Excerpted from Good Luck by Whitney Gaskell. Copyright © 2008 by Whitney Gaskell. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Discovery, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
My Top Five Necessary-to-my-Work Items:
by Whitney Gaskell
1. My desk. I have a vintage Paul McCobb desk that I scored on eBay, after falling in love with one just like it in a décor magazine. My previous desk was a very modern steel-frame with a hideous green glass top. It was so cold and sharply edged, I couldn’t work at it.
2. Ice water. I am incapable of writing unless I have a very tall, very cold glass of water next to me. Actually, I say glass, but it really has to be in a tall plastic tumbler. Every writer needs to have at least one idiosyncrasy.
3. E-mail. It’s how I stay in touch with everyone, as I hate talking on the phone.
4. My pug, Zoë. She sleeps on a cushion under my desk, snoring loudly, while I work. Zoë is the most hedonistic creature I’ve ever met. She’s my role model.
5. A spiral-bound notebook. I buy a new one every time I start a book. It’s where I keep all of my notes — character sketches, background information, plot lines, bits of dialogue. I do all of my actual writing on my computer, but without my notebook, I’d be completely lost.
Bantam Discovery Essay for Good Luck
by Whitney Gaskell
Like everyone, I’ve fantasized about winning the lottery. But I’ve probably given it more thought than most, even before I wrote my new novel, Good Luck. I rarely ever buy a lottery ticket, but even so, I actually have a detailed plan for what I’d do once I cashed it in.
First, I would hire an expert financial advisor. I’m probably the only person who, upon winning a life-changing amount of money, would be up late, unable to sleep, because I was fretting about interest rates and tax-deferring investment vehicles. I can just see myself poking my husband awake, asking him if he thought the gold market had peaked, and hearing him sleepily reply, “Huh? What? Why are you worrying about that now? Relax. And stop poking me.”
Then there would be the requisite splurges: a new car, a new wardrobe, a new house with an ocean view, infinity pool and gourmet kitchen, complete with Viking range, granite counter tops and cherry wood cupboards. And I’d finally have the budget to make all of my décor-porn dreams come true.
But in all honesty, my life probably wouldn’t look all that different than it does now. I’d still write, and veg out on the sofa with my husband watching crap reality television shows, and play with my son. Admittedly, we’d be sitting on a much nicer sofa than we currently own and the playing would take place in our groovy, ocean-view infinity pool, but still, the larger picture would be the same. Life would just be a little easier. Okay, a lot easier. Sure, there are problems that money can’t solve, but, luckily, I don’t have many of those.
So I was surprised a few years ago, while watching one of those prime time news shows, when they did a feature on lottery winners whose lives had been ruined by their windfalls. These people were millionaires one moment . . . and bankrupt the next. The money did change their lives, they said, but in a really bad way. All of a sudden, every passing acquaintance and distant relative appeared on their doorstep looking for a hand out. Feuds broke out over who was getting what. Marriages ended. Drug and alcohol problems developed. And for many of them, the money eventually ran out. What had seemed like all the money in the world turned out not to be.
This idea, that lottery money would ruin lives rather than enrich them, fascinated me. It continued to percolate away in the back of my mind for years. Eventually, a story began to take shape.
(We writers are vicious this way. As soon as we hear about someone else’s misfortune, we immediately begin fitting it into a plot. Also: we eavesdrop. If you’re ever talking about something juicy, and there’s a writer nearby, there’s a pretty good chance she’s listening. And taking notes. Really, we have no shame.)
The story of the unlucky lottery winner is what inspired my new novel, Good Luck. The book begins with Lucy Parker getting fired from her beloved teaching job, after a student seeking revenge for a low grade falsely accuses Lucy of sexually harassing him. Her day gets even worse when she discovers her live-in boyfriend cheating on her. Heartbroken and reeling, Lucy has no idea what she’s going to do with the rest of her life, much less where her next mortgage payment is going to come from. And it is at this dark, low moment, that Lucy learns she’s won the $87 million Florida Lottery jackpot.
It’s more money than most people will ever earn in a lifetime. So much money, it should solve all of Lucy’s problems. At the very least, she won’t ever again have to worry about mortgage payments or the monthly arrival of her Visa bill. In fact, she won’t have to worry about anything ever again.
But Lucy’s life doesn’t become easier: in fact, it very quickly becomes a whole lot more complicated, especially once the story that the most recent multi-million dollar lottery winner was a teacher recently fired for seducing one of her students explodes in the national media. Reporters camp out on Lucy’s front lawn, making her a virtual prisoner in her own home. She eventually escapes to a college friend’s Palm Beach mansion, intent on laying low. But instead she’s lured out into the high-flung, moneyed Palm Beach scene. Soon Lucy is living in a manner so far removed from her previous life that she starts to lose herself in the middle of it all. It begins to dawn on her that she can’t trust herself, much less anyone else. Lucy wonders if her jackpot truly was the best thing that could ever have happened to her . . . or if the money has instead ruined her once-comfortable life.
Good Luck was a blast to write. It allowed me to play out all of my lottery fantasies — the shopping sprees, the international travel, the champagne wishes and caviar dreams. In many ways, it’s a modern fairy tale. Only instead of a pumpkin coach and an evil-step mother trying to feed her poisoned apples, my princess drives a Porsche and worries that her Prince Charming is only after her money.
But even now that I’ve explored the dark side of becoming an overnight lottery millionaire, I still don’t think I’d suffer the same fate as Lucy. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’d be too busy enjoying the view from my infinity pool and frantically calling my financial adviser to have a personal identity crisis.
1. Despite the disasters she experienced at the beginning of the novel, what was good about Lucy’s life before she won the lottery? What were the best and worst changes that took place after she deposited the check?
2. How did Lucy’s parents influence her future? What explains the big difference in the way Lucy and Emma handle money?
3. Do you think Lucy would have stayed with Elliott if she hadn’t caught him with Naomi? How did her breakup, and her newfound wealth, change the way she thought about men?
4. How did your opinion of Mal and Drew shift throughout the novel? How do they affect Lucy in different ways?
5. What sustains Maisie and Lucy’s friendship? How does it compare to Hayden and Lucy’s friendship? What gives Maisie the strength to turn down Lucy’s money?
6. How does Lucy handle the secrecy of her new identity? Did she make the right choice in going underground? When are secrets helpful, and when are they harmful?
7. In the end, both Hayden and Emma realize how deeply they have hurt Lucy. What did it take for them to have a change of heart?
8. Discuss the novel’s title. How much of the success portrayed in Good Luck comes from sheer luck? How much of it depends on good choices? Which one—luck or choice—plays the bigger part in having a happy life?
9. Several of the novel’s characters, including Lucy’s mother, want to spend their resources easing the suffering of others. What determines whether someone will do charitable things with wealth, versus those who use it to serve their appetites for power?
10. What makes Whitney Gaskell’s heroines unique? How does Good Luck, along with the author’s other novels, capture the tragicomic truth about the demands of modern womanhood?