The Accidental Billionaire: a $5 billion lottery, a small town in Texas

I’m writing a novella about a collection of people in small-town Texas who play the world’s first $5 billion lottery.

My plan is to publish all of it – maybe 100 to 150 pages – excerpt by excerpt to this blog. Then I’ll edit and package it into a proper ebook.

Here are the very first pages. Please keep in mind that this is a draft, so I expect a fair number of changes to structure, tone, characters, all of that.


The girls are in Deedee’s living, laughing and drinking their third bottle of red wine. The space is dominated by a frayed tan couch that an ex-boyfriend left her. No one is sitting on the couch, though. Instead they’re on the floor, gathered around the wooden plank of a coffee table. Around them on the large gray rug are empty wine bottles, glasses, and two boxes of delivery pizza.

“I really thought they paid you more, honey,” Sandy said, looking about. “But at least you keep it clean.”

“The business isn’t doing that well.” Deedee stood up and gathered the disposable plates and napkins. She walked to the kitchen and tossed everything into the garbage chute.

Sandy sniffed the air. “Is it just me, or…?”

Deedee nodded. “Smoking nonstop since his last project ended. Like he’s still in college.”

“His hallway on the third floor was pretty toxic,” Sandy chuckled. “Did he at least save some for us?”

“Oh my god. That reminds me. Remember the date I had this weekend?” Cassie said. “He took me to a nice restaurant, ok. Everything started out pretty good. We sat down, ordered some apps, got a drink order. He’s all smiling and charming, opened doors, the whole bit. Everything was great for once. But then, get this.” She leaned in and lowered her voice. “The food hadn’t even arrived. He pulled these little foil packets from his pocket. And I’m thinking, ok, maybe it’s gum? He opened one, and popped it in his mouth. Starts chewing. Then he hands me the other one, just like, slides it across the table” – she mimics the gesture – “and goes, ‘Wanna get high?’”

Deedee snorted out her wine. “You mean…?”

“Before the food even arrived. This dude wanted to get high!”

“Was it weed? Or something else?” Sandy asked.

Cassie just gave her a look.

“The craziest stuff happens to you,” Sandy said. “So, changing topics. How’s work Dee?”

Deedee sighed. “He’s trying to get another bank loan. So stressed out from it. And then he goes and stresses everyone else out. And I’m the lucky gal who sits right by his door. People talk about quitting all the time. Just about every time he calls me into his office, I get kinda tense cause I’m afraid he’s gonna yell at me or fire me.”

Cassie shook her head, finished her drink, and filled everyone’s glasses. She then grabbed the remote and turned on the TV. “I wanted to show you girls something. Have you been following the lottery?”

“YES! Isn’t it like a billion dollars now?” Deedee asked.

“Try two,” Cassie said. A young reporter is standing outside a blue Walmart. The storefront looks like it hasn’t been properly cleaned in a decade.

Rob: …Phil. This latest drawing was $1.9 billion, and there were no winning tickets. So the next jackpot is projected to be – everyone ready for this? THREE BILLION BUCKS. That’s right: Three. billion. Dollar-es. Let that sink in. In fact, Phil, I might just leave work early to go buy tickets!

Phil: Haha, only if you get some too, alright? We got a deal? You heard him, folks. No winners in this drawing. Next drawing is projected at three billion dollars. Which means that our next Powerball winner could very well become a billionaire overnight. Talk about motivation! And the whole world’s playing. Some lucky person, hopefully right here in Paris, Texas, but maybe in the original Paris, or in Tokyo, Japan or Chicago, Illinois, someone somewhere is gonna buy the winning ticket, and become the first ever lottery billionaire.

Rob: As you can see [the camera pans to his left and we see a long line of people standing along the wall], behind me, these people are already lining up to buy tickets. The drawing is 5 full days away, and people are already lining up! It’s bigger than the Beatles! Bigger than the launch of the new iPhone! [Rob walks over to a brunette in her teens or early 20s, wearing a ribbed top and ripped jeans]. Hi, how are you? What’s your name?

