Owen Laukkanen, poker journalist–turned–thriller writer, makes his fiction debut with The Professionals.
How did Craigslist help you become a professional writer?
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was around 18. After university, I was looking for a job when I saw a Craigslist ad looking for writers willing to spend the summer in Las Vegas at the World Series of Poker. I figured it was probably some kind of scam, but applied anyway, despite having no prior knowledge of poker whatsoever, and no real reporting experience. I sent them two short stories I’d written as writing samples. Lo and behold, they hired me, and I joined a team of six writers for six weeks watching and writing about poker in Sin City. I compensated for my lack of knowledge by trying to soak up as much as I could from the rest of the team and, to be honest, by faking it until I had some idea what was going on. Eventually, I was asked if I’d be interested in a full-time job writing about tournaments around the world. When I got sick of smoky casinos, I left, took my savings, and decided to make a go of it writing crime fiction.
How did you come up with the notion of a gang of underemployed college graduates forming a kidnapping ring?
While watching a TV show about kidnappings in the developing world, and how kidnapping is in some ways a way of life and, more to the point, a viable career. I wondered how a group of professional kidnappers could succeed in North America, and from there I devised this book’s particular scheme.
Did your time in the poker world influence your writing of The Professionals?
It surrounded me with other talented writers who encouraged me to get out and do something “better,” and it also exposed me to a lot of successful young poker players, which I suppose inspired me to leave my comfortable poker writing existence and follow my own dreams.
In addition to working as a poker journalist, you’ve spent time on fishing boats. How are poker players like fishermen?
There’s a lot of gamble in both lines of work. In poker, that’s obvious, but in fishing you’re relying on your wits and a lot of luck to make your living; in both professions, if you’re unlucky, you don’t eat. At the same time, there’s the potential to make a lot of money in little time in both lines of work. Both attract a certain type of person, who eschews the normal, nine-to-five existence; they’re generally independent spirits who like to live life by their own rules.