Known for his writings about sports and film, Athens, Ga.–based journalist, Will Leitch, ’98 MEDIA, veers into new territory with How Lucky (Harper, 2021), a novel in which a young man with a debilitating illness confronts a Hitchcockian predicament. The result: an optimistic thriller.
Your hero, Daniel, has spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative condition similar to ALS that begins in childhood. What inspired you to create a wheelchair-bound character whose ability to communicate is almost completely limited to keyboards?
A boy who has been friends with our son since birth has SMA. Over the years, we have seen him grow, and met many others who have SMA. I learned a lot about how they deal with the disease. Frequently, I’ve seen them being spoken to as though they were mentally disabled, which they are not. It was painful to watch. I became obsessed with how hard it can be to listen and to be heard. I developed a character who has SMA—as well as a job, an apartment, friends, interests—and who has a healthier outlook on life than many people who have more advantages, and who is eager to be heard.
And who sees something that may be a crime.
I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, in which a wheelchair-bound man thinks he’s witnessed a murder. I began to think of Daniel in that kind of situation. I also remembered the case of an abduction, and how the abductor had such a strong need to be noticed that he showed up at a rally for the victim. So I created a character whose needs were similar to Daniel’s, but who took a completely different path.
Daniel is such a positive person.
Most people are positive. We think the pandemic has been hard, but the years before the pandemic were hard, too. But we’re still getting up and doing things. We see all kinds of divisiveness online and in the media, but I don’t see it as much in real life. Many things are terrible, but most people soldier on and find joy and kindness as it comes. Most people don’t actually want to be miserable, and Daniel chooses not to be miserable. That’s why people seem drawn to the book.
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