'Wednesday' may resurrect lost art of letter writing

Author inspired by personality revealed in handwritten letters

Published: Friday, Nov. 30 2007 12:05 a.m. MST

Have you written any letters lately?

Not e-mail. Not sticky notes. But genuine, expressing-your-deepest-feelings, handwritten letters? Have you received any?

Letter writing seems to be on its way to becoming a lost art, says author Jason Wright. Yet, he says, there's something about letters that is satisfying to the soul.

"When you have a handwritten letter, you have a piece of that person on the page. When I go out to the mailbox and pull out a letter, I rejoice. I devour it. I sit right down on the curb to read it."

Wright remembers a story told to him by a friend. The friend's parents had met during World War II, two weeks before the man was drafted. "They decided to get married. But they really got to know each other through the letters they wrote. I don't know if something like that would happen today."

Those stories and feelings about letters have inspired Wright's latest book, "The Wednesday Letters" (Shadow Mountain, $19.95). The premise involves a couple who passes away. When the three grown children come together to make arrangements and deal with the deaths, they find a stack of letters.

On their wedding day, Jack Cooper had promised his wife, Laurel, that no matter what he would write her a letter every Wednesday. The children find the boxes of letters and in reading them discover shocking family secrets. But they also get to know their parents in a different way and find strength and inspiration that helps in their own lives.

The book is about forgiveness and redemption as much as about letters, says Wright, who was in Salt Lake City recently to talk about it. But the letter aspect has seemed to strike a chord with readers.

Not only did "The Wednesday Letters" spend six weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List (reaching the No. 6 spot), it has also inspired people to write more letters. "One man told me he hadn't read a book since college. But he read this one, and then he sat right down and wrote a letter to his wife."

Another woman said she had decided to write letters to her husband every Sunday — something she wanted to do for herself as much as for him.

He has heard from other readers who have told stories about old letters and what they have meant in their lives, how sometimes that's the only thing they have left of their loved ones. "My own dad died when I was in high school, and I'd give anything to have something he'd written by hand. I've been collecting some of his old tax returns just for that. It's a piece of him you don't get anywhere else."

He hopes the book will inspire people to value the letters they have — and to write new ones. "People often struggle in communicating difficult emotions and experiences. Letter writing not only shows you have invested the time, it accurately captures thoughts that can be relived long after the writer has passed away."

It's not like Wright is a stranger to starting trends. His first book, "Christmas Jars," also became a national best seller and inspired people to collect spare change in bottles and anonymously deliver it to those in need.

It has also led to talks and visits with various groups around the country. "I've done a lot with middle schoolers, talking about service, talking about how if they open their eyes to service now, they will be more successful as adults. It's been a lot of fun, and it's amazing how the kids respond. They just need someone who is not a parent to tell them it is cool to be a good kid, to reach out to someone they don't even know. It helps when it comes from someone they don't share DNA with."

It is gratifying for an author to know that something he has written has touched lives, says Wright. "I'm the first to say I'm not a great writer. And I know this is not Pulitzer Prize stuff. I'll never be confused with Hemingway. But I hope I can write good stories that touch people."

To tell the truth, he says, "I'd rather be called a storyteller than a writer. Story matters."

Wright works as a political consultant and journalist in the Washington, D.C., area and is founder and managing editor of the political Web site PoliticalDerby.com. And he's the first to admit that electronic communication has a place in the world. "No one defends technology as much as I do. I'm a technology nut, and I think we're fortunate to live in this era. "

He just wants to remind people of the importance of nonelectronic communication: letter writing. And yes, he has started writing more letters of his own. "I'm even sending postcards home while I'm on this trip," he admitted.

"The Wednesday Letters" has changed his life in another way. While researching the story, he fell in love with the little town of Woodstock in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and has now relocated there with his wife, Kodi, and their four children. "We love Woodstock. It was a short debate to decide to move there."


E-mail: carma@desnews.com

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