Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Media appearance in Winchester (and an apology!)

I have been a very, very bad blogger of late. Forgive me?

The weekly columns I'm writing for a newspaper and a couple of websites have been a blessing and a curse. I love writing them, but they take a lot of energy and most of my good ideas every week. Plus, seriously, what does a guy like me really have to say?

I'll try to be better, I promise!

For now, enjoy this clip from a program over the weekend in Winchester, VA. The host, Barry Lee, is one of the top radio personalities in the area. He's a complete pro and it was fun to finally meet the man I've listened to for a long time every morning.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Announcing my fall 2011 novel: The Wedding Letters

I've been teasing this on Facebook for weeks and I'm giddy-thrilled to finally share the news. My next book is called The Wedding Letters and will hit stores on 9/27/2011.

As you might guess, the book takes us back to Woodstock, Virginia and the gang at the Domus Jefferson Bed & Breakfast. Malcolm and Rain are back, so are Samantha and Matthew. Even better? A&P and all of her eccentricities are back!

More details to come including an exciting and rare pre-order offer. But in the meantime, enjoy this gorgeous new cover and tell your friends. There might be some drama in the Shenandoah Valley on 9/27.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pre-order The Cross Gardener paperback and get The James Miracle e-book for free

It's the #1 question I hear at events, book clubs, in emails or while shopping at my local Wal-Mart: "Where can I buy The James Miracle?"

TJM was my very first book, a short little novella written for my wife in 2003. It's been out-of-print for a few years and won't likely be re-released until at least 2012.

So how can you read it right now? Pre-order the gorgeous new The Cross Gardener paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Books-A-Million and I'll send you The James Miracle as an e-book (PDF) for free. Pre-order by April 5th and I'll also mail you an autographed bookplate.

To get your free e-book and bookplate, simply forward your Amazon, BN or BAM confirmation email to TCGpreorder@jasonfwright.com. Your email should include the name and mailing address of the person receiving the autographed bookplate.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wright Words: Why you could be wrong about public schools

Not many topics ignite water cooler debates quite like the state of public schools in America. It seems every day I overhear folks debating public versus private versus home schooling, teacher pay or the recent, highly publicized standoff in Wisconsin. If you numbered all the opinions in your own community, you might have more than the number of students actually enrolled in the school district.

The debates — when civil — are healthy to the process. They serve as a reminder of what’s great about our country and how intelligent, well-meaning minds can passionately defend hot positions and share a cool frozen yogurt, all at the same time.

It’s understandable that the rhetoric on the state of public schools becomes heated. We love our children. We root for their success, understanding that most of our youngsters spend more time in their classrooms every day than at home. Teachers, administrators and the systems they choose to use have significant influence over our youths.

You’ve heard the complaints, whether you’re a parent of a public school student or not. Teachers shouldn’t whine about pay when they work nine months a year. Teachers and administrators everywhere are having inappropriate physical relationships with students. Your children are suffering because liberal philosophies and political talking points are being drilled into students’ rapidly developing world views.

My schools are falling apart. My children’s teachers are too old. My taxes are too high for such mediocre results in education. Does this sound like you? A friend? A neighbor?

I have been tremendously blessed since 2005, but particularly during this current school year, to visit schools across the country and to speak to tens of thousands of students from grades K-12. I’ve spoken in schools in urban areas where Caucasians are a minority, and I’ve met with students in schools with so little diversity they make a loaf of Wonder Bread look multinational.

I’ve met a handful of tired teachers who count the days to retirement. I chatted with a male teacher who makes a habit of flirting with high school girls. Front office staffers have treated me like a nuisance, and lunchroom ladies have barked at children for giggling at me and saying hello. My ears have heard teachers yell and tell inappropriate jokes. My eyes have seen ceilings crumbing and plastic buckets catching the drip-drip beneath.

That’s not news, is it? For many of us, these anecdotes simply reinforce our belief that the public school system is a dying dinosaur; a diseased creature that shouldn’t be treated, it should be killed.

But here’s why you could be wrong about public schools. For every alarming three-minute story on the 6 o’clock news that makes you consider for the ninth time this week whether you should home-school, countless hours of good are performed by the overwhelming majority of educators in the overwhelming majority of public schools.

