Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Secrets to BLUFFing


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, my gosh. Poker. I am TERRIBLE at poker.  Don't get me wrong, I am very enthusiastic, and go into every game so optimistic, and cannot wait to play, and swoop up all those lovely chips (pennies?) after I slam down my straight flush (or whatever.) 

But that never happens. Fold fold fold. I vacillate between being a chicken and being a huge bluffer, which rarely works.

That's just one of the reasons I am in awe of the amazing New York Times best-selling author  Jane Stanton Hitchcock.  

Her first novel was nominated for the Edgar and the Hammett prize. Her newest, BLUFF--with its cleverly wonderful poker structure and bitingly wonderful wit--is fast-paced, smart, clever and oh-so-knowing. (And look at that amazing cover!)

HANK:  BLUFF grew out of your own mastery of poker. How did that work?

JANE: First of all, I would never say I had “mastered” poker. If anything, the game is my master. It’s taught me a lot about life and how to deal with adversity – namely, there’s no point in dwelling on bad luck or one’s mistakes. 

 Hard as it is, you sometimes have to say “Next Hand” and get on with it. I also realized that at the poker table I was being underestimated just as I had been in life. Players never expect an older woman to play anything but Old Lady Poker—just as the guy who swindled my mother out of millions of dollars never expected me to find out about his larceny and ultimately help put him in jail.

When I made this connection I found a way into the book: Combine being underestimated in life as well as in poker and then write a twisty tale of murder, revenge, and bluffing. Hopefully the reader will be intrigued by the characters and swept up in the twists and turns of the story. The book is one long poker hand with a Flop, a Turn, and the River. As readers play the hand with me, I want them to be thinking: “How the hell does she get out of this?” Only one way: Bluff!

HANK:  “Mad Maud” Warner--amazing-- is a complex character. And a timely one. Do you see Maud as an everywoman? How?

JANE: As I say in the book, “Older women are invisible and we don’t even have to disappear.” Power derived from supposed weakness is the primary theme of BLUFF. In the very first scene, Maud is able to escape because no one can fathom that a woman like her – an older, well-dressed socialite – could have had the balls to commit such a shocking crime in a posh and crowded restaurant.

The book is told in two voices: Maud’s own, as she recounts what lead her to commit murder; and the third person, which details the crime and its aftermath on all the people involved. My hope is that the reader will be rooting for Maud as she explains what has led her to such violence and why she thinks she can possibly get away with it if she literally plays her cards right! I guess she’s a #MeToo murderer!

Hank: High society certainly takes a hit in BLUFF. Do you view humor as a tool for enlightenment?

JANE: I like what Abba Eban said: “The upper crust is a bunch of crumbs held together by dough.” I grew up in so-called “High Society” and, as I say in the book “money is a matter of luck and class is a matter of character.” Maud knows she can trust some of her dicey poker playing pals much more than the “social” friends she’s known her entire life. I also say: “Money exaggerates who people are. If you’re good you’ll be better, if you’re bad you’ll jump right down on the devil’s trampoline.” A lot of people think having money makes them better than other people. I like to aim my pen at such pretension and there’s no better way to do it than with humor.

I’d have to be Dostoevsky to write my own family’s story without humor. As the book shows, money doesn’t save anyone from addiction, swindling, and death. In fact, money often makes things worse. But there’s nothing more exasperating than self-pity. So telling my family’s story was a challenge. It took me nineteen drafts! But the poker theme eventually helped me harness the humor in all the darkness.


HANK: You have a wonderful article in this month's Mystery Scene blog--and you mention your mother taught you the joy of reading out loud--and about Shakespeare. 

JANE: My mother was a wonderful actress. She is chiefly remembered as the voice of the very first Lois Lane on the radio, but she had an amazing stage and television career as well. She was a famous beauty and she had a lovely, melodic voice. She was always quoting Shakespeare to me from the time I was little. I was too young to understand it at the age of four, but the way she read it made me love it.

She kept a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets by her bed. Near the end of her life, she found out she had been swindled out of most of her money by her accountant, whom she had adored and trusted above anyone in the world for over 30 years. The betrayal nearly killed her. 


When she got over the initial shock, I asked her if Shakespeare had ever written about an accountant who swindled a trusting old woman out of millions. It was a cheeky question, meant to elicit a laugh. Without hesitation, she opened the sonnets and told me to read the one she pointed at aloud.

