Author Chat With Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen reasons Why)
Posted by Sheila (Book Journey)
If you have been around here lately you probably have heard me gushing about the book Thirteen reasons Why. If you have not read my review, I highly encourage you to do so! Every once in a while a book really touches us, many times we do not even know why. I am not sure it is the timing, or something just strikes cord and you think yes. This is a wonderful book. That is where I am with this book.
Today I am overjoyed to welcome Jay Asher to the chat room to have a cup of coffee and share a little bit about the book and himself – please give a warm welcome to author, Jay Asher.
Jay: I’d actually been trying to get books published for nine years before I began Thirteen Reasons Why. Those other books were all humorous and for younger children. Over those years, I joined a couple critique groups and attended as many writing conferences as I could. I also entered every writing contest I could find, winning a few along the way, and some of them brought me in contact with agents and editors that later came in handy. The community I found at the conferences and the confidence I gained by winning contests is what kept me going through all the rejection letters.
Even though I was only interested in writing funny books for kids, the concept of Thirteen reasons Why was too intriguing to ignore. And, something that surprised me, writing never felt as natural as it did when I began working on my serious teen novel. So I suppose it is a good idea to try new things! After the three years that it took to write and polish the manuscript, I queried a few agents and only one showed interest. She sent it out and we got a dozen rejections before three houses began bidding on it. So be willing to try new things and don’t give up!
That is so exciting! Three years, it always amazes me the time that goes into putting together a book. Jay, Thirteen Reasons Why is a pretty deep book on teenage suicide. What gave you the idea to write a book on such a topic?
Jay: The topic of suicide was important to me because a close relative attempted suicide when she was a junior in high school, just like Hannah in my book. That occurred many years before I even considered writing for teens, though. Actually, I’d only read maybe five teen novels before I began working on my own. I was just itching to try a new type of writing, so I thought about writing a suspenseful book for teens. That’s all I knew I wanted to do. And then the concept hit me. A girl records her reasons for committing suicide onto a bunch of audio cassettes and the reader follows one boy as he listens to the tapes to find out where his name pops up. Because of my personal understanding of this issue, when the idea came to me, I wasn’t afraid to work on it. In fact, I thought it was something I should work on because our society has such a hard time discussing this very real problem.
Jay: I had the idea for doing a sort of “audiotour book” for several years before I found the right story for it. In Las Vegas, I took an audiotour of a mock-up of King Tut’s tomb. It was my first audiotour, and when it was over, I immediately thought, “That would be an awesome way to format a novel.” But I thought it was such a unique storytelling device, I didn’t want to waste it on a story where the structure was just a gimmick. It needed to enhance the story. Having Clay’s immediate reactions to Hannah’s recorded words was, I thought, the perfect way to tell her story.
Jay: There were the usual struggles of trying to keep things moving and interesting. But the part which made me the most nervous to write was the hot tub scene. Again, I’d spent nine years writing manuscripts for young children. I wasn’t used to writing anything with sexual overtones, and there wasn’t going to be anything “overtone” about that scene. I knew that scene was extremely important in getting across the full arc of Hannah’s emotional slide, so it wasn’t a scene I could get around. As well, I thought the reader needed to be uncomfortable while reading it in order to really grasp what was going on. Once I began working on it, I just let myself get into “honest writer mode” and went for it. But the fifty or so pages leading up to that scene made me a nervous wreck. “Forty more pages until the hot tub scene.” “Fifteen more pages.” “The next page!” It turns out, not only was that scene important for the story, but it was important to a lot of my readers. I’ve had several girls thank me for writing that scene and letting others know what going through something like that is emotionally like.
Jay: It’s just another book about The Golden Rule. It’s about the ripple effect of decisions, sometimes small decisions, made by people not following The Golden Rule. As Hannah says, “You never know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own.” And that’s why it’s important to always be conscious of how we treat others. At the same time, Hannah isn’t without fault. She pushed people away. She made bad decisions. I thought it was also important for people to notice times when Hannah didn’t do herself any favors.
Jay: Yes. Later. And not much. (Tee-hee!)
Jay: It’s won some state awards that were voted on by teens, which makes those my absolute favorite awards. The California Book Award was a huge honor. For that, I got to stand behind a podium and give an acceptance speech with Michael Chabon and Khaled Hosseini in the front row. And I made them laugh!!!
Jay: I once dressed-up as a werewolf for Halloween. I think I was in sixth grade. It was a very elaborate costume where I used a special glue to attach strips of fake fur to my face and arms and legs. I actually slept in the fur because I got home so late, but I had a basketball game the next day so I woke up early to start peeling the stuff off. That’s what the glue bottle said. “Peels right off.” But it didn’t. My mom used rubbing alcohol, warm water, and lots of tugging. We finally got most of it off before the game, but I had to keep my left sock pulled up high to cover the remaining fur around my ankle. But I still love Halloween! And werewolves!!!
Great story Jay! Thank you so much for stopping in and sharing about Thirteen Reasons Why. I am very curious as to what you have coming up next and would like to tell my readers that this is an author to watch! If you have not read Thirteen reasons Why I highly recommend that you do!