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San Diego Writer Jim Ruland Discusses New Novel, 'Forest of Fortune'

Jim Ruland, author of "Forest of Fortune."
Jim Ruland, author of "Forest of Fortune."

San Diego Writer Jim Ruland Discusses New Novel, 'Forest of Fortune'
San Diego Writer Jim Ruland Discusses New Novel, 'Forest of Fortune' GUEST:Jim Ruland, author of "Forest of Fortune."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just look at the billboards. They tell us that San Diego County casinos can be great getaways with entertainment, food, and a chance at winning millions. We also know that Indian casinos have been generous in giving back to the community. Just look at the Viejas Stadium at SDSU, or the San Diego Sports Arena, now Valley View Casino Center. But there is a dark side to the casino phenomenon, fueled by desperate dreams. People just struggling to hang on to the end of the rope. Is that side of the casino rolled that is subject of the new book Forest of Fortune by Jim Ruland. Welcome to the program. You wrote Forest of Fortune while you worked at a local casino. You don't want to tell us which one it was, what did you do there? JIM RULAND: I worked in marketing, which brought me in contact with all of the departments inside of the casino. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did you discover, since were marketing casinos, what really brings people to casinos? JIM RULAND: I think it is the lure having a good time, and the fact it is open 24 hours, it is very convenient, plus there is the thrill of winning. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is it like working in a casino? Everyone who has been to Las Vegas or another casino, you do not know whether it is day or night, it is its own little world, what is it like? JIM RULAND: It's a cross between working in Walt Disney World and 711. The place never closes, there are people from all over the world. But mainly a lot of locals who are prowling around on the freeway and decide to try their luck. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You grew up with contact with the gambling world, your dad loved the racetrack, right? JIM RULAND: That's right, and he passed on his love of sports to his kids. I still enjoy sports, and betting. Which you cannot do at the Indian casino. You can place wagers on horses, but not on sports. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But it gave you a taste of that world to start out with? JIM RULAND: Absolutely. My dad was a part owner of a horse, a small $5000 horse on a West Virginia track. I would have been to be there the day it one and went down to the winners circle and it is an incredible feeling to get down there. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: To win. What one point did you realize you wanted to write about the gaming industry? JIM RULAND: 10 minutes after I walked into the door. It was a strange and unusual place that defied my expectations because of the size and scope of the endeavor. There was so much to learn. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What was it about entering this world that made you say I have to put this on paper? JIM RULAND: Every time I walked the casino floor I saw something I had never seen before, something completely different. Just the reaction of guests, the way that they responded to the games or didn't respond. Some people play in a catatonic state, other people live and die by every spin. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about the plot of Forest of Fortune. JIM RULAND: The story is told by the point of view of three characters that all more or less feel trapped by the casino. Two of them work there and one is a guest whose compulsive gambling leads her to come back and move away from her family. The other two characters who work there, one is Native American and a bit of an outsider in that she is not from the tribe that owns the casino, although many of the guests and many of the people would assume that she would be. The last is probably the most autobiographical, someone who is a Los Angeles admen at the end of his rope and trying to rebuild his life. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will you read to us a little bit from Forest of Fortune? JIM RULAND: Absolutely. This the very beginning of the book, it is told from the point of view of the voice that, for lack of a better word, wants the casino. You think you know luck? There are many kinds of luck, but those who come to find fortune only think of the good. You cannot imagine luck so bad that it destroys you. You do not leave that such a thing is even possible. You think you are different. You think you are special. You wager what you cannot afford to lose. You do not consider the consequences of your actions, and then, before you know it, you are lost. I once thought like you, but the many years I have spent here have taught me that fortune may favor the bold, but it abandons everyone in the end. You will see, I will take you to the other side of luck. The kind that is the opposite of chance. You will learn that luck does not matter when your fate has been sealed for centuries. Come with me, and I will show you just how lucky you are. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a bit from a Forest of Fortune, thank you for that. You mentioned that people bet what they cannot afford to lose. That is the cardinal rule of what you're not supposed to do, is that right? JIM RULAND: Absolutely. You always see the caveat for entertainment purposes only, you think of entertainment and only bring what you can spend. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much of this is based on fact? JIM RULAND: Is definitely a mystery, and that aspect is completely fictional. There are elements of cozying with the supernatural, because one of the characters is epileptic and she is having a reaction to her medications, and that causes her to have visions and not the able to trust herself or her hold on reality. There is also a theme of Alice in Wonderland; her name is Alice. She is in a place with the normal rules do not apply. That is definitely the case every time you step on sovereign land. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You told us about the three main characters earlier. They all sounded as if they were in some sort of state of desperation. Do you find a lot of desperation in the casino world? JIM RULAND: I'm sure you do. I think that was me projecting in that when I worked at the casino, it was right during the beginning of the recession. Things got progressively worse and worse. I was feeling a lot of that desperation as we were trying to turn the numbers around. It was not easy and did not happen, a lot of people lost jobs, a lot of people felt like the characters in my novel, trapped. That was only a feeling. We could have left anytime. But there is something about when you go to work in a place like that, away from friends, apart from society, away from home and away from town and on to the reservation, you feel like the rest of the world is very far away. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There is also an element of chasing luck, the narrator of that part you read to us, that luck you think you should have, the farther it gets from you the more you want to chase it, that is where that desperation comes in. JIM RULAND: There is also a real tendency to believe in things that are not true. We all know that there is no such thing as luck when it comes to the way the wheels of a slot machine will turn. But it is impossible to not feel that way when the reels turn in your favor a few times. It's impossible to not feel like you are on a hot streak or are lucky. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do you think happens behind the scenes at casinos that the public is not aware of? JIM RULAND: There is a battle always. One thing that I learned is that no amount of advertising is going to convince someone who is not a gamer or gambler to come to the casino. Maybe you can lure a free trip to the buffet or a meal or a gift, but nine times out of 10 they will not sick around. They will take a gift and go. That was a bit of a surprise to me, that this acknowledgment, that so much of the marketing is wasted, because you know you cannot change that behavior. What it is all about, and this is true in a lot of industries. Retail, travel, food and beverage, trying to get that repeat customer, trying to get people to come one extra time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But as you say, someone is not attracted to gambling, there is basically no reason except to have a nice buffet, there is no reason to entice them with what you advertise. JIM RULAND: Right. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: After having worked in the casino, you just told us that people will believe in a hot streak even though they know there can be no such thing. Did you learn about any strategies behind gambling? There are a lot of people who think they have come up with a method. JIM RULAND: It depends on what kind of player you are and what you are comfortable with. If you have a lot of time, poker is always the best way to go, because you are not competing with the house, you are competing against other people. There is a chance in the way that the cards fell, but there is also a considerable amount of skill. If you're willing to put in the time you can make a living doing that. You can also do it online. Some people just preferred the lottery of playing with other people which right of goes against why you would choose poker as a game to begin with, because you're in there to beat those people and not to make friends. But that is why a lot of people go. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we just heard that Ben Affleck has been barred from going to some casinos in Las Vegas, because apparently he was counting cards or something of that nature. Does a lot of that happen at Indian casinos? JIM RULAND: I know that the surveillance and security at all casinos is extremely tight. For someone like me, yes I worked in the back of the house, but I worked in an office and had a job for 75% of it no different than any other office job. I never got a glimpse of how that worked. There was too much money. Security is very tight. I don't think I ever knew where the surveillance room was. I spent five years wandering around the casino. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As you worked in marketing for this local casino, you must be aware that some people feel very strongly that Indian casinos and casinos of all kinds prey upon people's weaknesses and emotions to get them to part with money that they may be cannot afford to lose. How did you deal with that? JIM RULAND: It's something, because I was not dealing with guests on a daily basis, it was not something that I had to consider from a moral point of view. In fact, because I was more attached to the marketing and PR departments, I saw all of the amazing things that the tribe was able to do with the income. It's an enormous amount in terms of every structure and in terms of giving back not just to the community, but in supporting an incredible amount of arts, educations, and in San Diego many of the and in fact most of the reservations have their own fire department and play a huge role in combating fires in Southern California, which is no small thing, especially with all of the budget cuts. I think if you put five people in a room, you will get five very different opinions about this. About the value of having an Indian casino in your neighborhood. I think that includes some Native Americans, particularly those who have been disenrolled from the tribe. I can't imagine going through something like that. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that Jim will be reading from his book for us to fortune at Saturday, November 8 at 7 PM at the media arts Center in Northpark. Then you for coming in and speaking with us about this. JIM RULAND: It was my pleasure.

