I’m happy to welcome Wild Rose Press author Cara Bertoia. Today, Cara shares her creative journey and new release, Casino Queen.
When I was younger, I always wondered what was wrong with me. Even though I would have good jobs, friends and a beautiful place to live I couldn’t settle down. I would pack up and move on a whim. I changed careers every few years. Then I found this word, that described me perfectly, torschlusskpanik. The German word for the feeling that opportunities are slipping away. I didn’t just travel to places, I lived there. My wanderlust started in college. I spent a semester at the University of the Americas in Mexico.
I grew up in a strait-laced Southern family, but was always fascinated with casinos. In my twenties on a summer hiatus from teaching in North Carolina, I drove to California and became a dealer at Caesars in Lake Tahoe. I discovered that after teaching high school, handling an unruly gambler was a piece of cake. My mother highly disapproved of my working in a casino, “a place so bad it has ‘sin’ in the middle.”
Eventually, I succumbed to pressure from the family and returned east to take a high-tech job in Boston. I also began working on my MFA in writing at Emerson. My goal was to write the first realistic novel about casino life from the perspective of an experienced table games dealer. I am always amazed that normal and sometimes quite intelligent players become absolutely clueless in the casino. They repeat superstitious nonsense and no amount of logic can change their position, maybe my novel will.
While in Boston I was offered the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. Jumping at the chance, I spent the next five years circling the globe. Sometimes life exceeds your dreams. I was awed by the wonders of Venice, the fjords of Norway, and the Northern Lights in Leningrad. At Princess Cruises the ship traveled across the globe, and I only had to pack my bags once every six months.
I met my husband when we worked on a cruise ship together. He jumped ship to be with me, and we moved to Palm Springs, and got married. I worked at the Agua Caliente Casino. I think life in Southern California was so exciting it tempered my wanderlust. Palm Spring was two hours to the mountains, two hours from the coast, two hours from Los Angeles and San Diego. Palm Springs was beautiful, a town in the desert filled with flowers surrounded by majestic mountains.
The best advice I ever got was from my father, a man not known for lecturing. He said, “You have to make your own mistakes, no one can make them for you.” Contrary to popular opinion, I decided that since I was probably going to fail anyway, I would try everything. Every failure was a badge of honor, but pretty soon I was racking up successes and gathering experiences. You never know things might just work out.
No one applauded my career in the casino industry, but it was a good choice for me. I made a good money, lived in beautiful places, and traveled the world. Best of all I never got laid off like my co-workers in high tech. In these precarious times, sometimes the safe career just isn’t that safe.
I worked in Native American casinos for twenty years. The casino industry had been good to me, but I always witnessed an underbelly just perfect for a thriller. Millions of dollars passed through the casino every week, casino fleas operated their personal side businesses on the gaming floor, and you never know who might walk in the door itching for a fight. That is what led me to my new career as a mystery writer. My hope is that after reading Casino Queen you will never walk into a casino the same way.
I will leave you with this quote: In life as in cards, you can’t play the last hand. You have to play the cards in front of you now. Cara Bertoia
Caroline Popov, alone, heartbroken, and deeply in debt ends up in glamorous Palm Springs, California. Native American casinos have just opened, thousands of people from all over the world came to work there, money flowed like water, and real estate became the new status symbol. And then came The Great Recession, and suddenly the partying stopped.
Alone, desperate and deeply in debt, she lands a job at the Palm Oasis Casino. She is mentored by the charismatic tribal chairman, John Tovar. Embraced by casino culture, Caroline works her way up to casino manager of the Night Hawk, in the High Desert town of Joshua Tree. There, she is responsible for managing multicultural team members, satisfying the demands of challenging guests, growing revenue while rooting out corruption. As she moves up through the ranks of management, her bond with John deepens.
In the process of uncovering the underbelly of corruption her list of enemies grows. Sometimes you have to gamble like your life depends on it. With her life on the line can she pull out a win?
“Why did I transfer you up from Palm Springs to be my Casino Queen?” The charismatic Tribal Chairman John Tovar asked.
“Casino Queen, really? Apparently, you are the only person in America who isn’t watching the show about the seven kingdoms on cable. The queens always get killed in the most horrific ways. They are hanged, beheaded, poisoned, burned alive in an explosion, or have their throat slit,” an exasperated Caroline Popov answered.
“I promise that won’t happen to you.” He gestured for her to take a seat at an empty ‘Mystic Mermaid’ slot machine, then sat across from her. They swiveled their chairs to face each other. John tried to act serious, but a smile kept pulling at the corner of his eyes. “According to the Mazurie decision, Native American tribes are considered sovereign nations. Therefore as leader of the tribe, I am King of the Shotowa.”
He continued. “Believe me, when I met the Queen of England I was introduced as the leader of the Shotowa nation. Let me be clear, as soon as you drove into this parking lot you entered the nation.” He gestured toward the uniformed officers standing at the door. “We have our own army.”
She decided to play along with the flow of his logic. “You mean security guards.”
“Precisely, trained courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. The tribe issues its own currency, gaming chips made of ceramic clay, stamped with our logo. At the cashiers’ cage, our central bank, those chips can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. Anyone can find food in our three restaurants or the team member dining room for employees. An underground well supplies us with water. We provide hotel rooms for shelter. Any guest who comes to stay with us will find their basic human needs covered by the Shotowa Tribe. Never forget we are a sovereign nation. I am the King, and I anoint you Queen of the Night Hawk.”
In the News
I am being featured in the April issue of The Big Thrill. I had a wonderful conversation with Susana Kuehne about my writing process.
The Big Thrill is a monthly publication of the International Thriller Writers Association. They say they have 200,000 hits a month. But all the big names are in there. I don’t know why they picked me, but I am very happy. Most of my readers thought my novel was a suspense novel. Check it out. Here is the link. My author interview will appear April 1.
The Big Thrill
This is the link from a book blog. Little Miss Book Lover 87. Vikkie Wakeham is a member of the Squadpod a group of book influencers.
Little Miss Book Lover 87
My husband and I met when we were working for Princess Cruises. In April, we have booked a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Copenhagen. The first part of the cruise is six straight sea days. One of my friends said she would jump over board if she had to be at sea that long. We can’t wait. For me there is nothing as great as standing on the deck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. After the cruise we will travel across Europe to visit his family and mine. I plan to tweet about my travels. You can follow our journey online. I know people are curious. Is it okay to cruise again? We’ll let you know.
I love to interact with my readers. Send me a picture with Casino Queen and I will post it on my social media sites.
Here are our social media links:
Palm Springs, Where It All Started…