Matthew O'Brien

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

Homeless Fonts

I found the Arrels Foundation’s Homeless Fonts initiative, which allows people to buy the handwriting of their clients, particularly interesting.

Posted: 8/5/2014 at 3:30:00 AM | Updated: 8/5/2014 at 3:31:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

The Arrels Foundation (Barcelona)

Marta Olaria and Juan Lemus of the Arrels Foundation were kind enough to meet with me and give me a tour of the facility. They’re doing an incredible job of helping the 3,000 or so homeless people of Barcelona! Please surf their site (English version) when you have time.

Posted: 8/5/2014 at 3:24:00 AM | Updated: 8/5/2014 at 3:26:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

‘State of Nevada’

I went on KNPR recently to discuss whether Las Vegas is a “smart” city. Here’s the link!

Posted: 8/5/2014 at 3:11:00 AM | Updated: 8/5/2014 at 3:12:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Another poem

“Almost all good poems are perilously close to being bad country songs.” OK, Dr. Revell. I’ll take that as a compliment.

Long Haul

It’s as if I’m standing still
and everything else is moving.
The signs:
Mercury, Beatty, Tonopah.
What are the Joshua trees
running from?
The road reflectors wink.
When hauling these loads
I’m headed in one of two directions—
closer to you or farther away.

Posted: 3/27/2014 at 5:01:00 PM | Updated: 3/27/2014 at 5:01:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Lost Vegas

If you want to learn more about the tunnels and the people who live in them, skip “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” and watch this short documentary. It’s extremely moving, I think, and features two of the nicest and most interesting people I’ve met in the drains (Mike and Ned).

Posted: 3/19/2014 at 1:25:00 PM | Updated: 3/21/2014 at 12:03:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Panel discussion and book signing

I’m participating in a panel discussion related to Vegas and writing on Saturday, March 8, at the Paseo Verde Library. The discussion will take place from roughly 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and then I’ll sign copies of my books (sold at a discounted rate). Please drop by and support local authors! Here’s the news release about the event: 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                           Contact: Tiffannie Bond/Melissa Biernacinski

COPY FOR PROOF                                               Imagine Communications


Henderson Libraries to launch Local Author Showcase
More than 40 local authors to attend launch party, publishing workshop March 8

HENDERSON, Nev.  Henderson Libraries will host the Local Author Showcase Launch Party from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at the Paseo Verde Library, 280 S. Green Valley Parkway, near the 215 Beltway. The Local Author Showcase will include a book publishing workshop, an author meet-and-greet, a discussion panel, and the unveiling of the new Local Author Collection.

More than 40 authors will be present at the March 8 event for a meet-and-greet as well as a local author panel at 12:30 p.m., hosted by Brian Rouff, author of “Dice Angel” and managing partner of Imagine Communications. The panel will include local authors Matt O'Brien, Deborah Coonts, David Schwartz and Gerard de Marigny.

At 2:30 p.m. budding authors can also attend “How Do I Publish My Book?,” a workshop led by Roger DeBlanck and Jonathan Sturak, who will discuss the changing face of modern publishing. Additionally, they will provide strategies for marketing books and establishing an online presence.

In celebration of the new Local Author Collection, refreshments provided by Whole Foods will be served at noon.

“Ultimately, the entire program is meant to inspire, encourage and empower the audience with tools and information needed to successfully publish a book,” said Gayle Hornaday, interim executive director of Henderson Libraries.

Established in 1943 as a single library in Downtown Henderson, Henderson Libraries operates four locations throughout Henderson. Henderson Libraries cooperates with other public libraries in Southern Nevada, the Nevada System of Higher Education, the Clark County School District and all other libraries around the state to provide quality service for Nevada’s residents.

For additional information on Henderson Libraries, visit or call 702-492-6581.

Posted: 3/2/2014 at 1:38:00 PM | Updated: 3/2/2014 at 1:41:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

First poem in 15 years

This is the first poem I’ve written in more than 15 years. I wrote it for a poetry workshop I’m taking at UNLV, as a graduate assistant in the MFA creative writing program. (My concentration is fiction, but we have to take some poetry classes, too.) The theme of the workshop is the “immediately accessible sublime” or, as I simply interpret it, that which is near and dear.

This is the second draft. The teacher Donald Revell and my remarkably talented classmates provided plenty of feedback, a lot of which I incorporated into the poem.

Breaking and Entering

Standing on the sidewalk
Half English, half Farsi

Her refuge
Interior lights on
Porch light off
The door splintered and ajar
Faceplate and screws
Sprawled across the floor

The scene is secured
Doors and drawers dusted
She enters
Past a palm print black on white

In the squad car
The officer asks questions
Despondent she responds
He pecks an antiquated computer
While reading aloud
“The victim stated that the jewelry
Was given to her
By her grandmother in Iran”

They leave us alone
Noticing a painting
She no longer likes
She observes
They never take what you want them to

With ink-stained hands
We push the suddenly mobile
Media center
Against the door
Drag the mattress into the living room
Everyone’s a suspect
The neighbor, the FedEx guy, the security guard
Finally a kiss good night
Then with all the lights on
We lie down and act like we’re asleep

Posted: 2/14/2014 at 5:56:00 PM | Updated: 2/15/2014 at 1:00:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

On the death of an old friend

As some of you know, my first (and only) fulltime journalism job was with Las Vegas CityLife. After freelancing for the well-rounded alt-weekly for two years, I was hired as a staff writer in early 2000.  I spent eight years at the paper, including three as managing editor, and it proved to be an amazing and defining experience.

