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Going all in

Kerouac House resident writer Beth Raymer talks about betting, boxing and other forms of risky behavior

Photo: Dave Plotkin, License: N/A

Dave Plotkin

Beth Raymer Farewell Reading

8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12
Kerouac House 1418 Clouser Ave.

Beth Raymer, current Kerouac Project writer in residence, shares a disregard for boundaries with the house’s most famous ex-resident. Like the Beat-era bard, Raymer has both affection and affinity for those who live their lives outside the norm, having explored those edges herself. Her first book, Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling, details her drifty path from Tallahassee social worker to “in-home stripper,” porn website entrepreneur, sports book assistant, Golden Gloves boxer, and eventually Columbia University MFA student. The film version, directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity, The Grifters) and starring Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rebecca Hall, is set for release next year. While living at the Kerouac House for a three-month residency, she’s at work on her next book, Sweetheart Deals, a semi-autobiographical novel about the “spirited and occasionally unscrupulous adopted daughter of a car salesmen and a would-be nun navigat[ing] her unconventional childhood in the Ohio Valley and rural Florida.”

We chatted with Raymer about superstition, the difference between novels and memoirs, and how she handles passionate Kerouac fans who drop by unannounced.

Orlando Weekly: So first things first – do you have a lucky charm?

Beth Raymer: My armadillo [displays a silver armadillo pendant]. He’s been good luck for a while.

A Florida girl. You went to school in Tallahassee?

Right, and I grew up in West Palm Beach. This is the nearest I’ve been to West Palm in 17 years.

Have you gone back?

No, I’m sure it’s changed. Florida changes so fast, so much. … It’s very similar to Vegas in that way.

They’re both places people ‘end up.’ Last-chance kind of places.

I love those kind of places!

How did you hear about the Kerouac Project?

I didn’t start writing until about six years ago. I actually heard about the Kerouac House from [former Kerouac Project writer in residence] Liza Monroy. In the back of her book, Mexican High, she thanked the Kerouac House, so I looked it up on the Internet and thought it looked amazing. To live in Jack’s house for three months … I’d done a residency at MacDowell, in rural New Hampshire, but it’s much different because [there] you’re meeting and eating with all the other artists. Here, I’m by myself. I had to seek out other writers and friends; at MacDowell they sort of came with the place.

This could be good for the easily distracted writer … sort of like Jonathan Franzen’s famous earmuffs.

It’s the most unique residency, I think. I thrive in these circumstances. I’m disciplined enough to get my writing done.

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