What’s the hardest part of being an author?
While I consider myself very outgoing, sociable and gregarious, fiction writing is a solitary endeavor. After attending too many writers’ groups, writers’ conferences, writers’ workshops, writers’ lunches, even writers’ shopping sprees and mani-pedi sessions, I still had to come home and sit down at my computer and create my story. Add to that, my fondness, actually my love affair, with playing poker (I’ve been besotted for many years), and it becomes clear that my challenge has always been to work by myself.
Can you give us a short synopsis of River Card?
Coming of [middle]-age in Las Vegas – A tale of high stakes in poker and in life
141,000 words – 489 pages
Everyone is waiting for the river card – the last card dealt in poker – the ultimate payoff for the biggest risk, that final climactic chance to hit the jackpot – to win it all. The Mirage Hotel and Casino of the mid-nineties, at the pinnacle of all that Vegas wanted to be, is the definitive setting for a unique perspective on life in “sin city.” For Georgia Kassov Cates, “...perfect wife, loving mother, good person...” Vegas becomes Hemingway’s “Clean Well-lighted Place.” And then the lights go out, literally.
Georgia is mesmerized by the poker playing action that takes place in the quicksand card rooms of Vegas, and must battle the threat of getting sucked under by a gambling addiction. Her attempt to recoup huge losses is foiled as the entire casino is thrown into chaos by a blackout.
The mysterious connection among several characters is rooted in dismal late nineteen-forties Germany, and told in Alexandra, a novel within the novel, which explores the psychological and sociological anomalies that young Americans were exposed to while living in an occupied country that still bore the festering sores of Hitler’s “scorched earth” campaign.
As Georgia confronts past fears as well as present dangers, and deals with a gambling addiction that leads to embezzlement, she learns the price of autonomy can be paid in increments or in one lump sum. The opulence known to a few, as well as the depravity experienced by many in post-war Germany is mirrored in the glamor and iniquity of nineteen nineties Las Vegas where Georgia encounters exquisite, brittle and wealthy Melanie Nallis, who is driven by her own harrowing childhood memories and a compulsive need to connect with Georgia; Zivah Koski, an elderly poker-playing Polish immigrant who may be the same woman who terrorized young Georgia in Germany; sardonic, tough but charming poker pro Milt Braverman; wealthy casino developer Phillip Vance; his young, needy daughter Livy; gorgeous but clueless cocktail waitress Mindy Cameron; colorful, corpulent ex-madam Roxanne Roiballe; and handsome, inscrutable Japanese financier Ishiro Zenri.
The conflicts and resolutions in the card games Georgia plays echo the human stories of mainstream baby boomers who interact with the young and the restless as well as the old and the dissipated.
What inspired you to write this book?
While playing poker, I often found myself mentally chronicling the action at the table, and creating descriptions of the casino and its denizens in my mind. At some point I started writing down those words and, over time, collected a catalogue of notes. Then I had the opportunity to get into the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program where I learned some basic creative writing skills. At about the same time, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and wanted to talk about his own life which included his years as an Army Intelligence Officer. I learned that my mother and I were among the first military family members to arrive in Germany after the end of World War II. My memories of the time (from when I was three until I was nine) were enhanced by my discussions with my father. I wanted to write about both aspects of my life, not as a memoir but as a template for compelling fiction, and so the idea for River Card evolved.
How many hours per day do you spend writing?
My schedule varies greatly and is determined by a combination of my writing motivation and my current ability to use self-restraint; that is to not play in poker tournaments, not meet a friend for lunch or not lose myself in whatever book I am presently reading. When I do apply myself, it us usually in three- or four-hours sessions.
Name your top five favourite books.
I can’t easily name just five books so below are my 5 favorite authors (not in any particular order):
Ayn Rand: Although I don’t entirely agree with her philosophy of “objectivism”, her ability to promote her beliefs through her novels; to portray her characters in such exquisite detail, to focus so artfully on her message, inspires me constantly.
Judith Krantz: I love her stories of Hollywood and fashion, describing in elegant detail (sometimes even listing what was in the bathroom medicine cabinet) what each character is doing and seeing, thus creating for the reader a specific experience on each page as the novel develops.
Bill Bryson: His research is uncompromising, and his world view is amusing and arch, while his prose is close to flawless.
Glen David Gold: I envy his ability to combine historical events with compelling fiction.
Lisa See: Her stories of Chinese culture, history and family dynamics are fascinating.
For many years I’ve always believed that one of my all-time favorite novels was Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk. Recently I reread it and realized how differently I react to the same manuscript which, so many years ago in my youth, I perceived as the ultimate escape into the life an interesting young woman leading a fascinating life. Now, the writing seems somewhat dated, and the story line of the self-involved young woman, quite ponderous.
Title: River Card
Author: Joan Destino
Genre: Psychological Thriller
“Who was she trying to fool? Herself? A little late for that. She had to win; her survival depended on it.”
Do you have what it takes to lose it all? Find out in Joan Destino’s stunning debut novel, “River Card.”
Georgia Kassov Cates is a business woman, a wife, a mother…and a gambling addict. Desperate to recoup a devastating string of losses, she risks it all for one last game- a game that’s abruptly halted when the Las Vegas casino succumbs to a freak blackout.
Georgia meets some fellow patrons of the Las Vegas casino, including the wealthy Melanie Nallis, a woman haunted by her horrific childhood; Zivah Koski, an enigmatic elderly holocaust survivor; Phillip Vance, a billionaire casino developer; and Milt Braverman, a professional poker player.
As they get to know each other, a connection is slowly revealed: postwar Germany, a time and place that is reflected in” River Card’s novel-within-a-novel, “Alexandra.”
Alternating between the opulence and depravity of 1940s Germany, and the glamor and baseness of 1990s Las Vegas, “River Card” reflects Georgia’s mounting fears-both past and present-as she plays one last hand…
As the daughter of an Army Officer, Joan Destino traveled throughout her childhood, living in many parts of the U.S. as well as Germany. After high school and college in New England, she taught kindergarten in Boston while her husband attended law school. In the early seventies she moved to the Los Angeles area, raising her family in San Marino. She participated in the UCLA Writers’ Program for several years, culminating with several semesters in their Master Novel Writing Class. After playingTournament Bridge for years, shebegan playing casino poker in the mid-eighties. She bought a second home in Las Vegas in the mid-nineties and moved there permanently when her husband retired in 2004. Joan plays both cash and tournament poker including the World Series of Poker at the Rio Casino.
River Card on Goodreads
Author on Goodreads