Channing Booker, a gambler and philanderer whose marriage is failing, wins the Mega Millions lottery. To hide his $241 million jackpot from his wife Susan, he schemes to have a friend claim the money and return it after he and Susan are divorced. Returning home the next day, Channing is shocked to find that Susan has moved out and taken the rare book in which he hid the winning lottery ticket. He and his henchman frantically search for Susan, knowing they must locate the ticket before it expires and before Susan finds it. Fearful of Channing, Susan is in hiding at a South Dakota ranch. A retired detective learns of the missing ticket and begins his own search, becoming romantically attracted to Susan as his investigation leads to her. As the lottery deadline approaches, Channing, his henchman, and the detective converge on Susan’s hideout. After surviving a gunfight with Channing and his henchman, the detective discovers that the ticket is no longer at the ranch. Within 24 hours the ticket will expire and become worthless. Will he find it in time?
In this thriller, a Virginia lawyer’s desperate search for a missing lottery ticket worth millions puts his estranged wife and others in danger.
Attorney Channing Booker has just won the lottery, which is a massive $241 million before taxes. But he’s not ready to celebrate just yet. He knows a divorce from his wife, Susan, is imminent, and he doesn’t want to split the fortune. He’ll report the win later with his lawyer friend’s assistance, stashing his ticket in one of Susan’s rare Charles Dickens books. But Channing returns home the next day to find Susan gone, along with some furniture and every Dickens novel. Susan has good reason to leave: Channing, a gambler and habitual drug user, has been physically abusing her. That she’s completely unaware of the ticket doesn’t stop Channing’s hunt for the books. Keeping mum about the valuable bookmark, he enlists the help of loathsome pawn shop owner Billy Scaggs and contends with a nosy attorney at his firm, who assumes Channing is up to something shady. Meanwhile, a sudden car accident threatens to derail Susan’s escape plans. And as Channing’s 180-day period for turning in his ticket gradually diminishes, his despair may escalate into violence. Shackelford (Judges Say the Darndest Things, 2004) provides his story with a dizzying tempo, as he piles on various obstacles for both Channing and Susan. There are perspectives from multiple characters, but they primarily shift between the estranged couple and Lee Barnett, a retired detective who somehow secures evidence of the lottery ticket’s existence. Characters throughout are notable, as even seemingly minor players have solid backstories. But the most indelible are Billy, who’s frighteningly good at tracking down information, and Lee, a flawed potential hero whose pursuit of the ticket involves theft and breaking and entering. The author’s breezy prose is free of obscenities and graphic specifics of brutality, including during the intense final act. Although the inevitable encounter involving the main characters results in a well-earned climax, a romance between two of the players is short and somewhat contrived.
Treasure hunters face plenty of hurdles in this entertaining, suspenseful tale.
Fred Shackelford’s first novel adheres to some of Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for good writing. For those new to crime fiction, Leonard was its master in the 20th century, primarily for his economy of prose and his gift for dialogue that revealed character and propelled plot in books such as “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and nearly 40 more.
The odds are in Shackelford’s favor that he’ll build on his experience from writing “The Ticket.” It is a novel about improbabilities, including odds, as in the Virginia Lottery’s odds of about 259 million-to-1 for the winning ticket held by the book’s central, unsavory character, Channing Booker.
Consider, too, the astronomical odds of timing. To avoid having to share the $241 million prize with a spouse he’s aiming to divorce, Booker hides the winning ticket from his wife, placing it inside a book at his home. To his horror, it disappears the very next day, along with his wife, who’s shipped the book along with other personal effects from their house to an undisclosed location.
As the clock ticks to the deadline to cash in the ticket, Booker draws various associates and henchmen into a web of schemes to hide his dealings from his law partners, locate his wife and recover the winning ticket before it’s worthless. The surprises along the journey to a showdown are as improbable as winning the lottery but satisfying nonetheless.
This is a breezy read that is well-plotted, with more than the requisite number of twists to keep readers entertained. Shackelford, a lawyer by trade, lives in Charlottesville. For a first novel, this is a wise choice for the setting, because of his familiarity with the area and, more importantly, the legal system, specifically divorce laws. He’s also faithful to a number of Leonard’s rules for good novel writing, including:
• No. 1. Never open a book with weather. Check. Shackelford dives right into the moment Channing discovers he has the winning ticket.
