Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Jana DeLeon | Truth is Stranger than Fiction

December 13, 2007

People often ask where writers get their ideas for stories. Well, most of the time, we couldn’t tell you, but once and a while, story ideas stem from real life. My current release, UNLUCKY, comes straight from pages out of my own life. Here’s the story behind the story:

My husband and I got married in 2000. At the time, I was working contract, making fabulous money on these long-term accounting clean-up projects. I had just ended a 13-month project and was taking the next three months off so I decided to plan our wedding and study up for the honeymoon. Ah ha, I got you there, didn’t I? You were wondering what I was studying, and I’ll bet all sorts of things that had nothing to do with Blackjack crossed your mind. But Blackjack is exactly what I meant. You see, we were getting married in Vegas and I had plans to take the Blackjack world by storm. By birth, I’m the product of an accountant and an engineer so math is like breathing to me. I figured if anyone can learn to beat the house, it ought to be me. So I started studying. And I learned. Boy, did I learn.

I learned every single statistical combination of cards on the table and what I should play based on my hand versus the dealers. I learned to count cards and had mastered a fairly basic counting system for up to six decks of cards (which is what most houses use). I had beaten my software so soundly, I knew I was going to take the bank. Then we got to Vegas and started playing. And that’s where the ugly reality stepped in. I am horribly unlucky. I don’t mean just a little unlucky. I mean so unlucky that not only can I not win at cards, but when I sit down at a table, everyone at that table starts losing. It was a complete anomaly, and I was not in the least bit prepared for. My husband (who plays combinations so ridiculous, he annoys the other players) is one of those lucky people who wins a lot of the time while playing hands he should never have played. Me – no way! If I had 18, the dealer had 19. If I had 20, the dealer had 21. If I had 21, the dealer had 21. It was like a Twilight Zone episode.

So I gave up Blackjack and switched to video poker since I didn’t want to lose more money than I had already contributed to the tables. My husband, of course, went on to play for twelve hours straight on $25. At RWA (Romance Writers of America) conference in Reno a couple of years ago, my agent asked if I’d had any luck gambling, and I told her the story about why I don’t play the tables. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s just not worth it. She laughed and said “you know, there’s a story in there somewhere.” Well, I thought on it long and hard and came up with heroine, Mallory Devereaux, a girl so unlucky that her entire life is like living with a disability.

When I pitched the idea to some writer friends of mine, one of them said “make sure you work the word ‘cooler’ into the proposal.” I didn’t want to appear unhip and ask what a ‘cooler’ was exactly, so I googled it. Low and behold, I find that coolers are a casino myth (or reality, depending on who you speak to). They’re people so unlucky that the casino managers pay them to sit at hot tables and shut the other players down. A secondary career choice that I didn’t even know was available to me. Even more interesting, while writing UNLUCKY I spoke with several casino managers, both in Louisiana and Las Vegas. They would neither confirm nor deny the existence of coolers.

Looks like we have a real mystery on our hands.

Jana DeLeon

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