In the past six months, I’ve personally observed that when budgets are tight and when they truly believe in the message, teachers will often spend their own funds on books for students.

I’ve listened as teachers tearfully shared their own "Christmas Jar" miracles. Many teachers who could have used the money themselves have chosen to anonymously give away a small fortune to some student’s struggling family.

I’ve spoken at evening fundraisers in dimly lit cafeterias. At these events, the only money changing hands is what we raise for the Red Cross, a teacher with cancer or a family recovering from funeral expenses and lost income while they took the time to bury their son. Those rooms are always full of teachers, and I promise that none of them are whining about their paychecks.

In my own hometown of Woodstock, Va., with the organization and encouragement of their dedicated teachers, students at W.W. Robinson Elementary School surprised me by collecting nearly $1,000 in change for the Seventeen Second Miracle Scholarship Fund, a program to benefit high school seniors with more dreams in their hearts than money in their pockets.

Teachers weep when their students weep, and they cheer when their students succeed. They build bridges and raise expectations. They lose sleep over students who chronically fail and pray for those who hide bruises under scarves and long-sleeved shirts.

Before you fill my in-box with studies, graphs, frightening anecdotes or videos of teachers-gone-wild, please note that I strongly believe there are important issues that can and should be addressed in our public schools. Without question we need less of the bureaucracy, more local control, less pressure to “teach to the test” and more, much more, of the divine.

Also note how proud I am that my children attend public school. I am enormously grateful for the hours their teachers labor each and every day on their behalf. They’re not perfect, but neither are my children.

Many of my friends choose to home-school their children. I honor their decision. Other friends pay for private schooling, and I respect their decisions, too. What I don’t respect are people forming coast-to-coast opinions about public schools and throwing teachers into a single, deep and dysfunctional pool.

If you ever need a reminder that the men and women teaching your children are good, decent and caring people, turn off the news and spend a day in the classroom. You might find you’ve been wrong about public schools.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wright Words: Stay classy, San Diego State

Has there ever been a better time to be a Brigham Young University basketball fan? Currently BYU stands at No. 3 in the polls and looks poised for a rare run into the NCAA Tournament’s second week.

You can’t turn on ESPN these days without seeing a clip of BYU All-American Jimmer Fredette launching a 30-foot 3-pointer, or a live interview with “The Jimmer” or a hoops guru breaking down game film. Even more likely, you’ve seen all of the above. If Jimmer were a stock, he’d be Google at $610 a share with room to grow.

Indeed, it’s been quite a season. I only wish I’d seen more of it. Living in the East has not afforded as many opportunities to watch games as my friends in the West. Just imagine how thrilled I was that BYU’s game with then-No. 6 ranked San Diego State University last Saturday would be televised coast-to-coast on CBS. It was only the second game all year I watched from tip-off to final buzzer.

Thankfully, the game was nearly everything we’d been promised. It featured physical play from both teams, timely offense and good coaching from two of the best. It was entertaining and competitive until roughly the 10-minute mark of the second half. For the rest of the matchup, BYU answered every SDSU mini-run with huge shots from plenty of players not named Jimmer.

As the clock ticked down, the only real suspense was whether or not SDSU fans, desperate for a win over their much-hated league rival, would stay classy or repeat their embarrassing behavior from previous meetings.

SDSU coach Steve Fisher sent an e-mail earlier in the week asking all fans, especially those in SDSU’s famed student section dubbed “The Show,” to behave appropriately.

Among other things, Fisher wrote, “We cannot cross the line into topics that are out of bounds and distasteful, particularly making fun of one's religion."

Maybe some SDSU fans have junk filters blocking Coach Fisher’s e-mails.

It’s obvious that if you’re watching premium cable and your children walk in the room, you better be prepared to explain the profanity, innuendo, etc. To a slightly lesser degree, the same is true if your little ones wander in while watching any number of primetime sitcoms on NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX. But should that be the case if you’re watching a college basketball game on national television?

