted: 9/5/2014 at 10:09:00 AM | Updated: 9/5/2014 at 10:09:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

French translation update

Stealing from a homeless person is the lowest thing you can do. Stealing from an artist is the second lowest.

This thought crossed my mind a few years ago, when a French publisher translated both of my books, actively promoted and sold them and didn’t pay me or my American publisher any of the advance or royalties promised in the contract. We looked into legal action, but the possibilities seemed limited (since the contract wasn’t worth millions and the publisher was based in a foreign country). So I learned to live with the fact that someone had stolen my work and was selling itand there was nothing I could do about it.

However, finding myself in Spain and en route to Paris, I decided to email the publisher and see if he cared to get coffee and explain in more detail why he never paid us. (Previously, he’d only indicated that his company was struggling financially.) To my surprise, he responded. He said that he wasn’t going to be in town while I was there, but a package would be at my hotel when I arrived. Entering my room and opening the cardboard box, I found 500 euros (about $670) and a translated copy of each book.  

The publisher explained that he hoped to make additional payments, and we’re in the process of mending our relationship. (We’re Facebook friends again!) Perhaps this will be a rare and unexpected happy ending in the publishing world. We shall see.

Posted: 8/16/2014 at 5:47:00 PM | Updated: 8/16/2014 at 5:48:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options