Sometimes you have to gamble like your life depends on it. With Caroline’s life on the line, can she pull out a win?
Cara Bertoia grew up in a strait-laced Southern family, but she was always fascinated with casinos. In her twenties on a summer hiatus from teaching in North Carolina, she drove to California and became a dealer at Caesars in Lake Tahoe. She discovered that after teaching high school, handling an unruly gambler was a piece of cake. Her mother highly disapproved of her working in a casino, “a place so bad it has ‘sin’ in the middle.”
Eventually, she succumbed to pressure from the family and returned east to take a hi-tech job in Boston. She also began working on her MFA in writing at Emerson. Her goal was to write the first realistic novel about casino life from the perspective of an experienced table games dealer. She is 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 her novel will.
While in Boston she was offered the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. Jumping at the chance, she spent the next five years circling the globe. Sometimes life exceeds your dreams. She was awed by the wonders of Venice, the fjords of Norway, and the Northern Lights in St. Petersburg.
Cara returned from ships with a very special souvenir, her Scottish husband Ray. They went to work at the Spa Casino in Palm Springs, and now live in Hollywood, Florida, where she writes about her casino years while wistfully gazing out at the ocean.
I love to connect with my readers. Please send me a picture with Casino Queen. I will post those pictures to my social media.
Avis: Hi Cara! I’m so glad to have you as my guest today! I loved your book and the fascinating world of casinos and gambling. It’s not my thing, but you made it so interesting, and your book was so engaging! Let’s talk about you and your book now!
How did your career and life experiences influence your work?
Cara: For the last ten years I have been juggling writing with my day or should I say night job as a croupier. I say croupier not to be pretentious but because I can deal about ten games not just blackjack. I have left dealing a few times but it always sucked me back in. I will list some of the reasons.
You get paid for playing games all day. Every casino I have ever worked in provides health insurance. You also only work 8 hours a day. I decided I’d rather work by the hour than for a salary. These hours gave me an opportunity to write during the day.
You can work any shift that you want to. At a young age I decided I liked to work night shift. I lived in Lake Tahoe and if I worked nights that left my days free to ski or swim in the lake. I also hate waking up to an alarm clock.
Gambling is a growth industry. With more states and cities in desperate financial straits, they are turning to casinos. Fifty years ago, there were casinos only in Nevada now according to Wikipedia there are casinos in 30 states.
You can’t be outsourced. Someone does have to actually pitch those cards on a blackjack game.
You can get a job at almost any age. I have seen dealers in their sixties get hired.
Free food is a great incentive. Most casinos I’ve worked in have provided free meals and drinks and if they do charge the cost is minimal.
You don’t have to buy clothes, because your company will gladly provide you with a uniform. It will be ugly, it will be made of polyester, but it will be free.
You get to live in nice places which is what got me into the business in the first place. Besides Tahoe, I have lived on a cruise ship circling the world, and Palm Springs. My husband has worked in Moscow, London, the Czech Republic and the Bahamas. Not all casinos are located in nice places but with a little research you can find a beautiful place to deal.
You get to meet celebrities. I was thrilled whenever anyone from Vanderpump Rules played on my game. Well, okay to me they are actually big celebrities. I have also dealt to official Hollywood stars.
Avis: Wow! You’ve really lived an exciting life and it sounds like you have a unique skill set, writer/dealer! Your experiences working in casinos really makes your book come alive! How about another question:
Did you have to cut any favorite scenes?
Cara: I had to cut and replace about a third of my novel. The catalyst of my new novel—CASINO QUEEN—was brought on by the boom and bust of the first decades of this century. My goal was to write a thriller filled with twists and turns to capture that special time and place. My editor, Kaycee John at The Wild Rose Press, always encouraged me to tap into everyone’s fascination for the gambling industry. “Millions of dollars pass through the casino every week, casino fleas operate their personal side businesses on the gaming floor, and you never knew who might walk through the door itching for a fight.” She wanted me to pull from my decades of working in the industry to tell the stories only an insider can tell. In the process the story became more concentrated on the Night Hawk Casino and less focused on Caroline’s past. Since she was the casino manager it became the story of a strong women succeeding in a career usually reserved for men.
Avis: You got some really good advice and guidance from your editor! Getting to follow Caroline through the casino on her daily business was so fascinating to me, and the way you work in the thriller/mystery was excellent! No spoilers here though, so on to our next question:
What was your hardest scene to write?
Cara: I found out it is very hard to write a thriller, it’s like designing a jigsaw puzzle where every piece has to fit, but it can’t be too obvious just how they do. The most challenging scene I wrote was the climax of the book. You know the place in the thriller where the crime and the villain are revealed and the protagonist lays her life on the line. For me it was important to write a realistic novel, one that could actually happen. I also had to tie up all the plot points. But most importantly I wanted the ending to be a surprise and you can tell me if I succeeded Avis, since you read Casino Queen.
Avis: Oh, Cara! You succeeded! This interview has been so interesting, and it’s so great to hear your behind the scenes decisions and choices as you wrote Casino Queen! You’ve overcome any challenges and produced a really top-notch read for anyone interested in the gambling, the casino scene, or a really fast-paced thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat wondering whodunnit!
Here is a list of Cara’s social links, and below that is my review of Cara’s excellent book, Casino Queen. Check it out!
Here is the link to my first novel Cruise Quarters. It is a novelization of my five years working for Princess Cruises. In honor of the cruise, I just took I am offering it for the low price of $2.99 or for free at Kindle Unlimited.
Review, by Avis Adams:
Cara Bertoia’s Casino Queen had me hooked from page one! Bertoia’s experience working at Casinos as a dealer helps her develop the world of gambling. She introduces us to the world of Native casinos and gives us so many interesting aspects of casino life. From all the people it takes to keep track of the thousands of dollars that flow through the tables, slots, and other games, to the ties the casino has to the tribe and the local community, we learn the important connections and role the casino has in so many lives. In the midst of this world, Bertola guides us through and develops a mystery that keeps up on the edge of our seats!
Caroline Popov, our hero, is a tall, beautiful woman with a broken heart who is more concerned about the running of her casino than herself. Her failed marriage is the backdrop to every decision she makes. Through flashback and back story, Bertola weaves a picture of a woman who had no choice but to leave when all she wanted to do was stay in the loving arms of her husband. Alone and on her own, she makes her way in the cutthroat world of casinos and gambling.
As the manager at the Night Hawk Casino, she is the boss, and as the boss, she must navigate the fine line between friend, family, and manager because the casino acts as one large family, and it employs people who are family, which can create unique problems as we find out. At the Night Hawk Casino, some of the employees steal and extort their colleagues, and even though their schemes are smart and slide under the radar of previous managers, When Caroline arrives, she notices, and she stops the stealing.
Bertoia develops scene after scene where security and cameras are called upon to expose card sharks and double-dealing dealers with Caroline at the head of the sting. To state the obvious, she makes enemies, and her life is threatened. Her mentor and boss, the enigmatic and handsome John Tovar, worries about her, while admiring her skill at managing her staff and exposing and catching criminals, patrons, and employees alike.
Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Mojave Desert backdrop provide another layer to the complex plot and Bertola’s master storyteller skills meld the story with the setting creating tension and tone in this dessert wonderland. A casino sponsored half-marathon is the event that brings all the players together, and readers will delight in the tension and action-packed conclusion to this riveting story.
Cara Bertoia’s Casino Queen delivers on all fronts, and readers of mystery/romance will love this book. And the best news is that Casino Queen is book one in the Night Hawk Casino series! This book is highly recommended and is definitely a five-star read!