Author Patricia Wood, M.S. ’82, Lands Film Deal for Acclaimed Novel Lottery
By Eva Richards

patricia-wood-photo-3Patricia Wood, M.S. '82, remembers her time at NIU fondly, claiming it gave her the confidence to try for a writing career.

For Patricia Wood, M.S. ’82, it was a long and winding road to becoming a critically acclaimed author. 

Still, no matter her age or stage, writing was always a cornerstone of her life. Even early on, she found creative ways to tie writing to her hobbies and jobs.

Growing up in Seattle, Washington, she was compelled to write stories as soon as she “learned how to handle a pencil,” she said. 

Wood was also always a voracious reader—the quality she believes is the most crucial characteristic of a good writer.

“Reading books led me directly to creative writing. It was fortunate that journalism classes were offered at both my junior high and high school, and I was active on the newspaper staff. I loved writing feature stories, seeing them published, and being read by my classmates,” she said.

In high school, Wood entered an essay contest run by the Seattle Times, asking why fans loved the band The Monkees, and her heartfelt response won a prize. 

“This affirmed my desire to write and was a positive reinforcement,” she recalled.

While she adored literature and the creativity of making her own stories, Wood pursued a much more practical road at first. In 1972, after graduating from high school, she joined the U.S. Army, was trained as a medical technologist and stationed just outside of Washington, D.C. at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. When she was discharged in 1974, Wood obtained her associate’s degree in medical technology, followed by her bachelor’s degree in biology. In 1976. she relocated to the small town of Troxel, Illinois, which is about 12 miles from NIU, where she worked at Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb as a medical technician. 

“I knew I wanted to do more and applied to Northern Illinois University,” Wood said. “I never considered myself all that smart or talented, but when I started classes at NIU, the teaching and guidance gave me confidence that I was capable.”

Wood noted that, in retrospect, she would have really wanted to go into creative writing during her undergraduate education, but pragmatism won out.

“I was not quite brave enough at that time,” she said. “I thought I’d better stay in my field and work in hospital laboratories as a financial safety net. I continued my studies and obtained my M.S. in biology from NIU in 1982. All my professors at NIU were supportive and encouraging, but rigorous.”

During that time, Wood also had a young family, and her son Andrew spent many afternoons playing in the university grounds and running from the notoriously aggressive geese while she was attending class. 

“It was a struggle completing my course work, doing research, and teaching, plus working nights at the hospital and taking care of my family,” Wood said. “I don’t know how I did it. As I consider and reflect, I believe that the writing intensive coursework was excellent preparation for life as an author. Remember all this was before the internet and personal computers so all writing was done by hand or on typewriters. There was no Googling I spent hours in the library doing research.”

After graduating from NIU, Wood moved back to Seattle and worked as a medical technologist. As a hobby she taught horseback riding through the University of Washington Experimental College. She divorced her first husband and remarried in 1986 to Gordon Wood.

Published in 2007, Lottery's film rights were recently sold.

“All the while, I wrote articles for horsemanship magazines and kept journals,” she said. “I moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1991 and continued to work as a medical technologist and continued to write in my spare time. In 1997, I changed careers and attended University of Hawaii to obtain a post-baccalaureate certificate in secondary education.”

Wood then taught marine science in the Hawaii Public School System while also participating in shark research on Midway Atoll through the Waikiki Aquarium. It was a busy time full of her varied interests and passions.

“I did underwater photography as a scuba diver and used my photos in my classroom," she said. "I competed in jumper equestrian events. In 2003, my husband and I bought a 50-foot sailboat and lived aboard, and I learned to sail. I helped crew sailboats from Hawaii to California.”

She then took a leave of absence from teaching and was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the University of Hawaii. In 2007, she received her Certificate in Disability Studies and used this time to not only do required papers for her doctorate courses, but she also wrote manuscripts. Finally, the timing was right, and Wood’s writing career began to take shape. Having finished all of her coursework besides her dissertation, Wood decided to put her schooling on hold to focus entirely on writing novels. 

In 2005, she began attending the yearly Maui Writers Conference and retreat and learned about the business of writing and being published. She completed three manuscripts that were unpublished before she had the idea for her now-beloved first novel, Lottery, which was published with Putnam, an imprint of the Penguin Group, in 2007. 

Lottery follows Perry L. Crandall who, with an IQ of 76, must navigate an increasingly complicated life after he wins the multimillion-dollar jackpot. The book was pitched as a high-concept hook like Forrest Gump meets Powerball, and after going to auction, Wood landed a nearly unheard-of six-figure publishing deal for her debut work. When the book hit shelves, it garnered critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the 2008 Orange Prize for Fiction in the UK, which is an international prize for women’s fiction.

“I was gratified by the success of Lottery, as I had hopes but no expectations,” she said. “In reality, I write because I have to write. I must write. Not because I want or need success or publication. If that happens, then it’s the icing on the cake. I write because it releases my creativity.”

Over the years, Wood has been bolstered by how Lottery has impacted her readers.

“I continually see how Lottery resonates with readers. I participate with many book clubs, with schools, with library programs, and this outreach shows me that Lottery speaks to people who know those who are marginalized by society,” Wood said. “We need empathy and understanding for those who are differently abled. In fact, we need empathy and understanding for everyone. Lottery is a unique way to understand the idea of the medical model of disability--or a person is defined and limited by their disability--versus the social model, where everyone is capable and those capabilities can transcend their perceived limitations. I believe that this is why many teachers use my novel in their classrooms, both at the secondary and university levels.” 

These days, Wood continues to write, even when manuscripts are not accepted by her agent or publisher. 

“The thing is that each rejection—and I’ve had many—leads to a conviction to try harder and write more,” she said. “Each failure spurred me to try even harder and persist. I persevere in the face of rejection, and this is a hugely important characteristic for authors.”

While Wood’s current manuscript is being pitched to publishers by her agent, she recently got some exciting news. The film rights for Lottery were optioned by 3311 Productions with David Permut, the producer of 2016's Academy Award-winning Hacksaw Ridge, set to produce.

“The film deal for Lottery is a thrill and a dream,” she said. 

Even as Lottery may come to the big screen, Wood continues her outreach with schools, universities and book clubs. Lottery was recently selected for “One Book, One School” reading program at Norwalk Community College, and Feilding High School in New Zealand will be using Lottery in their English classes.

Wood has been asked to speak with teachers through the University of Connecticut who use her novel in their classrooms, as well.

“There is always a path forward. I am guided by my readers and my inspiration to create stories that readers will delight in,” she said. “As I have mentioned, the outreach with readers, teachers and classrooms is a continual joy. To see the impact my novel has had is immensely gratifying.”

Looking back at the meandering path Wood took to her career as a writer, she credits NIU with giving her the support and encouragement she needed to believe in herself.

“As I have mentioned before I had excellent professors. Electives in art history and enrolling in the required literature classes enhanced and contributed to my total education,” she said. “Receiving support and encouragement in each one of my classes allowed me to realize my full potential. Learning how to write technically for my master’s thesis laid the groundwork and gave me courage to write creatively.

“I have fond, fond memories of NIU. It was a simpler time and place, but it was the foundation for the person I have become and success in the career path I have chosen.”