THE BOOK: Queen of Spades
PUBLISHED IN: 2017
THE AUTHOR: Michael Shou-Yung Shum
THE EDITOR: Laura Stanfill
THE PUBLISHER: Forest Avenue Press, an independent press located in Portland, OR
SUMMARY: Based on the author’s experience working as a poker dealer, Queen of Spades is a modern re-telling of the classic Pushkin fable of the same name, a highly stylized tale set in a Seattle-area casino that combines elements of a Hong Kong gambling movie with literary language and a lively cast of unforgettable characters.
The three main narrative threads follow Barbara, a recovering gambler trapped in a cultish twelve-step program; Mannheim, a pit boss at the Royal Casino who discovers he has just six months to live; and Chan, a dealer obsessed with the playing style of a mysterious customer known as the Countess.
Queen of Spades invites readers into the murky realm of taking chances not just as a recreational activity but as a way of life. The beauty and complexity of the novel lies in its unique portmanteau structure, its page-turning plot, and its insider view into the late-night card-dealer’s world, where everyone yearns for more than what they have, and where luck plays a curious, fidgety role that may—given the right card at the right moment—change everything, for better or worse.
THE BACK STORY: I’ve always been interested in gambling, not just casino gambling, but taking risks as a means to important, meaningful change — I worked as a poker dealer in a small casino for two years, so I accumulated a lot of material that eventually found their way (in fictive form, of course) into the manuscript. Overall, I would say the story took about 10 years, from first seed to publication, to come to fruition.
WHY THIS TITLE?: It’s based on Pushkin’s famous short story, “The Queen of Spades”
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? if you feel like your daily experience has lost its magic, and you are seeking (whether you are conscious of it or not) a “re-enchantment” of your world
Necessary Fiction: Queen of Spades is overall a brilliant work, fit for both fans of the original story who want to pore over the thematic links, and readers looking to pick up a gripping new novel. For a story that touches on the addictive nature of card games, Queen of Spades is itself a difficult book to put down. (Aleksandra Appleton)
Shelf Awareness: Shum devised the plot based on his own experiences as a dealer and on the stories told to him by a fellow pit dealer, who in 1984 dealt one of the most impressive hands of faro in the 20th century. Shum writes with precision, but it is his power of observation that transforms Queen of Spades into a deeper rumination on avarice, willpower and the uncomfortable alliances forged at the gambling table. Games of chance become the canvas on which Shum examines the internal battle among personal motivation, personal redemption and despair. (Nancy Powell)
Library Journal (Starred Review): It’s rare to encounter high seriousness and humor under one cover, but the author’s layered grasp of gambling and its contingencies, its potential to dominate players emotionally, charges the narrative with thrills and danger. Perhaps the real triumph, though, is an unflinching (yet humane) glimpse into the lives of several characters in desperate relationships with chance, addiction, and lethal levels of debt. (William Grabowski)
AUTHOR PROFILE: Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Michael eventually found himself dealing poker in a dead-end casino in Lake Stevens, Washington. Two doctorates bookend this strange turn of events: the first in Psychology from Northwestern, and the second in English from the University of Tennessee. Along the way, Michael spent a dozen years in Chicago, touring the country as a rave DJ, and three years in Corvallis, Oregon, where he received his MFA in Fiction Writing. He currently resides in Astoria, Queens, with Jaclyn Watterson and three cats. Queen of Spades is his first novel.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: If reading the book makes you feel better and also makes you want to gamble, then I’ve succeeded in my intent.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Lit Hub was kind enough to publish a chapter called “Lottery” from the novel -> http://lithub.com/lottery/
LOCAL OUTLETS: Astoria Bookshop, Queens
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
PRICE: $15.99 list
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: @dr_shum (Twitter), michaelshum.wordpress.com (webpage)