Excerpt from Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

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When people sat down at Sarah Seldon’s blackjack game, they always wanted to talk about The Book. “Should I double down? Should I hit? Dealer, I know you’re a gambler; you could let me win if you wanted to. What does the book say?” She had never read this book, this mythical Bible for gamblers. The truth is there are 2256 books, each teaching its own foolproof winning system. But Sarah had been in the casino business long enough to think with a gambler’s mind. Gamblers knew they could follow all the rules of basic strategy, utilize money management and still lose if they weren’t dealt the right cards. The allure and curse of gambling was that there were no sure things. In the end it all came down to luck; gamblers prayed that Lady Luck would show up and that she would stick around for awhile.

#1 Cruise Ship Novel at Amazon

#1 Cruise Ship Novel at Amazon

Thursday, September 22, 2011


This week I feature the novelist Inka Piegsa-Quischotte and her novel Sweet Revenge. This novel is a roller coaster of a ride that takes the reader from London to Turkey. Revenge is it sweet or bitter? Inka has a fascinating story of how she came to write this novel, but now I will turn it over to her.

My novel Sweet Revenge has two purposes: to entertain and to alert people to the culture and many beauties of my chosen country, Turkey. To explain how it all came about, I need to tell a bit about my background.

I was born in Germany but have lived and worked in the UK, Switzerland, South Africa and Spain. Until four years ago, I used to be an international attorney with offices in London and Marbella/Spain. At the beginning of my career, I acted as a criminal defense lawyer and in the course of that occupation I met countless ‘colorful’ characters, enough  to inspire a few more novels. Drug dealers, thieves, fraudsters and white collar criminals are no strangers to me, as are prostitutes, strippers, transsexuals and the  seedy environment they move in.

After a few years of close encounters with members of the underworld, I moved to the higher echelons of mergers, acquisitions and property dealings and that’s where I remained for nearly 30 years.

One day, I simply had enough. It didn’t hold any fascination for me and, more or less from one day to the other, I sold my firm, my house in Marbella and my business clothes and decided to pursue my life long dream of becoming a writer. I have written short stories all my life, but due to the demands of my profession, I never had the time or concentration to seriously get into my writing.

Being a nomad at heart, a change of country was called for and when I happened upon a lovely fishing village on Turkey’s Aegean coast, I bought a small home. Being also a city person, I decided to buy another one in Miami and ever since I live the summer in Turkey and the winter in South Florida.

Sweet Revenge really started as a lark. Finally, I had the leisure to let my imagination run wild and as I also had run out of books to read, I thought:  now is the time to write one of my own. I devour books and often read more than one simultaneously, classics, biographies, history books  and best sellers, according to my mood. I wanted to create a novel which would entertain people around the pool or during a long distance flight.

I remembered  a friend in London, who was trying to start a catering business from home and came up with weird ideas for ‘themes’. And another one who had a knack for always choosing the wrong boyfriend. The characters of my book are an amalgam of many real life people. The story just developed as I went along and when I gave the first chapters to my neighbor to read, she wanted to read the rest. That was an incentive to spin the yarn even more and to make things as outrageous and exciting as possible.

On a more serious issue: I have traveled  extensively in Turkey and my present focus is far more on travel writing and photography than on fiction. It irked me that many people I speak to, know only two keywords about Turkey: Istanbul and Cappadocia. That needed to be rectified because it’s difficult to find another country which encompasses thousands of years of history and culture, from the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the Byzantines, Venetians,  Ottomans  and modern day Turkey which juggles Muslim faith and traditions  with a secular state.

My favorite part of Turkey is the Southeast, the region around Mardin, aka The Window to Mesopotamia, Urfa, aka The city of the prophet and Hasankeyf  on the shore of the river Tigris with a medieval stone bridge which, in 2013, will disappear under the waters of a massive  hydroelectric dam.

