Bob Gust’s Liars Dice (Syren Book Company, 2005) introduced a surefire pen, engaging with fluid, image-rich immediacy. Gust’s stock in trade is page-turning entertainment, cover to cover, and The Card Sharp (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2011) proves Liars Dice was no fluke.
The truism dictates: Write what you know. Accordingly, Bob Gust of Kretch & Gust PLLC, Counselors and Attorneys at Law, crafts stories with lawyers as his protagonists. Lawyers, moreover, who are considerably more interesting than the Jaguar-sporting, country-club lounging stereotype getting paid ungodly sums just for being slicker than the next shyster. His legal eagles are decent, everyday folk who work hard for a living—they just happen to do it by practicing law.
At the center of The Card Sharp is Amy Prescott who finds herself sent on a dull-as-dishwater case, one that doesn’t involve murder or some high-profile scandal. But, marshalling her resources with more resignation than resolve, gets to the bottom of a barge line on the verge of losing its insurance coverage.
Don’t start snoring yet. From the outset, Gust’s storytelling ability has you following Prescott and her developing situation like a movie. So much so that it’s not recommended for reading on the bus –you’re liable to get so wrapped up that you miss your stop. However, sitting down with popcorn and soda (or trail-mix and juice, depending on how worried you are about your waistline) wouldn’t be a bad idea.
In an e-mail interview, Gust discussed Liars Dice and The Card Sharp.
The notorious quote from As Good as It Gets indicates that female characters are the same as male characters, but with reason and accountability. Is that how you solved the problem many male writers have with creating credible female characters?
The jury is still out on whether I was successful in writing a female main character. If I was, it clearly wasn’t by following advice from the movie. Amy Prescott is all about reason and accountability.
It’s one thing to have a female character, another altogether have one that carries your novel. What put the idea in your head?
In Liars Dice, I wanted a story that lawyers would find believable. This time, I hope women don’t think it seems like a book written by a man. I considered publishing it under the name “Roberta Gust,” since my full name is Robert A. Gust, but I thought that would be cheating. The character was inspired in different ways by different women I know. It would be wrong to say Amy Prescott is based on any particular person, but there are elements that came from real life. As a lawyer, my job is to put myself in the shoes of others, and I hope I succeeded in creating Amy Prescott.
Any more you can say about that?
I had two reasons for writing a female main character. First, Liars Dice was inspired by a case I actually handled, so most people assumed the main character was based on me. To a certain extent, that was obviously true, because it would be difficult to tell the story through someone else’s eyes. Furthermore, as a first time novelist, I had enough to deal with and didn’t want to have to invent a new character. I thought having a female main character in this book would require more imagination and would make my friends and family less uncomfortable when reading the sex scenes.
Second, between comments from my sister and many of the women’s book clubs I visited, I felt there would be interest in a female main character who had flaws but was not as dizzy as Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Amy Prescott struggles with her personal life and is on the wrong end of office politics, but she is immensely clever and a star in the courtroom. I sometimes refer to the story as Bridget Jones meets Agatha Christie.
Did you write The Card Sharp while you were still working on Liars Dice?
The majority of The Card Sharp was written over a two-year period. I did not come up with the idea to write it until after Liars Dice had already come out. In fact, my initial motivation for writing Liars Dice was like the motivation for running a marathon. I wanted to see if I could do it. But, only planned to do it once. The feedback and reviews caused me to consider writing a second book.
You have a strong style for a new novelist. Who are your influences? When and why did you decide to write novels?
I had little interest in writing when I was young. The worst grade of my academic career was in freshman composition. As a result, I stopped taking writing classes because I thought it would only bring down my grade point average. Once I started practicing law, I realized that it involved a lot more writing than speaking. I bought books on grammar and vocabulary, but I learned a lot from my legal mentors.
There is a structure and a discipline to legal writing and that helped. You learn to pack as much as possible into as few words as possible. In addition, you ask yourself whether things are really necessary and, as my mentor Darwin Lookingbill used to say, “When in doubt, strike it out.” The main reason I wrote the first book was because I had an unusual case and everyone kept saying someone should write a book about it. I liked the challenge [and] mostly just wanted to see if I could do it. Some of the underlying events were true, but the legal proceedings focused primarily on whether your homeowner’s insurance will cover you if you shoot an intruder in your house.
Pay much attention to other novelists?
I have not done that much recreational reading. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will probably always be my favorite. I enjoyed the John Grisham books that I read, but they were generally a little too implausible.
Feel like your writing improved between Liars Dice and The Card Sharp?
I think my writing improved a lot. On the other hand, Liars Dice contained a lot of good material from years of living. There were many times when something happened and I said, “If I ever write a book I’m putting this in it,” and that is exactly what happened. Liars Dice was driven by dialogue and that gave it good pace. I’ve been told that women want more imagery, so, I’ve tried to provide that. The Card Sharp is still driven largely by dialogue, but to a lesser extent. I hope it appeals to both men and women.
Got a new book in the works?
My plan for the next book is to return to the Dixon and Sandy characters from Liars Dice. After that, I’m thinking of writing a book where the characters from Liars Dice and The Card Sharp meet. Perhaps Dixon and Amy will have a case against each other and I’ll tell the story as a he-said, she-said.