Many people have asked me why I wrote a book. I never studied “How to Write a Book.” Most of my life, it never occurred to me to write a book. At most, I was fond of thinking of titles for things (Terminal Degree—how great does that sound for a novel?)
But, on occasion, I would find myself on long drives. As part of my work, I’ve given speeches all around the Minnesota and spent hundreds of hours going to and from these places. On one of these trips, I wrote a country song (Waitin’ on Someday—again, the title’s better than the song) even though I can’t play any instrument beyond a French Horn. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a French Horn in a country song, and my eight year old son is quick to point out about me, “You think too much of your singing.”
In April, 2013, however, I found myself on one of these drives to a small, very northern Minnesota town; Fosston. My aunt was celebrating her 80th birthday and I was on the road for hours of steady drizzle/gray driving. After listening to music and whatever talk radio I could find, I heard a news report about the latest lottery. The Powerball was at some absurd amount, well above five hundred million dollars. My father has been a rabid lottery player since the inception of the Powerball. He gave up smoking shortly after the Powerball was introduced and figured that he was entitled to spend all of his previous ‘smoking’ money on the lottery.
He’s never won much, but always took it seriously. He’d buy his ‘numbers’ in advance when he’d be out of a Powerball-eligible state. But most impressively, he seemed to have a plan in mind if he won the lottery. It wasn’t one of those, “I’m going to buy twenty Cadillacs like Elvis and move to Hawaii” plans. Instead, he wanted a practical, step-by-step plan for how to proceed once he won. He tried to think it all through—accountants, lawyers, everything.
So, in my highway induced daze, I started fantasizing about my father winning the lottery. I’m a lawyer, so I thought there was a decent chance he’d want to celebrate and tell me (and maybe buy me a new car?) But he might want to talk to me not only as his son, but as a lawyer. So I started thinking about an imaginary conversation with a lawyer who advises clients who just won the lottery.
I turned the radio off. I had discovered my mental caffeine that would keep me awake for the rest of the drive. So there I was, tooling along on a rural Minnesota highway, talking out loud to myself playing out both the part of the lottery winner with questions and the lawyer who would advise them.
By the time I got home the next night, I had the beginning of an idea for a story.
Within three weeks, I had written roughly 30,000 words. I’d type late at night. I’d type early in the morning. Whenever I could squeeze in any time at all. I never really thought about writing a book, I was just entertaining myself with this tale about how a lottery winner would try to deal with life after winning. It sounds glamorous. Like a fantasy really. But, there are downsides. Family turning on you if you don’t share. Charities demanding as much as they can. It isn’t hard to envision some of the potential darkness. But still, how much of a story can there be with a recent lottery winner trying to cope with life? Is that really enough of a conflict? I liked this element of the story, but it wasn’t enough to compose an entire novel. And then, one day while waiting for an early evening meeting in St. Paul, it happened. I met Heléna Midas, and that changed everything.