Hasankeyf’s bridge is my favorite shot of Turkey. As I said, I’m also a city person and therefore return to Istanbul again and again. In fact, I’m in the process of writing an unconventional guide book to Istanbul. The title:’ City of the green-eyed beauty’ a Literary Guide to Istanbul. It will portrait off the beaten path locations and secret corners of Istanbul, based on the books of Pierre Loti, Barbara Nadel and Orhan Pamuk.

The old bridge Hasankey's Bridge
I thought that the cosmopolitan Istanbul as well as the harsh Southeast would make a suitable venue for the plot of Sweet Revenge.

Next to Turkey, my favorite travel spots are all in the Middle East. I have lived for several months in Beirut, then visited Jordan, Egypt, Dubai and Sharjah. I guess, nobody who has ever seen Petra can forget the’ library’ as it emerges at the end of a canyon. Or the majestic Zeus temple of Baalbeck in the Lebanon.

When I am in Miami, I love to make shorter trips to the Caribbean and Puerto Rico is next on my agenda in the winter. Who knows, the rain forest might inspire another entertaining mystery. Meanwhile I continue to share my travel stories on my blog: www.glamourgrannytravels.com and in travel magazines, online and print.

Thanks very much, Cara, for giving me the opportunity to talk about my first novel  Sweet Revenge.

Sweet Revenge available from

Thursday, September 8, 2011


This week I am happy to present Marita Hansen, and her highly praised novel set in New Zealand. In my years on cruise ships I visited New Zealand many times, a chapter in my novel is even set there. It is a beautiful country filled with the friendliest people I have ever met. Many times the casino staff doubled as tour guides, giving me the chance to visit the Maori community in Rotorua, so I was aware of the social tensions that exist in New Zealand. Like Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby or Push by Sapphire, this novel is a graphic look at life in a South Auckland suburb. The novel vividly describes the life led by a group of young adults. Now I will let Marita tell you how this novel came to life.

Behind the Hood is a realistic portrayal of a rough town in New Zealand. I remember when I first put part of it up on Youwriteon and Authonomy (writers websites) people were genuinely shocked and told me that they had no idea New Zealand had these types of places, because it is often portrayed as clean, green and safe.  But, from Auckland to New York, London to Melbourne, we all have our problematic areas.

Another thing that people asked about was why I chose to write about the Maori people. Originally this took me by surprise, and still has me tongue-tied at times, because I never really considered that I was specifically writing about one culture. Instead, it was the settings that influenced my story. This was because at first I had intended on writing a fantasy piece set in Singapore, but changed it because it wasn’t working. And when I placed it in one of my old neighbourhoods in South Auckland, the story suddenly took off and morphed into realism.

                                      The author Marita Hansen.

However, the settings do not alter the fact that my novel is very much character driven, which is another reason why I don’t believe my book is just about the Maori. Instead it’s about New Zealanders from areas like Claydon (based on Clendon Park). Although there are a number of Maori characters, there are also others that aren't, like Rory and Stella, as well as her bunch of friends from West Auckland. Also, Jess and Saul are Samoan, while the Connor family are Irish and Cook Island Maori (which is different from New Zealand Maori). Plus, the characters that have Maori in them also have other nationalities, such as seen in Dante's tattoos. He has both Slavic writing and Maori designs, which reflects his Croatian and Maori heritage. I added this in because there are both Maori and Croatians in my family, which is quite common in the upper part of the North Island. It's a place where a lot of Croatians (from the Dalmatian coast) came to dig gum. And because of how well the Dalis (a nickname) got on with the Maori there were intermarriages. So, again, this isn't a Maori story, this is a New Zealand story.

I have also had people mention Once Were Warriors. Although I touch on similar topics, my book isn't the same and is written very differently. Not only are the styles nothing alike, but Once Were Warriors focuses on one family, and was set in Rotorua (while the movie was set in Otara). In contrast my book encompasses a number of families. Once Were Warriors was also from a different generation. Although it was published and made into a movie in the 90s, the mention of Jake’s slave ancestry suggests that it was set further back.

