A: An interconnected and multitudinous array of elements. It was as if my life were shaped and molded to create this novel. Stellar moments include interacting with my former brother in law, Jeri, who was born profoundly mentally challenged.Working as a teacher in the public school system, I saw so many students whose needs were not met and wondered what would become of them after they graduated. My experience when people found out my father won the lottery gave me specificities many other writers would not have. For instance, how differently people look at you after they find out your father won. People who wouldn’t give you the time of day pay attention to you. Besides the unsolicited requests for financial assistance, there is a subtle edge to many of your personal relationships. It becomes the fact that defines you as a person, i.e. “the woman whose father won the lottery. As a doctoral student at the University of Hawaii. I was enrolled in the certificate program in disability and diversity and my eyes were opened to disability culture. Aside from personal experience, my characters Perry and Keith emerged from my subconscious and spoke to me. They made it very clear to me they wanted their story told.
Q: You’ve said in previous interviews that we tend to lump together all cognitive disorders and consider all people with mental challenges to be essentially the same. How does Perry’s character challenge this?
A: It has always been disconcerting to me how people with cognitive challenges are usually portrayed in film and literature not as complete well- rendered individuals, but more stereotypically – either fearsome and evil (whether intentional or not), or purely inspirational and entirely good. They are also, for the most part, desexualized. I wanted Perry to be a complete human being with all the accompanying angst, desires, and foibles that we all share. This is what makes one character different from another. To have Perry articulate his love for Cherry and have it evolve into desire, jealousy, and pain is one way of showing us his humanity. To have Perry react to these feelings, have him rationalize his slowness and make excuses for his friends, demonstrates how like us he is. “Oh,” the reader says. “Perry is just like me. I've loved someone who has loved another. I know just how he feels.” And we start to see a piece of ourselves in Perry.
Q: How did you use your experience studying disability and diversity for your PhD to make LOTTERY accurate?
A. Well, this is fiction after all. I did not want to create a dissertation on how society demeans and diminishes people who are termed different, but I did want to be mindful of those issues. There is a fine line between preaching and suggesting. This question is still a reminder that we have a tendency to view those with cognitive challenges as all the same. It also indicates that we feel there is only one genuine portrayal. The key is to remember that the person comes first. Disability is only one facet of what makes us who we are and is not the primary factor that defines us. For example, having Perry listen to customers made him a better salesman than say Keith or Gary, who often did not hear what customers were saying. This shows Perry is capable of excelling in certain areas, even though he was considered slow. Along the same line, my brother-in-law Jeri was unable to fix himself a sandwich or participate actively in a conversation, yet he was able to assemble a ball point pen from scratch. How could he do this? We still do not fully understand the potential of people who have cognitive challenges and, in the past, society has resorted to IQ tests as indicators. It then dismisses people who do not appear to meet certain parameters of ability. Understanding the fallacy of this position is the most important aspect of my studies. There is much we do not know about how to measure any person’s true potential.
Q: You lend an air of authenticity to Perry’s narration—what helped you internalize his voice? How were you able to find a balance between Perry’s voice and your own?
A: I am so glad that I have given Perry life. This, I think, was the most difficult thing to do. As a writer, I wanted to wow the reader with my prose, amaze them by the choice of my words, create a brilliantly shining phrase, but at every turn, I found myself stymied. Would Perry say that? Would he really think that? What would he do? There is much of Perry that is me – just as commonalities exist between us all. As I have said before, finding these commonalities brings a character to life. It is comical to me, having finished the final edits of LOTTERY, that Perry’s voice is still here with me. I hear it when I look at the list of foreign rights sales and when I read about the readers who are enthused about my book. He whispers in my ear, “This is so totally cool!”