Thursday, September 20, 2018

Who Wants to Win the Lottery: Interview with Lilian Duval

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Interview with Lilian Duval, author of 'You Never Know.'

Who wants to win the lottery? Okay, you. And you. And you. And my goodness, all hands are up. So let’s say you win all this money and things happen for the worse because of the money, would you still want it?

That’s a big toss-up, isn’t it? It’s like playing with the devil. I’ll take the consequences; you just give me the money.

Lilian Duval is here with us today to talk about her new book, You Never Know: Tales of Tobias, an Accidental Lottery Winner. While the book may look like just a story about someone winning the lottery and not having a good time of it afterward, it’s much, much more than that (see my review here). Lilian is here to explain why she wrote the book and why the subject itself interests her so.

Thank you for this interview, Lilian. For those who don’t know what your book is about, can you give us a brief synopsis?

What happens when an ordinary person becomes extraordinary?

Tobias starts out in life much the same as any of us—not rich, not poor, with imperfect parents and unlimited ambition. When he’s twenty years old, his future is altered in irreparable ways after a tragic car accident pushes him down a new path. The once-promising anthropology major is forced to abandon his dreams in order to care for his orphaned, brain-damaged younger brother.

In his late thirties, Tobias works in a bookstore, trying desperately to make ends meet to support his family. His daily grind only reinforces the sadness that broken dreams and bad luck bring in their wake.

How many times have you heard someone say, “If only I won the lottery?”

When Tobias finds he has won the Mega Millions lottery, his unimaginable bad luck seems to have changed into unimaginable good luck … or has it?

Over peaks and valleys, this uplifting journey will challenge the limits of luck, life, and what we value most.

Find out more about the complications of Tobias’s friendship and rivalry with his best friend, Martin; the effects of all this bad luck and good luck on his marriage; and the struggles of his brother, Simeon, once a talented cartoonist, in … You Never Know.

The book carries a message that I hope readers will grasp. As one of my reviewers asked, “Does chance rule our lives? Or do we overcome chance and rule ourselves?” I’d like readers to weigh these questions and decide how they apply to my characters and to the readers’ own lives.

How did you come up with the idea to write a book about a guy who wins the lottery?

For a long time, I’ve wondered why people who win gigantic lottery prizes never seem to live happily ever after. Over the years, I accumulated a thick folder filled with their sad stories about wasted money, carnivorous relatives, greedy friends and neighbors, and simple human weakness that brought them all down.

Another big idea I was grappling with was: how does luck, good or bad, change who you really are? Or does it?

One day, I got out the folder and read through all the magazine and newspaper clippings. That’s when a star was born—Tobias Hillyer, the lottery winner in my novel, You Never Know. He starts his adulthood with unenviable challenges. Years later, he wins the Mega Millions lottery and thinks that all his troubles are over. But they’re just beginning!

What have been people’s reactions to the book?

I have been so very lucky to get so many good reviews from readers with all different points of view. Below are some sample comments from real-live readers:

Have you ever read a book you didn't want to finish because it was so good? You Never Know is a book to devour in one night, but also to cherish and read slowly. —Emily Truman, Esq., Assistant Municipal Prosecutor, City of Newark, New Jersey

This novel's crucial dilemmas echo long after we have set the book down... while following the protagonist's footsteps, we soon realize that the tracks we are gazing on are our own. —Huck Qavanaugh, Esq., Attorney and Writer from Cleveland, Ohio

Sometimes a single event can change the course of a person's life. Oftentimes, it's not the cards that are dealt but the way one chooses to play those cards that ultimately decides one's destiny. —Dr. Abdel Salam Kaleel, MD, Physician, Columnist, Bloomfield, New Jersey

What a book! I absolutely loved it; sat there and cried when I read the ending. You know it's good when you come to the end and say to yourself, “Wait, it's over? So soon? I want more!” —Gerry Anderson, Retired, Award-Winning Teacher, Hamilton, New Jersey

Excellent book! Lilian's writing style is easy to read and the book goes quickly. Her characters and the story are so believable that it's like reading a story about a neighbor or member of your family. I had absolutely no problem identifying with the main character, which made the book more enjoyable because it was less like I was reading a book and more like I was living it through his eyes. I definitely recommend this book. It would be a great train or airplane book as it will not only provide you with a great read, but will also give you something to think about once the book is finished.

