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Like any true-blue L.A. Dodgers fan, Jennifer Anne Kogler remembers exactly where she was when Kirk Gibson hit his dramatic ninth-inning home run in the 1988 World Series: at home, in front of the television with her twin brother, thinking that she could have been watching from the stands. But her parents, season-ticket holders, had decided to take her older brother and his girlfriend instead.
Now 25, the Georgetown resident still regrets not witnessing the seminal sports event of her lifetime in person. “I’m definitely mad I wasn’t there,” she says.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that in the opening scene of Kogler’s debut novel, Ruby Tuesday, Ruby’s father accidentally slices off his finger while listening to Vin Scully’s classic broadcast of Gibson connecting with Dennis Eckersley’s hanging slider.
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Ruby Tuesday, which was first published in 2005 and came out in paperback last month, is narrated by 13-year-old Ruby Tuesday Sweet (named after the Rolling Stones song, not the restaurant). After her father’s dismemberment, Ruby begins to realize just what her father does for a living—and once he wins a bet on the Series-winning Dodgers, things start to get interesting. Ruby’s father’s bookie turns up dead, making her father a prime suspect. To escape a pair of mobsters angling for the winning ticket, Ruby’s itinerant, Stones-groupie mother takes her away to Las Vegas.
The novel began as a short story in a Princeton writing workshop taught by Joyce Carol Oates. College creative writing classes are fraught with eager, pedantic prose desperately striving for serious, capital-L literature, but Kogler had no such goals as she developed her characters. “I just write what’s in my head,” she says. “I don’t have lofty aspirations…I’m just hoping to tell an interesting and enthralling tale.”
The story eventually became her senior thesis. After graduating, the Tustin, Calif., native moved back into a “rent-stabilized” room in her parents’ house, where she waitressed and set about revising her thesis. She devoured books on sports gambling and took a research trip to Las Vegas, where she talked with handicappers and casino managers and bet $10 on a Princeton game. After about three months, Kogler had something resembling a manuscript, and a family friend helped put her in touch with a literary agent, who offered to represent her almost immediately. He also told her that he thought her novel was a young-adult book.
“What is that?” Kogler asked. When the agent explained that, despite the adult content, her coming-of-age tale was better suited for a teen audience, Kogler said, “Well, that’s fine.” A couple of months later, Kogler had a two-book deal.
Many young writers would blanch at the idea of sharing shelf space with Ann M. Martin and Francine Pascal, but Kogler seems immune to the stigma. “It was a genre I wasn’t necessarily aware of,” she says. “I’ve since read a lot of young-adult books, and there are a lot of great books and some great writing. And a lot of readers, too, so it’s nice to have an audience.”
Another spoil of writing in the young-adult market is that Kogler reads at junior high schools almost as often as she does at bookstores. There, she’s usually peppered with the sort of questions that only eighth-graders would think to ask out loud: Do you have a boyfriend? How much money do you make? Ever meet anyone else famous?
“That always makes me laugh,” she says. “Because that ‘else’ assumes I’m famous.” —Huan Hsu