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The Great Gamble

Bluder layers sports, gambling and intrigue
Dave Bluder spent the last decade learning the craft of writing, culminating in the publication last month of his thriller novel, “The Great Gamble.” (contributed photo)

SOLON– The hardest skill was mastering the different voices of his characters, explained first-time author Dave Bluder.
“I’m kind of a plot guy, I’ve got all these different plots for different novels,” he said. “I just kind of crank out plot and make it really interesting.”
Bluder, of rural Solon, spent the last decade learning the craft of writing, culminating in the publication last month of his thriller novel, “The Great Gamble.”
The story, which pushed Bluder to pursue creative writing, weaves a series of characters together as they plunge headlong into a dangerous world of sports and gambling.
The author said it took five years to understand how to plumb the depths of the personalities in his writing.
“Even though it’s fictional, you have to actually create a real live person,” he observed. “You have to know what their secrets are. You have to know what they love, you have to know what they despise, you have to know what’s hidden under their bed. You have to understand that person completely. And that is really, really, really hard. That took me a long time, and I’m still working on it.”
The novel explores the world of high school basketball phenom Jason Carson whose mother is dying of cancer. Although heavily recruited as one of the top prospects in the nation, the family’s medical bills are piling up and they face eviction from their apartment.
Carson accepts a $30,000 loan from sports agent Ricardo Perez, who wears Armani suits and a Rolex, listens to classical music and practices yoga. The sophisticated Perez, well educated in Mexico, is actually a member of an organized crime cartel.
Carson’s decision comes with a major consequence, Bluder noted. “He takes the money and things change for him quite rapidly.”
The novel is subtitled “At What Price?” and Bluder referenced an old Hungarian proverb, “Adam ate the apple and our teeth still ache.”
A normal person, if out of work and desperate to feed a starving family, would steal a loaf of bread, he said.
But there is a price to be paid, he added.
Other threads of the story follow the life of an egocentric, womanizing NBA referee who manipulates the outcomes of games and believes in numerology and séances; and two FBI agents investigating corruption in the world of athletics.
The book opens with a series of five photographs representing sub-stories and layers, Bluder said– the life of the occult, the discovery of a major artifact, a hidden area in an iconic US landmark, a shocking scandal that leads to an international manhunt and an FBI investigation incorporating Kryptos encryption.
There are a lot of things going on, layer upon layer, he said. “Things kept arising.”
“The whole thing leads to an explosive, secret revelation that a sports fan will never be able to watch a game the same way again,” he promised.
Bluder was not a writer when the idea for the story came to him 10 years ago.
A native of Wheaton, Ill., Bluder attended the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) where he met his wife Lisa, currently the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa (UI).
He graduated UNI with a business degree and finished his Master’s in Business Administration at St. Ambrose.
Over his professional career, he’s been a banker, investor, part owner of Duffy’s Collectible Cars in Cedar Rapids and a professor of business policies at UI.
He also served as a member of the Urbandale City Council.
“I did it for a year then Lisa got the job at Iowa so I had to leave,” he said. “But I absolutely loved it.”
Former Governors Terry Branstad and Robert Ray both helped with his campaign, and both became friends, he said.
The plot for “The Great Gamble” helped awaken an interest in writing.
With help from Prairie Lights Books, Bluder was introduced to an editor who had attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Armed with encouragement, Bluder started taking classes through the workshop’s summer festival and began reading extensively on the craft of writing.
Bluder would submit drafts to his editors and they would suggest more books to read and more classes to take in between writing sessions.
He learned to shorten sentences, to change cadence, to speed things up and slow things down. He practiced writing different character voices and descriptions, different first sentences and endings.
And all the while, the plot continued to evolve as he thought things through.
“It’s a really, really in-depth process,” he said.
It’s taught him to be a student of human behavior, to look at people in a different way.
When you build a personality from scratch, you really get inside the characters’ minds and point of view, he observed.
“It takes you on an adventure, an education or experience,” he added. “You have to walk in somebody else’s shoes, but it really allows you to feel what it’s like to be someone else or have a different viewpoint.”
The character he most enjoyed embodying was Brandon Sellers, Carson’s roommate at the UI.
Carson picks Iowa to be close to his mother in Illinois, and Sellers is a blonde baseball player from L.A. who wears flip-flops in the snow. Everything that comes from his mouth is verbiage from an urban dictionary, Bluder said.
Sellers has parties in his room, steals tests, is a bookie on the side and creates a lot of problems for Carson, but the author loved the wild, likable bad boy who did anything he wanted.
Bluder finished “The Great Gamble” about a year and a half ago, but only after the final draft had undergone multiple cuts with entire chapters excised and multiple endings.
“This one seemed like the best,” he noted. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to end the story.”
From there it was a matter of publishing.
Bluder selected Steve Semken of Ice Cube Press in North Liberty as publisher.
“He’s extremely well known and well thought of, especially in the Writers’ Workshop,” he observed. “He’s been around and done it for a long time.”
As part of that publishing process, Bluder began to compile endorsements from acquaintances and people he thought would be interested.
In the end, it became an “incredible list of folks that I’m humbled to have wanted to say something.”
Former Congressman Jim Leach provided the epilogue and former Senator Bill Bradley offered praise. Both were part of an effort to ban offshore credit card transactions for betting businesses.
The book’s back cover and first six pages are filled with quotes from a wide range of Iowa and national luminaries, including ESPN’s Melissa Isaacson, Bobby Hansen, Tom Davis, Dan Gable, Tom Arnold and Christopher Merrill.
“The Great Gamble” will also be available as an audiobook read by Joe Osheroff, a professional actor with numerous theatre and screen credits.
A professor at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Osheroff is temporarily at the University of Iowa through a Grant Wood Fellowship for the Performing Arts.
The audio version will be offered on 75 different platforms including Audible and Apple Books, Bluder said.
Hard copies can be purchased at icecubepress.com.
Bluder is already at work on a second novel.
“It’s really fun to just sit down and crank it out, that’s kind of the fun part about it.”
He tries to write an hour or two at least five times a week, mostly away from home.
“When I’m home, I feel like I should be doing something,” he explained. “When I’m away, I can concentrate on losing myself and getting into this crazy world.”
He writes at libraries or while at one of his kids’ events.
“Bread Garden was kind of my office for a long time.”