• No. 2. Avoid prologues. See No. 1.
• No. 3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. Check.
• No. 5. Keep your exclamation points under control. Check.
• No. 7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Shackelford resists this temptation.
• No. 10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. The author accomplishes this moderately well.
Odds are, based on his first novel’s 60 percent compliance with Leonard’s rules, Shackelford is headed for greater things, provided he continues to conjure up plots like this one and sharpens his dialogue to a fine Leonard-esque edge.
Channing Booker is a gambler, liar, compulsive cheater, and abuser. His gambling habit and general recklessness have cost him a literal fortune, and it seems a foregone conclusion that they will soon cost him his wife, as well. No longer able to maintain his high-roller lifestyle, Channing’s luck has just about run out when he miraculously wins the Mega Millions $241 million jackpot. But there is one significant hitch. His wife has finally had enough and has left him in the middle of the night—with the lottery ticket unknowingly in tow. Channing knew this day was coming so he isn’t nearly as concerned about the well-being of his soon-to-be ex-wife Susan as he is with finding the ticket before the 180-day claim window slams shut. Channing now must find both Susan and the ticket quickly without any leads, and this thriller soon becomes a race against time with life-threatening consequences.
Although the pace of the novel flows quickly, Shackelford made sure to take the time to develop the minutiae with specificity. Whether it is the precisely descriptive prose that allows readers to smell and feel the wind of the ocean blowing gently on their faces while digesting Channing’s plans to retire to an island or the thoughtfully developed characters that are introduced at a break-neck pace, there is genuinely no portion of the book that is without meaning. Each multi-faceted character is presented with purpose and in some way will play a vital role in pushing the narrative further into an interconnectedness that concludes with a shocking climax. If you’ve ever wondered how much your life and the lives of those around you would change if you won the lottery tomorrow, this tale will give you something to truly think about.
For those of you who fancy reading an exciting new author interview this Bank Holiday I spoke to Fred Shackelford, author of the innovative thriller The Ticket, to find out more about what makes him tick!
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards darker fiction?
The Ticket has a plot-driven style. I attempted to write a page-turner with lots of twists and turns to move the story along at a quick pace. The plot revolves around a missing lottery ticket that will become worthless if it expires, so the tension mounts as the deadline approaches. The character development emerges primarily through dialog. The book’s style is dark because I created several very sinister characters that readers will love to hate. However, other characters are more sympathetic – perhaps even heroic.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing fiction?
I’m an attorney who writes legal memoranda and briefs, so much of my professional writing is in a somewhat dry, technical style. However, some intriguing cases do inspire my creative thoughts. I’ve enjoyed venturing into fiction writing with The Ticket, as I have far more freedom in terms of style, vocabulary and subject matter in my role as a novelist. I draw on my past when I develop composite characters that possess traits that I’ve seen in people I’ve actually met.
With regards to the books you read, do you have any particular favourite writers or series?
My favourite author is John Grisham. When I began reading The Firm years ago, I couldn’t put the book down until I finished it. Coincidentally, Grisham and I live in the same county in Virginia, and I was fortunate to meet him one time in a local bookstore when I dropped in to sign a few copies of The Ticket. The owner invited me into a private room, where Grisham was busy autographing a huge stack of books.
I also enjoy the Henry Spearman mystery series by Ken Elzinga, who writes under the pen name Marshall Jevons. Elzinga’s protagonist is an amateur sleuth who solves crimes by applying economic analysis. Other authors of interest are John F. Jebb, III, Alden Bigelow, Janet Martin and Mary Morony.
How important do you believe variety in reading material is for a writer?
That’s very important. There’s something to be learned from every writer’s style, even though in rare cases the lesson is how not to write!
