She is 20, beautiful, dirt-poor, and hoping for a better life for her infant daughter when LuAnn Tyler is offered the gift of a lifetime: a $100 million lottery jackpot. All she has to do is change her identity and leave the U.S. forever.
THE KILLER . . .
It's an offer she dares to refuse . . .
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 5, 1960
Place of Birth:Richmond, VIrginia
Education:B.A. in Political Science, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1982; J.D., University of Virginia, 1986
Read an Excerpt
Jackson studied the shopping mall's long corridor, noting haggard mothers piloting loaded strollers and the senior citizens group walking the mall both for exercise and conversation. Dressed in a gray pinstriped suit, the stocky Jackson stared intently at the north entrance to the shopping mall. That would no doubt be the one she would use since the bus stop was right in front. She had, Jackson knew, no other form of transportation. Her live-in boyfriend's truck was in the impoundment lot, the fourth time in as many months. It must be getting a little tedious for her, he thought. The bus stop was on the main road. She would have to walk about a mile to get there, but she often did that. What other choice did she have? The baby would be with her. She would never leave it with the boyfriend, Jackson was certain of that.
While his name always remained Jackson for all of his business endeavors, next month his appearance would change dramatically from the hefty middle-aged man he was currently. Facial features of course would again be altered; weight would probably be lost; height added or taken away, along with hair. Male or female? Aged or youthful? Often, the persona would be taken from people whom he knew, either wholly or bits of thread from different ones, sewn together until the delicate quilt of fabrication was complete. In school, biology had been a favorite subject. Specimens belonging to that rarest of all classes, the hermaphrodite, had never ceased to fascinate him. He smiled as he dwelled for a moment on this greatest of all physical duplicities.
Jackson had received afirst-rate education from a prestigious Eastern school. Combining his love of acting with his natural acumen for science and chemistry, he had achieved a rare double major in drama and chemical engineering. Mornings would find him hunched over pages of complex equations or malodorous concoctions in the university's chemistry lab, while the evenings would have him energetically embroiled in the production of a Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller classic.
Those accomplishments were serving him very well. Indeed, if his classmates could only see him now.
In keeping with today's character--a middle-aged male, overweight and out of shape from leading a sedentary lifestyle--a bead of perspiration suddenly sprouted on Jackson's forehead. His lips curled into a smile. This physical reaction pleased him immensely, aided as it was by the insulation of the padding he was wearing to provide bulky proportions and to conceal his own wiry frame. But it was something more than that too: He took pride in the fact that he became the person totally, as though different chemical reactions took place within him depending on who and what he was pretending to be.
He didn't normally inhabit shopping malls; his personal tastes were far more sophisticated. However, his clientele were most comfortable in these types of surroundings, and comfort was an important consideration in his line of work. His meetings tended to make people quite excited, sometimes in negative ways. Several interviews had become extremely animated, compelling him to think on his feet. These reminiscences brought another smile to Jackson's lips. You couldn't argue with success, though. He was batting a thousand. However, it only took one to spoil his perfect record. His smile quickly faded. Killing someone was never a pleasant experience. Rarely was it justified, but when it was, one simply had to do it and move on. For several reasons he hoped the meeting today would not precipitate such an outcome.
He carefully dabbed his forehead with his pocket handkerchief and adjusted his shirt cuffs. He smoothed down a barely visible tangle in the synthetic fibers of his neatly groomed wig. His real hair was compressed under a latex skullcap.
He pulled open the door to the space he had rented in the mall and went inside. The area was clean and orderly--in fact too much so, he thought suddenly as he slowly surveyed the interior. It lacked the look of a true working space.
The receptionist seated behind the cheap metal desk in the foyer looked up at him. In accordance with his earlier instructions, she didn't attempt to speak. She had no idea who he was or why she was here. As soon as Jackson's appointment showed up, the receptionist had been instructed to leave. Very soon she would be on a bus out of town, her purse a little fatter for her minimal troubles. Jackson never looked at her; she was a simple prop in his latest stage production.
The phone beside her sat silent, the typewriter next to that, unused. Yes, absolutely, too well organized, Jackson decided with a frown. He eyed the stack of paper on the receptionist's desk. With a sudden motion he spread some of the papers around the desk's surface. He then cocked the phone around just so and put a piece of paper in the typewriter, winding it through with several quick spins of the platen knob.
Jackson looked around at his handiwork and sighed. You couldn't think of everything all at once.
