If life is a journey filled with unexpected twists and turns, then Megan Edwards is someone who has done more than her fair share of driving. After her house burned to the ground in the epic 1993 Altadena wildfire that destroyed 200 homes, she and her husband Mark Sedenquist opted to hit the road with their dog in a custom-built motor home for a planned six-month road trip that wound up lasting six years.
Their final destination was Las Vegas, where Edwards had planned to spend a few weeks researching a novel set in the famed gambling utopia. But she and Sedenquist — the publisher of roadtripamerica.com and a travel columnist for MSNBC— loved the area so much they never left, settling into another home there for the past 18 years.
Edwards has become an expert on the “other side” of a city that is often overshadowed by its famed Strip, founding the site Living-LasVegas.com. But more importantly, she began a flurry of writing that will result in three novels being released by the end of this year.
That impressive feat has led to an appearance Wednesday night at Flintridge Books in La Cañada Flintridge, where Edwards will discuss her debut novel, “Getting Off on Frank Sinatra: A Copper Black Mystery,” and the rest of her unusual life.
“I wrote my travel memoir ‘Roads from the Ashes’ in 1999, which gave me the inspiration to try my hand at fiction,” Edwards recalls. “I started writing a novel that required my coming to Vegas awhile because I knew nothing about it other than a childhood bias against it. My main character needed to be here, and I needed to know more to write it.
“I came for a few weeks, and I’m still here, because it’s a fascinating place to live and it’s nice,” she continues. “The book I came to live here for will come out in 2019, but as I was working on that, I got inspired to finish my book on Copper Black first.”
In “Sinatra,” Black is a reporter at the fictional Las Vegas Light newspaper who accidentally discovers the dead body of Marilyn Weaver, the founder of an exclusive private school whom Black had interviewed just hours before. Drawn into the resulting murder investigation, she not only has to evade the sociopathic killer, a suspicious homicide detective and a disturbed cowgirl, but also deal with the fact that her boyfriend has just impregnated his not-quite-ex-wife.
Edwards’ creation of Black was partly inspired by her own brief stint as a writer for the Pasadena Weekly. She had just started writing a column about the local singles scene called “Getting Out There” a month before the wildfire occurred, and was so devoted that she even submitted one the week her house went up in flames.
“The fire was a pretty big surprise, and it completely cleaned us out except for our cars and our dog,” says Edwards. “My husband was a real estate broker and property manager and had just moved his office to the house, and he didn’t have an ID card left after the fire.
“Not having any stuff is remarkably liberating, and I very rapidly realized it gave us opportunities we might never have again — like hitting the road in an RV because we didn’t have to store anything,” she continues. “I don’t think either of us thought we would still be out there after six years, and we certainly would never dream we’d wind up in Las Vegas.”
Edwards had often “looked down upon” Las Vegas while spending her high school years in Sierra Madre and Pasadena, as her nature-loving family drove through the desert metropolis while en route to vacations in the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah. But when she and Sedenquist settled into an RV park outside Vegas so she could do her novel research, she wound up discovering there was much more to the city than its famous flash.
“I made Copper a transplant to Vegas because I was one myself, and wanted her to have her discover the city like I did,” explains Edwards. “Beyond the Strip, it’s a surprisingly conservative place to live, because it was founded by Mormons and still has the biggest Mormon population outside of Utah. There’s a huge community of Cubans that started after Cuban casino workers fled here after Castro’s revolution, and it’s known as the ninth island of Hawaii because so many Hawaiians wind up here.”
“Sinatra” was released in March and is the first in a planned trilogy of Black’s adventures, with the second book “Full Service Blonde” scheduled for November. And in September, Edwards will release the novel “Strings,” a romance involving a couple affected by the mysterious discovery of a rare and long-lost violin.
Her ties to the Pasadena area remain strong, as she and Sedenquist visit his mother in La Cañada Flintridge every month. Even better, the novel slated for 2019 strongly involves Caltech.
“That will be a literary novel, and the main character is a woman who was born and raised in Vegas but studied Latin in a college prep program,” says Edwards. “She gets involved as an interpreter in a secret Caltech time-travel project that brings Julius Caesar to the present day. Things don’t go as planned and they wind up in Vegas, where her contacts get them a fancy suite in Caesar’s Palace, because where else is he going to stay?”
Megan Edwards will discuss and sign “Getting Off on Frank Sinatra: A Copper Black Mystery” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Flintridge Books, 1010 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada Flintridge. Call (818) 790-0717 or visit flintridgebooks.com.