Sadly, CityLife  recently stopped publishing. I don’t have the time or inclination to perform a proper autopsy (I’m teaching, taking graduate courses, freelancing, etc., and, over the past several years, I lost touch with the paper), but several other people have weighed in on its demise. Here are four pieces on the subject, three of which include my thoughts or info about my time there. If you only read one of them, I highly recommend the last link (a meditative, metaphoric column by Chip Mosher that doesn’t directly mention the paper’s passing).

Posted: 2/8/2014 at 11:25:00 PM | Updated: 2/8/2014 at 11:27:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

HP’s holiday catalog

Here is Huntington Press’ annual holiday catalog. Beneath the Neon is selling for $14.96 and My Week at the Blue Angel $11.21.

Posted: 12/10/2013 at 11:55:00 AM | Updated: 12/10/2013 at 11:55:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

BTN photog on PBS

Some well deserved recognition for Beneath the Neon photographer Danny Mollohan, from the local PBS station (scroll through the slideshow on the second row to find the feature). Congrats, Danny!

Posted: 11/6/2013 at 11:04:00 PM | Updated: 12/10/2013 at 11:59:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

‘Dr. Phil’

Apparently, the full episodes of the “Dr. Phil” shows are not available online. However, they did post summaries of the shows on the official website. This first one (below) focuses on the tunnels and a couple’s life down there. The second focuses on the woman, Cyndi, and her four daughters, as they reunite in the studio.

I still have not seen the episodes, but, judging by the summaries, they’re pretty moving. Here you go:

Posted: 9/8/2013 at 10:08:00 PM | Updated: 9/8/2013 at 10:08:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options


Thanks to everyone who bought my book Beneath the Neon today (after it was featured on “Dr. Phil”). It’s currently the third-best-selling “Travel Writing” book on, behind Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

Posted: 9/3/2013 at 10:14:00 PM | Updated: 9/3/2013 at 10:16:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

The seedy side of Vegas

I’m working with a British TV program that will be in town from mid-July to early August. They’re interested in the seedier side of Las Vegas—drugs, prostitution, homelessness, etc.—and stories related to the economy. For example, the costumed characters on the Strip and Fremont Street or squatters in foreclosed homes. They’re also interested in meeting unique Vegas characters who can serve as guides (e.g., Oscar Goodman to introduce the city or Linda Lera-Randle El to introduce the world of the homeless). While the show may sound dark, it also hopes to highlight success stories and people who are trying to make a difference in the community.

If you have any story ideas or character suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

Posted: 7/8/2013 at 11:54:00 AM | Updated: 7/8/2013 at 11:57:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Family Connect

A notice from the Nevada Homeless Alliance:

Family Connect is an annual resource fair for homeless or low-income families living in Southern Nevada. The 2013 event, scheduled for May 15th at the East Las Vegas Community Senior Center, will see upwards of 300 families with children, and include the participation of over 50 service organizations. Prior to exiting the event, each family is escorted through the Giveaways Section to obtain food and personal care items that may be difficult for them to obtain without assistance. Please see below list of items needed for this section. All items should be new or gently used only.

Children’s summer clothing, hats and shoes
Adult’s summer clothing, hats and shoes
Packaged Underwear
First Aid Kits
Canned food
Bus Tickets-Day Use for RTC buses
Soaps/Hand Sanitizers
Feminine Hygiene
Sun Screen/Lotion

Please contact Michele Smith for drop-off and pick-up information. Email: Phone: 702-324-6850.

*Please allow 24 hours for a return call or email

**Contributions to the Nevada Homeless Alliance are tax deductible as provided by law. If you have any questions about the value of your contribution, kindly contact your tax advisor. For donation receipts, please contact Stacy Sutton with the Nevada Homeless Alliance at, or by calling 702-743-1487.

Posted: 4/6/2013 at 12:16:00 PM | Updated: 4/6/2013 at 12:19:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Nevada Homeless Alliance

I was recently named a board member of the Nevada Homeless Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless by creating partnerships and promoting collaboration between service providers. My responsibilities include making sure the NHA remains focused on its mission, serving as an ambassador for the nonprofit and the homeless, and raising funds and awareness. Of course, I’m particularly interested in helping the people in the underground flood channels.

A lot of you have expressed interest in helping the hundreds of people in the tunnels and the thousands of other homeless in the valley. In this new role, I should have more answers, suggestions and opportunities for you.

Stay tuned!

Posted: 2/28/2013 at 11:33:00 AM | Updated: 2/28/2013 at 11:35:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

CBC Radio

A long but worthwhile radio piece on the tunnels courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Posted: 11/6/2012 at 10:30:00 PM | Updated: 11/6/2012 at 10:30:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options

Vice magazine slideshow

I’ve been Facebook friends with Giles Clarke for almost a year and have been moved by his photos, which are taken with his iPhone. Here’s a slideshow he shot of people living in the underground flood channels of Vegas:

Posted: 10/16/2012 at 10:25:00 AM | Updated: 10/16/2012 at 10:25:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Blue Angel Motel

My Week at the Blue Angel garners a mention in this rundown of bizarre statues and public art in Las Vegas:

Posted: 10/7/2012 at 10:25:00 AM | Updated: 10/7/2012 at 10:25:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options


Some of you have wondered what happens to the people in the tunnels when it rains. I addressed that question recently on KNPR:

Posted: 8/30/2012 at 10:58:00 AM | Updated: 8/30/2012 at 11:01:00 AM | Add Comments | More Options

Your chance to be in a movie!

I’ve been working with filmmaker Florent Tillon on this project and he definitely has a unique perspective on Vegas, and Josh Ellis and Jarret Keene are two of the best writers in town. I plan to be there:

Posted: 7/24/2012 at 1:33:00 PM | Updated: 7/27/2012 at 11:06:00 PM | Add Comments | More Options