Friday, August 19, 2011

Dishing it up with Cara Bertoia

Today I have the pleasure of dishing it up with author Cara Bertoia. Cara grew up in a straight-laced Southern family and 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. 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 high-tech job in Boston and began working on her MFA in writing at Emerson.

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. Awed by the wonders of Venice, the fjords of Norway, and the Northern Lights in Leningrad but on the downside, she also watched glaciers melt at an alarming rate in Alaska, snorkeled to coral reefs killed by pollution in the Caribbean, and witnessed the devastation as the Amazon burned. Taking advantage of every opportunity to be a tour guide, she soaked in as much history as she could.

She returned from ships with a very special souvenir, her husband Ray. Besides being a handsome Glaswegian, he is her co-author. They also produced a movie on walking the 500-mile "Camino De Santiago," in Spain. The Desert Woman and the Desert Sun both featured stories about their walk.

JET: Can you tell us about Cruise Quarters, your most recent book?

: Cruise Quarters - A novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships is a fun, fast-paced tale of working in the casino aboard a Regal Cruises cruise-ship.

The crew of the Regal Star resemble a mini United Nations, hiring people from all over the world. But unlike the UN, Regal Cruise's employees present a united front above decks as they attend to their passenger's every need. Below decks though, that is a different story.

Sarah Seldon is a croupier on the luxury liner. After many unhappy endings, and burnt out on shipboard romance, she is determined to forget about men and concentrate on becoming a casino manager. On land women face a dearth of GOOD men but on a ship giving up men would take willpower. The mostly male crew exists to serve her every need. Handsome Italian waiters bring her food, the Filipino steward cleans her room, English officers play poker with her and the Welsh plumber fixes her sink. She leads a cushy life, sleeping 'til noon, eating gourmet food, and the topper - she gets to wake up in beautiful new place everyday. All because she works in a casino, a place so bad it has SIN in the middle.

After college she took a summer job at Lake Tahoe in the casino business and became a member of the Church of Gambling. She has been in the gambling business long enough to know that in order for a gambler to be successful, she must have Lady Luck on her side. But a gambler also has to follow the rules of basic strategy. When love unexpectedly sneaks up on Sarah on the magical island of Mayreau, she wonders whether she could apply the rules of gambling to love? What if she could write Sarah Seldon's Basic Strategy of Love?

Book a cruise and travel with Sarah and the crew as they work, play, feast, and fall in and out of love, all while the ship sails around the globe, stopping at exotic ports of call. Along the way, from Venice to Barcelona sight-see in the Med, shop in St. Martin, take an eco-cruise down the Amazon, and feast in Glasgow. Let the crew tell you their own stories as they sit in the hallway in the wee hours of the morning. While the ship travels to new destinations, tired and tipsy they share tales of love and betrayal.

JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?

Cara: My most challenging hurdle was actually was the writing of the book. It is based on a true story, my story and I wanted to be as honest as I could and that was hard. I did have my book considered by some very big agents but I think it didn’t follow enough of a formula, and I really wanted to tell a story that people could relate to. Since my husband and I had produced a movie on walking the Camino de Santiago and had sold it ourselves over the Internet we knew that we could publish our book. The biggest hurdle I face now is expanding the book to contemporary romance readers. It is doing very well with people who love cruise ships. But it is also a story of finding your place in a very big world.

JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?

Cara: My favorite moment was doing a search for cruise ships on Amazon and seeing my book listed at number four. Then I did a search for cruise ship novel and we were number one. Then I went to casino novel and we were number two after Ian Fleming, my husband took a picture of that. Right next to James Bond that was quite a thrill. Another great moment was selling that first paperback. And last month Cruise Quarters was the “read of the week” at So the favorite moments just keep coming.

JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?

Cara: My whole writing experience changed after I read Charles Bukowski. I didn’t want to go to the track and get drunk everyday like he did, but I did like the way he wrote. His language was so plain. If felt so raw and real. I also loved sweeping romance novels, I read about the Camino de Santiago before I ever walked it. I really just read everything. I would sneak into my parents room and steal their books.

JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?

