Author Chat With Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen reasons Why)

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.

Welcome Jay!  I am always interested about the steps one takes to write a book.  When did you decide you wanted to write a book and what steps did you take to make it happen?

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.

The voice of Hannah after the suicide echos throughout the pages of the book by the way of cassette tapes.  This is a unique way to present the story.  How did this come about?

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.

I agree.  The way the book was written and Clay’s thoughts coming through as he listened really put me as the reader, in the moment.  Was there a part of the book that was harder to write?

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 that is so funny you bring that up!  On my review under the spoiler link, I go into quite a bit of detail about that scene.  It did exactly what you say here you wanted it to, it made me uncomfortable.  At the same time, I understood it was necessary to show the changes in Hannah.  As I explained to a friend of mine while I was once again gushing about this book, this part of the book has to happen so the reader can understand that Hannah is giving up and letting go of who she is.

Is there a message within this book that you are hoping comes through to the readers?

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.

Is there another book in the planning?

Jay:  Yes.  Later.  And not much.  (Tee-hee!)

Ok, the tee hee cracked me up a bit!  Thirteen Reasons Why has won awards.  What are some of those awards?

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!!!

I like to ask each author I chat with if they could share one little known fact about themselves for my readers.

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!

31 thoughts on “Author Chat With Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen reasons Why)

  1. Great interview. I didn’t know that Jay was a man (sorry, Jay!). I have been really intriged about this book for a while – I really must get it!

  2. Wow, I really wish I had time to read all the books with main characters (or authors) named Hannah. There didn’t use to be many, but now, with the name’s rise in popularity, I see it everywhere.

    1. I cant think of any right now that have my name in it. LOL – except one….. Judy Blume’s Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great.

      I loved Blume as a kid and I thought that was so cool to have a book title with my name in it. 🙂

  3. Great interview, Sheila and Jay. Jay, I liked what you brought out about how necessary “gritty” scenes sometimes are to the characters.

    In my second published novel, I had to write a lot of gritty sex scenes in order to fully depict my street-wise character. Most readers seemed to understand this, but one reviewer actually deducted a star for those scenes, and explained that she found the scenes distasteful.

    Well, everyone’s comfort level is different, but I felt, (and still do) that those scenes were a vital part of the character exploration.

    1. Laurel, in Jays book it really was. As th reader, I really didn’t want to see it go there and knew that this was not who Hannah was….. but, as Jay said it was a necessary step for us to see the changes in Hannah. She was taking actions that she normally would not have. I think the choice of who the guy was as well really shows this.

      I dont want to say too much!

  4. Great interview! This is such an important book. Teen suicide is on the rise and it breaks my heart every time I hear about another teen who felt so bad that suicide seemed like the best option. I haven’t read this book yet but would love to.

  5. I agree with everyone else… great interview!! It really makes me want to read the book. I think I sort of shied away from it because of the topic because I was afraid it would be too sad of a read for me. But I do think it sounds very important!

    1. I am thinking about what you said Jenny and I don’t know if I would describe the book as sad….. yes, of course it ends sadly….actually – it begins sadly too – but the book itself…. it is hard to explain.

      The book is like putting the missing puzzle pieces together to explain the Why of the Thirteen Reasons.

  6. It was great to hear from Jay, what a super interview. I have heard great things about the book, but it just seems like such a tough read. I will persevere and add it to my list!

    1. Jay did a nice job Julie. I appreciate him talking about the book and I really like to connect with the authors – it makes me look forward to their work even more. 🙂

  7. This definitely sounds like a book I need to check out. Unfortunately, I’m not working as a children’s librarian anymore, but maybe I can get the library to order it.

  8. One of my students did this for her book project and it really grabbed the attention of the class. I really must get my hand on this one for my class library!

    1. Christina I just sent my copy home with one of my friends last night. We were talking about it and she asked if I had it here. I am thrilled to share this read with everyone I know!

  9. Great Interview! I’ve been dying to know more about this incredible author. His book really touched my heart. It’s probably the book I recommend the most at the library I work at. I’m always hoping it will touch someone the way it did me or maybe even have an impact on someone’s life.

  10. Jay,
    I just think I finished reading 13 Reasons Why but it had pages 209-240 repeated after page 256. Is page 256 really the end or is there an ending that my book didn’t get. I can’t stand that page 256 is the end…….IS IT????????? I will go buy another book if I just got a dud, I just want to know if the book really ends on page 256.

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