Saturday, January 29, 2011

Announcing Jason's brand new EDITOR-FOR-A-DAY Contest

Do you have a funny photo of your kids? Your pets? A snowman wearing a Speedo? That funny photo could earn you the most unique prize you've ever won!

How do you enter?

STEP 1: E-mail your funny photo to before February 2 at 11:59 PM, EST. (One photo per person.)

STEP 2: Wait for a reply confirming your photo has been received and posted in a special contest album on Facebook.

STEP 3: Encourage your Facebook friends and family to “like” your photo.

STEP 4: Watch as your photo competes against other funny photos for the most “likes”. Whichever photo receives the most “likes” by 11:59 PM, EST on February 4, wins! The entrant will become Jason's EDITOR-FOR-A-DAY.

What’s the Grand Prize?

-The winner will be named Jason’s exclusive EDITOR-FOR-A-DAY.

-The winner will be among the first five people to read Jason's latest manuscript.

-The winner will give feedback on the manuscript, just like an actual editor at a major publisher.

-The winner will be credited as "Editor-for-a-Day" in the acknowledgments of the book when it is released on October 11th, 2011.

-The winner will receive two signed, first-edition copies.

-Other prizes, including books and CD’s, will be offered to runners-up.

The not-so-fine print.

-Deadline to enter is February 2 at 11:59 PM, EST. Photos received after the deadline will not be entered. One photo per person, please.

-You must own the rights to the photo you are submitting.

-Photos must be "PG" in nature.

-Prize may not be sold or transferred and has no cash value.

-Employees or contractors of Jason Wright's publishers, publicists and agencies are ineligible.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wright Words: Look Ma, I'm 40!

In a few days I will say goodbye to my 30s. Tchau. Adios. Sayonara. Later, dude. It’s been nice knowing you.

Turning 30 didn’t bother me because I still felt so young. Turning 40 terrifies me because I’ve napped twice since starting this column.

When I turned 30 people told me I looked 22. No one ever believed me when we played the "Guess-how-old-I-am" game. But now, as I turn 40, I suddenly look 67. Great if you're trying to collect Social Security or get the seniors' 4 p.m. discount at Denny's. Not great if you still have a kid in diapers.

I've lived a bizarre and interesting 10 years. My 20s ended with a run for Congress. I thank heaven and the GOP delegates of Utah’s third district everyday for sending me home. Never have I been more grateful to finish in second place.

My 30s are ending in a way I could have never predicted, as a full-time writer and public speaker.

Along the way, there have been plenty of heartaches. I’ve been haunted by a decade-long legal dispute so frivolous, it makes lawsuits over spilled hot coffee look legitimate. If I wrote a memoir about it they would put it in the fiction category because no one would believe people could behave in such ways. The process nearly destroyed me financially and emotionally. Suffice it to say I’ve learned more about forgiveness and humility than I ever wanted to learn.

There have also been tragic deaths of both friends and friendships. One of my best childhood pals was killed in a car accident near our hometown in Charlottesville, Va. Another from the same era might as well be gone because he refuses to speak to me anymore. I’d share the reasons if I actually knew them.

There have been miracles, too. A niece shouldn’t have survived her arrival on earth, the open-heart surgery or the multiple life-flights to a children’s hospital in Washington, D.C. But she did, and today this little angel is pestering her brothers and sisters like a pro.

And, after my wife had a miscarriage early in the decade that led us to believe we might not have more children, we had two boys and on most days I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

There have also been lessons learned. Do not go on C-SPAN with a runny nose. Do not make jokes at airport security. Do not ask your wife if that’s what she’s really wearing to a neighborhood party. And do not, I repeat do not lower the rim on your portable backyard basketball hoop and hang on the rim when you dunk it.

There have been successes. Books have landed on best seller lists for months and have been translated into languages all around the world. But there have been tremendous failures, too. Recovering Charles, one of my personal favorites, failed to strike a chord and flopped faster and harder than a Jennifer Lopez film. I suppose that one is all around the world, too, balancing uneven legs on bargain book tables far and wide.

I have visited 38 states and met countless people I won’t forget in this life or the next. I’ve come home from each and every trip to a family that tolerates the travel and loves me in spite of my baggage. They are the gorgeous pressure-tested diamonds; I am still the coal, a rock with potential.

