The road to my novel, Cruise Quarters
– A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships, is a long journey with lots of twist and turns much like a good story. After I graduated college I got a job teaching high school in North Carolina. On a summer break I drove across country with two friends and we all got jobs in a casino in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe was a beautiful place and casino jobs were the best ones to have, especially dealing. Well, they all soon went home but I stayed. I worked at Caesars Palace for a few years but then I moved to the North Shore of the Lake. The place I worked at was an "old school" casino, it had been a rat pack hangout in the old days and even now autographed photos of movie stars still adorn the walls. The casino overlooked the lake and as I dealt I would look out at a beautiful view of the crystal blue water. The border between Nevada and California runs down through the middle of the casino.
The owner was a plumbing contractor from Fresno. The head of security was an ex-Mossad officer and every few weeks we would be strapped down and given lie detector tests. They let porn movies be filmed in the casino and there were rumors that he rigged the slot machines. I’m not sure if that was all true, but he did manage to get his casino closed down by the Nevada gaming commission - no small feat. One day a sports agent with Hollywood connections played on my game and encouraged me to write down all my great casino stories. That was the day I became a writer, well my script got as far as HBO where it was eventually rejected, but that didn’t matter to me - I was a writer.
A year later I went back to the real world and became a systems analyst by day, writer by night. I lived in Boston, the home of perpetual students and so I was able to take writing classes, join critique groups and improve. After a few years I began working on an MA in writing at Emerson because it had connections in Hollywood. Well, just before I was scheduled to intern in Los Angeles as a script reader I got the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. My choice was spend my dwindling savings on an internship or get paid to see the world. I wasn’t scared of going - only staying. The Germans have a word for it torschlusskpanik, the fear of missing the boat.
I stayed at sea for five years and I would like to say that I wrote everyday but I didn’t. I spent those years soaking up all the history I could. The ship was my home and the crew bar was my living room and the nights I spent there were research since I planned to tell the story of all my crewmates someday. And then on my last contract I met Ray and my novel became a love story and that surprised me more than anyone else.
We settled in Palm Springs and I began my book. I had written most of it when I decided to test it out by taking a novel writing class at UCLA. One of the exercises in the class was to try out five opening lines, well the whole class voted for my current opener. My professor liked it so much she became my first editor. I started it in first person, but when I decided to include Ray we switched to third person. Ray’s adventures dealing around the world were just too good to leave out, and I really wanted to include the male point of view.
Third person gave me a much better feel for the characters. It made them come alive, but that meant another round of editing. In fact we have edited the book a hundred times and still we find small errors. But that is the hard work of writing getting it as good as you can and for me that meant rewriting until every word felt right.
The goal of our book was to tell our story in a realistic way. After so many ridiculous casino movies like The Cooler
, I had had enough. I am the cynic and Ray is the happy chappy, but we both wanted a book that rang true. We wrote down all our ship and casino stories in a book and then built a novel around them.
I casually handed our manuscript to one of my ship friends and asked her to read it. The next day she called me raving about our book. In fact she had already run off three copies for her co-workers. Then I knew that we had nailed it. All the agents I had talked to wanted a formula book. My biggest beef with the books I had been reading for the last few years were that they all sounded alike. Especially the love stories, I didn’t need to dress ours up it was exciting enough. Our book is based on true stories but it is still a novel. I was so disappointed to learn that Three Cups of Tea
was a lie. Surely Greg Mortenson knew that when you elaborate or move events around for dramatic effect it makes your book a work of fiction.
We also produced a movie on walking the 500-mile "Camino De Santiago
," in Spain. The Desert Woman and the Desert Sun both featured stories about our walk. When we were researching the Camino we could never find a good practical guide on the terrain and the trail, the things a person would experience every day, although there was plenty on the architecture and history. So seeing a need we made a movie of our journey. It is a thrill to come home and find orders from such diverse countries as Japan and Denmark.
My advice would be: Take classes, join critique groups in order to grow some thick skin, because I can guarantee that someone will disappoint you. I was always afraid of showing my friends my book, but they turned out to be my best readers offering great criticism. I don’t know why I hesitated, dealers are avid readers, with a break every hour they always have book on the go. Even with this article, today I wrote it, tomorrow I will rewrite, my favorite part, and the next day I will change it again. Contact Cara and Ray at their Blog