Bluff by Julie Dill
Seventeen-year-old Chelsea Knowles is surrounded by the privileged. Michael Kors gym bags and designer shoes are part of her daily scene, but the talented cheerleader has a secret: she and her dad can barely pay the bills. Broken by his wife walking out on their family, Chelsea’s father ignores his responsibilities. Between cheer costs, grocery bills, electricity, and other regular financial burdens, it’s no surprise when a cut-off notice arrives in the mail. Chelsea knows it’ll be up to her to keep the lights on.
With the deck stacked against her, Chelsea decides to bet their future on the dubious poker knowledge she learned from her father before he gave up on parenting. Nervous but determined, Chelsea heads to a casino with very little security and wins big. Thrilled by her win, she’s quickly drawn to the casino again and again. She risks it all, especially when the attractive, young pit boss takes an interest in her.
Chelsea’s life, no longer filled with cheerleading, school, and hanging out with her friends, is now consumed by smoky casino floors and the ups and downs of a gambler’s life. True gamblers know when to fold, but Chelsea keeps betting long after her needs are met. The complicated web of lies soon begins to spin out of control, threatening to expose everything. Will someone see through her bluff?
Interview with Julie Dill author of Bluff
As a professor, do your students ever influence your characters or writing?
Yes, I would say my students have always influenced my writing in some way. Also, I taught in public schools at the elementary level, and definitely some of the characters/settings (or even life situations) have influenced the way I write.
During your writing process – do you brainstorm with your students, colleagues, or family? Or, do you prefer writing alone?
I read some early drafts of scenes of Bluff to friends and family and got feedback, and I guess it was positive enough to keep moving forward with the project. Also, I have a critique group, and we’re always bouncing ideas off of each other. I’ve been with the same 3 ladies for several years, and I really value their opinions and input.
Do your students read your writing? What are their thoughts?
My students have not read any of my creative work. I teach English composition, and that’s a whole different ballgame. However, my students have expressed interest in Bluff and are eager to check it out.
What influenced Chelsea’s character development?
It’s weird how a character evolves. I really tried to create a unique character- a high school girl who wasn’t the norm. My personal life, as a teenager, could not have been more opposite than Chelsea’s so I really had to get outside of what I knew and what I was comfortable with to get in Chelsea’s head.
You yourself are a poker player. How does poker serve as an underlying metaphor in the novel?
I’m a recreational player, and I only play a couple of times a year. I think that the game of poker represents challenges- trying to get ahead and outsmart your competition.
Many adolescents have to take on the role as parent in their households. What role did you play in your household growing up?
I came from a home that Chelsea would envy. My household was nothing at all like hers. I had a happy childhood, and unlike Chelsea’s dad, my dad worked very hard to provide for us. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and we had stability.
What inspired you to write Bluff?
I was reflecting on my first visit into a poker room, and in the early nineties there were hardly any women at all. Even today, you can still walk by a poker room and notice that the majority of the players are men. I think when you’re developing a character it’s important to raise the stakes as much as possible (pun intended). With Bluff, I really wanted something different and that wasn’t already “out there.”
Chelsea’s father doesn’t fulfill his role as a parent after her mother leaves him and leaves Chelsea to become a provider. How does Chelsea cope with both parents’ absence?
She manages. She doesn’t have a choice. I think down deep Chelsea is longing for some maternal guidance, and that’s why I wanted her to have Ms. Stella.
What attracted Chelsea to gambling and casinos?
Initially, it was her attempt to try to get some quick cash. But long term, it became escapism. She could enter this world where she didn’t have to think about all of her responsibilities and just escape.
Where did you write the majority of Bluff?
It’s extremely difficult for me to write at home. I get too distracted with things like laundry, my dog, Ellen, and naps. The majority of Bluff was written in coffee shops or the Panera Bread near my house.
What made you choose “Bluff” as the title?
I love one-word titles, especially in YA. Since Chelsea’s life is basically one big bluff- lies to her dad, her friends, Nate and others- I thought it was fitting.
Who was your favorite author growing up? Has it changed?
I have many. Alice Walker and Billie Letts are up there. I once attended one of Billie Letts’ book signings, and I remember standing in line staring at her thinking how does that woman come up with these characters? Her characterization is phenomenal. And who doesn’t love Alice Walker?
I would like to thank Paxton at PR by the Book for the opportunity to share to you, my readers, about this book.