Jason Odell Williams doesn't yet know if he'll attend the 65th Emmy Awards on Sept. 22 or even for sure if he'll receive his own golden statuette.
When the Columbia native got a text message July 18 from an executive producer of National Geographic Channel's popular "Brain Games" TV series that read simply, "Congratulations on your Emmy nomination," he thought it was a practical joke.
After all, he wasn't even aware the show had submitted his name for consideration as a writer-producer in the informational series or special category. "Brain Games" will compete against such host-driven shows as Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown," Oprah Winfrey's "Oprah's Master Class," James Lipton's "Inside the Actor's Studio," and Gwyneth Paltrow's "Stand Up to Cancer" fundraising special.
"I am still in total, total shock," he said in a phone conversation last week from his Manhattan home. His parents, Greg and Margaret Williams, still reside in Columbia.
He described the series as half-hour episodes packed with six to eight mental games that combine information, pop culture and entertainment.
"It hooks you with that wow factor," said Williams, 38. The family-oriented program showcases "interesting things that you don't think about every day."
He is nominated for the first episode he wrote, which aired in December and focuses on the theme of time. Upcoming topics will include competition, stress, risk and reward, and superstition, he said.
"This [nomination] came out of left field, and all day Thursday I kept wondering, 'Did that really happen?' " he said.
To those who have known him since he was a child, it came as much less of a surprise.
Jean Moon, who owns and operates a public relations company in Columbia, said the nominee's mother, Margaret Williams, "is really good about keeping her friends in the loop." The pair met when they worked at Patuxent Publishing Co., founder of the Columbia Flier.
"Jason is one of the children of my friends whom we've all kept track of," said Moon, who has seen the plays he's written, including "Baltimore in Black and White," and closely followed his acting career, which began in fourth grade at McDonogh School, in Owings Mills. He also attended Stevens Forest and Centennial Lane elementary schools from kindergarten to third grade.
"We certainly expected him to do something," said Moon, who until 1995 was the general manager of Patuxent, which also was the longtime owner-publisher of the Howard County Times. "But I wouldn't have guessed that this would be what he'd be recognized for."
She said everyone thought he'd be singled out for acting or writing plays, both of which he still does. He majored in theater arts at the University of Virginia and earned his master's degree in New York from the famed Actors Studio, where founder James Lipton, also his Emmy competition, taught him and his wife, Charlotte Cohn. The couple has a 7-year-old daughter, Imogen.
For Williams, who says he relishes writing the most out of all his passions, this latest development certainly ranks high on a professional level. But it isn't the only good news he's been reveling in lately.
"Everything is culminating all at once," he said of the past two years. "My time pursuing acting certainly wasn't wasted, but it wasn't my ultimate calling. When I started writing, it spiraled and took off — in a good way."
Aside from TV producing, his young-adult fiction novel, "Personal Statement," will come out Aug. 1. Published by In This Together Media, whose company tag line reads, "Great Books about Real Girls," it already has been optioned for a movie.
Selling the movie rights before a book is released is "unheard of" for a lesser-known author, said his mother, Margaret Williams. "But once he started writing, it all started happening for him."
The book focuses on the college application process and follows a group of brainy high school students as they compete to distinguish themselves as volunteers in order to get noticed by college admissions officers.
"Everybody remembers the peer pressure and the angst, whether you're in your teens, 20s or 30s," the author said. The book features multiple narrators, including a Korean-American girl, her best friend from India, and a gay African-American boy.
"None of them are like me," he said. "But I have this weird ability to hear how people talk and to hear their voices. The characters begin to talk to me, so I put them in a room and let them talk."
Williams said he is excited about all the recognition, but doesn't want to get "too far ahead of himself" — even though his mother has pointed out there are plenty of writer-directors in the field and has inquired how many tickets to the Emmys he might receive.