During the final minutes of the SDSU-BYU game, my daughter popped in to check on the score and enjoy a quick one-on-one chat with Dad. I was explaining a foul against SDSU when the crowd, obviously disagreeing with the call, began to chant a popular two-word phrase connoting disbelief. “Dad, are they chanting what I think they’re chanting?”

“Yes, dear, they are.”

“Can’t they get in trouble for that?” she asked.

“Apparently not.”

Basketball is a sport that encourages fan involvement. We sit close to the court and have easy access to players. We’re often referred to as the “sixth-man” and, perhaps more than in any sport, we can feed a team’s momentum.

Everyone wants to win the big game, right? That’s why we buy tickets and that’s why we scramble around on a busy Saturday morning to be in a position to devote two hours to a basketball game. It’s not a crime to want your team to perform well and to beat your rival. But when is too much too much?

Perhaps it was poor taste that hundreds of SDSU students dressed as missionaries in white shirts, ties and fake nametags, but most would argue it was harmless. I thought the efforts to distract BYU players at the free-throw line with giant heads of pop culture figures was quite clever. I saw Woody from Toy Story, Marilyn Monroe and Donald Trump. Nothing offensive there.

But what about the sign that read, "Wives-for-Rent"? Or the signs that carried vile slurs aimed at Jimmer’s girlfriend? What about the fans who threw candy on the court? I’d call it elementary school stuff, but that’s not fair to little kids who actually know better.

If you were the athletic director at BYU or any other school that endures religious taunts, dangerous playing conditions or any other behavior that crosses the line of good sportsmanship, wouldn’t you find other places to play? After all, there are 344 other Division I basketball teams in the country.

It’s certainly acceptable and encouraged to cheer and chant and to hope with all your heart your team wins. In the proper spirit, sports can bring people together and bridge differences in cultures, wealth and religion. What’s happening at “The Show” at SDSU shouldn’t be encouraged and is completely unacceptable.

To be certain, this inappropriate, childish behavior happens on other college campuses around the country and BYU has its own share of fans that have probably crossed the line. If BYU treats Notre Dame or anyone else this way during a visit to Provo, I’ll gladly reboot this column and let the Cougars have it.

Rivalries are wonderful and good-natured ribbing and passionate competition is part of sports. Chanting obscenities, mocking religion and denigrating players and their families is not. No one should ever have to apologize to a child for a sport’s broadcast.

I anticipate many SDSU fans will call me prudish, self-righteous and other derogatory names. I just wish they could follow Ron Burgundy’s advice to “Stay classy, San Diego.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wright Words: The 25-year anniversary you don't care about

It is an anniversary of absolutely zero significance to anyone else in the world but me. Not even my wife knows. (Note to self: Tell wife before column is published.)

Twenty-five years ago I heard my father shout two words at me I'll never forget. Even though the meaning has changed, their significance hasn't.

The journey to those two words started on a tennis court nestled on my neighbor's historic and humongous southern plantation. I learned to play the sport by hitting balls against a faded green cinderblock wall. The practice wall was standard height, but what waited for me on the other side wasn't so standard at all.

If I caught too much air, balls would fly into a field filled with a toxic mix of thick weeds and thorny bushes that ate my 12-year-old bony legs. I learned quickly not to hit the balls over the wall.

Once I was comfortable with the rules and could sustain something vaguely resembling a rally, I let a much more talented friend talk me into entering a citywide doubles tournament to be held on the grounds at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

I'll never forget the day my father picked us up from school and drove us to campus to see the tournament draw. We rode in the bed of my father's prized, silver Dodge Rampage. It was one-third truck, one-third car and one-third complete awesomeness.

Sure, we were happy to learn we'd received a first-round bye. Sure, we were excited to see we'd drawn one of the few mixed-doubles teams. But we were downright giddy that the female half of the opposing duo was a student from our high school who we knew we could handle on the court. We didn't recognize her playing partner's name, but he just had to be lousy. No reason, just because.

We sat in the bed of the truck as Dad drove my friend home and felt like we ruled the world. I recall how we repeated our opponents' names over and over with derision and disrespect dripping from our lips. "We got matched against them? Them? We can beat them! With a bye and then these chumps, we're guaranteed to make the third round!" We even came up with a snarky little chant.