The last lines of that Sonnet are: “For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds; Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

HANK: Oh, that brings tears to my eyes.  So--In addition to being a novelist, you're also a playwright and screenwriter. Does one teach you about the other?

JANE: Movies are really a directors’ medium so a writer is blessed if he/she has a good director. Enough said. 

 Playwriting taught me about creating scenes and developing characters through dialogue. In the theatre time on the stage grows more expensive with each minute. You have to engage the audience. Therefore, you always have to ask yourself: What’s at stake? Why should people care about these characters, this situation? You have a captive audience sitting there waiting for things to develop in a finite amount of time. 

 The novel has no such constraints. But I confess, I love a good, twisty plot. I like every scene to further the story but I also think it’s important for the reader not to be one jump ahead of me. It’s when surprise meets inevitability that I feel I’ve done my job. I want my readers to say: Wow I didn’t see that coming, but now it all makes sense!

HANK: You're so terrific at dialogue--

JANE: Thank you! I try to give the reader a sense of place without overloading the description. Action is character and I really like writing dialogue, putting myself into all the characters – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s fun to create a good villain and more fun to see the villain get his/her comeuppance. But in my books, there is usually an anti-heroine who is, herself, operating in an amoral sphere. In Bluff, I want my audience to be complicit in Maud’s revenge and root for her to earn it.

HANK: Gotta ask about your influences --whose books most influenced you at the time you decided to enter the field yourself?

JANE: To be honest, I didn’t know I was entering the field when I wrote Trick of the Eye. I thought of the book as literally a trompe l’oeil canvas for the readers who are led to believe they are looking at a simple whodunit when, in fact, the real picture is about a dark acquisition. I was thrilled when mystery lovers liked it and it was nominated for both the Edgar and the Hammett Prize. I think those fans made me realize I had a mind for murder!

The writers who most influenced me at that time were Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Edgar Allan Poe, and Daphne du Maurier.

HANK Great list! You were on hiatus for nineyears--are things..different in the crimefiction world now?

JANE: A writer never really stops writing. During this nine-year hiatus, I was working on three three books while trying to sort out a difficult family situation. As a writer, I was always used to being an observer of social life. Writing took me away from my problems.

However, with Bluff, I’m not only an observer but a real participant in the story, which is what made it so difficult for me to write. It was painful to look back on the ruins of our family. So I would work on it, then put it away and work on the other books. I knew if I ever published Bluff I’d have to get the tone just right because I hate self-pity.

In writing Bluff, I came to realize how blessed I’ve been. I remembered the words of my stepfather who always said: “Anything you can buy with money is cheap.” That lightened things up for me and made me think: Okay—humor and murder is the only way to go!

I often wish I did have a “technique” because then I might have a road map of some sort. As it is, I write until my characters take over the story. Of the three books I was working on, Maud in Bluff took over the story in a singular way. It took me nineteen drafts to get her story just right. I just hope I succeeded. 

HANK: And I have one bet I know I will win--I'll bet two of you lucky commenters are gonig to be very happy--because you will WIN a copy of BLUFF! 
So tell us, Reds and readers--are you good at poker?
Jane's on book tour now, but she'll still be here to answer all your questions---like: how do you make sure you win at poker? What's the best way to bluff? And is it true that everyone has a "tell"?


Barbara Peters, Jane, and Linda Fairstein at The Poisoned Pen 












Jane Stanton Hitchcock was born and raised in New York City, where she led a seemingly privileged life. Early on, she learned the trappings of wealth and fame are not nearly all they are cracked up to be, themes she has since explored in screenplays, stage plays, and novels dealing with murder and mayhem in high places. She is married to Jim Hoagland, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist  ed note: who Hank had a huge crush on in 1972 in Washington,DC, just saying. They live in Washington, DC, and New York City.

BLUFF is a stunning social noir that begins with an audacious murder in broad daylight which sets off the biggest scandal to hit New York society in years. The unlikely shooter uses her knowledge of poker to play the game of her life with no cards. A bluff to frame her nemesis and exact revenge. Inspired by real-life events, the novel takes the structure of poker at which the author has become adept.