Lisa: Lisa.

Rob: Nice to meet you, now, Lisa. Are you waiting to get Powerball tickets?

Lisa: Our office got a pool.

Rob: A pool! I see, I see. So you’re all buying tickets together. How many of you are in this office pool?

Lisa: Eight.

Rob: And how many will you buy today?

Lisa: Tickets? Like two each. [She holds up some twenties in her hands] We’re gonna pool it together.

Rob: I’m sure you will, I’m sure you will. Remember folks, it’s $5 to play. So $20 bucks gets you 4 tickets.

Cassie turned to the girls. “We’re doing it.”

“No way. Not playing.” Sandy shook her head. “Five dollars, girl. That’s a venti coffee at Starbucks!”

Deedee stroked Ava, her gray Persian cat. “I’ve never played. But three billion. I can’t even grasp how big that is.”

“But even if you win, which isn’t gonna happen. It’s not just fancy flights and spa treatments and shopping sprees.” Sandy took a long sip from her glass. “You remember Roberto? High school Roberto. He got five mil when his uncle died in that freak crash?”

“Roberto! Didn’t he have a boyfriend who was like 20 years older than him?” Cassie laughed.

“Yes, that Roberto. Haha I can’t believe you remember. Anyway after he got the money he got pretty messed up. Got into drugs, a bad crowd. Even wound up in jail for a bit. I’m pretty sure he’s broke now.”

“That’s an inheritance. It’s different from the lottery, Sandy,” Cassie said. “We all know Roberto wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

“I’m just saying: Nothing good happens when you win a lot of money.”

“How about if we win, Deedee will break up with Jackass?” Cassie winked. It was her nickname for her boyfriend Jackson.

Sandy laughed.

Deedee tried to protest but couldn’t. Instead she pulled $20 from her purse and slapped it on the coffee table.

Cassie raised her glass. “Yay! Let’s toast. Come on Sandy. Don’t be cheap. You know you always wanted that black Chanel clutch. If we win you can buy the whole store.”

“I hate both of you,” Sandy said.

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders”

Goring told him that most people will go along with whatever their leaders tell them to do without question, whether it’s a democracy or fascist dictatorship.

Naively, Gilber replied, “There is one difference. In a democracy, the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

But Goring only laughed and said, “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Source here.

Reading this, I became scared for America, and I felt – for a moment – that even the so-called pacifists don’t feel peaceful anymore. They are angry, and some of them are turning to violence.

What Goring says echoes what I learned in The True Believer, which is a fantastic book about demagogues throughout history, and how they come to have the power and influence that they do.

Steve Erickson: “Ultimately democracy cannot be translated in terms of the material things it allows us to acquire”

The grand arrogance of America has always been that it would dictate its own terms to history rather than the other way around. Again and again the 20th Century has tried to say no to democracy, and again and again America has answered yes. The final American irony will be if, at the end of the century, with no foes left, having vanquished all those who laid siege to democracy, this country now turns to finish the job. If it succeeds, it will be because we forgot that ultimately democracy cannot be translated in terms of the material things it allows us to acquire, that it was always supposed to be dangerous, idealistic but not innocent, and forged of as many passions as there are voices, among which there is only common rage, and that is the rage for justice.

Alec Baldwin recommended this essay on his podcast. He essentially said it was the best essay he’d read that captured the essence of America during these tumultuous political times.

You can read the full essay here.

Personal Bible: recent additions on procrastination, life metaphors, Buddhism, and the Power of Now

So I keep a personal bible, a word document to collect and organize my favorite writings and wisdom across just about every topic of interest, from world history to self improvement to tech startups. Just some of the authors included in it: Warren Buffett, Jack Ma, JK Rowling, Rainer Rilke, even a passage from the Bible itself.

Every few months, I add new stuff to the personal bible and remove or prune old stuff. Below is a collection of what I’ve added in this most recent update.

Here’s more on the concept.

Here’s a past update.

Everyone can create such a document for themselves. Like the Christian Bible, it can become a reliable source of strength and support for you, serving as a crutch through hard times, or as a simple daily reminder of what’s wonderful and wise in life.

