FOL ends the year with mystery writer

By Page H. Gifford

The Friends of the Library will welcome Fred Shackelford on Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. to discuss his book, “The Ticket,” a suspense novel about a lottery ticket and a lot of money. This will be FOL’s last program of 2021. With COVID they were able to eke out two programs and the annual book sale and hope 2022 will be a little brighter for more programming.

First-time novelist Shackelford has written a thriller that readers have raved about and have called a page-turner that burns and blisters the fingers with deliciously evil plot twists and a surprise ending. Shackelford is far more modest about his  journey to write his first novel. With an undergraduate degree in economics and a law degree, lotteries and legalities are his field of expertise. Whereas the law worked for John Grisham in his legal thrillers, Shackelford is not looking for the end-game glory but seeing where the journey would take him.

A character-driven book that builds suspense, his protagonist, Channing Booker is a compulsive gambler, drug abuser, and philanderer; an overall loser whose marriage is crashing miserably. When everything seemed like it was closing in on him, Channing wins the Mega Bucks Lottery. Hoping for a quick divorce, he devises a plan to hide his fortune from his soon-to-be ex-wife. He plans to have a friend claim the $241-million jackpot and secretly return the money to Channing after the divorce is final. But Susan leaves town with all her things, including the rare book in which Channing hid the winning lottery ticket. With time running out before the lottery ticket expires, Channing  desperately searches for Susan, but she’s covered her tracks well, fearing retaliation. To support herself, Susan begins selling possessions, including her rare books, unleashing a chain of events that puts not only her life in danger but others as well.

“I’ve never won much money in the Powerball or Mega Millions games, but I won $1,000 when I bought my first scratch ticket,” said Shakelford. “Five months ago, three of the six winning numbers for a $515 million Mega Millions jackpot matched the numbers of the winning lottery ticket in my novel. Unfortunately, the prize for matching three numbers was only $10.” His winning numbers were 6, 9, 17, 18, 48, 8. In his book, the winning numbers were 2, 6, 9, 17, 55, 12.

Shackelford considers himself a mix of plotter and punster when it comes to writing.

“When I started writing The Ticket, all I had in mind was the beginning and the end, so I just started writing and decided to see how it would go. I had no real concept of the “middle part” until I had written a couple of chapters,” he said. “At that point, I had thought of some ideas to develop the whole plot, and I decided to write a rough outline. I plotted each chapter in a couple of sentences, describing the key events that would unfold in that chapter. As a rookie novelist, I hesitate to give writing advice, but if any aspiring writer asks me, I would recommend preparing an outline before starting a novel. Without an outline, there’s a risk that you won’t have enough material to carry the plot, and the book might fizzle out after a few chapters.”

Many challenges face novelists, particularly first-time novelists. Staying engaged and keeping the momentum going is key to completion but how a writer views the journey can be what prompts the next novel, if there is one.

“I think the biggest challenge in writing any kind of novel is figuring out how to hold a reader’s interest through several hundred pages of text. To do that, I introduced several subplots to keep the readers guessing,” he said. “My novel is about a winning lottery jackpot ticket that is missing. Lottery tickets expire and become worthless if they aren’t cashed in within 180 days. One of the challenges in writing “The Ticket” was timing. I tried to ratchet up the tension as the lottery deadline approached, timing it so that the search for the missing ticket would go down to the wire. I jotted down my clues and key plot events on an actual calendar to guide me as I wrote the book.” According to his readers’ reviews, he accomplished what he set out to do.

Though he is categorized as suspense, it has mystery. Channing needs to investigate and follow the clues to his wife’s whereabouts to find the ticket and this element is what Shackelford enjoyed and what most mystery writers savor when putting the literary puzzle together.

“I enjoy sprinkling clues throughout the story to give readers a chance to unravel the mystery. I also like to develop interesting characters, often through their dialogue, and I try to include enough action to keep the plot flowing quickly.”

He said he has experienced many forms of writing, from essays when he was at Woodberry-Forest where his father taught, to writing poems for family members, including grandchildren, to writing legal briefs. His first book was a departure from his current work. Titled  “Judges Say The Darndest Things,” the book is a collection of humorous excerpts from legal cases. For some writing a novel could be compared to running a marathon and getting to the finish line has its rewards. He says “getting to the end” is one of the things he likes about writing in general.

“Writing can be tedious, so I feel a real sense of accomplishment when I write the last word of a story. It’s like crossing the finish line in a race. There’s a catch, though. It’s hard to decide when a novel or short story is finished,” he said. “Usually you have to go back and revise and polish your story. I was naive when I wrote the final chapter of “The Ticket.” I thought my work was over, but I quickly realized that I needed to edit the manuscript to take out unnecessary material that was bogging it down. Eventually, I whittled my initial draft of 117,000 words down to the final version of 93,000 words.”

Shackleford’s book is available at

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