Jackson walked past the small reception area, quickly hitting the end of the shallow space, and then turned right. He opened the door to the tiny interior office, slipped across the room, and sat down behind the scuffed wooden desk. A small TV sat in one corner of the room, its blank screen staring back at him. He pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lit it, and leaned far back in the chair, trying his best to relax despite the constant flow of adrenaline. He stroked his thin, dark mustache. It too was made of synthetic fiber ventilated on a lace foundation and attached to his skin with spirit gum. His nose had been changed considerably as well: a putty base highlighted and shadowed, to make his nose's actual delicate and straight appearance bulky and slightly crooked. The small mole resting next to the altered bridge of his nose was also fake: a concoction of gelatin and alfalfa seeds mixed in hot water. His straight teeth were covered with acrylic caps to give them an uneven and unhealthy appearance. All of these illusions would be remembered by even the most casual observer. Thus when they were removed, he, in essence, disappeared. What more could someone wholeheartedly engaged an illegal activities want?
Soon, if things went according to plan, it would all begin again. Each time was a little different, but that was the exciting part: the not knowing. He checked his watch again. Yes, very soon. He expected to have an extremely productive meeting with her; more to the point, a mutually beneficial meeting.
He only had one question to ask LuAnn Tyler, one simple question that carried the potential for very complex repercussions. Based upon his experience, he was reasonably certain of her answer, but one just never knew. He dearly hoped, for her sake, that she would give the right one. For there was only one "right" answer. If she said no? Well, the baby would never have the opportunity to know its mother, because the baby would be an orphan. He smacked the desktop with the palm of his hand. She would say yes. All the others had. Jackson shook his head vigorously as he thought it through. He would make her see, convince her of the inescapable logic of joining with him. How it would change everything for her. More than she could ever imagine. More than she could ever hope for. How could she say no? It was an offer that simply no one could refuse.
If she came. Jackson rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand, took a long, slow drag on the cigarette, and stared absently at a nail pop in the wall. But, truth be known, how could she not come?
On Thursday, December 18th, barnesandnoble.com on AOL welcomed David Baldacci, who after ten years as a trial and corporate attorney in Washington, D.C., became an overnight publishing sensation with his first novel, ABSOLUTE POWER. He maintained his place with the spectacular bestseller TOTAL CONTROL. Now Baldacci returns with a cunning and dangerous new novel, THE WINNER.
JainBN: Welcome, Mr. Baldacci! Thanks so much for joining us tonight....
David Baldacci: Thank you, I'm looking forward to interesting questions!
JainBN: We have many, many audience questions. Are you all set?
David Baldacci: I'm ready!
Question: With so many legal thrillers out there, how did you achieve such immediate success? What sparked the initial buzz for your books?
David Baldacci: A couple of things: I had spent about 12 years writing before I sold ABSOLUTE POWER, so while it was my first novel, it was pretty polished. Secondly, it really wasn't a typical "legal thriller"; it involved lawyers and politicians, but it also had a fresh plot. So, I think the writing and the original plot captured a lot of people's attention.
Question: Your books have been made into such fantastic films! With such success, do you now find yourself writing with a film in mind, or are you thinking solely about the book as a novel?
David Baldacci: I only think about the book as a novel. Anyone who writes for Hollywood when they are writing novels is doing themselves a disservice. Not even Hollywood knows what they want. My philosophy is, if you write good stories, people will notice, whether it be publishers or film people. Trying to chase trends in Hollywood really is a sucker's bet.
Question: Were any of the characters in TOTAL CONTROL based loosely on anyone you know?
David Baldacci: For my characters, I tend to take bits and pieces of a lot of different people whom I have met in life and put them into my characters. I never borrow a person completely and superimpose them into a novel; and also, a lot of it is just imagination.
Question: How do you generate your ideas for your books?
David Baldacci: The best way to do that is to keep expanding your knowledge base. The more you know about a lot of different subject matters, the more original ideas you can come up with, and it is part of every writer's path to continually replenish your material, and you can do that by reading, by observing, by listening, and just being curious about everything.
Question: How do you feel about Hollywood's changes in the plot for the movie of ABSOLUTE POWER?
David Baldacci: I understood why they did it. I think if they had stuck more closely to the book, it could have been a much better movie. However, it did very well at the box office, and it helped sell a lot of books, so I can't complain. But I really tried to get Eastwood to die, and I think if he had, it would have been a blockbuster. [laughs]
Question: Do you ever miss law? After so much study and a successful career...do you ever miss it?
David Baldacci: No. I achieved everything I set out to in practicing law. The only thing I miss sometimes are some of the people I practiced with. But I can always go and have lunch with them. And I certainly don't miss the billable hours.
