By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
What if Christmas didn't end after Dec. 25? What if it kept on going long into the new year and beyond?
In his latest novel, "The 13th Day of Christmas," Woodstock author Jason F. Wright wants readers to remember that Christmas has too much of a message to be packed into the confines of one calendar day.
Since writing his New York Times best-selling novel "Christmas Jars" in 2005, Wright has formed a tradition of making his stories come alive through the "butterfly-effect" actions of his readers. "Christmas Jars" has inspired thousands around the country to collect loose change in jars throughout the year to drop off anonymously on the doorsteps of those who might benefit from either the money or the gesture.
His book "The Wednesday Letters" seeks to encourage fans to begin hand writing letters to loved ones, and its sequel, "The Wedding Letters," suggests readers collect words of advice for a lucky newly wedded couple who might enjoy reading about what makes the marriages of their loved ones work.
When he autographs copies of his books for fans, Wright always adds in a "Start a Christmas Jar" or "Write a Letter" or "Always take the long way" under the recipient's name. This year, he's hoping readers will "Celebrate the 13th" by not packing away the meaning of Christmas into a box along with their decorations on Dec. 26 as pine needles begin to christen the tree skirt.
He admitted maybe he went a little overboard, though, this time around.
Maybe, he said, "We don't have the wherewithal to do all this, but we can write a letter."
In his Christmas tale, set in the fictional town of Woodbrook, he writes of 9-year-old Charlee, who moves to the "America's Friendliest Small Town" when her father's company goes under and the family loses its house. Now living in a trailer in a low-income neighborhood called 27 Homes, Charlee soon makes an unlikely friend -- 81-year-old Miss Marva, who donated the land for 27 Homes after the death of her grown son in 1970.
The story begins in early fall, but, being a Christmas story, it fast approaches the holiday season, and it isn't long before Charlee begins receiving gifts from a mysterious family of traveling elves who inform her of the truth behind the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
"The whole premise is, you've been singing it wrong," Wright said. It might seem an odd premise to many who never before questioned the legitimacy of the bird-heavy gift list that begins, "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree," but for Wright, the practice of substituting other gifts is tradition.
"When I was a kid, the gifts would change," he said, and he admits to anyone who reads the author's note at the end of his book that much of the story was inspired by the real life actions of his family.
"I really think if my dad was alive, he would have written this book," Wright said. "I always knew that I wanted to tell that story and the timing was right."
The concept of the 13th day of Christmas was Wright's own idea, though, and in the book he also continues his longstanding practice of using the names of friends and family in unexpected places throughout the story, this time naming himself, his wife Kodi and their four children Oakli, Jadi, Kason and Koleson.
On a recent afternoon in his downtown Woodstock office, a shelf was lined with children's toys. Next to Tweety, Woodstock and Big Bird dolls, a pile of plastic paratrooper men, a mountain of kazoos and a David Cassidy album were waiting to be pondered by those who might wonder what all that has to do with "The Twelves Days of Christmas."
"It's an odd assortment of items for a Christmas book, but that's why we're hoping it works," Wright said. "That's the fun thing about this."
Giving away the secret of what some of the items might mean before anyone can read his book doesn't faze Wright, because there's much more to the book than what Charlee receives from the traveling elves.
If after reading, anyone wants to sign up to be a Christmas elf, Wright has some advice.
"We do want people to know these are suggestions," he said. "People shouldn't feel boxed in to these particular gifts."
His own family would sometimes repeat gifts from one year to the next, and Wright said his family has indeed used some of the ideas he wrote into his book, but most of their Twelve Days gifts were different each year.
All it takes is some creativity.
But the book, like Christmas, isn't really about the gifts. It's about making an impact on the lives of others in their time of need.
"People need to know that they are not alone," Wright said. "It's the most important thing that people can know when they get out of bed in the morning."
"So we want to generate letters," Wright said. "We want people to write."
"The 13th Day of Christmas," by Jason F. Wright, will be available for purchase at bookstores beginning Tuesday. He will be available for a book signing at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Express in Woodstock.
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or email@example.com