Every day after school we practiced and strategized. On the day of the tournament I felt like such a man pulling up the new socks my mother bought me at a real sporting goods store. Not Sears or Kmart but an actual sporting goods store. I stretched them over my calves and made sure they didn't crinkle or get bent at the top, so friends and competitors alike could see the brand name.

There were at least 20 courts at the tennis complex, and we were assigned to one that ran alongside the major thoroughfare in Charlottesville. Our parents and a few friends sat on a grassy hill between the sidewalk and the court with a perfect view.

The four of us met at the net for introductions, and I wondered who the old guy was with the girl we already knew from school. Funny thing: It turns out there wasn't an age limit in the mixed-doubles competition, and the chump staring at us was her personal coach. They promised to take it easy on us, and I promised to beat my friend later with my tennis racket.

The girl was very good, much to our surprise and chagrin. Thankfully her AARP playing partner kept his word and played loose and light.

The first set was competitive and stood at 4-4 with my partner serving. I hugged the net, my strong suit, and stabbed and punched back every volley I could.

We engaged in a long rally with me on the right side of the court. Grandpa hit a crushing forehand that sent me diving toward the doubles alley. My sweet '80s hair flew behind me, and I launched through the air like Superman in gym shorts and a tournament-issued T-shirt. I grunted for effect and somehow, miraculously, I got the ball back over the net and into play. The rally continued without me.

Twenty-five-years later I remember lying on the court with my hands at my sides and feeling the sting of little pebbles embedded in my palms.

Twenty-five-years later I remember my father shouting two words at me from his perch on the grass hill: "Get up!"

I did. Then two or three exchanges later we won the point, and my friend and I exchanged "Top Gun"-style high fives.

This story could end like a Disney sports movie where everyone gets what they want, and both the game and film come down to the final play and the final scene. Or it could end with the truth, that we lost that first set in a close battle and then got hammered in the second by the girl and Abe Lincoln.

Yes, we lost two sets to none. Yes, I took it hard. But I'll never forget hearing my father's voice from the distance. I'd lose a thousand tennis matches to have learned the lesson.

Sometimes I fall and get up. Sometimes I don't. But my shot at being successful only comes on the occasions when I brush the pebbles off and stand again. Even then, as much as I want it, I still sometimes lose.

My father died less than a year later, and I wonder how many times since his passing he has shouted at me from his perch on a grassy hill. "Get up!" I wonder if he knew then how badly I needed to hear those two words or how many times I've longed to hear them since.

No, this anniversary means nothing to anyone but me, and that's just the way I like it. I simply hope that all these years later I'm still trying to "get up" every time I fall.

I also hope he's still shouting.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wright Words: One reason I love New York City more than ever

I love living in tiny Woodstock, Va. I get to punch out columns and manuscripts from a one-room office on Main Street and enjoy watching and waving at passersby. I'm in the same building as an old-fashioned three-screen movie theater, one of which is above me on the second floor. Beneath me is a real wood floor almost as old as the town itself. It's a quaint, historic community that provides my family and me most everything we need.

What it's most certainly not is the publishing capital of the world. For that I'm required to make a long trek three or four times per year to New York City. In fact, this column comes to you from my favorite hotel on Times Square.

The biggest difference between this trip and all the others is that my sweet wife has come along. At this moment she sits across the room fiddling on her iPad, patiently waiting for me to finish so we can return to the concrete jungle in search of more adventures. She's also rolling her eyes because two minutes ago I went to the window and yelled, "Live from New York, it's Wright Words!" She's positive I'm the only one who will find that funny.

Who cares, right? I can dream of being funny. It is, after all, The City of Dreams. We're in The Big Apple, The Empire City, Gotham and The City Where Jason Once Fell Asleep on the Shoulder of a Complete Stranger.

I should confess that to make this trip happen I schemed and white-fibbed my way to an itinerary so sugar sweet it would send a diabetic over the top. The schedule has been ambitious.

She and I came by train from Washington, D.C., something my wife has always wanted to try. We strolled China Town and took cheesy pictures on Times Square and on the subway. She finally met Glenn Beck, something I've been promising for years. We sat in his office with a stunning view of the city and soaked up his creative energy.

