In order to feed his wife and child while he wrote The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway would scrape together the pittance he made from foreign-correspondent work and play the ponies at a Parisian racetrack. There aren’t too many starving artists with that kind of cojones, but macho-minded Papa would be proud of Rick Bennet: During the writing of two books, the D.C. novelist has fed himself and his 6-year-old son by working as a professional poker player.

“The irony of poker is that the only guys who can do it for a living, those who are truly successful, are the ones who don’t like to gamble. They do it for the love of the game,” says Bennet, whose latest novel, The Lost Brother, revolves around a racially motivated double murder in the District. “Then again, if I won the lottery tonight, I’d never play poker again.”

Bennet works mostly as a “house player,” which means that certain restaurants or bars will pay him up to $100 a night to conduct games in their establishments. This past January, Bennet and his son Sean had to move from D.C. to San Diego, because while organized poker is still taboo in these parts, royal flushes are clean in California. “If poker was legal in D.C., I’d move back in a second,” he says. “I still consider it my home.”

In Brother, which Bennet says is “dangerously politically incorrect,” Washington is neatly divided between black and white; the walls of segregation are portrayed as insurmountable. Then, with the murder of a successful African-American prosecutor who was married to a white woman and spoke out against O.J., the city is almost brought to the boiling point. “You can’t stick your head in the sand when you’re talking about race relations and racial tensions,” Bennet says of his loaded novel. “There’s no honest discussion of race in America. We need to understand that there is a symmetry of anger and hatred between the races. Racism is human. It is not just white racism.”—Sean Daly