So what do I predict for the next 10 years? No more kids. A dozen more books – half become best sellers, the others bomb and are used to treat insomnia. I’ll finally buy a movie ticket to one of my book-to-film adaptations. I’ll visit the Great Wall, return to my beloved Brazil, lock my daughters in their bedrooms when they turn 16 and take my boys to the emergency room at least six times — each.

What will I learn? How to be more patient. How to manage my time more effectively. Maybe how to write more better and stuff, irregardless what people think. Perhaps I'll learn to more fully appreciate my amazing mother for all she’s endured and for all she’s done for me. And, hopefully, I’ll continue to learn that Heavenly Father loves me on the bad days just as much as the good.

Bring it on, 40s. Bring the pain, successes, joys, failures and aches of the heart, knees and lower back.

Well, maybe I'm not so terrified after all. Can I still get a third nap?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wright Words: The New York Times Best Seller List debunked

Every author I know remembers where they were the first time they learned they’d "hit the list." It is the gold standard of best seller rankings: The New York Times.

Obviously there are other lists and each is important: USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly to name a few. Each is a useful barometer of whether a book is being embraced across a broad audience. But with all due respect to the others, The New York Times' remains the list authors at all levels covet and pine over. That much we know.

What we don’t know is exactly how it's compiled. The process is a closely guarded secret, ranking somewhere on the scale between the nuke codes in the president’s "football" and the formula for Coke. Editors from the paper rarely speak about their process for calculating and ranking books. Some independent stores report their sales; some don’t. Some mega chains such as Barnes & Noble report, but others, like Wal-Mart, do not.

Judging from comments I hear on the road, even many casual readers and writers seem to know the importance of "hitting the list." Did you know there are actually 11 published lists in The New York Times? Neither did I, but obviously more lists mean more opportunity for authors and publishers.

Unlike USA Today, which groups all books into one behemoth list of 150 titles, The New York Times list has evolved into a series of well-defined categories. You can "hit the list" in any of these sections: Hardcover Fiction; Hardcover and Paperback Non-Fiction; Trade Paperback Fiction; Mass-Market Fiction; Hardcover and Paperback Advice; How-To and Miscellaneous; Children’s Picture Books; Children’s Chapter Books; Children’s Paperback; and Children’s Series.

When a book goes to reprint, when a paperback is issued, or when an author publishes their next title, you can bet "New York Times Best Seller" will appear on the cover, regardless of the specific list on which they appeared.

The various lists, published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, are pre-released on Wednesdays to subscribing publishers, agents and industry insiders. It arrives by e-mail typically between 4:30-6:30 p.m. EST. If you're hoping to be on it, seeing it pop into your inbox is like plunging your hand in the Captain Crunch and finding a toy so big you need both hands to lift it.

The first time I "hit the list" was the week when "The Wednesday Letters" came out in hardcover in September of 2007. I hadn't made the list yet with "Christmas Jars," so we didn't expect this book to make it either. Still, there were reasons for slivers of hope. I'd appeared on Glenn Beck’s radio and television shows the day the book launched and had given out my cell phone number asking readers to call and share stories of their favorite handwritten letters. I received so many calls my cell phone had smoke and sparks coming from it by midnight on the first day. As the calls came in and the interview went viral, sales rankings rose.

When the following Wednesday arrived, I was with my wife and four children running errands in nearby Harrisonburg, Va. We hadn’t talked about it much, and the publisher had successfully lowered my expectations. Still, as the afternoon wore on, it began to feel like butterflies were building a water park in my belly.

A call from my editor came on my cell phone shortly after 5 p.m. as we sat in the KFC drive-through. I answered the phone about the same time the squawk box garbled back our order, and I remember wondering if they’d hired an actual chicken to work the window. With the kids barking from a long day in the car and the drive-through speaker bawk bawk bawking, I had no choice but to abandon the driver’s seat and scamper to the far corner of the parking lot.

I watched my wife scramble to pull the car up and listened as my editor put me on speakerphone. “You hit the list,” he said and the room around him erupted in cheers. Then someone else in the background on the phone added, “You know you can scream, too.”

So I did. I yelled and raised both arms in the air as if I’d scored the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl of Nerds.