She also met Academy Award-winner Kieth Merrill, and together with another filmmaker we talked books, movies and morals. We ate at a place that felt lifted from a Woody Allen film, The Cranberry Café.

My kids won't go to college, but we saw the new musical "Spider Man: Turn off the Dark." It was simply sensational. Of course it helped that none of the actors fell on their heads — or ours.

It's been a wonderful trip, but as I flip through the memories in my mind's photo album, I smile most at the things that I didn't plan. I suspect the most colorful memories when I'm 50, 60 or 160 will be the ones for which I didn't make reservations.

This morning we took a frightening cab ride to Battery Park so wild it felt like we'd been swallowed up in a racing video game being played by my 4-year-old on a sugar rush. I don't remember paying the cabbie; I only remember kissing the pavement when I flopped out.

We ate dinner on Valentine's Day at a restaurant in Little Italy. The place was so romantic it belonged in a Hallmark commercial, all except for the couple at the table next to us arguing. When the woman threatened to get up and walk out, I leaned over the table and whispered to my wife, "Please don't leave. This is better than the ravioli!"

Somehow we walked four blocks from our hotel in a big loop to a pizza place that we were embarrassed to find was right next to where we started. I convinced my wife it was part of my plan to work up a healthy appetite for the best pizza she'd ever eat. Maybe "convinced" is the wrong word.

We took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, our most anticipated excursion, and she and I endured biting wind and brutal cold. At our first opportunity we bought matching sweatshirts so corny even Mr. Rogers would have laughed and called us names.

Liberty Island was nice, but it was the unscheduled stop at Ellis Island that left the stronger impression. I felt the Spirit remind me how lucky I am to live in a country that people have flocked to since its divine creation. The feelings were almost indescribable as I sat in the cavernous Registry Room and imagined the millions who stepped off ships for better lives and more colorful dreams. We toured the dormitories, and I pictured the day my own ancestors arrived, were processed, and then were sent by rail to seed the country I would one day call my home.

Yes, it is the land of opportunity. But not for the homeless man we saw eating frozen gum from a manhole cover. Neither my wife nor I will soon forget that memory. It didn't bring a smile, but we're glad we saw it anyway. Another reminder how blessed we've been and how much more we should be giving.

Tomorrow we'll make our way back to Penn Station, hidden deep below Madison Square Garden, and board a train for home. We'll keep gushing about "Spider Man," the meals, the meetings and the future. But what we'll laugh about and what we'll cling to are the memories we created, not the ones we planned.

What's the one reason I love New York City more than ever? Because this time she was in it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wright Words: Hero lives undetected in Ogden

I grew up thinking heroes moved mountains, saved lives or won Super Bowls with last-minute drives. A few days ago, I learned they also diagnose eye problems.

On a trip to speak at the Time Out for Women 2011 kick-off event in Ogden, Utah, I began to have problems seeing out of my left eye. It was mildly irritated in the morning, sore when I boarded the plane and on fire by the time I landed in Salt Lake City.

Sitting inside my rental car in the parking garage, I did what most husbands do when they feel lousy on a business trip. I called my wife. Her advice was three words long: Find a doctor. Then she added a fourth: Now!

Have you ever been travelling in another state with sparks coming from one of your eyeballs and desperately needing to find an eye doctor? I had grown exhausted from back-to-back nights of very little sleep, a ridiculously early morning and a long flight. Then I looked at my watch and realized I still needed to shower, shave, put on a suit and report to the venue at Weber State University in just a few hours.

I searched eye doctors on my trusty iPhone and began making calls. Some said no. Others asked if I could come next week. One said I could come hang around with no promise of actually seeing a doctor.

Then I called a doctor in Ogden not far from my hotel. After a moment on hold the receptionist returned and said, "Can you come right now?"

I raced straight there and walked with one eye closed through the front door of the Ogden Vision Center. Before I could even sit, someone offered me drops for the pain. Before I could fill out a single piece of paperwork I was sitting in a chair in Dr. Lincoln J. Dygert's exam room having my eyes checked.

He took care of the pain, put in a special contact lens to help protect the eye until I could see my own doctor back home in Virginia and gave me his cell phone number. He was concerned the bright lights on stage would wreak havoc on my eye, and he made me promise to text him if it became too painful.

