"I liked the life," he said. "It was very interesting, very intense--I used to get psyched up before the game--and I liked the hours. You didn't get rich, but you always had cash."
One of Ferrigno's neighbors was a young Cuban refugee named Armando, an ex-convict who sold heroin out of his window to customers who lined up on the sidewalk. Armando served as the model for Cubanito, the drug dealer in "The Horse Latitudes."
"In a lot of ways, the criminal environment I was in was very comfortable to me," said Ferrigno. "Things were very direct, very up front. And I didn't make moral judgments about a lot of the people I hung out with."
He said he wrote his novel, in part, to help understand his own past.
"I used to try to imagine why do I still think of those people as my friends? And why do I have trouble connecting with the day-to-day regular world?"
He concedes he is no longer comfortable in the criminal world. "I went back to my old neighborhood in Seattle a couple of years ago and it scared the hell out of me. I don't belong there any more. I'd get eaten there in an hour."
Ferrigno said there is a lot of himself in Danny DiMedici.
"I think the brink is very seductive to Danny and very seductive to me," he said. "There is an eroticism to being that close to the edge and knowing how easy it would be to let go of that little bit and to not do it. I derive something from not doing it."
After six years of playing poker in pick-up games with everyone from lawyers to hustlers, Ferrigno wrote a free-lance review of a photographic exhibit for a Seattle alternative weekly newspaper. When he saw his first newspaper byline, he was hooked.
"There is an intensity in coming home at 4 in the morning and throwing a couple of thousand dollars on your bed and throwing it in the air (and saying), I won all of it! But that wasn't even close to getting $10 for an article with your name on it," he said.
Recalling those days when he was working on his novel in his free time while holding down a full-time newspaper job, Ferrigno said he would wake up "before 4 and my brain would be on fire. It wasn't like I was even tired. My wife finally said, 'If you don't quit your job things aren't going to work out' because I was becoming a less than pleasant person."
Jody Ferrigno, who had read every draft of each chapter, "had total belief" that his novel would sell. "She said, 'It's too good. Someone will buy this.' "
The Ferrignos' lives haven't changed dramatically since Ferrigno sold "The Horse Latitudes." Their biggest concession to his literary windfall was buying a four-bedroom, lake-front house next to Seattle.
But they're renting out their new house and continue to live in their '40s-vintage two-bedroom apartment in Belmont Shore where Ferrigno is working on his next novel.
And three mornings a week he teaches a basic reporting class at Cal State Fullerton.
Like writing a story for the newspaper, Ferrigno believes, a novelist should not waste any time in attracting the reader's attention.
"I figure if I can catch you for the first page I've got good odds. And again, I'm a good poker player. All I need is good odds."