After a round of congratulations from everyone on the phone and learning the actual number I’d hit — six — I returned to the car and walked around to the driver’s side window where my wife awaited our celebratory dinner. I hugged her and smiled when I saw tears in her eyes. I cannot confirm nor deny that I might have also had tears in mine.

A few weeks later I was surprised with a luncheon at my publisher’s headquarters. During introductory remarks in front of the corporate office, Sheri Dew, CEO of Deseret Book/Shadow Mountain, reminded me that I would forever be known as a “New York Times best selling author." She joked that it might look nice on my tombstone. I replied that the granite was already on order.

Every author has a different experience that first time, but the excitement is universal. Fortunately it isn’t the only way to have your writing validated, or yourself for that matter. It’s not the loftiness of the goal so much as the goal itself.

You don’t have to discover a cure for cancer or win the Nobel Prize to be great humanitarian. Maybe you just need to know where the Band-Aids are stored in the back of the cabinet. Do you really need an Oscar sitting on your shelf, or will you settle for knowing your kids think you tell the world’s best bedtime stories?

Becoming a New York Times best seller won’t define your life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re selling a bazillion books. What it does mean is the hours you write before dawn when no one is watching are appreciated. If you're an aspiring author, it’s a goal worth having like any other.

What have I learned? Hitting the New York Times best selling list hasn't made me luckier, wiser, cooler to my kids or any better at loading the dishwasher. Still, while it won't get me to heaven any faster, it might not look that bad on a tombstone.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wright Words: The best movie you'll never see

We've all been there. The house lights are just coming up. The credits are scrolling across the screen. The empty Raisinets box has joined the unpopped kernels in the bottom of the giant cardboard tub. As we walk to the exit of the theater, we say to ourselves, "Yowza. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back."

What if we could, though? What if rather than sitting through painful dialog and pointless chase scenes we had been enhancing ourselves, improving our lives?

I don't know about you, but I've seen some unusually smelly films in the last year or so. And it's not that they necessarily offended with language, nudity or violence, but they did do damage to good taste, common sense and my wallet.

Can't Hollywood find a better way to spend $50 million dollars than on body function laughs? Isn't there a single screenwriter in Los Angeles who can write an entertaining script for kids that doesn't rely on easy jokes and the lazy writing of potty humor? Even a dimwitted columnist like me can write that kind of comedy. Seriously, I'm not afraid to say dirty diaper jokes have become my No. 2 biggest pet peeve.

With this in mind and with the new year still fresh, I've decided to launch an experiment. The next time I see an ad for a movie and ask myself, "I wonder if it's any good," I'm going to find out how long it is. Then I'll add 20 minutes of travel, 15 minutes of previews, and the five minutes I would spend wondering if the bottom of my shoes were too sticky to wear into the house.

I will note the start time of the movie, disappear into my study and not come out until I would have made it home had I actually gone to the theater. I won't do anything that is on my normal to-do list. No writing, no paying bills, no Internet "research" — aka surfing for funny YouTube videos. It will be pure bonus time, the precious minutes I would not have gotten back had I gone to see "The Wizard's Date Night With Poodle Spies."

I'm sure the first few minutes will feel uncomfortable as I look around imagining what else I could be doing. Maybe I will say a little prayer. Maybe I will say a really long, longer-than-I've-ever-said-before prayer. Maybe I'll spend the time thinking about one thing. One memory. One challenge. One opportunity.

The more I think about it, the more exciting the idea becomes. I can take a couple of hours and tell my sound-bite-attention-span brain to get over it. I'm not going to entertain you tonight. Tonight we will sit quietly and consider the deep things of life. We're not coming out of this study until life is better — or at least better understood. Certainly life will be better than if we had gone to a cheesy movie with no redeeming value.

Perhaps you're thinking, "But I like the escape. I like the mindless entertainment that enables me to forget the stress and mess of everyday life." Well so do I, and that's often why I see these stinkers in the first place. But what good is an escape from reality if it leaves you wishing you'd picked a different place to hide?

Maybe, like many of my ideas, I'll find the experiment a complete failure. It could be I do nothing more than stare at the wall and wonder who I can blame for the wackiness. Or maybe I'll learn something about myself.

Maybe I'll hear something in the silence that moves me in a way a movie about belching dogs can't.

