There is one story within Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life which I feel she mentions a bit too quickly. It is at the end of her chapter on set design and involves a novelist’s need to know things their characters know – an issue with which I am intimately familiar. Ms. Lamott mentions a time when she was trying to put herself inside the mind of a gardener and felt ill equipped to create her character’s world solo. She called her local nursery, told the gentleman what she was doing, and he proceeded to help her design the garden of her character’s dreams. She even checked in with him every few months to find out how her garden would be doing that season.
Ms. Lamott sums up the effect of that experience by saying, “And in the years since, I have asked all sorts of people to help me design sets. I’ve asked them to describe what the world looked like in certain American cities or African villages, inside a particular car in the rain, or down by the water when hoboes still came to town on the train.” She doesn’t specifically say it, but the advice I heard while reading was, “People want to tell you their story. They want to help you. All you have to do is ask.”
I took baby steps towards living out this implied advice in 2015 and ended up landing an interview with my poker hero. I also started asking more questions of strangers and acquaintances and that habit has been producing immeasurable rewards. So, I thought I might start 2016 by throwing out a list of wishes to the world – stories that I hope will find their way to my ears or eyes. While many of my wishes do revolve around the game of poker, you need not be an experienced player to help. I need to hear stories from gamblers and non-gamblers alike to finish bringing the characters and scenes of my novel in progress to life. In fact, if this works, I will likely type my questions for the universe to see far more often. There are plenty more topics of interest where these came from:
Language – I know that, in England, a fag is a cigarette, but I’ll bet some of you know language quirks that I don’t know. Does your little corner of the world have a favorite word that few others use? If English is not your first language, is there a particular word or phrase you find strange or awkward? (I’m interested in all words, not just those related to poker or gambling… but very interested in poker terms in languages other than English, if you happen to know any.)
Food – What is your favorite food? What food(s) would you feel deprived to live without? Does your city/country have a signature dish I shouldn’t live without tasting? (Keep in mind you are talking to a vegetarian who also limits her intake of non-organic and processed foods, so all knowledge on modern junk food is appreciated. I fear I’m forgetting how the average person thinks about food.)
Luck – Do you believe in luck? Recall a time when you or someone you know was extremely lucky (at gambling or otherwise)? Have a lucky charm you carry in your purse, wallet, or car? Or, vice versa, do you feel you are unlucky or even cursed? How does that happen to someone? What are the signs? Can you change your luck? How?
Fortune Telling – Do you know everything about a type of fortune telling I may never have heard of? Do you think fortune telling be used to improve one’s poker game? To predict the winner of a horse race or a set of lotto numbers? How? Has it been done already? By who? Do you know anyone who tells fortunes using playing cards? Has had a fortune read using playing cards? Are you an expert on fortune telling with a theory on why it cannot be used in conjunction with gambling?
Religion – Are you a person of faith? What does your religion or moral system say about gambling? Does it look differently upon games of skill (i.e. poker) vs. games of chance (i.e. the lottery)?
First Game of Poker – If you have learned to play poker, whether or not you enjoyed it and kept playing, I would love to hear all about it. Who convinced you to give the game a chance? Did you risk any cash that day? Use traditional chips, coins, snack food, clothes, or some other imaginative substitute to place wagers? What was the room like? How many people were playing? Who won and lost the most? How did you do? Were there other activities happening simultaneously that you found distracting or enjoyable? If you don’t play anymore, why not? Tell me everything!
“Home Games” – Do you host or attend a poker game in your community? How many players attend? Are women allowed? How often do you play? What night (or day) of the week? What are the stakes (buy in, ante, blinds)? Tournament style or cash game? Texas Hold’em? 5 Card Draw? Omaha? 2-7 Triple Draw? Badugi? With or without wild cards? Are you a woman who knows about and wants to attend these games but isn’t allowed to play or only gets invited when the table is far from full?
Women Poker Players – Are you one of them? Do you know a female who has played a long time and told you her stories? Are female poker players different from other women? Are you a male player who dislikes having women in the game? Or, perhaps you like having women players but think they are inherently weaker players? Why?
Isolated Communities – Have you lived (or do you wish to live) on your own private island or in a commune, monastery, ranch in the middle of nowhere? Why? What do/did/will you have there that you can’t get elsewhere? What might/do you miss out on when isolated from most of society?
Boats at Sea -How long can a boat sit “parked” in the ocean without issues? What safeguards are needed in various weather conditions? Would either a smaller or larger boat wear better or worse than the other?
Cruise Ships – Have you worked on one? What was it like to live onboard? What did you do? For how long? Did you meet anyone you would consider a frequent traveler? What were they like? Have you been on a poker cruise ship? How was it different from a traditional casino experience (beyond the obvious)?
Life at Sea – Do you dream about it? What do you fantasize about? What makes you want to get away? What comforts from home would you be sure to take with you? Have you lived at sea? For how long? What were you doing? What did you like or dislike about it?
The Ocean’s Quirks – What is happening on the ocean floor these days? How does it affect the stability of a pier? An oil platform? An island? A harbor? A coastline? A continent?
Sea Life – Do you know a sea creature with a fascinating habit or ability? Perhaps it can see, hear, or smell things others can’t? Maybe it always does ___ before it pounces on its prey?
Poker Art – Who is making gambling themed art? Please send links.
Poker and Gambling Themed Books and Movies – What is your favorite gambling themed story any why is it better than others? Is there a gambler’s quote you are known to recite?
Contact me via Facebook or Twitter if you don’t have my personal email. (I will also give a phone number out and schedule interviews with those who have longer stories they don’t want to type out.) Those who have proven they are not robots or spammers, but rather actual humans who want to help, should also feel free to send me links to articles and websites you believe I would be interested in based on this list in lieu of personal tales. Or, if you like, you could send magazine and newspaper clippings, or whatever else you think might help, to PO Box 23804, Santa Barbara, CA 93121. Thank you in advance and no hard feelings if you don’t want to share a story with me. I just wanted to throw it out there. Just in case.