I didn't have to. My phone rang on the way to the venue. The good doctor wanted to know whether I needed anything. He also made me promise to contact him the next morning before I boarded the plane.

The event couldn't have gone any better. None of the 1,800 women in attendance threw rotten fruit at me, and only a few hundred had to be nudged awake by their seatmates when I concluded.

The next morning, the doctor insisted on driving in to his office to check my eyes again. He swapped the contact, gave me valuable advice on managing the discomfort until I could return home and wished me well.

I stared out the window as my eastbound plane cut through the cold evening air and contemplated just how many heroes there are like Dr. Dygert. How many heroes in my life have I taken for granted because they don't fight fires for a living or drive tanks across a desert in the Middle East?

I wondered then and I wonder now as these words hit the page, what defines a hero in today's world? Must they be brave? Should they be strong? Do they have change hearts or minds? Save a life?

Maybe a hero is simply the person who answers the call when others ignore it. Maybe a hero is someone who lives every day to serve in big moments and small moments. Sometimes they get thanked; sometimes they don't.

I wonder how many I've failed to thank. How many heroes in my life have gone undetected, unappreciated, unrewarded?

How about you? When was the last time you examined your own life and identified the heroes around you?

I'm embarrassed to think how many have zipped in and out of my life without knowing how thankful I was for their heroics. But not this time.

To Dr. Dygert and his team at Ogden Vision Center, I say thank you for answering the call when others didn't. Cape or no cape, you are modern-day heroes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Wright Words: The top ten excuses for missing a deadline

Like many of you, I live in a world of deadlines. I’ve got one for this very column you’re reading, another for a contract I’m reviewing and one for a church project. I’ve even got one for my wife’s upcoming milestone birthday. Naturally each carries penalties for being late, and you can guess which deadline would be the most painful to miss.

Through the years I’ve become a certified blue ribbon-winning deadline misser, an expert at massaging my way through excuses and negotiating extensions. It’s a vicious cycle: If I had a nickel for every occasion I had to buy myself more time, I would have spent all those nickels.

I’m not a newbie to this game. I’ve been waving to passing deadlines since I was a kid. You said that book report is due by what day? Tomorrow? My room cleaned by what time? Six? Potty trained by what age? Seven?

The latest deadline costing me sleep is for my fall 2011 novel. I can’t tell you the title yet, and I can’t tell you what it’s about, but I can share one juicy nugget: It’s not done. Let me clarify: It’s kinda sorta done. And by kinda sorta I mean – not really. I’m still editing, proofing, dotting my I’s and squiggling my S’s.

To keep my editor and his trusty assistant from hunting me down and handcuffing me to my laptop, I’ve rolled out some of my time-tested, mother-disapproved excuses. They’ve served me well through the years. May you find them equally useful.

The top 10 excuses for missing a deadline:

1. Did you mean Eastern Standard or Hawaii Standard Time? I’m 1/64th Polynesian, plus I had ham and pineapple pizza last night.

2. “The Brady Bunch” was on, the one where the boys want a rowboat and the girls want a sewing machine, and they compromise on a color television. That episode taught me something your science project couldn’t.

3. My teddy bear bore a cub overnight, but it wasn’t stuffed. We had to rush him to Build-A-Bear.

4. Two words: "American Idol."

5. I’m late with this assignment because I haven’t actually read the book, and I thought your keen sense of morality would appreciate honesty much more than a faked report.

6. I got a flat tire on the way to school but had no spare. I’d forgotten that I put it on my elderly neighbor’s station wagon during last week’s hailstorm.

7. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately. My DVR is almost out of space, and I’m still behind on "Cake Boss."

8. My kids needed some daddy time, and I felt it was important to take a few days off. Why don’t you want my children to be happy?

9. My crops have been struggling with the harsh weather, and I’ve had to commit a lot of extra time to working the fields. Farmville is a lot more difficult than it looks.

Whoops, no time for No. 10. My deadline has passed. If you have a spectacularly bad excuse you’ve heard or used, share it in the comments.

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 contests@jasonfwright.com 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.