Will you join me? Pick a movie and showtime that suits your schedule. Then don't go to the theater. Instead, go to the library or another quiet place. Meditate. Contemplate. Muse. Brood. Cogitate. Then take a few minutes at the end to write a quick journal entry and weigh the experiment's value.

If it goes well, you might remember that experience as the best movie you'll never see.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wright Words: Schedule 'Daddy-Kid Days' on your 2011 calendar

It's been 10 years since I first celebrated a "Daddy-Kid Day." My oldest daughter was 5 years old, her sister 2.

The oldest reminded me at dinner that while it wasn't her actual birthday, Dec. 6, it was still the sixth of a different month. "We should do something super special!"

My wife, exhausted from a long day of playing dolls, diapers and dress-up, smiled so sweetly at me from across the table. "Yes, Jason, you two should do something super special. Something far away. Something she really wants to do that will last long enough for me to put the other to bed and treat myself to something incredibly glamorous. Like a shower."

Thus was born "Daddy-Kid Day." But because it was hers and hers alone, she chose to call it "Daddy-Oakli Day." And you don't have to have a degree in brand marketing to know where we ended up that night.

Fifteen minutes later we ate vanilla ice cream cones together in a McDonald's parking lot. After we'd cleared the drive-through and parked in the very last stall, I invited the wide-eyed little girl to climb up front with me. I'll never forget this date, partly because it became a tradition that's lasted a decade, but mostly because it was the first time I saw my daughter as more than a child.

For a few minutes and for reasons I cannot explain, my eyes looked at that person in the passenger's seat and saw her as a teen, a wife, a mother and a friend. She was a soul of her own, not just an extension or responsibility of her mom and dad.

Ever since that first "Daddy-Oakli Day," we've repeated the tradition on the sixth of each month. Sometimes it's as simple as a Slurpee run. Other times it's a movie 30 miles away at our favorite theater. It can be a walk, a trip to the library or playing "Guess the Price" at the grocery store.

Things happen. There are months when I'm traveling on the sixth or when one of us is ill. Homework happens. Meetings happen. Life happens. But we do our best to reschedule, juggle and make it up. No matter the day it occurs, we look forward to the special moments alone, and there's simply no forgetting what the sixth means to Oakli and me.

Naturally, my other daughter also has her own special holiday. We celebrate "Daddy-Jadi Day" on the thirteenth, and every month when her day hits, I'm sure to be reminded of it before I've even finished breakfast. Her tastes and interests differ from her sister's, and our activities together vary accordingly.

I've got two boys as well, both younger, and each has his own 'Daddy-Kid Day'. Neither of these tigers even bothers for me to get downstairs for breakfast on their respective days. Their reminders come when they pry my eyes open in bed.

Their interests are unique from their sisters' and from one another. If I tried to play Littlest Pet Shop with my 7-year-old on "Daddy-Kason Day," he'd shove a tiny plastic animal up each nostril. Not his, mine.

My 3-year-old is the easiest to please. "Hey buddy, it's 'Daddy-Koleson Day.' How about we swing in the backyard as long as you want?" Done. "Want me to read your favorite dinosaur pop-up book and make scary roaring noises while attacking you?" Even better.

Obviously this isn't the only time I spend with my kids, and none of it will win me Father of the Year. They'll tell you I still don't spend nearly enough time with them, and it's something I'm constantly working to improve. But this simple tradition, at least for our gang, has proven valuable because even when life is at its busiest, when church and work responsibilities feel overwhelming, when the kids are being tested by pressures seen and unseen, we always see a "Daddy-Kid Day" right around the corner.

It could be the needs of your family are dissimilar. If you're a single mother with more than one child, perhaps a sitter would watch one while you celebrate "Mommy-Kid Day" with the other? If you're an empty nester, find an afterschool program or youth center to volunteer at once a month. Call it "Mentor-Kid Day," and take on as many days and as many children as life will allow.

I cannot help but smile when looking back at 10 years of "Daddy-Kid Days." There have been slices of pepperoni pizza and frosty glasses of root beer, arm-wrestling and cheese fries, roller skating mishaps and mini-golf controversies. There have been more laughs than I deserve and tears I was honored to wipe away. They are adventures every one. Memories I will cherish forever.

So schedule at least one "Daddy-Kid Day" on your 2011 calendar. I bet you two vanilla ice cream cones you'll schedule more.