Author Q&A: Julie Dill- Bluff
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?
There's been a lot of buzz around Julie Dill's debut YA novel, Bluff! Kirkus reviews called it "A sly, insightful close-up of risk-takings seductive, addictive appeal." We sat down with Julie to get the 411 on her thoughts towards Chelsea and what she hopes readers will take away from the book!
AJ: This book was somewhat inspired by your own experience as a young poker player. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
JD: As a teenager, my friends and family would get together and play poker. We would each start with a roll of quarters and play all different types of poker games (Seven Card Stud, Follow the Queen, and Five Card Draw to name a few). When I turned 21 my parents took me to Las Vegas for the first time. Back then, Oklahoma didnt have any casinos so this was something new and exciting. We stayed at the Mirage, and I was fascinated with the poker room. There werent many females in that room, and there certainly werent any young females. I didnt let that intimidate me. I knew enough about poker to give it a try, so I did. I didn't win a ton of money, but I held my own. I still like to play for fun a couple of times a year.
(Note: It wasnt a tournament.)
AJ: What do you hope young readers will take away from Chelseas story?
JD: I hope young readers will realize how quickly and innocently an addiction can form. Chelsea doesnt realize that this has become an unhealthy, addictive outlet, but readers can certainly see that.
AJ: Chelsea is such a great example of a struggling and slightly naïve teen. We love the balance you struck between her circumstances of having the responsibilities and stresses of an adult, while still desiring to be a kid. It is clear throughout the story that she struggles on how to use the money she wins and occasionally acts a bit impulsively. What was one of the more difficult decisions to write about that Chelsea made?
JD: Im a mother of teenage daughters, so many of Chelseas decisions were difficult for me to write because I wanted her to be safe. Although some of her spending decisions werent exactly the best, I think Chelseas choices that put her into danger were even more difficult for me to write. Late night casino visits, for a young, beautiful girl, were tough.
AJ: What is your favorite quality about Chelsea?
JD: GRIT. I love-love-love her grit. She has an immense amount of self-reliance, and she puts herself out there to make things happen.
AJ: Did you have a favorite secondary character whose perspective on Chelsea you thought would have been interesting to explore?
JD: Ms. Stella doesnt meddle too much, but she certainly could have. Chelsea is longing for some maternal guidance, and Ms. Stella provides some of that. Ms. Stella has some kind of deep understanding of Chelsea, but never pushes the limit on becoming too nosey or intrusive.
Ms. Stella is my favorite. We all need a Ms. Stella.