In Lay the Favorite, Beth Raymer tells of the gambling life in Las Vegas.
You write that you associated gambling with "some of the happiest moments of my childhood." Where did you grow up?
We started out in St. Clairsville, Ohio, then we moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. My father was a car salesman. Usually around gambling with my father, everyone was drinking and in a good mood, cocktail waitresses were beautiful with nice clothes and lots of makeup. Being around money was very thrilling, and I understood the power of it.
You held a lot of varied jobs before you got hired by Dink [a professional gambler] in Las Vegas—you worked at a residential home for troubled teenage girls and as an "in-home stripper" for $150 an hour. Did you feel already at age 24 that you needed a second chance?
I wasn’t a good student at all. I never went to class; I basically worked. I liked working much better than going to school. I liked making money. I found a new start in Las Vegas. No one is really from there. People there don’t have family; they’re on their own. They have some degenerate gene in them. That appealed to me.
How long did it take you to learn the lingo of gambling in Las Vegas?
It took a couple of months. I was around people who had been gambling since they were teenagers. Once, I was with all the gambling crew from Dink’s at a Sunday brunch, and the bill came, and they all pulled out wads of money. It was so normal for them to talk about money and in this slang—it was always like, "Oh, I made a decent amount of money," and I always wondered what "a decent amount of money" was. For me that meant about $30, but for them, "a decent amount of money" meant $250,000.
How much did you make?
A lot! It was great. And I didn’t save any of it—I spent it so fast. I didn’t have anything to save it for. I think when you have money you should use it to go on a new adventure. I can’t fathom why people save, what they are saving for. In the end, one of the things I like about my book is that it’s an adventure story with a female protagonist. I wanted to take the reader on a strange, thrilling, funny adventure.
Do you miss it? Is writing so different from gambling?
I left gambling in 2005 and right away got accepted at Columbia [nonfiction M.F.A. program]. I lived on student loans. I only learned at Columbia what a metaphor was and how to structure a paragraph. Then I sold my book in 2007 while I was still a student. I lived off my advance. Now I live in Adena, Ohio, researching my new novel, and I rent a two-bedroom for $250 a month. It’s very nice, though there are some drawbacks—like no yoga or cellphone reception. I miss gambling, but I love being a writer now. I still feel there is a lot of pressure, and I thrive on pressure. In gambling and writing, you have to spend hours alone staring at a computer screen. There’s a lot of stressing out.