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
I developed the basic theme of The Ticket from a newspaper article about an unclaimed lottery jackpot. I tried to imagine an interesting scenario to explain why someone might wait until the last minute to cash in a winning ticket. When I experience writer’s block, I often take a break and stop trying to force an idea onto paper. Sometimes it helps just to walk outside and watch the world go by.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
I think it would be fun to work with Charles Dickens. I love the rich imagery in the text of A Christmas Carol. It would be a treat to get advice from such a creative author.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
I may try to write a screenplay based on The Ticket. The formatting and style of a screenplay are markedly different from a novel, so it would not be easy. But writing my first novel wasn’t easy either, so we’ll see how it goes. Many readers have encouraged me to write a sequel to The Ticket, but it’s more likely that my next book will be a stand-alone novel. I’ve been mulling over some plot ideas. Some of them involve buried treasure, but that theme is a cliché, so I may have to come up with something more imaginative.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I hope everyone who reads this interview will rush out and buy a copy of The Ticket!
Publishers like to believe that literary works worthy of publication eventually will find a home between book covers, be they soft or hard.
A slew of would-be novelists likely will vehemently dispute that claim. They could argue that the worth of a manuscript can’t be judged if it’s never seen by an editor’s eye.
A successful “over-the-transom” presentation of an unsolicited manuscript is, at best, a long shot. Local attorney Fred Shackelford learned through experience that without the help of an agent, the ramparts of major publishing houses are all but impossible to scale.
The ninth-generation Virginian carried on a quixotic quest for many months in an effort to find a publisher willing to take a chance on his debut novel. His perseverance finally won out; last month, his book, “The Ticket,” was published by Black Opal Books, based in the Pacific Northwest.
The novel is a fast-paced thriller that also will be enjoyed by those who love mysteries. Recently, Shackelford talked about his book and what it took to bring it from an idea to reality.
“The book is about an attorney, Channing Booker, who is a compulsive gambler,” said Shackelford, who works for locally based National Legal Research Group Inc. “He has lost a lot of money with his betting, but one day, he wins the Mega Millions lottery.
“His marriage is falling apart, and he doesn’t want his wife to get any of the money. So he comes up with a scheme, but the plan goes awry.
“I would say the book is a cautionary tale in some ways. Booker is a good example of what not to do. He’s a very devious, scheming, sleazy character who gets into a lot of trouble.”
Trouble wasn’t something Shackelford envisioned when it came to getting his novel published. He had one book already to his credit — “Judges Say the Darndest Things,” which was published in 2004.
“That wasn’t really a lot of my work,” Shackelford said of his first book. “At the time, when coworkers would find something humorous in a case, they would often copy it and post it on the bulletin board.
“For my own enjoyment, I would keep copies of those, and eventually the stack piled up so high that I decided to put them into a book. I did that and then sent out 25 to 30 queries to publishers, and within a month or so, I had an offer.
“That gave me a false sense of what it takes to get published. I thought, ‘Well, this isn’t that tough.’”
It isn’t “that tough” to get a book published by a vanity press when the author foots the cost. But when a publishing house is covering expenses, and, in many cases, providing an advance on royalties, the manuscript has to compete and win against formidable odds.
Local writer Janet Martin is a journalist and author of the book “The Christmas Swap.” She said that getting a first novel published these days constitutes a “huge success.”
“In 2017, publishing a first novel is an open door to a literary world that offers more readers than ever before in history,” said Martin, who has worked for CNN and PBS and as head of television media at the University of Virginia. “Yet it is a most difficult thing, because the marketplace is stacked against first-timers.
“Fred Shackelford has surmounted the current publishing obstacles and, with Black Opal Books, has created an appealing novel that is destined to attract a fan base.
“His writing is smooth, intriguing and full of surprises. Simply, a satisfying read.”
Kenneth G. Elzinga is the Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at UVa. He co-authored with the late William L. Breit a popular trio of murder mysteries that utilize principles of economics to solve crimes.
The novels, written under the pseudonym Marshall Jevons, are said to be assigned reading in many college economic classes. Elzinga read Shackelford’s novel when it was in manuscript form and encouraged him to seek a publisher.