You can modify or improve on mine if you like. Here’s the PDF download.

All notes below are copied verbatim from the original text, unless otherwise noted.


Howard Stevenson on why juggling is a better metaphor for life than balancing

I think it’s about juggling. The juggling metaphor is a lot more apt. One of the things about juggling is that you’ve got to keep your eye on all the balls. A second thing about juggling is each time you touch something you have to give it energy. You’ve got to throw it up in the air so that it takes care of itself while you’re working on the others. You’ve also got to throw the balls thoughtfully and carefully. That requires a lot of practice. The third thing about juggling, though, is you’ve got to catch the falling ball. The most important ball is the one that’s about to hit the ground.

PG’s Life is Short

Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.

Your instinct when attacked is to defend yourself. But like a lot of instincts, this one wasn’t designed for the world we now live in. Counterintuitive as it feels, it’s better most of the time not to defend yourself. Otherwise these people are literally taking your life.

PG on Procrastination

That’s the sense in which the most impressive people I know are all procrastinators. They’re type-C procrastinators: they put off working on small stuff to work on big stuff.

Richard Hamming suggests that you ask yourself three questions: What are the most important problems in your field? Are you working on one of them? Why not?

I think the way to “solve” the problem of procrastination is to let delight pull you instead of making a to-do list push you.

Highlights from The Sovereign Individual by James Dale Davidson

the most important causes of change are…in the hidden factors that alter the boundaries where power is exercised.

Most democracies run chronic deficits. This is a fiscal policy characteristic of control by employees. Governments seem notably resistant to reducing the costs of their operations.

Governments have never established stable monopolies of coercion over the open sea…This is a matter of the utmost importance in understanding how the organization of violence and protection will evolve as the economy migrates into cyberspace, which has no physical existence at all.

Bethke Elshtain observed, nationstates indoctrinate citizens more for sacrifice than aggression: “The young man goes to war not so much to kill as to die, to forfeit his particular body for that of the large body, the body politic.”

The average psychotherapist probably gives the patient less good moral advice on how to lead his life than the average Jew would have received from his teacher in the period of Moses.

Highlights from What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

What we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of [the Five Aggregates]. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. ‘Whatever is impermanent is dukkha’

According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side, and wisdom on the other.

The moment you think ‘I am doing this’, you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea ‘I am’

It may be agreeable for certain people to live a retired life in a quiet place away from noise and disturbance. But it is certainly more praiseworthy and courageous to practise Buddhism living among your fellow beings, helping them and being of service to them.

‘Ever mindful he breathes in, and ever mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows “I am breathing out a long breath”; breathing in a short breath, he knows “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows “I am breathing out a short breath”.

He whose senses are mastered like horses well under the charioteer’s control, he who is purged of pride, free from passions, such a steadfast one even the gods envy.

Highlights from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Give your fullest attention to whatever the moment presents. This implies that you also completely accept what is, because you cannot give your full attention to something and at the same time resist it.

Your outer journey may contain a million steps; your inner journey only has one: the step you are taking right now. As you become more deeply aware of this one step, you realize that it already contains within itself all the other steps as well as the destination.

You see time as the means to salvation, whereas in truth it is the greatest obstacle to salvation.

The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way.

God is Being itself, not a being.

Daily Habits Checklist (October 30th – November 26): “Write in a trance, act in a trance”

If you look only at the scores – an average of 58% – it may not seem like the past 4 weeks were good. But they were.

One reason for the lower scores is a lot of travel (a long weekend in Hualien, 5 days in Osaka). Another reason is the winter weather that has hit Taipei: wet and cold and I got sick. But on healthy days, and on days I’m here in the city, my energy and focus are good and there is always room to improve but I’m counting my blessings.

Hope everyone’s doing well and having a good holiday season. Here’s to a strong end for 2017 and a great beginning to 2018!

Write in a trance, act in a trance – Mike Birbiglia

Here’s why and how I track my daily habits.

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