THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist

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THIEF! character, Vince Eli

Monday, March 17, 2008

Woman Writes as a Man Who Hung with the Mob

People constantly ask me how I ended up writing Slick's life story, a guy who hung with the mob. So I worked up a 45-minute talk I give at bookstores, libraries and writers groups. It always draws quite a crowd.

Back in 1996 in Albuquerque, NM, the TV station where I worked as Santa Fe station manager abruptly sold putting everyone out of work. There were no other jobs in TV broadcast so I scrambled around looking for something new. I'd already had a wide variety of jobs, mostly dull. Some of the more interesting ones included 15 years as a cartographer. I had the good fortune to help map a 6,000-year-old archaeological site in the Highlands of New Guinea. Through the years, I enjoyed stints as a certified NAWI scuba instructor, nightclub singer, and white water outfitter, to name a few.

So the prospect of finding a new job wasn't scary to me. But I had to find something that paid well, a daunting task in New Mexico, a state known for its Third World wages. Well, Indian casinos were springing up like tumbleweeds around the New Mexico desert. I interviewed blackjack dealers and other employees at those casinos and discovered that a person could earn darn good money from tips. Since I hardly knew how to hold a deck of cards (no kidding!) I decided to enroll in an Albuquerque casino dealers school by the name of A.C.E.S.

While I learned how to deal blackjack and Caribbean Stud, one of my teachers (Slick) carried around about 20 yellow-tablet pages on which he'd written the beginning of his life story. He was looking for someone to make his biography into a book. I took one look at his 3-grade scrawl and it was like meteor hit me. There was something so compelling, that I vowed to write Slick's story even though I'd never written anything before.

Now came the tough part. I had to learn to write, I had to learn write as a guy and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob. Plus I still needed to work full-time. Slick had no dough to pay me. We also had lots of communication problems. After all...Slick and I were about as opposite in our lifestyles as nuns and hookers. (Back then, anyway.)

One thing motivated me: I was so obssessed with writing this book, nothing could keep me from finishing it. I knew that striking it rich writing was about as likely as finding a gold nugget in a crackerjack box. That's why the authors that do make it big are booked on late night TV shows. They are definitely a novelty. But Slick thought otherwise...a big source of our arguments. Somehow our little partnership muddled along. He was motivated by money and I was crazy.

I approached the job like I was building a human being from scratch. Starting with a bare bones framework--Slick's exact words, run-on sentences, mobspeak, etc. I painstakingly fleshed out his story from his own narrative, interviews with his cronies and family, and years of research. As an unknown writer, I knew it had be really good to make the cut and get published. But I couldn't have asked for better material. I laughingly thought that Slick reminded me of a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute. He was always in the right (or wrong place depending on your point of view) at the right time. What a story!

To be continued...

Look for the end of the story coming soon.

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