“What I look for in a ‘whodunit’ in the British traditional vein is the opportunity to learn about some interesting characters,” Elzinga said. “To be confronted with a crime and a puzzle, and then encounter a solution to the crime that leaves me thinking, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’
“‘The Ticket’ caught my attention because of the ticket itself. I’m an economist, and I write mystery novels that involve crimes connected to economics.
“So Shackelford’s novel had a natural appeal to me. I learned about a part of the economy in which I was not well versed — and I got fooled at the end. Once I got started, I wanted to finish the book in one sitting; I was that hooked.
“Charlottesville has such a diverse portfolio of engaging authors. It is a treat to welcome Fred Shackelford to the group.”
A Mega Millions lottery ticket enjoys front-cover placement on the new book. Getting permission to use the image proved to be yet another hurdle along the road to publication.
“The story is all about a lottery ticket, so I really wanted that on the cover,” said Shackelford, who attended UVa for his undergraduate studies and law school. “I had to go to some effort to get the rights to use the Mega Millions logo.
“I had to do some detective work to find out who owns the rights. It turns out that they belong to the Georgia Lottery Corporation. The Virginia Lottery and Georgia Lottery were very helpful, and I was allowed to use the logo at no charge.”
Like many people, Shackelford would read a good novel and wonder if he could write one. And he was teased by the fact that he had enjoyed writing fiction for fun when he was in school.
“I do a lot of writing at my job, but it’s a different kind of writing,” Shackelford said. “I’m an attorney working at a legal research and writing firm, so it’s not like a typical law firm.
“Basically, we’re ghostwriters for other attorneys all over the country. We write briefs, and they sign off on them. I’ve written thousands of pages of legal documents, none of which have my name on them.
“The novel was a way to try something different. Legal writing is very constrained, kind of dry and, many people would say, boring. Whereas, with fiction, you have complete freedom, you can develop characters, use a different vocabulary and make things up.”
What sounds easy when verbalized can prove to be just the opposite when put into practice. Holding a reader’s attention from the first sentence through several hundred pages to the final word is a tremendous accomplishment.
“I thought if I could write a novel, I would feel a real sense of achievement,” Shackelford said. “I kind of imagined myself in a nursing home someday, and my great-grandchild walks in to visit and asks me what I did with my life.
“I can point to my books on the shelf and say they were something that I achieved. My first book was relatively easy, and I thought if I wrote something for a wider audience, it wouldn’t be difficult.
“The joke was on me, because it was very difficult.”
The idea for “The Ticket” came to Shackelford after he read a news article about someone who won the lottery and then waited until the last minute to cash in the ticket. The premise gestated in Shackelford’s mind for a lengthy period of time.
“I know there would be reasons to wait a month or so to cash in a winning ticket,” Shackelford said. “You would want to maybe talk with a financial advisor, lawyer or whatever.
“But I wondered why someone would wait and cut it that close. I started thinking about that, and eventually an idea for a possible scenario popped into my head and gave me the basic idea.
“I started the book in July 2005 and finished it around Labor Day 2010. I tried to estimate how many hours I spend actually writing, and I think it’s probably between 400 and 500.”
John F. Jebb is an assistant professor of English at the University of Delaware. He is the author of “True Crime: Virginia — The State’s Most Notorious Criminal Cases” and co-author with J. K. Van Dover of “Isn’t Justice Always Unfair? The Detective in Southern Literature.”
“The fun in Fred’s novel involves the juggling of the three main characters,” Jebb said. “Channing makes a wonderful villain; his greed overcomes his rationality in ways that are amusing and frightful.
“Fred deftly portrays Channing’s wife as a mix of resourcefulness and great fear. She reflects the conflicted thinking of a lot of women trying to escape dangerous marriages. The third character, the neurotic disabled officer, offers another case of mixed motives, both noble and acquisitive.
“The characters are a lot more than plot devices in a thriller — they are intelligent, aware, quick to recover and forge ahead. They move the plot by their decisions. Fred may use thriller forms, but he lets the plot grow from the characters.”
Jebb, a UVa alumnus, also enjoyed how Shackelford used Charlottesville as the setting for his book. And he lauded how he never gave up on the book, and steadfastly pursued a publisher until he found a receptive ear at Black Opal Books.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is how difficult it is for a new writer to get published,” Shackelford said. “I’ve also learned that if you stick with something, you have a good chance of succeeding.
