I have never won the lottery. But if I did, I wouldn’t tell you. No offense, I wouldn’t tell anyone; I’ve read too many news stories about people who win tons of money, only to have their lives go to shit because of it. Though I’ve yet to read one that’s as uniquely problematic as what happens in Marissa Stapley’s suspenseful noir novel Lucky (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Stapley not only tells who Lucky is, and what shit she’s gotten herself into, but what inspired this possible tale of woe.
Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz
To start, what is Lucky about, and when and where is it set?
Lucky is about a grifter with a heart of gold who finds out she’s won the lottery on the same day she finds out her most recent heist has gone terribly wrong — and she’s wanted by the FBI. It’s set in the present day. As she eludes authorities she backtracks through her past, searching for someone she can trust enough to help cash in the ticket. This journey takes Lucky all over the U.S., from Las Vegas to the Adirondacks, and many places in between.
Where did you get the idea for Lucky?
I was listening to the radio one day, and the announcers started talking about a lottery ticket with a huge payout that had yet to be claimed — and time was running out. They were having a lot of fun discussing the reasons people do not come forward to claim their prize. Sometimes the ticket has been lost, or the person who purchased it has died — or sometimes, people don’t come forward because there’s a warrant out for their arrest and could face jail time. I latched onto this story immediately. But it took a little while for the character to come to me. When Lucky arrived, it was an exciting moment. I knew I was onto something with her.
Now, while Lucky is a con artist, Lucky doesn’t really sound like it’s a noir crime story, like something Jim Thompson would write…
No, it is definitely not a noir story. My favorite con artist stories are the fun ones — Oceans 11, Catch Me If You Can, the British TV show Hustle, Lupin… Although the reality of being conned — or living as a con artist — is really quite dark, there is something about con artists that is so attractive and entertaining for people. We make it out to be a lot more fun than it is, I suppose.
In my research about con artists, I read a fascinating book called Confident Women by Tori Telfer, which tells the real life tales of female con artists through the ages. In the intro she wrote about how we have a contract in society to be honest with each other, and to believe each other. Con artists breach this contract — and it’s something anyone of us could do, at any time, but we choose not to. However, instead of there being hatred and disdain for con artists, there is very often this grudging admiration. We could do that, if we really wanted to. And wouldn’t it be sort of fun…? This is where I was coming from with Lucky. I wanted to focus on the fun one can have writing about and reading about a really talented con artist. The wish fulfillment aspect of it. As I was writing it, my mother was dying, and the world then toppled over like the proverbial applecart because of the pandemic. I didn’t need noir in my life. I needed a fun, distracting caper that would take me away from all my worries. Lucky did that for me, and I think she’s going to do that for a lot of other people, too.
Lucky is your fifth novel after Mating For Life, Things To Do When It’s Raining, The Last Resort, and The Holiday Swap, the last of which you cowrote with Karma Brown under the name Maggie Knox. But it seems like it’s a very different novel than your others…
If you haven’t read my previous novels, I can see why the description of this plot would make Lucky seem different from the rest. The holiday rom coms aside — because yes, those are a totally different genre and type of project — my novels always feature complex characters with deep, dark secrets. There is often family drama, and always intrigue, even if that intrigue centers more around a relationship rather than a con artist on the run story. There is a similar feeling to each novel because I am always using my authorial voice and dealing with the issues at hand the way I do consistently for each story I pursue. I’m interested in writing novels with great, compelling plots but I always want my characters to be deep and finely drawn. Lucky is no different from the rest of them — she’s just more of a badass, I suppose.
Earlier you mentioned your favorite con artists movies and shows. Did they have any influence on Lucky?
I wouldn’t say influenced, but I certainly tapped into my love of movies like Oceans 11 and shows like Hustle as I wrote it. Even how much I always enjoyed the “Halloween Heist” episodes of Brooklyn 99. I find a good con or heist the absolute height of good entertainment. I kept that in mind as I wrote and had a lot of fun with it.
Speaking of Brooklyn 99, Lucky has already been optioned for television. What can you tell us about it?
The TV development stuff is all classified information at the moment.
Which negates the question I was going to ask about who you think they should cast as Lucky, her dad, and her boyfriend?
That’s also tricky for me to discuss right now. But I will say I always imagined Lucky’s father, John, as Tony Goldwyn [Scandal] as I was writing the novel.
Finally, if someone enjoys Lucky, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one and not one of the others?
It depends on why you enjoyed Lucky. If you liked the fact that it was suspenseful, you may enjoy The Last Resort, which is set at a couples counselling retreat and is a bit of a whodunit about the murder of one of the marriage counsellors. But it is also a poignant exploration of why marriages do or do not work, as well as a female friendship manifesto…and a love story at its core.
If you like the family drama aspect of Lucky, you’d enjoy Mating For Life or Things To Do When It’s Raining. They may be lacking the suspense element but those characters are all hiding secrets that keep those pages turning.
(And by the way, I firmly believe almost anyone would enjoy The Holiday Swap. It’s as fun and delicious as a Christmas cookie with extra icing, and we all need more of that in our lives right now!)