Author finds a following in Joliet
BY BOB OKON firstname.lastname@example.org August 18, 2013 7:44PM
Updated: September 20, 2013 6:14AM
Author Camron Wright is making a big impression in Joliet.
Wright, who has written two books — “Letters for Emily” and “The Rent Collector” — was in Joliet on Thursday and Friday visiting with a local book club and speaking to students at the University of St. Francis.
Both of his books have been required reading for incoming freshmen at USF, and Wright made his fourth trip to Joliet last week to talk to students.
“Our students are very fortunate to read such an interesting book that provokes thought about self and how they fit into society, and then have an opportunity to speak to the author,” said Associate Professor Richard Lorenc, who suggested Wright’s’ books for the summer required-reading list. “It’s great that he’s willing to speak about his book.”
Sue Grant felt the same way.
“We’re very pleased. He’s kind of an adopted son,” Grant said as she sat with Wright and fellow members of her book club, all women from St. Jude’s Parish in Joliet, at her house on Fairlane Drive. “I really hope our friendship will continue for some time.”
Grant was surprised after exchanging emails with Wright that he would visit with her book club. He lives outside Salt Lake City. But Wright was already coming to Joliet, and besides, he said, he visits with book clubs quite often, but usually over Skype.
“I’ve chatted with dozens and dozens of book clubs across the country,” Wright said, noting, however, that the Joliet club was only the second he visited in person.
While the women expressed their appreciation for his visit, Wright assured them that he was glad to do it.
“If it weren’t for groups like you reading the books, I wouldn’t be able to write books,” he told the club. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Wright has somewhat of a reputation for his entrepreneurial approach to becoming a successful writer. Not surprising, perhaps, given his background in retail. Wright turned to writing after he and his wife sold a successful bridal shop business. After calculating the percentages of having an agent and publisher pick up his first book, “Letters for Emily,” Wright decided to self-publish.
Wright promoted the book himself and got it onto the shelves of bookstores in the Salt Lake City area — back in the early 2000s when there were still a lot of bookstores.
“A couple of radio announcers read it,” he said. “They liked it, talked about it on the radio, and sales just took off.”
It was not long before the book attracted the interest of New York book agents, Wright said. As he prepared to seek a publisher, Wright stopped in at one of the local Waldenbooks stores to get some numbers on how well his self-published edition of “Letters for Emily” was doing in the store. The manager went on his computer to check and delivered an inspiring report, Wright said.
“He said, ‘That’s interesting. You’re outselling the Oprah pick four to one,’ ” Wright said.
The book was picked up by Simon & Schuster and published under the Pocket Books label in 2002.
“Letters for Emily” was inspired by Wright’s grandfather. It’s about an aging man in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who wants to be remembered as he was in his better years.
“I hope to go quickly so I’ll be remembered as ‘Grandpa Harry’ and not the person I’m becoming,” the main character, Harry Whitney, writes in the first chapter. “I fear I’ll be remembered as a contemptible, cranky old man, and that thought sickens me. The fact is I’m losing my mind.”
Harry writes a book of poems for his beloved granddaughter, Emily, and leaves behind letters that are read by his family as his health continues to decline. The book is about how his family learns more about Harry, and how he is able to change their lives through the poems and letters that he leaves behind as his mental condition deteriorates.
Lorenc and Grant were not the only ones impressed by the book. It was a selection of the Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild.
Best-selling author Mary Higgins Clark is quoted on the cover calling it “a novel every member of the family should read.”
“The Rent Collector,” first published in 2012 and due to come out in paperback this fall, is about Cambodian families who live in a municipal waste dump and one woman’s newfound love for literature. It was inspired by a documentary done by Wright’s son, Trevor Wright.
Wright met with the entire freshman class at USF to talk about “The Rent Collector,” the book they read over the summer. It was an hour session, Lorenc said, and, “We had questions up to the moment when he was done.”
Wright said he enjoys his visits to Joliet. The city in many ways reminds him of Provo, Utah, he said, with the notable exception that there is no view of the Wasatch mountains.
Other than that, he said, “I’m back in Provo when I’m driving in Joliet. It’s interesting because you think how people are the same everywhere.”
And Wright seems happy to meet people anywhere — especially if they are readers of his books. He’s no reclusive writer and carries himself with an easygoing friendliness.
“A lot of authors finish a book, and even if a publisher picks it up they think they don’t have to do anything else,” Wright said. “Not in today’s world. You have to go out there and promote it.”
Writing was not a lifelong dream for Wright. He got into it after he and his wife sold the bridal business. Wright describes himself as having gone through a midlife professional crisis as he looked for what to do next. He has since also started a public relations and marketing business.
“I’m a business guy,” Wright said. “Writing was an out-of-the-blue, ‘I think I can do that’ sort of thing.”