Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That's My Cue

by Chris F. Holm

In my late teens and early twenties, I used to hustle pool. I'm not talking high stakes or anything - just a twenty here and there on a game of straight pool or nine-ball, or maybe eight-ball at a buck a ball left on the table. I wasn't good enough to beat anyone who could really play, but I was plenty capable of lightening a few drunks' wallets over the course of an evening. (I was also one-hundred-twenty pounds soaking wet, so sometimes, when said drunks got pissed, I wound up leaving in a hurry.)

Anyways, one of the old-timers at the pool hall I hung out at gave me two bits of advice/armchair philosophy I've carried with me to this day. The first is that there's really no such thing as hustling pool, because the mark should always know better. If you ask someone if they want to play for money, it's because you have a reasonable expectation that you can beat them. It doesn't matter how drunk you seem, or if you've dropped a friendly game or two to them beforehand. If you're the one to broach the topic, they should realize you've got something up your sleeve. And if they're the one to broach the topic, there's a chance they're playing you. Either way, if you find yourself on the losing end of such a challenge, well, it's your own damn fault.

The second thing he told me was, if you plan to make some scratch challenging drunks at bars, you'd best learn to play with the house cues. You come walking in with a billiard glove and a custom cue, and only an idiot would ever play you. But if you learn to play with a cue plucked off the rack, those poor saps will never see you coming. And the only way to do that is to always play off the rack, because otherwise you wind up with some superstitious comfort zone you're afraid to venture out of when the time comes.

For someone as prone to superstitions as I am, that's good advice to live by. Habits and rituals can prove stifling, and they work against you more often than they work for you. You drop your lucky mug, and it shatters. The good chair at the coffee house is taken. That pen that lays down the perfect line might die on you mid-sentence, and those fancy-pants Italian note pads you like could fall victim to the lousy economy, and disappear from shelves as your deadline looms before you. Best to learn to live without them now, and save yourself some heartache.

Sometimes I write at home, on my couch. Sometimes in coffee houses, or at the day job over lunch. Sometimes I drink coffee while I write. Sometimes water. Sometimes wine. Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I kinda sorta do until I forget, and the story carries me across the finish-line. The only thing I really need to have to get into the groove is access to a computer, and even then that's just because my handwriting sucks. Honestly, if I wind up stranded on a desert island and I've got nothing left to write with but rock-on-rock, I'll make it work. Because writing is my only ritual. Everything else is so much noise; one way or another, I'll find a way to play through it.
Hey, so listen: I've got this new book coming out September 25. It's called THE WRONG GOODBYE. It's got angels and demons and bug-monsters and soul collectors and a boatload of action and intrigue (not to mention a blind, transgender showgirl with a shotgun.) I really like it. So far, other folks do, too. If you want to learn more about it, or peruse a list of links through which it might be purchased, click on through. And many thanks to those who do.


Meredith Cole said...

Great advice, Chris! Love equating writing with hustling pool--makes me feel like I'm doing something a little dangerous today at my computer...

Chris said...

Hey, if getting folks to pay you to lie to them ain't a hustle, I don't know what is.