Question: Do you think it's possible to fix the lottery? Did you do any research on this to write this book?
David Baldacci: Yes, it's possible, really, to manipulate anything. People just assume that it's not. Just like a lot of people assumed that the game shows in the '50s weren't fixed. In the last century, virtually all states had lotteries. They were all banned, because they were all either fixed or corrupt. And I did a lot of research, and I think when you read how the lottery was fixed in THE WINNER, you'll probably conclude that it is possible. And even if someone has fixed it in the past, we'll never know. I think that people will assume that to fix something like the lottery, you would need a widespread conspiracy involving a lot of people. For me, a widespread conspiracy is an oxymoron. So, the way I thought of fixing it doesn't rely on really anyone else, which I think is a lot more plausible. And I'd tell you more, but I don't want to give it away. [laughs]
Question: Your background is strikingly similar to John Grisham's. Is there really any significance to that, or is it simply coincidence?
David Baldacci: I had been writing long before I became a lawyer. However, being a lawyer, I think, has helped me as a writer. I think the two professions share a lot of the same skills. As a lawyer I was [taught] to build big projects with very small details. That's exactly what a novelist does. I was also taught to think long-term and not try to do too much too quickly. And as a novelist, you need to think long-term, and to be patient. And also as a lawyer, you are taught to think things through very clearly, and that's critical for a writer. So, it's probably partly coincidence that there have been some lawyers that have turned to writing, but I also think that being a lawyer gives you some skills that you can use in a writing career.
Question: Is there any particular historical figure you would like to have met? Who and why?
David Baldacci: I'll give you two: One is Mark Twain. Both for his writing ability and his speaking skills. And secondly, Conan Doyle, just for his sheer storytelling abilities in very different types of subjects that he wrote about. Plus, I have some questions about Sherlock Holmes that I wanted to clear up...[laughs]
Question: What do you think of Carl Hiaasen's new book, LUCKY YOU? Is the lottery hot now as a topic for books?
David Baldacci: I haven't read Hiaasen's latest book. The appeal for me with the lottery was the fact that there is so much money at stake, so many people are interested in it, and it seemed right for manipulation by someone who knew what they were doing. All those elements make for very dramatic fiction. I started THE WINNER almost a year and a half ago and didn't know Carl was working on one, too.
Question: What's next for David Baldacci? What can we expect from your next book?
David Baldacci: The next one I'm working on takes me back to the legal arena in a little bit different way. It deals with the question of someone who has committed a heinous, horrible crime, a crime to which he has confessed, and for which he spent 25 years in prison. And it's also a crime for which he is completely not guilty. And it deals with a lot of issues that I think are significant in this country, including perceptions of justice, and division of people and prejudice. I'm also working on an original screenplay that has nothing whatsoever to do with lawyers [laughs] or murder or mayhem.
Question: In researching the history of lotteries, what did you learn about the psychology of someone who plays the lottery compulsively? Also, what is life generally like for winners? Is it all that it is cracked up to be?
David Baldacci: I'm not a big fan of lotteries. I often think they're both a regressive tax and a waste of resources. Anything that fosters false hope in people, I don't think it is a good thing. A lot of people who win the lottery are not prepared for it. Many of them end up declaring bankruptcy. Many of them have their personal lives destroyed, and see their families and marriages break up. The thing about having a lot of money is this: Most people think they deserve a share, and if they don't get it, problems -- big problems -- arise. I think this country would be better off without them.
Question: As a lawyer, do you ever fudge the law in a book for the sake of a good read?
David Baldacci: I have fudged certain details that I didn't think were significant enough to keep them completely accurate. Plus, the great thing about law is, virtually everything is subject to argument [laughs], and really there are no hard and fast rules. Obviously, very technical rules of law, if they're not subject to change or debate, I wouldn't feel comfortable altering them. But I will bend the facts a little for the sake of telling a good story, which is my ultimate goal.
Question: LuAnn Tyler, the young heroine in THE WINNER, has been described as "the most inspiring heroine in recent fiction." What about her character earns this distinction?
David Baldacci: There are several facets to LuAnn Tyler's character that are important: One is that she has always lived in poverty, but she's never given up hope. She works very hard for very little money. Even though she has nothing, she takes exceptionally good care of her infant daughter, and she never allows herself to wallow in self-pity. America is the land of opportunity, but not for everyone. When you fall through the cracks, you tend to fall a long way. LuAnn Tyler has fallen through one of those cracks, but day-by-day, she is a survivor.
