Arlene Jones, featured columnist for the Austin Weekly News, has written her very first book, Billion Dollar Winner. The story tells of an activist, Valencia Banks Freeman, who is one of the main protesters against the lottery, finding herself the recipient of the sole ticket that has won the first-ever 50 states lottery jackpot. What will she do with her winnings? And how does an activist who opposes the lottery end up with a lottery ticket? Arlene Jones sticks to the streets of the Austin Community as she displays a fast-paced and entertaining account of what money makes people do.
Why did you choose to write this book and also have the winner of the lottery ticket be an activist?
Well, I love talk radio and these small community activists are constantly calling, and they know all the answers to everything, they know how to fix all the problems, but they don’t have a darn dime to do anything. It came to me … what would happen if they got money? What would they do?
My first thought when I read the prologue was if she’s against the lottery, then surely she wouldn’t play the lottery.
Ah, she didn’t purchase the ticket. You have to read to find out how the ticket came into her possession. And it’s no secret who the winner of the ticket it. Everyone finds out pretty quickly that she’s the winner and they go ballistic. So Val is suffering when she won. Plus, there are other storylines going on as well. There is the newspaper storyline and then the radio station and the people from the lottery itself. So there is a lot going on.
And a billion dollars, not a million, but a billion.
Yeah. I figured the only way to have a jackpot reach a billion dollars, it would have to include all 50 states. And now there’s talk of the Mega Millions and the Power Ball coming together, so it’s timely also.
Do you think what Val chooses to do with the money will surprise the reader or pretty much be what most would expect?
I think the reader will be pleasantly surprised by what she does with the money. She comes up with very creative ways to utilize it. There are plenty of twists and turns that go on that can’t be easily predicted. And so it makes for a very fast read. It’s also funny. There are lots of scenarios that allow humor to come through.
What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of the book?
They love it. People have been telling me they pick it up and can’t put it down because it moves so quickly and it’s entertaining. That’s also one of the reasons I am working with the head of Chicago Public Libraries and Chicago Public Schools to get the book in their libraries. We always hear of kids not wanting to read, but I believe if this book is brought into the libraries, they will read it. I think [kids] as young as sixth grade and on will find it easy and fun to read. I am also hoping to get the book into prisons so those who are incarcerated can read about their neighborhood. Too often the West Side has become “the forgotten child.” So it’s nice to read a book that highlights the West Side in a very positive light.
The cover is very inviting.
I’m so glad you mentioned that because that’s what first attracts a person to a book. You have to have an inviting cover. People decide within 15 seconds whether or not they want to buy a book. You look at the cover, and if you like the cover, then you turn it over to read what it’s about. But if the cover isn’t catching and inviting, you walk right past. I want to give a lot of thanks to Derrell Spicy. I had an idea for the cover, but he took it and refined it.
Have you always wanted to write?
I’m not a journalist by trade. I worked with an insurance company for 33 years before I was laid off. I took that time to travel. At the beginning of the next year, I realized that I didn’t have any income. So I started to write for the Austin Weekly News because I always had a response to the articles that were written in the paper. Every time an issue came out, they could best believe they were going to have an e-mail from me on Monday morning. So that’s how I started and I don’t sugarcoat anything. I like to tell it like it is.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
You have to join a writers group. You have to have others critique your work so you can get better. You can’t expect to have people pay money for your work if it’s not good.