—Emily Heinlen, professional researcher and freelance editor, Bloomington, Indiana

This is one of the books that won't let you stop reading. Lilian Duval has a special talent for weaving the plot so intricately and skillfully that everything in the story fits in with everything else in unexpected ways. The issue of being a good person, living in a worthy way, sacrificing sometimes what is less important and being honest with oneself is also woven into the book in a very engaging way. You can't but fall in love with almost everybody, for what is good in them and for their being simple people like me and you in what turns to be unusual circumstances. It is a positive book but you don't feel it. You just feel your heart being pulled. —Giora Carmi, Art therapist and creator of the method of Intuitive Flow in art therapy

Have you ever had a chance to talk to a real lottery winner?

No! And isn’t that ironic? But after writing about how scary it is to suddenly become rich and famous, I just couldn’t think of invading the privacy of one of these lucky winners.

Here’s a fun question. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you’d do with some of all that money?

Oh, I wish you’d given me a list of 10 things! But the first thing I’d do would be to quit my job as a technical writer and throw a party for all my former colleagues.

I understand you survived the 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Would you like to tell us about that?

Of course. On that day, I was heading to New York to my job as a computer consultant for Lehman Brothers in One World Trade Center. My commuter train was in the middle of the New Jersey Meadowlands when the first plane hit, and a conductor came walking through the cars telling everybody.

I got out my Walkman radio and put on headphones to listen, and soon a crowd gathered around me. “A jet plane hit World Trade Center No. 1,” I told them. The radio announcer said it was a 747, and I told them that, too. “And the Kennedy Center,” the radio man said nervously. I repeated it. “No, it was the Pentagon!” the radio man said.

I repeated that to the people huddled around me, and one man said, “We’re at war.” Two of the commuters started crying.

When we arrived at Hoboken Terminal, just across the Hudson River from the attack, the police and FBI were all over the terminal, sending everybody home—no PATH trains, no ferry, no crossing over to Manhattan.

I got onto a very crowded train heading back to my home town in New Jersey, and one of my colleagues ended up standing next to me in the vestibule. All the way home, I was frantically trying to call my husband in his office at a brokerage firm in the first tower. No answer.

Two weeks later, my colleague reminded me that we had seen the towers crumble from the vestibule of our very slow train. I had simply no memory of that. “No,” I told him, “We didn’t see that. You’re joking.”

“No, I wouldn’t joke about that,” he told me. “Your memory was lost because it was too traumatic.”

I rode my bike home from the train station and sat in front of the TV, crying, worrying about my husband, George. At 2:00 in the afternoon, after dozens of phone calls from family and friends, George’s colleague called to say that he was safe and he had escaped, but couldn’t call home. Only an hour later did I hear from a relative that George had been able to reach.

It was 8:00 p.m. before George came home, traumatized and pale, but safe. Two days later, during one of many phone calls to family members, I learned how close he’d come: George had been invited to a presentation in Windows on the World that day, a breakfast meeting, on the 107th floor. His schedule had been so overloaded that he’d forgotten to attend. He didn’t want to tell me that at first, because the catastrophe was so overwhelming.

Aside from writing, I understand you play classical guitar, too?

Yes, and it was an exercise in humility to begin studying a difficult classical instrument as a middle-aged adult. I felt like a shy kid in first grade. The toughest thing was getting over my trembling stage fright and learning to play in front of others. But I’ve been at it for six years now, and I completely enjoy it. Every day I practice for at least 2½ hours.

What’s next for you, Lilian?

I am working on my story collection, Random Acts of Kindness, which has a theme of empathy. The collection comprises seven stories and a novella, which is the title piece. Random Acts of Kindness will appear in 2012.

At the same time, I’m co-authoring a memoir for Alla Aranovskaya, the distinguished first violinist of the St. Petersburg String Quartet and director of the St. Petersburg International Music Academy. From her teachers in Russia, she learned first-hand the secrets that composer Dmitri Shostakovich inserted into his string quartets. These forbidden thoughts, disguised in music, protested the repressive Soviet regime of the time.

You can visit Lilian’s website at

Connect with her on Twitter at!/lilianduval and Facebook at

About the Writer

boomergirl is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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