Just look at the billboards. They tell us that San Diego County casinos can be great little getaways, with entertainment, lots of food and a chance at winning millions. We also know that Indian casinos have been generous in giving back to our community, just look at Viejas Arena at San Diego State University, or the San Diego sports arena, now Valley View Casino Center.

But, there's a dark side to the casino phenomenon. One that's fueled by desperate dreams and people just struggling to hang on to the end of their rope. It's that side of the casino world that's the subject of the new book 'Forest of Fortune' by San Diego-based writer Jim Ruland, who used to work behind the scenes at a San Diego Indian casino for nearly six years.


In his debut novel, Ruland introduces us to a Native American slot technician, an alcoholic and a slot-machine addict who are haunted by their pasts and hope to turn their luck around at the Thunderclap Casino.

Book cover of "Forest of Fortune" by Jim Ruland.
Book cover of "Forest of Fortune" by Jim Ruland.

Excerpt From "Forest of Fortune":

From the platform Alice could see the entire Forest of Fortune. It was all so astonishingly ugly. Everywhere she looked she saw wires and trestles and supports for signage. The slot machines were big, garish boxes, their candles protruding like nipples and caked with grime. How disappointing it was to see things as they really were.

"Do you see the bear?" Nice Mike asked.

Alice found him perched atop a fake boulder on the other side of the forest. "I see him!"


"Watch this . . ."

Mike fiddled with the controls and the bear came to life. It shuddered and in a burst of motion Alice wouldn't have believed possible rose up on its hind legs and let out a roar. A few of the Thunderclappers looked up, wondering at the sound, and then went back to their games.

"Now make it dance," she said.

"I'm on it."

The bear bounced forward and back, shaking its massive backside.

"What is that, some kind of line dance?" Alice asked.

"That would be the hokey pokey."

Alice laughed and withdrew into the hollow mountain. She trembled with something between gratitude and fear.

"Pretty cool, huh?"

"Yeah," Alice answered.

"It's even cooler when the laser beams shoot out of its eyes."

"I didn't really come up here for the view." Alice grabbed Mike by his stiff shirt and before he could use his sweet, dumb mouth to say another word, she pulled him in for a kiss.