But, as I said, my novel does touch on similar topics as Alan Duff's.  Domestic violence, suicide, gangs, abuse, crime, and so forth are all portrayed, which shows that these problems have spanned a number of generations.

And because of the crime in my story I had to do a bit of research, such as finding out about the effects of drugs and how a stabbing would feel. I also had to research hospital procedures, because a number of scenes were done there. But other than these, my book largely relied upon what I was familiar with, such my understanding of certain characters as well as the area portrayed. Like any author I incorporated traits from people that I have met as well as some of my own. For example, Maia’s grinning when in trouble is something I do.

                                       Korcula on the Dalmatian Coast

Lastly, although I portrayed the harsher side of life in New Zealand there are MANY areas that are absolutely lovely. I love my country and have missed it intensely since moving to Singapore (due to my husband's work). Though, Singapore is a fantastic place, and I do enjoy travelling and experiencing other cultures. Outside of New Zealand and Singapore, I have been to Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the old Yugoslavia before it split into separate countries. In particular I visited Croatia as I have family there, plus I also travelled to Slovenia and climbed Mount Triglava. I went there on the cusp of my sixteenth birthday. And if I had to choose a place that I most enjoyed travelling to, it would be the gorgeous island of Korcula (on the Dalmatian Coast). However, my favourite place in the world is a little town called Howick in East Auckland (New Zealand). The beaches are fantastic and it holds lots of good memories.

                                         Howick on the New Zealand Coast

Thank you, Cara, for this opportunity, as well as the readers. Take care.



Here is an excerpt of the interview I gave for THE BOOK BLOG. It is British blog about publishing and writing and has a section on featured authors. I thought I would share the story of how I came to write my novel.

Tim I am so happy to be appearing on a British blog because my book is such a blend of the British and Americans. It is set on a British ship with many nationalities in the crew.
The road to my novel, Cruise Quarters – A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships, is a long journey with lots of twist and turns much like a good story. 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.

I stayed at sea for five years and I would like to say that I wrote everyday but I didn’t. I spent those years soaking up all the history I could. The ship was my home and the crew bar was my living room and the nights I spent there were research since I planned to tell the story of all my crewmates someday. And then on my last contract I met Ray and my novel became a love story and that surprised me more than anyone else.

We settled in Palm Springs and I began my book. I had written most of it when I decided to test it out by taking a novel writing class at UCLA. One of the exercises in the class was to try out five opening lines, well the whole class voted for my current opener. My professor liked it so much she became my first editor. I started it in first person, but when I decided to include Ray we switched to third person. Ray’s adventures dealing around the world were just too good to leave out, and I really wanted to include the male point of view.

The goal of our book was to tell our story in a realistic way. After so many ridiculous casino movies like The Cooler, I had had enough.  I am the cynic and Ray is the happy chappy but we both wanted a book that rang true. We wrote down all our ship and casino stories in a book and then built a novel around them.

I casually handed our manuscript to one of my ship friends and asked her to read it. The next day she called me raving about our book. In fact she had already run off three copies for her co-workers. Then I knew that we had nailed it. My biggest beef with the books I had been reading for the last few years were that they all sounded alike. Especially the love stories, I didn’t need to dress ours up it was exciting enough. Our book is based on true stories but it is still a novel. I was so disappointed to learn that Three Cups of Tea was a lie. Surely Greg Mortenson knew that when you elaborate or move events around for dramatic effect it makes your book a novel.

I was always afraid of showing my friends my book but they turned out to be my best readers offering great criticism. I don’t know why I hesitated, dealers are avid readers, with a break every hour they always have book on the go.

About the author:
Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Please check out her most popular posts at CaraBetoia.blogspot.com  to find more blogs about cruising, casinos and anything that catches her fancy.

Below are the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships