Winning the Lottery
Let’s face it, who amongst us can honestly say they’ve never dreamed about winning the lottery, especially when it creeps up to ridiculous proportions like $200 million. I mean what a ridiculous sum of money for anyone to win. (Please let it be me! Please, Please!) So when I heard the concept of Patricia Wood’s debut novel “Lottery,” I was completely hooked, and so was the entire publishing world.
They called it a high concept hook - “Forrest Gump wins Powerball,” and it created an immediate stir in publishing. Ann Oldenburg’s article in USA Today, stated that Lottery went to auction and landed a six-figure deal for its first time author. It is a dream that all writers aspire too.
So often we hear the hype, buy into it and then end up being disappointed. That is definitely not the case here. I read Lottery in one day in two sittings. And it would have been one sitting but for the simple fact that I had to cook dinner, feed the kids, bathe them, check their homework and tuck them in bed, all while glancing impatiently at my book and growling and muttering under my breath. When I finally closed my book, I sighed with happiness tinged with the sad thought that having finished, I could never have that new book pleasure filled with the discovery of finding new characters that warm your heart. Unless I suffer from amnesia, then please remind me that I will want to read Lottery again.
The main character is Perry L. Crandall, and he is not retarded. He knows this because he scored a 76 on his IQ test and Reader’s Digest says that you have to have 75 or lower to be retarded. So he is not retarded. And from this introduction on, you are absolutely hooked by Perry, his loving but sharp tongued grandmother, his nervous but caring boss and a disgusting burping, farting best friend, Keith, who was my second most favorite character of the book. Not just because I think burping and farting are hysterically funny, although they are, but because Ms. Wood develops Keith, a Vietnam Vet, into a living breathing person you come to care deeply for. Now all the bad guys in the book, Perry’s brothers, in-laws and even his mother, are either lawyers or married to lawyers. (I would feel indignant on behalf of all us lawyers, except I actually know too many like this to take offense for my profession.)
When Grandma dies early in the book and Perry wins $12 million playing the lottery, you’d have to be a real gullible, naïve fool not to know what happens next. The beauty of Ms. Wood’s book is that Perry, who knows he is slow, is neither as gullible nor as naïve as people like to think. And while the bad guys are little more than cliché’s, they work extremely well when placed in the context of the book. Their portrayal is as Perry sees them, no more, no less. As characters, they are not shaded or nuanced like Grandma, Keith or Cherry, a woman Perry would like to have as a girlfriend. That is because the actions of the brothers and Perry’s mother have only ever been unkind, and even when circumstances change and they try to act nicely to Perry, he sees right through to the desperation beneath their surfaces. Their words might have changed, but they are still the same. Perry is one of the most likeable underdog characters you will ever read. You will root for him, cry with him and laugh your head off at things he says. You will definitely not be bored, I promise.
Interview with Patricia Wood, author of Lottery
I came to know about Ms. Wood and Lottery from having seen her as a regular commenter on Miss Snark’s popular writing blog. There she would be seen commenting as Orion, the name of her 48 foot sailboat that she lives on with her husband and her two cats. Originally from Seattle, Washington, Ms. Wood has served in the Army, worked as a medical technologist, taught marine science to high-risk students and is now a Ph.D. student at the University of Hawaii.
After writing three novels which only collected rejections, she wrote Lottery over a three month period last year. In her own words she says, “I was consumed.” As luck would have it, she sent an e-query to top agent Dorian Karchmar, a literary agent with William Morris in New York. Ironically, Ms. Karchmar states that “most of the time I’m so busy, I don’t read email queries.” But Ms. Wood’s email arrived on a slow summer day and the rest of the story is pure magic.
After reading Lottery, I had to email Ms. Wood and let her know how much I loved her book and was happy to receive a very quick, warm and gracious response. When I decided that Lottery would be my first ever Book Review on my blog, I asked her if she would be willing to provide a short interview for my readers. Even though she is six hours behind me, I got a quick response that said “What a delight!” and we were off! I hope you all enjoy the interview.
E - Aloha Pat! Are you on your sailboat right now?
PW - Yes. I have just finished packing for my trip to the mainland for readings and signings.
E - I think it is so cool that you live on a sailboat. How long has it been since your residence was on land?
PW - Four years
E - It is amazing that you have access to technology even on a sailboat, but is there anything you miss about living on land?
PW - Not usually - I get a small twinge when I remember my beautiful gourmet kitchen and if I want a bath I go to a hotel.
E - So you have all the comforts of home, even pets on your boat. I understand your two cats are your muses, but they aren't housecats, they are sailboat cats, right?
PW - They didn't use to be but they are now! They got acclimated quite well.
E - Do they ever leave the boat?
PW - Not intentionally, only accidentally.
E – When they accidentally get off the boat, do they suffer from sea legs?
PW - No, but they get wet!
E - So we all know the weather is beautiful on Oahu but when you do get bad weather, how does it affect your routine as a writer living on a sailboat?
PW - I close the hatches and am snug as a bug in a rug. It's quite cozy.
E - You wrote Lottery in three months. But it was eight hours a day for seven days a week. How hard was it to commit to this schedule? How long was your editing process?
PW - It was often 12 to 18 hours a day and it was a first draft - and quite a shitty one at that! I did a couple passes through to fix grammar and spelling and by the fourth pass the skeleton of the story was closer to what Dorian (my agent) saw.
E - Did you have a critique group or readers review Lottery for you and what do you feel is the value of a writer's group?
PW - I've never been one to join groups. I know people swear by them but it has to be the right group. I think readers are better than writers. I have a large pool of beta readers. My friend author Paul Theroux read an early draft and many cruisers from my harbor (marina) read various versions.
E - But you were part of a large online writing community. You were a regular over at Miss Snark's popular blog where I first saw you as Orion. It was real neat to see you thank Miss Snark in your acknowledgements. When you got published, did Miss Snark ever get in touch with you?
PW - Miss Snark ROCKS. She sent several very nice emails congratulating me and did call me when I went to New York. The number came up unknown. It was magic! I owe her so much for all the guidance in her blog and the support the blog has shown me. They were all there from the beginning.
E - She called you? So do you have any idea about her real identity?
PW - No clue at all, but I suspect she has moved on. I read in People magazine recently that George Clooney hired a new maid with amazing literary taste. It could happen...
E - He would be a lucky man, then! As fans of her blog, we all know what we got from her; great no-nonsense advice and a community of writers just like us. Now that you are a published author, when you look back at Miss Snark's blog, what do you think you gained from it the most?
PW - The fact that this business is subjective. The fact that if more writers just sat down and finished their novels they would be more successful. You need to write, write and write some more. That hiring a book doctor or an outside editor is not necessary and that perseverance is the best quality to have.
E - One of the things that I've been so impressed with is how altruistic you have been to your fellow writers. You have a blog where you've given so much insight to the publishing process and you also are a vibrant presence on the Absolute Write forums where you provide a lot of great information and advice to newbies. I love that you have become like a Mentor figure now that you are a famous author, but what makes you do it?
PW - HA! I'm a know-it-all? Actually I am a teacher. Have always been a teacher and love to teach. I will be going to the University of Hawaii next Friday to talk to creative writing students. It is pay-back for the help I have received from generous authors like Paul Theroux and Jackie Mitchard.
E - So are you working on a new book and is there any information you would care
to share about it?
PW - I am ALWAYS working on another book. I have three finished manuscripts and am outlining other projects. My agent and I are giving a great deal of thought as to what will follow Lottery. Of course there is the paperback of Lottery that will come out next summer (08).
E - Lastly, there is so much advice that is out there, sometimes contradictory, but I would love to know what would be the one piece of advice that you think is really important or overlooked that you would give to aspiring writers about fulfilling their dream?
PW - WRITE. Finish your novel and start another. READ. Write. Read. And WRITE some more. Oh yeah... and make sure you write.
E - Thanks so much Pat for chatting with me about Lottery. You are awesome!
PW - Aloha and Mahalo! Writers are welcome to email me with questions at