Welcome to Stop #5 on Eric Luper's Blog Tour!
Eric's debut novel--Big Slick--was just released and let me tell you that it is one fun read. Once your stress levels go down, that is.
Andrew gets caught up in the rough-and-tumble world of Texas Hold'em and, unfortunately, doesn't know when to walk away from the table. Before you know it, he's in big trouble. Big Slick had me biting my nails to the end, hoping Andrew would wake up and manage to avoid complete and total ruin.
On to the interview...
KH: Eric, you have to know my first question: The card game Texas Hold'em is central to the plot of Big Slick. Do you play cards?
EL: I do play cards. I'll have to say Texas Hold'em is my favorite. I'm a numbers sort of guy (on the days when I'm not a words kind of guy) and I love to crunch the pot odds in my head. But I've also been known to play Magic: the Gathering, Free Cell, Spider Solitaire, War, Crazy Eights, Uno, Go Fish, Pokemon and 52 Pick Up. I also like just shuffling cards. There's something inherently satisfying about shuffling.
KH: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?
EL: It all depends on the time of day, the day of the week, and my mood. Volume-wise, I probably drink soft drinks the most, but I probably enjoy wine the most. I'm sort of a beer geek though and I like to try the exotic stuff. I also went through a beer-making stint but for me the most enjoyable part was designing the labels for the bottles.
KH: Do you watch card tournaments on television? In real life?
EL: I love watching poker tournaments on television because you can see what cards the players are holding. The drama level is high because you know who is bluffing and how it pans out. They also edit out all the boring stuff. Unless I'm actually playing, I can't stand watching tournaments in real life. I have no idea how they can muster a crowd to watch people playing cards. It's like asking people to enjoy an art exhibit where all the paintings are covered with sheets.
KH: Beach, city, or forest?
EL: I'm going to have to go off the board on this one, Kelly, and say "lake." We have a weekend place in Lake George and that's where we spend most of our summer weekends. If pressed to stay on the board, I'll say city. I love wandering aimlessly in New York City. There's nothing like it.
KH: Why did you decide to write Young Adult fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?
EL: I started out writing a literary chick-lit mystery, but I got hung up on the proper way to haughtily describe a character being bludgeoned to death with a Hermes purse. Actually, when I was in the creative writing program at Rutgers oh so many parsecs ago (that's a little joke for all you Star Wars geeks out there), all my best stories seemed to come from a teen or child protagonist. Why fight it?
Plus, I think YA fiction is intense. It's emotionally charged and very high in action. Fun stuff.
KH: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?
EL: Wow, what's with all the beverage questions? [KH: Ummm...it's because I love coffee. And mineral water. Apologies.] Actually I used to drink a lot of frappuccinos but when I found out how many grams of carbohydrates are in them (go look on the Starbucks website) I switched to plain old coffee. Now, I drink way too much of that for any one human being.
KH: Big Slick is your first novel. How long did it take you to write? And I mean from the very beginning--from the spark in your eye to the lovely product I just received?
EL: Here's the timeline (these are rough estimates, but close enough for government work):
- January 2004: I saw my first poker tournament on television and wrote a poker scene as a short-story writing exercise.
- April 2004: I brought my short story to my weekly critique group. They clamored for chapter 2. I called them a bunch of crazyheads.
- June 2004: I started to think that maybe they weren't crazyheads after all.
- September 2004: I finished my first draft and began editing.
- February 2005: I met Wes Adams (my editor at FSG) at the NYC SCBWI conference and slid him my manuscript under the bathroom stall door. (Okay, I'm kidding about that last part)
- April 2005: Wes sent me an editorial letter with some suggestions
- August 2005: FSG offered me a contract.
- September 2005: It finally sunk in that FSG offered me a contract
- September 2005 to date: All sorts of bizarre mind-blowing stuff happened (along with all sorts of temper tantrums, fist-shaking and growling) and there you have it--a book!
KH: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?
