And read your secrets while he cleans your coat
- from Curiosity by Charles Sprague
BIG SLICK is part Ferris Bueller's Day Off, part Texas Hold 'Em. The book's cover has the perfect tagline: High stakes and dirty laundry. Andrew "borrows" $600 from the cash register at his dad's dry cleaning business to play poker, then loses it all. While trying to figure out a way to make that money and slip it back into the register before his parents find out it's missing, Andrew gets tangled up in some dirty dealings and must reach out to his somewhat nerdy best friend Scott and his beautiful, slightly older, totally Goth co-worker Jasmine for help.
Author Eric Luper dropped by Bildungsroman as part of his book tour this week. I dealt him the following questions, and this is how he played his hand:
BIG SLICK is your big debut. Did you "become" a writer as an adult, or do you feel as though you have always been a writer?
I was brought up to believe you could do anything in life as long as you were a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant. However, I have always been a storyteller of one kind or another. Whether it was through my "serial cereal" cartoons in 6th and 7th grade (I had a strip about the Honey-Nut Cheerios Bee getting killed in very clever ways), role-playing games (which really is a form of community storytelling), or just discussing amongst my friends what we would do if zombies suddenly leapt out from behind a mailbox, stories have always been a big part of my life. The concept of actually pursuing writing as a career came later.
Which setting or scenario came to you first, the poker playing or the dry cleaners?
The poker playing came way first. In fact, the first chapter of BIG SLICK in which Andrew is playing a high-stakes tournament in Shushie's illegal poker room came months before the idea of turning this idea into a book. Chapter 1 was originally intended as a writing exercise. It was only when my critique group clamored for Chapter 2 that I gave thought to writing the novel - and even then, the idea took months to penetrate my thick skull. Dry cleaning came because I used to work at a dry cleaners, so I know the business better than, say, pet grooming or pie making.
Are you a poker fanatic?
Although I'd love to say that I hang out for days at a time in smoky poker rooms with a wide-brimmed Stetson and a pair of mirrored Ray-Bans, the truth is that I used to be a poker fanatic. I was a poker fanatic while I was writing BIG SLICK.
A close friend of mine is a trial attorney and he once told me that in order to try a case effectively he has to become an expert in whatever the case is about for the duration of the trial. The same holds true for writing. As I wrote BIG SLICK, I read dozens of books on poker, played constantly with friends and online, and visited casinos and illegal poker rooms.
However, if I were a long-term poker fanatic I think I would miss the things that make poker fascinating for the layperson. Coming in as an outside observer, I can bring to my writing the fresh details - the sounds, the smells, the grittiness - that the poker fanatic might overlook or take for granted.
Each chapter is titled after a poker hand. Did you know these terms already, or did you research the terminology to find cards that fit the events of the book?
Through my research, I discovered all of those colorful names for poker hands. It was late in the writing of the novel when the idea came to use them as chapter titles. And they kept changing all the way through copyediting.
Andrew has to work at his family's business. What was your first job as a teenager?
As a kid, I was a paperboy. I used to drag my butt out of bed and ride my bike all over the neighborhood before the sun came up. Boy, I hated that job. And it showed. As time wore on, I delivered the paper later and later - sometimes as late as after school. I got phone calls from all the neighbors complaining that they wanted to enjoy their newspaper with their morning coffee, not their TV dinners. So I quit. It was the best thing for everyone.
Andrew's little brother Rooster adds unconditional love and uncensored thoughts (little kids have no filter!) to the book. Do you have any siblings?
I have a brother who is a year and eleven days older than me and a brother who is seven years my junior. That makes me a middle child and entirely vulnerable to those of you who want to analyze my writing against the backdrop of sibling birth order. I have no sisters and that's probably good for whoever she might have been. I already feel bad for my mom having to deal with a houseful of guys.
Andrew's father's car reminded me of Cameron's father's car in Ferris Bueller's Day Off – the parent's love for the car overshadowing his love for the child, the inevitable joyride leading to the literal journey. Was this intentional?
To me, a car symbolizes freedom and the shift to adulthood - and that's what teen fiction is all about (along with a few cuss words thrown in for good measure). The funny thing is that I didn't know that the car was going to play such a big role in the story at first. As I wrote the early chapters, my brain was telling me to play up the car, play up the car, play up the car! So I listened. Months later, when I was presented with certain challenges in the story, I had this "aha" moment and it all became clear.
Interesting discussion: Who was Ferris Bueller more about, Ferris or Cameron? Which storyline was more engaging? I would argue Cameron's. He was the one with the heavy conflict and the interesting struggle and the unique resolution. Ferris was just clever, hedonistic and able to outsmart everyone. Plus, he had a hot girlfriend.
One wonders what became of Sloane. What's in Jasmine's future?
If you're curious about what happens to one of my characters after the book ends, I guess I did my job! I have some ideas about Jasmine, and her story is not nearly over. However, I'm holding my tongue on that one. I hope to return to these characters someday and I don't want to commit myself to a single path. But if you can't bear not knowing, write a letter to my publisher and demand a sequel!
What is your favorite card game?
My favorite card game with a standard deck would be Texas Hold 'Em, but one of the coolest things to do with cards is to throw them so they cut slices out of fruit. I saw a guy do it on television and, man, would I love to be able to do that! What an ice-breaker: "Hi there! I can throw cards so they cut slices out of fruit."
What are your ten favorite books of all time?
That's a tough one, but here goes (in no particular order):
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Choose Your Own Adventure series (really!)
And whatever I'm working on at the time.
FREE BOOK ALERT!
The first two readers to email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention this interview will get free copies of Big Slick.
Travel with Eric on his blog tour.
October 5th: Alice Pope's CWIM blog
October 8th: SaturnCast
October 9th: The Longstockings
October 11th: Bildungsroman
October 12th: Big A little a
Later in the month: The Edge of the Forest
To learn more about the author, visit his website, LiveJournal, and MySpace.