'But somehow it does': Bill Cotter on his new novel 'The Splendid Ticket'
“The basic premise of the story is, it’s a young family… in Central Texas, the Hill Country,” says author Bill Cotter of his latest novel, The Splendid Ticket. “They suffer a terrible domestic tragedy, and they try to stay together as a family. They begin to disintegrate and they’re falling apart. Ten years later, they’re hanging on and they win a lottery. And the question, of course, is will that help? Will that make any difference? And I won’t say if it does or not. You can imagine, given the way that people usually wind up after they’ve won a lottery. But I’m not giving much away – all this stuff happens at the beginning of the book.”
Unlike the characters in The Splendid Ticket, Cotter has never won a multimillion-dollar lottery or experienced the life changes that come with such an event. “There’s not much that comes from real life in this book,” he says. “My first book, called Fever Chart, was semi-autobiographical – I guess that happens a lot with… first-time writers. This one’s not. This one is all made up.”
So that means that Cotter had to do some research into the lives of past lottery winners. “I also had to research, in depth, the ‘precipitating tragedy,’ as I call it, which involves a gun,” Cotter says. “And I know nothing about guns; I’ve never handled one, don’t know what they feel like, anything. I never touched one. I just talked to a couple of people that knew something about guns, and did a lot of internet research – who doesn’t? – but I really wanted to talk to somebody. I had specific questions about how guns worked, what they smelled like, things like that. But I still didn’t want to touch one. It just wasn’t something I wanted to do and still don’t.”
Cotter says The Splendid Ticket didn’t start out as a full-length novel. “It actually started as a short story,” he says. “[And] it was suggested to me, ‘it sounds like a chapter in a book. Why don’t you make a novel out of that?’ So the original short story is actually a chapter in this book. You know, I just wanted to tell some kind of story. And I like writing – I just like words and making sentences and hoping they come out as a novel. And one of the reviews, or blurbs, of this book is… it was from Adam Levin [author of The Instructions], and he said something like ‘this book has no business working as a novel, but somehow it does.’ And I think that sums it up pretty well.”
Have his years spent researching and writing about lottery winners made Cotter more or less interested in playing the lottery himself? “Much less,” he says. “I didn’t buy one of those $2 billion tickets. But I did think very hard about what it would be like to win.”