EL: Without a doubt: movie. Although I do like watching dramas on the stage, I can't stand musicals. There's something about how all those folks break into song and dance that tears me right out of the story. Although, I do sometimes wish that people broke into song and dance in real life. That would be cool. As for concerts, they're just too darn expensive.
KH: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?
EL: This is a tough question. I'm one of those people who loves to fantasize about winning the lottery. I don't play the lottery, but I think about winning it all the time. If I had unlimited resources and only seven days, my week would include staying in a gothic castle with a huge contemporary YA library (you know, one of those libraries with the ladders on wheels), access to night life in some exotic metropolitan area, a wine tasting in a vineyard, a hot tub, a team of nannies, a convertible Ferrari, and a pet chimp. Let's not forget the pet chimp.
KH: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?
EL: Without a doubt, Halloween. New Year's is for amateurs and if you need a special day in which to tell someone you love that you love them then you're doing something wrong.
KH: Oh, I felt so badly for Andrew and how much trouble he got himself into with Texas Hold'em. How did you manage to keep up the suspense in the novel? Did you find doing so difficult?
EL: This is an interesting question. I'm not much of an outliner. When I write, the most I have planned is maybe the next chapter and a vague idea of where the book will end up. I know I'm writing well when whatever I'm producing surprises me--makes me laugh, tear up, get excited, etc. I suppose that lends itself to surprising my readers as well.
KH: Addiction and all its dangers play an important thematic role in Big Slick. Was this a theme you thought important when designing the book, or did it develop organically while you were writing?
EL: I give very little thought to theme as I am writing. For me, writing with theme in mind is a one-way path to a boring, preachy manuscript. I create characters that I love and present them with challenges. Then, I keep throwing interesting, yet prickly, things in their way to prevent them from getting what they want or need. Theme, I think, develops on its own through desire, cause and effect, and good old-fashioned karma.
KH: How much research on cards and the game Texas Hold'em did you have to conduct to make Big Slick believable?
EL: Believable is an interesting concept. I think believability comes from character rather than from setting. I mean Scott Westerfeld's Peeps is believable. David Lubar's True Talents is believable. Yes they are fantastical, but once a reader commits him or herself to the story it's all about suspension of disbelief. And that concept holds whether your characters are fighting vampires, have psychic powers, or are playing poker. When you think about it, all of writing is an illusion. If you really want to nitpick, all of life is an illusion. It all has to do with consciousness and perception, but that's getting very existential and too much into my argument of why I shouldn't have to weed the garden in my backyard.
KH: Okay, so this isn't exactly a book question, but tell me a little bit about your blog: Do you find blogging adds to your writing...or, is it just a big distraction?
EL: I have a blast writing my blog. It's the place I write when I want to just let go. It also lets me decompress. Sure, it's a distraction from my writing. What in life isn't? Sleeping is a distraction. Paying rent is a distraction. Working a job that actually pays is a distraction. So is blogging. But blogging is a distraction that lets me keep my head in my writing. And as I said, I have a total blast working on it.
KH: What can we look forward to next from Eric Luper?
EL: My next novel, believe it or not, is going to be grittier than the first. It is about a young jockey at Saratoga racetrack who is pressured to tamper with a horse and help fix a race. There are a lot of seedy characters and tough choices in that book too. Look for it in July 2009, just in time for opening day at Saratoga!
And to keep up to date on what's going on in the world of Eric Luper, check out my website at http://www.ericluper.com/ or my blog at http://eluper.livejournal.com/.
KH: Thanks, Eric! It was a pleasure to talk with you.
You can catch the rest of Eric Luper's blog tour here:
Alice Pope's CWIM blog
The sixth interview, conducted by Julie M. Prince, will be up next week in the all-YA edition of The Edge of the Forest
Book Giveaway! The first two readers who e-mail FSG (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and mention they read Eric Luper's interview here at Big A little a will receive free copies of Big Slick. (You have to mention Big A little a. Good luck!)