Question: In your last chat with barnesandnoble.com, you estimated that THE WINNER would be out in spring of 1998. What brought the book out earlier? Were you surprised?
David Baldacci: I think the thing that brough the book out earlier was my publisher's conviction that with two books under my belt, coming out for Christmas would be a very positive thing. [laughs] Plus, the story in THE WINNER is a good tale for Christmas.
Question: I read that you had written unpublished screenplays and short stories before your first novel was published. Are any of these published now?
David Baldacci: I had one short story published this year in the USA Today summer fiction reading series. The short story was entitled "Just Not Right," and it dealt with the homeless and mentally ill in Washington, D.C. And it dealt with a homeless and mentally ill artist whom I had watched as a lawyer, when I worked in D.C., and the story was told in the first person, the narrator was a woman who befriended this homeless person, and he ended up drawing her picture. And he thought -- well -- very nice of a woman who works in an office to befriend a homeless person, however at the end of the story, he learned that the woman is both mentally ill, and homeless as well. And the moral of the story is, There's a very fine line between normal and not, and all of us are one catastrophe away from being homeless and/or mentally ill.
Question: Who has influenced you as a writer?
David Baldacci: I grew up reading writers like John Irving, who is still one of my favorites, John Updike, lots of different writers, lots of different teachers whom I've had over the years, and my parents. I guess having grown up the way I did, in very, very modest circumstances, I think I've seen a slice of life that brings a real plausible flavor to my stories, I guess a "real person" sort of flavor to my stories, which I think is very important. I believe what really got me into writing, though, was reading. I wanted to be able to captivate people with my stories the way those writers were able to captivate me.
Question: It seems you were immediately received with overwhelming enthusiasm as a writer. Had you tried to publish before ABSOLUTE POWER?
David Baldacci: I had tried to publish short stories and screenplays and received enough rejections to paper the Washington Monument. I'm an overnight sensation who took 4,000 nights to get there.
Question: I read that you wrote at night and in your spare time as a lawyer. Has writing now become your "day job," or are you still a night owl?
David Baldacci: I write "full time," but I still find myself writing at odd hours. I tend to think about what I'm going to write about all during the day, and when I'm actually ready to write, I write, regardless of what time it happens to be. I work at home, and I have two little kids, so my schedule revolves around their schedule.
Question: Can you recommend a book to give as a present for the holidays?
David Baldacci: Other than THE WINNER, I would suggest WOBEGON BOY by Garrison Keillor.
Question: If you won the lottery, would you still write?
David Baldacci: Absolutely. I don't feel very comfortable unless I'm writing. It's really the one passion I have, and I would continue to do it, regardless of how much money I had.
Question: Are you touring at all for THE WINNER? Where will you be next?
David Baldacci: I started touring on December 1st in New York, and then went to Philadelphia and have done Washington and Baltimore and Richmond. I think my publisher feels that the Christmas season is probably taking care of itself, and I will probably start touring again for THE WINNER in January, but I am not certain of my schedule yet.
Question: What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist?
David Baldacci: Most importantly, ask yourself why you want to be a novelist. Ideally, the answer should be because you really enjoy writing. Take the time to learn the craft. Don't sit down to try to write a novel. Go out and observe people and life, and then go back home, sit down, and practice writing what you've just experienced. Read as many different writers as you can, be patient, and keep a long-term perspective.
Question: If you could go anywhere in the world for just one day, where would you go and why?
David Baldacci: I would go to the Tuscany Valley region of Italy, to a little village called Barga, because that's where my Italian grandparents are from.
Question: Thank you for admitting to the rejections. I have a writing teacher who tells me that the only difference between an amateur and a professional writer is the rejections finally stop.
David Baldacci: My philosophy is, if you've never received rejections, that means only one thing: You haven't sent your work out to anyone. Treat rejections as a badge of honor. It shows you're trying. Learn from them if you can, and then move on.
Question: Is there a central "stream of consciousness" or interest which will be in all of your published works?
David Baldacci: Yes, I like to write about things which people sometimes take for granted and which people sometimes make assumptions about, and I like to show them [in] my stories [that] they have no basis to make those assumptions. I like to make people think for themselves, and present them with enough information about a subject so that they can arrive at their own conclusions about it, and not just accept a ready-made position that's been offered up by somebody else.
Question: Mr. Baldacci, unfortunately we're out of time. We can't thank you enough for joining us this evening. Please come again upon the publication of your next book!
David Baldacci: I enjoyed it very much, and hopefully I'll be back!
JainBN: And happy holidays. :)
David Baldacci: Same from me! :)