Jane Stanton Hitchcock pulls off another stunning tour de force in her newest crime novel. Nobody writes high society and its down-low denizens better than Hitchcock – and this book is her best yet. It’s all in the cards – and it’s masterful.”
— Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author
With the heart-pounding suspense of a high-stakes poker game, Bluff is a vivid, compelling novel about deceit, seduction, and delicious revenge that will have you spellbound and cheering as you turn the last page.
— Susan Cheever, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author



For more information:

Jane Stanton Hitchcock

www.janestantonhitchcock.com



74 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your book, Jane . . . I love the cover for “Bluff” and after reading your comments about the book I can’t wait to read it.

    I’ve never played poker, so I don’t know too much about it [but I’m a whiz at canasta] . . . .
    Do all the good poker players have a special technique for playing the game?

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    1. Oh, canasta! We used to play it all the time… My grandmother taught me. I haven’t thought about it in such a long time. I wonder if I could
      Still remember the rules…

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  2. Maud, there are three main reasons I will have to read Bluff. 1) Maude sounds like a character too good to miss. 2) I love dialogue written by screen writers, as they really do use it to move the story along. 3) Twisty tales are my favorite kind. Of course, I can't wait to see how Maude uses bluffing to get out of her situation.

    My card playing is rather dreadful. I'm all about the fun of it and not serious enough. My husband keeps up with the cards, counts them. When we used to play Spades with another couple, hubby was not too happy that the rest of us were more about the fun and what the dessert was.





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    1. Oh, yes, counting cards! Forget about it. I have no idea how Will even do that! Very impressive.

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  3. Invisibility is my super power, Maud! As I've gotten older I've decided to use that to my advantage, instead of complaining about it. Sounds like you are tapping into that unexpected and largely unappreciated power, as well. I call it crone power. Not for nothing do we have e all those decades of knowledge and experience, right?

    It's been a long time since I've played poker, but I used to sometimes catch it on late night tv, with the most unlikely celebrities playing. Jennifer Tilly was my favorite. I don't think I'd be much at bluffing, unless I could wear a mask. Which might be a tad uncomfortable.

    Can you explain the terms Flop, Turn, and River? They always lost me there.

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    1. And reading the book will explain them, too! It’s so cleverly done. When you watch people play poker on TV, do you see their hands? I guess you do, otherwise it wouldn’t be much fun I suppose…

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    2. I think so, Hank. It's been a long time since I used to stay up all night with insomnia and watch TV.

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    3. JANE HITCHCOCK:
      Thanks, Karen.

      I love “crone power”! Excellent! So each player is dealt two down cards. They look at their cards and call, raise, or fold depending on the strength of their hand with Aces being the best starting hand. After that there is the Flop. The dealer puts out three communal cards face up on the felt. The player now sees if any of these cards connect with his or her hand. There is more betting. So if a player is holding 7 8 of clubs in his hand and the flop comes out all club cards that player has a flush which beats the player holding Aces. After more betting the dealer puts out the Turn which is one more communal card for players still in the hand to use. More betting. Then the River. The last communal card and the last chance a player has to make their best hand. A lot of people get drowned in the River expecting to complete flushes or straights or full houses! The River is the only card that counts!

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  4. This sounds fascinating, Jane! I am NOT good at poker, but would love to know what those terms mean, too.

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    1. See you this afternoon at the Newburyport literary Festival , Edith! And I promise… No poker.

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK; Thanks, Edith!

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  5. Welcome Jane. BLUFF just moved to the top of my TBR stack on my Kindle, right after I finish SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney.

    I am intrigued by a poker playing protagonist. Haven't played in years, but I was never all that successful anyway, and I never got into Texas Hold'em when everyone else did. I always did better at Blackjack anyway, not being able to bluff my way out of a paper bag.

    My daughter ran a Blackjack game in the school library at lunch time when she was in fourth grade. The authorities shut it down after a few parents complained or the librarian noticed. Or both. But she made a few coins before that happened. The odds are always with the house.

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    1. Finta , I just burst out laughing! What a little entrepreneur :-)

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK: Finta, I love this! Your daughter sounds marvelous.

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  6. I am definitely out of my league here, except for the invisibility. No way would I ever be able to play poker. My face reveals all. But Maud now--love how she's gaming the system and making invisibility a superpower! I need to think on that.... And Jane, serious admiration here for your strength and determination--19 drafts to get it right--to tell what was clearly a painful story. Can't wait to read this book!

