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By Josette Keelorfirstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK - Standing on top of the Woodstock Tower on a recent morning, Jason F. Wright experienced more than one first.
It was the first time he had visited the popular tourist attraction and not encountered any other visitors. This might have been on account of the threatening clouds overhead. Earlier that morning it had been raining, and the sky suggested more bad weather would come.
But that was the next surprise of the morning. Not only did the rain pass and the fog lift once the best-selling author climbed the tower, but then, within minutes, the valley below came into focus, the bends of the Shenandoah River suddenly visible. Soon, it was like the fog never had been there at all.
Instances like this might occur every day around the valley, whether or not anyone manages to notice them, but it's the moments that people do witness that can change lives.
In his latest novel "The Wedding Letters," Wright speaks of family, love and the search for personal moments of clarity. His characters experience times when literal and figurative cloud cover seem to threaten everything they want to achieve and obscure whatever truth exists just out of sight.
The much anticipated sequel to Wright's popular "The Wednesday Letters," the new book brings readers back to the fictional Domus Jefferson bed and breakfast along U.S. 11 between Woodstock and Edinburg and reintroduces the Cooper family and their colorful company of friends around Shenandoah County.
Main characters Noah Cooper (son of Malcolm Cooper, a main character in "The Wednesday Letters") and Rachel Kaplan meet under less-than-desirable circumstances -- when he hits her with his truck as she rides her bike to school at George Mason University in Fairfax.
They begin a relationship and start planning the wedding that the book title promises, but things are never easy for Wright's characters. With family secrets coming into light, business looking gloomy at the family's B&B and a sullen forecast for the future, the Coopers and Kaplans worry how they will survive.
But even if the sun, moon and stars are hidden by clouds, they're still there, Wright said, a theme he continues throughout the book.
"I think there's something comforting in that notion that they're there, even though you can't see that they're there," Wright said.
Now very much a fixture in the Shenandoah Valley with frequent book signings, contests, charity events and even a stint acting in the Joe's Steakhouse mystery theater, Wright has immersed himself in the community since moving with his family to Woodstock four years ago.
His office in his wife's photography studio on Main Street allows him to look out at downtown Woodstock each day. His novels line the book shelves, his four children star in frames on the walls, and a plaque on a high shelf states "Careful, or you'll end up in my novel."
Considering the author who often sits next to the storefront window in an oversized armchair typing out scenes from the valley, the lighthearted warning is legitimate.
"And it works really well," he said. "People love reading about the Shenandoah Valley, who live here."
He thinks it would be more selfish not to involve the community in the writing of his books.
"Everything I write is a product of what I've seen, an experience," he said. "You take this world that you live in and you process all those [experiences] and you generate something creative."
Besides using the names of friends, family, fans and former co-workers in his books and mentioning real-life landmarks and businesses, Wright involves the community in his novel writing in many unique ways, particularly for "The Wedding Letters."
On Facebook he challenged fans to hand-write letters of encouragement to his characters Noah and Rachel and mail them to him. He received hundreds of wedding letters from around the country and added them into plastic pages of a binder, mirroring what characters in his book do for each others' weddings.
"That'd be the goal," he said, "is to inspire some people to make this a part of every wedding."
It's something anyone can do, whether the wedding is extravagant or last-minute.
"A book of wedding letters could come across race, across religion," Wright said.
He also asked fans from the area to send him their wedding photos to include in the book trailer he has on YouTube.
"The community's been good to me, and this is a way to be good to the community in return," he said. "I work for people who buy my books."
The book, published by Shadow Mountain, will come out on Tuesday, which is Noah and Rachel's wedding date in the book. Anyone who preorders the book online will receive a free download of his e-book, "The Proposal Letter," a bridge novella that spans the gap between the last chapter of "The Wednesday Letters" and the epilogue. The e-book is available only to those who preorder "The Wedding Letters."
Wright also is planning his next project -- a progressive e-book called "The Last Campaign," which will offer a new chapter each month for 15 months and tell the story of a fictional presidential election that will parallel the actual 2012 presidential election.
"The idea is that it will be an e-book only," he said. "But you're going to be buying an experience."
Wright recognizes the irony of using modern technology to promote books that usually encourage returning to traditional forms of communication -- like writing and mailing letters to one another, keeping handwritten journals, and leaving anonymous jars of cash -- Christmas Jars -- for those who need them.
It's a paradox that has worked for him, and actually has encouraged his fans to form new traditions for themselves.
"I think there's a risk to stepping too far away from what worked for so long. We run a risk of losing the past," he said.
"Here we are using Facebook to talk about a tradition that dates back to the Bible," he said of letter writing. "I really do love living in this age."
He uses communication as plot devices, but mostly, he said, his stories are about family and maintaining relationships with loved ones.
In "The Wedding Letters," Malcolm stresses the idea that relationships take work to survive struggles and that it's foolish to wait for fate to step in and solve problems.
"I think that that [idea] takes away from the responsibility of work," Wright said of fate. "It isn't based on magic. It's based on work."
Wright relates more to Malcolm than to any other character in any of his books. On the newly clear September morning, as he climbed across metal beams along the side of the Woodstock Tower, he admitted that, like Malcolm, he visits the tower often. But it was the first time he climbed along the beams.
"This," he said, "is something Malcolm would do."
For more information about "The Wedding Letters," visit www.jasonfwright.com. It also will be in bookstores and at Ben Franklin's in Woodstock. "The Proposal Letter" e-book is available free to those who preorder "The Wedding Letters" from any online retailer.