By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- It's been a long journey for author Jason F. Wright, of Woodstock. Not only will he have two books released simultaneously this fall, but he is also preparing for one of his novels to be made into a movie.
Beginning his career as a fiction writer only a few years ago has already brought Wright acknowledgment on an international scale. His second novel, "Christmas Jars," which hit bookstores in 2005, struck a chord with readers, launching the book to the New York Times best-seller list and encouraging Wright, once fearful of the monetary merits of attempting a career as a novelist, to pen two more novels in quick succession, "Wednesday Letters," which takes place in Woodstock, and "Recovering Charles."
Now, as if coming home, Wright has returned to the character who so touched the hearts of readers around the world in "Christmas Jars" by introducing two new books: "Christmas Jars Reunion" and "Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle," which will hit Woodstock on Friday in a special arrangement with Ben Franklin, and stores everywhere else on Oct. 1.
"Christmas Jars" draws readers into the life of newspaper reporter Hope Jensen, who, after returning home on Christmas Eve to find her apartment has been burglarized, receives a most unexpected gift from an anonymous "good Samaritan" -- a jar jammed with cash. Immediately interested in learning the identity of someone who would offer her such generous tidings of good will, Hope soon becomes conscious of other random acts of kindness throughout her community, and she begins to realize that it's not the "who" that's so important as the "why."
"Christmas Jars Reunion" picks up with Hope, who has made it her year-end goal to send 1,001 Christmas jars to those in need in time for Christmas Day.
"Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle," on the other hand, is an illustrated children's book that conveys the story of a little girl who encourages her neighbors to take part in the tradition as well.
"We really wanted to find a way to get kids interested in the tradition," says Wright, who with his wife and four children has given a Christmas jar each December for the last six years.
The theme of all three books is to help others without expectation of reward and to keep the Christmas spirit year-round.
The true magic of "Christmas Jars," and undoubtedly its successors, is not the story it tells -- it's the stories it has produced from those who have read the book. The book has started a tradition of giving away Christmas jars each year anonymously to people in need of either money or simply hope.
"The tradition has become huge," Wright says, amazed at the public's reaction and subsequent actions.
Stories of those aided by the kindness of others hold a prominent spot on the book's Web site, www.christmasjars.com.
"We didn't know, of course, that this little book of fiction would inspire so much real life," Wright says. And the gift just keeps on giving, inspiring more and more people to act the part of Santa Claus each year.
"We'll give away millions of dollars in spare change this year," Wright says.
Perhaps the Christmas jar tradition has caught on so quickly because of its simplicity. All it requires is an empty mason jar and the addition of one's spare change each day over the course of several months. People don't even miss the money, which would probably only end up in a vending machine or wishing well. Put to use as a Christmas jar, however, the coins answer the wishes of others.
Wright has received letters from all over the world telling of ways in which readers were inspired to help others, though he stresses that he receives more consolation in the actions than in the number of books he sells.
"The tradition is the miracle, the book isn't," Wright says.
"I would rather someone say 'I have a jar on my counter' than 'I read your book.' It's the biggest complement someone can pay," he says.
"There have been so many people who have taken action," he later adds.
One of those people is a woman in Carmel, Ind., who, much like Hope Jensen, has also made it her goal to give 1,001 Christmas jars this year, with the help of anyone she can entreat to join the cause. She sends them an empty jar and a copy of "Christmas Jars" to accompany the jar they then fill and give to someone in need. After reading an advanced copy of the upcoming novel, Wright says, she started the endeavor in May and has already almost reached her goal.
As a "thank you" to all who have continued the tradition, Wright has included a written quote from one of many Christmas jar recipients at the beginning of each chapter in "Christmas Jars Reunion." It conveys the feeling that the book was partially written by his own readers.
The journey "Christmas Jars" has made over the years has left Wright in awe of the power each person has.
"So much good has been done ... so much good," he says.
He encourages anyone who hasn't done so already to start a Christmas jar this year.
"That's three months exactly [until Christmas] and that's plenty of time," he says.
As exciting as a dual release is for any writer, that is only the beginning for Wright, as well as for the fictional Hope. "Christmas Jars" will soon become a movie, tentatively set to be released for the 2010 holiday season.
Those associated with the movie have also agreed to give away a walk-on role to the winner of a contest ending on Dec. 21. To enter, participants are asked to take a photo of themselves holding their Christmas jar and a sign with their town and state. Details are on the Web at www.jasonfwright.com.
Even with so much to think about over the next few months, Wright refuses to remain idle. His next novel, "The Cross Gardener," is due out next year, and returns Wright's readers to the Northern Shenandoah Valley, this time on a fictional apple orchard in Strasburg.
"I think people in the valley are really going to love it," he says. "Most of the action is in and around Strasburg.
Jason F. Wright will be available to sign copies of his new books, "Christmas Jars Reunion" and "Penny's Christmas Jar Miracle," from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at Ben Franklin in Woodstock.