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    1. Yes, some days I truly think I could just rob a bank, because no one sees me at all.

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    2. It’s our age, Hank! A friend and I often walk together. We’re constantly astonished at how often people nearly walk right through us as though we’re invisible. My friend always says that as older women we ARE invisible. (So gee, maybe we COULD get away with robbing a convenience store or two:-)

      DebRo

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  7. Jane, as interesting as your book sounds, what I really want to know is how you helped put your mom's sleazy accountant in jail! Have you written a book about that?

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    1. Yes, I’d love to hear about that too!

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK: I answered below. Sorry—please scroll. Thanks, Cathy.

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  8. I'm a terrible poker player but a whiz at invisibility. No need for Harry Potter's cloak. Congratulations on your new release!

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    1. And, as Jane says, if you think of it as a superpower, it is highly desirable!

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK: exactly Hank! 😍

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  9. I'm really no good at any kind of card game so I didn't think this book would appeal to me. But as I read more of your interview with Hank I knew it was one I couldn't wait to read. Little old invisible lady? Sounds like me! And now that it has been confirmed as a superpower there is no stopping me!

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    1. We are all such a good team, right!

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK: Thank you Judi. Let me know what you think after you read BLUFF.

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  10. Congratulations on your new book.
    I never played poker. All I know about it , I learned from TV or films.

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    1. We should all play! The Jungle Red tournament???

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK: poker is addictive! I’m at a tournament right now!

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  11. Jane, your book sounds absolutely delicious! I can hardly wait to read this one.

    I'm not much of a poker player. It always seems funny to me that I devote most of my life to trying to cultivate honesty and integrity, then try to play a game where lying (by commission or omission) is a central component. I'm not NEARLY compartmentalized enough for that! But it is always fun to watch good poker players.

    Like so many other commenters, I have the invisibility down. But I have found it rather liberating, actually. There are moments when it is a nuisance, but there are many times when it rather a pleasure to realize no one is looking at me or noticing what I am doing or how I look. And I can easily see how it would help with getting away with something, because to the extent I am noticed these days, (by which I mean "since I let my hair go white") I find that people treat me much more kindly than when I was younger. Strangers are occasionally patronizing, yes, but almost always kind.

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    1. Yes exactly—I think Jane discovered that, right?

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    2. JANE HITCHCOCK:
      My invisibility has made me a poker tournament champion ladies.

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  12. I can't wait to read your book. I adore twisty plots, and my son is a professional poker player. I am still a poker no-nothing, but find his stories of the poker life fascinating!

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  13. As a kid we used to play endless rounds of poker - I never got very good and o hate to lose (big surprise) - Bluff (love the cover, love the title) sounds fantastic

    This reminded me of another great mystery sleuth who was underestimated because of her age (and knitting)

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  14. I wouldn't say I'm good at poker, but I'm decent and I know the rules. And count me in as someone else who wants to hear the story of your mother being swindled!

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  15. I agree with other commenters--I'd love to hear the story of how you caught your mother's swindler. Bluff sounds great, too. It's definitely on my TBR list.

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  16. I am so happy you are visiting JRW's today. I absolutely loved Bluff. It is one of my 5 star reads for 2019. Nineteen drafts! my heavens. It certainly paid off with this funny twisting tale.
    How long have you been playing poker? Any favorite form of the game?

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    1. Oh Coralee—tell us why you loved it!

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    2. Okay Hank, Here is an excerpt from my review :"I do not a thing about poker. I do know a great read when I find one. If you are needing a laugh, or hoping for a book that combines suspense with joie de vivre, this one is for you."

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    3. JANE HITCHCOCK: Coralee, you ate very generous. Thank you.

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    4. That is fabulous! Love this, Coralee..

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  17. Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

    Jane, welcome to Jungle Reds! I was reading your interview just the other day in the Mystery Scene magazine.