Cara: After I graduated college I got a job teaching high school in North Carolina. On a summer break I drove across country with two friends and we all got jobs in a casino in Lake Tahoe. Tahoe was a beautiful place and casino jobs were the best ones to have, especially dealing. Well they all soon went home but I stayed. I worked at Caesars Palace for a few years but then I moved to the North Shore of the Lake. The place I worked at was an “old school” casino, it had been a rat pack hangout in the old days and even now autographed photos of movie stars still adorn the walls. The casino overlooked the lake and as I dealt I would look out at a beautiful view of the crystal blue water. The border between Nevada and California runs down through the middle of the casino.

The owner was a plumbing contractor from Fresno. The head of security was an ex-Mossad officer and every few weeks we would be strapped down and given lie detector tests. They let porn movies be filmed in the casino and there were rumors that he rigged the slot machines. I’m not sure if that was all true but he did manage to get his casino closed down by the Nevada gaming commission, no small feat. One day a sports agent with Hollywood connections played on my game and encouraged me to write down all my great casino stories. That was the day I became a writer, well my script got as far as HBO where it was eventually rejected but that didn’t matter to me. I was a writer.

A year later I went back to the real world and became a systems analyst by day, writer by night. I lived in Boston, the home of perpetual students and so I was able to take writing classes, join critique groups and improve. After a few years I began working on an MA in writing at Emerson because it had connections in Hollywood. Well, just before I was scheduled to intern in Los Angeles as a script reader I got the opportunity to join Princess Cruises as a croupier. My choice was spend my dwindling savings on an internship or get paid to see the world. I wasn’t scared of going - only staying. The Germans have a word for it torschlusskpanik, the fear of missing the boat.

JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?

Cara: Well, it wasn’t for book research but when we made our movie on walking the Camino de Santiago we actually had to walk the Camino. That was 500 miles across northern Spain, and let me tell you there were very few plains mostly hills and valleys and even a climb up a mountain or two. It was very strenuous but I saw people in their seventies walking. Think about walking fifteen miles today, and then getting up and doing it tomorrow. We were just like the mail men neither rain now snow could keep us from our task. At least I didn’t hear the word diet for six weeks.

JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?

Cara: I have only written one novel and since it is based on our lives and our adventures it has to be our favorite.

JET: Any advice for the novices out there?

Cara: I think my advice would be to just write, and you probably won’t get a lot of encouragement from you family and friends, but let me tell you people who don’t know you will take you much more seriously. Also take writing classes, and have everything edited. The first draft is always bad but the fun is in the rewriting, polishing those sentences.

JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with: Paper or Plastic?

Cara: I should say paper it is more politically correct, but plastic lines the bin so much better.

JET: Steak or Tofu?

Cara: Steak, I hear that soybeans are way overrated.

JET: Beach or Mountains?

Cara: Beach, always. I lived for five years on a cruise ship and I loved to go outside on deck every night and surround myself with the ocean. I missed it dreadfully when I returned to land.

JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?

Cara: I love Rock-n-Roll, but Country is gaining ground. Have you ever seen Keith Urban? To be perfectly honest sometimes I can’t tell the difference, and apparently neither can my favorite radio station, they play both.

JET: Leather or Lace?

Cara: Leather, lace makes me itch. I wore a lace bra that made me want to scream.

JET: Angels or Demons?

Cara: Angels, although they may be a little too nice for me.

JET: Paper or Digital?

Cara: Digital for work, dealers get a break every hour so we always have a book on the go. Paper for the beach I would hate to drop my Kindle in the water.

JET: Top 10 best seller or Unknown Back Shelf Find?

Cara: I loved Shopgirl by Steve Martin, but I don’t know many people that have read. It is written so well and the characters are so realistic. I also loved Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler about how one event can change the way you live your life.

JET: Twilight or True Blood

Cara: Neither, I just like old fashioned romance that you can consummate.

JET: Coffee or Tea?

Cara: Tea, I am a southerner we were raised on ice tea, at every meal, in any season.

JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?

Cara: Through the years we have heard so many crazy things in the casino that just weren’t true, so we wanted to do something about it. Right now my husband, Ray, and I are working on our new blog. It is called We started it to promote our novel about casinos and cruise ships and now we have decided to see how far we can take it. Our blog teaches novices something about gambling and casino life. If any of your readers have any good gambling stories or just general questions please have them contact us at

JET: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog. Folks, you can find out more about Cara Bertoia and her work at the following places: and

You can purchase Cara's book in the following formats:  E-book  and  Paperback

Thank you for joining us today!

Until next time,



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