“My advice to other first-time novelists is to be aware that it’s going to be a long process, and to work on the editing after you’re finished. I had no idea how much editing and polishing I still needed to do when I finished my manuscript.
“It was 117,000 words when I finished, and 93,000 words when the editing was done.”
Shackelford’s experience helps to give some credence to publishers’ broad-brush assessment that good books get published. He says he would like to write another novel, but isn’t about to gird himself for another long slog at the writer’s desk without having a good plot in mind.
And after years of writing and waiting for the finished book to finally be in hand, the moment of long-anticipated triumph can be anticlimactic.
“I had this vision that the day my first copy arrived I would go out and have a nice dinner with Champagne,” Shackelford said with a smile. “The fact is that I was so busy that I had little time to sit back and enjoy it.”
Fred Shackelford, an alumnus of UVa and WUVA News, is the author of a new, acclaimed thriller entitled The Ticket.
Shackelford’s work has been the subject of rave reviews by everyone from Publishers Weekly to UVa’s own celebrated economics professor and mystery writer, Kenneth Elzinga, but the author admits that his budding career as a successful mystery novelist came as something of a surprise to him.
“I do a lot of writing at my job, but it’s a different kind of writing,” Shackelford told the Daily Progress. “I’ve written thousands of pages of legal documents, none of which have my name on them. The novel was a way to try something different.”
Fiction, after all, is not his primary field. Shackelford works as a practicing attorney in Albemarle County, where his family has lived for nine generations.
Now, the lawyer’s first suspense novel is being described by Elzinga as “a page turner” that he “couldn’t put down.”
The Ticket follows main character and antihero Channing Booker. After winning the Mega Millions lottery, Booker devises a scheme to hide his new fortune from his estranged wife; he plans to have a friend claim the $241 million jackpot and secretly return the money after Booker finalizes his divorce. However, when he arrives home the next evening, Booker discovers that his wife has moved out with all of her possessions — including the rare book in which he hid the winning lottery ticket.
The mystery has already earned a number of accolades. It was a finalist for The Clue Awards from Chanticleer Book Reviews, a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, and a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. While The Ticket is Shackelford’s first novel, it is not his first book; he previously published Judges Say the Darndest Things in 2004, a collection of humorous excerpts from American legal opinions.
Shackelford’s advice for aspiring authors can be summed up in two words: patience and perseverance.
“My advice to other first-time novelists is to be aware that it’s going to be a long process, and to work on the editing after you’re finished,” Shackelford said. “I had no idea how much editing and polishing I still needed to do when I finished my manuscript. It was 117,000 words when I finished, and 93,000 words when the editing was done.”
Shackelford encourages current UVa students interested in writing to take advantage of all the University has to offer.
“I would say, take English courses, try to work on a more or less regular schedule, have discipline, and understand it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he advised.
The author also emphasized the importance for students to read, regardless of future ambitions, and he warned against deciding on a career path too early.
“With a liberal arts education, you have a broad array of choices,” he explained. “There’s plenty of time. You have plenty of options, and you have to be adaptable.”
“You may not get your ideal job right at first, so you have to be flexible when you’re looking for a job,” he continued. “You can always change. You can learn something from any job, and apply those skills to something else. You don’t have to choose in your first year.”
Shackelford described his belief that careers can evolve, with aspects both creative and practical. He urged students to push past professional setbacks.
“I can tell you in writing a novel, you develop a thick skin, because it’s very hard to find an agent or a publisher, and you get a lot of rejections along the way before you find somebody who will take your book,” he said. “I lost track of how many rejections I had. You just have to keep trying.”
Shackelford said the evidence for this lies in some of the most popular novels of all time. “Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times, Gone with the Wind, 38 times!“ he said. “Even the best books get rejections.”
Looking forward, Shackelford plans to write a screenplay based on The Ticket, and he hopes to see it made into a movie. However, when asked if he knows what the future holds, he did not seem too worried.
“Well, we’ll find out!” he said.