    Unfortunately, I do not have a poker face. LOL

    Diana

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    1. Yup. That's a problem! But you have other skills, right? oxoo

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    2. Right! I have other skills xoxo

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  18. Shalom Reds and fans. I don’t know that I am much of a “bluffer”. I have lied and “gotten away with it,” but I think bluffing implies getting another person to back down from a standoff even when they might have a better holding of cards. Except as a child, I’ve never played poker. However, I’ve always wished that I had learned to play bridge. Many years ago, there was a book which was a compilation of newspaper columns about a fictional bridge club, called Bridge in the Menagerie. The author, Victor Mollo, wrote about characters who played bridge, with names like Hideous Hog and Rueful Rabbit. You could see all of the cards and appreciate all the bidding and the play. Each character had a unique style of bidding and playing, most reminding us of persons we know, and the outcomes were hilarious. I would love to read a book with card play at its core. Particularly a good mystery.

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  19. I grew up surrounded by poker players in my dad’s family. We spent many Sunday afternoons and holidays at my grandparents’ apartment as Dad and his siblings played loud games of poker. Despite this, I have never learned to play. At a party when I was a senior in high school, a bunch of the kids decided to play poker. I declined, as I didn’t know the game at all. (I think this poker ignorance still astounds some of my relatives!) One of my friends said he would sit out the game and walk me through it. He looked at every single hand and told me “you have what is known as ‘nothing’. Sorry!” I didn’t try playing again until maybe ten or twelve years ago. After Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house a bunch of people decided to play poker, including my nephew (who once participated in the World Series of Poker) and a close friend of his, who works in the gaming industry, and has written several books about poker. The young man and I were the last two players in the game. I won. I have NO idea how! I didn’t even make any educated guesses! I just made random, mindless choices. I could probably never do it again. My nephew’s friend thought it was fun! (There’s now a soft spot in my heart for him!)

    DebRo

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  20. Maud, I would like to see a book about your mother’s experience, too. I like it when the bad guys in real life get caught!

    DebRo

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    1. JANE HITCHCOCK: Me, too. Revenge is sweet.

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    2. Jane, I just realized I called you Maud! I haven’t read the book yet, and already the character is real to me! I can’t wait to read the book!

      DebRo

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    3. JANE HITCHCOCK: I adore Maud. Happy to be called Maud.

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  21. Congratulations, Jane. I am so eager to read BLUFF as I've been playing poker since I was a kid (pennies) and have
    started having matches with the next generation at family reunions (fleecing the youngsters is always fun). Also, I love humor so this is a win-win!

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    1. JANE HITCHCOCK: Thank you. I hope you enjoy BLUFF!

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    2. I'm still pondering the Jungle Red tournament..

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  22. JANE HITCHCOCK:
    I am enjoying reading all your comments. Thank you Hank and JUNGLE RED WRITERS.

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  23. JANE HITCHCOCK:
    I alerted authorities to my mothers accountants larceny early on Way before he was arrested. I put him on their radar. I said then what he does to one he will do to another! They were the local authorities in the Manhattan district attorneys offices and could not access bank records so they could not pursue the case. But my mother eventually sued him and when he was finally arrested, they used our case to understand how he manipulated funds.

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  24. Wow, what an intriguing story, Jane! I can't wait to read Bluff.
    I come from a long-line of card players and learned to play poker
    as a kid, from a great-aunt who regularly visited Las Vegas long before I ever
    made it there. (Love the video poker machines, and used to play online at home,too, besides with friends. I have to remember to control my non-poker face, and can even bluff
    my hubby on occasion, who taught me Texas Hold 'Em when it first got popular on TV.
    I'm not quite as "invisible" as some my age, since I wear my hair past my shoulders
    and my best friend, Ms. L'Oreal helps me keep it my youthful auburn! ;)

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  25. JANE HITCHCOCK: Lynn you are gorgeous, darling!

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  26. I've been told that I'm easy to read, so it's probably a good thing that I've never played poker.

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    1. There is always a first time :-) You’re invited to the jungle red tournament…some day!

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  27. I've never played poker; our family game was gin rummy and I loved that. But my family played a fun game, full of talk and laughter and enjoyed the math of it as much as anything. I am really uncomfortable with competition--not because I can't win, but because I hate the dynamics in the room--so I don't play with my in-laws, who love card games but are very serious about them. I do enjoy watching movies about poker, though, as it often serves as such a great metaphor as well as a way to move the action forward.

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  28. I am only good enough to play nickel poker machines!

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  29. And the winners are! Lynn from TX, and Mary C. email me your address at Hryan@whdh.com ! YAY!

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